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Robert Hancock

Tennessee Army National Guard / Bronze Star with Valor

He helped derail an ambush, then moved several wounded comrades from the battle zone

The combined platoon of American Special Forces and Iraqi Army, hunting for a reported cave full of weapons south of Balad Ruz, Iraq, instead had found a cell of insurgents. Immediately, the unit was pinned down by waves of exploding mortars, small-arms fire, machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

A short distance away, 2nd Lt. Robert Hancock heard his call sign on the radio – “Timberwolf 2!” He and his men rushed to the battle.

“We basically rode right into the hornet’s nest,” Hancock said of the men of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed mostly of Tennessee National Guard soldiers.

That April 4, 2005, mission was the first time the combined forces of the Americans and Iraqis had worked together, Hancock said. “We knew we were going into an area where we knew we were going to receive contact.”

What the Americans didn’t know was that the enemy was prepared for such an incursion, and insurgents quickly immobilized two Iraqi Army gun trucks.

“Mortars were landing around us,” Hancock recalled. “My gunner was squeezing the trigger just about all the time. We moved in, basically shooting everything we could see.”

But the enemy, hiding in irrigation trenches, gained an initial advantage.

“RPG!” several voices screamed as one of the insurgents popped up long enough to fire an RPG in Hancock’s direction. The missile sailed over his Humvee, and the Americans returned fire, taking out the insurgent.

After an F-16 jet bombed an insurgent mortar position, things quieted down ¬– briefly.

“At that point we were doing pretty good,” Hancock said. “None of us were shot. Our vehicles were hit, but no personnel were hit. We knew we had killed quite a few of them.”

Thinking the majority of the enemy had been subdued, the Iraqi Army unit was given the task of sweeping the area for stragglers.

It was a mistake. As the Iraqi soldiers fanned out, a new barrage of firepower killed several of them and injured others.

Hancock, under gunfire, worked to clear the trenches where insurgents were hiding. He also retrieved downed soldiers from the battlefield.

“It was a lot of pulling guys out, calling in the medevacs, the Black Hawks, which got out all the wounded and dead,” he says.

In addition, Hancock gave CPR to a fellow 278th soldier while continuing to draw fire. Unfortunately, “we lost him before the medevac even got there,” he said.

Two Americans and several Iraqi servicemen died that afternoon. About 60 soldiers, both Iraqi Army and Americans, were injured in the firefight, which didn’t end until the next day. There were no enemy survivors.

“It seemed like everyone, all the U.S. soldiers just banded like brothers,” said Hancock, one of four 278th soldiers honored by the Army for their actions that day.

“There wasn’t a man there who wasn’t in the fight. I mean everyone – the gunners, the drivers, everyone – was doing what we were trained to do.”

S.L. Alligood covered the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division as an embedded reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

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Lt. Robert Hancock proudly displays his Bronze Star With Valor award, which he received from Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, Tennessee Adjutant General, left, on Dec. 1, 2007. (Photo courtesy of the Hancock family)

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Robert Hancock

Tennessee Army National Guard / Bronze Star with Valor

Born Sept. 30, 1969, in Baltimore, now lives in Madison, Tenn.

Wife, Tonya.

Joined the Army in 2003. Was assigned to the 278th Regimental Combat Team, Tennessee Army National Guard. Deployed to Iraq in January 2005.

Previously was a professional golfer.

Directed a counterattack against an insurgent ambush and helped evacuate wounded soldiers during a long firefight.

Now a captain with the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment but assigned to a special unit, the Tennessee Agribusiness Development Team. The unit's mission is to help farmers return to productivity in their war-torn area of southeastern Afghanistan.

“The summer of 2001, we had a friend that was working at the top of the (World Trade Center) building and never came home to see his kids. It was just one of those times I was either going to do something or not, and if I didn't, it was going to be too late. I was 33 at the time. I made the decision.”

Iraq / Balad Ruz

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