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Michael Gainey

U.S. Army Reserve / Bronze Star with Valor

Although wounded, he helped his Humvee reach fellow soldiers who were under attack

On that October day in 2007, Staff Sgt. Michael Gainey began a routine patrol of the Salman-Pak checkpoints southeast of Baghdad. He and his team of 10 from the 211 National Police Transition Team stopped at each checkpoint to make sure supplies were in order and that inspections were being properly conducted. The team was accompanied by several dozen Iraqi police officers.

But as Gainey and his crew emerged from a wooded area near the Tigris River into an open field, bullets began raining from a three-story housing complex at the far end of the field.

Gainey had never exchanged fire with the enemy during his nine months in Iraq, but now he instantly unleashed his Humvee’s M240B machine gun on the housing complex. Only when his driver, Maj. Edward Worthington, turned to look at him did Gainey realize something was wrong.

“You’ve been hit!” Worthington yelled.

“Why do you say that?” Gainey asked.

“You have blood on your neck!”

When Gainey touched the side of his neck, his hand came away covered with blood.

His neck and hands had been hit by shrapnel after gunfire hit the metal canopy that covers the gunner’s seat. Still, he didn’t have time to ponder his wounds.

So heavy was the incoming fire that three soldiers about 150 meters in front of the Humvee could no longer lift their heads from the ground; if they did, they would be putting their lives in jeopardy. Bullets hailed down all around them.

“They knew if they went left or right they were taking a big chance at being shot,” Gainey said. “They just lay there and kept as low as possible.”

The Humvee headed straight into the thick of the attack, maneuvering to get between the downed soldiers and the incoming fire.

Relying on his training, Gainey kept moving in the gunner’s seat — first up to fire a few rounds, then down, then up again. Each time he stood to aim, he was exposed from the chest up.

“It’s a weird feeling that somebody is shooting at you and you can’t see them,” Gainey said. “You hunker down, and when you do, you say a quick prayer — ‘Lord, please take care of my family (and) thank you for the life I’ve had’ — and then you have to get yourself back together and get focused.”

Finally, the Humvee got between the housing complex and the soldiers, who scrambled into the vehicle as Gainey continued to fire. The Humvee turned and headed across the field, out of range.

Gainey was treated quickly by a medic at the battle scene, then again when his team reached its base 15 miles away.

His Bronze Star with Valor citation for the Oct. 22, 2007, battle said he “continually exposed himself to enemy fire” to allow his convoy to maneuver while staying clear of irrigation ditches that littered the field.

“It was an honor, and I’m very appreciative,” said Gainey. “But I felt like I’d done what folks over there are doing every day.”

Dana Wilkie is a journalist based in Alexandria, Va.

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Staff Sgt. Michael Gainey and his wife, Anne Marie, enjoy the festivities at the 2008 Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race near Charlotte, N.C. Gainey, from Albemarle, N.C., was honored at the race as a "hometown hero." The No. 8 car is owned by the Dale Earnhardt Inc. racing team. (Photo courtesy of Michael Gainey)

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Michael Gainey

U.S. Army Reserve / Bronze Star with Valor

Born May 29, 1980, in Albemarle, N.C., now lives in Mint Hill, N.C.

Wife, Anne Marie; children, Ethan and Averie.

Joined the Army in June 1998 and deployed to Iraq in January 2007. A staff sergeant at the time of the incident — assigned to 1st Infantry Division, 211 National Police Transition Team — he is now a sergeant first class.

Although wounded by heavy fire, he provided machine-gun cover for his Humvee to maneuver between enemy fighters and fellow soldiers pinned down in an open field.

A police officer in Mint Hill and a reservist assigned to the 98th division at Fort Jackson, S.C., where he trains sailors before their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I initially joined the Army for college money. The reason I stay in is for the privilege of protecting my family by defending our country from harm's way.”

Iraq / Sal Man Pak

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