In honor of Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan W. Gifford, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command held a ceremony July 20th at the Marine Special Operations School to memorialize the fallen MARSOC Raider.
Gifford, a founding instructor at the school, posthumously received the nation’s second-highest award for valor and the highest within the Department of the Navy - the Navy Cross - for his actions in Afghanistan in 2012. In recognition of his lasting impact on MARSOC, the command honored Gifford by naming the school’s academic facility Gifford Hall.
"This is the first dedication for a critical skills operator in MARSOC’s 10-year history," said Col. Brett A. Bourne, the school’s commanding officer. "Jonathan Gifford is the first of the modern day Raiders to be memorialized. He spent a lot of time in the community. I did not know Jon personally, but I do know about his reputation that always preceded him."
Months after MARSOC’s activation in 2006, Gifford received orders to the special operations school, developing its Advanced Sniper Course and serving as its chief instructor.
Former MARSOC teammates paid tribute to Gifford, commenting that not only was he a natural leader, but he was also passionate about teaching each of the Marines under him. One former teammate praised Gifford’s obsessive focus on improvement in every facet of his life and expressed hope that Gifford’s memory will be carried on by future generations of aspiring Critical Skills Operators and Special Operations Officers who train at Gifford Hall.
"I find it completely appropriate that the school house is named after Jon," said John Teague, a former team member and a close friend of Gifford. "That’s what this building should be about, getting prepared and understanding that when you graduate a school house or an institution like this, you don’t just stand still and you don’t just assume everything. You do what Jon Gifford did and you continue to improve and you want to learn something new every day."
Gifford is not just known for his contributions to the MSOS, but for his influence on MARSOC as a whole. During his fourth deployment, Gifford and his team were advising and assisting a contingent of Afghan commandos on an operation near the village Bala Bokan, Badghis province, Afghanistan. After entering the village, the 14-man Marine Special Operations Team and their partner nation force began taking heavy fire from an enemy ambush, wounding several commandos.
Gifford rushed to the Afghans’ aid, treated their wounds and moved them back to safety, maneuvering through a fiercely contested patch of land. Afterward, Gifford led a counterattack, killed an enemy fighter firing from a window of a nearby building, scaled the wall of the building and dropped a grenade down the chimney, killing the remaining insurgents. Gifford continued to coordinate attacks against the Taliban fighters until he was mortally wounded. His actions directly enabled his teammates and Afghan partners to defeat the Taliban insurgents and secure the village.
"Everyone described Jon, that knew him and worked with him, as a gifted operator and a natural. He looked effortless in what he was doing," said Teague. "Whether he was doing a (physical fitness test) or if he was behind a sniper rifle, he looked like he had been doing it his whole life. I don’t agree with that assessment - he was not a natural nor was he effortless. Jon Gifford was always prepared. He was continually trying to improve himself."
Given Gifford’s reputation amongst MARSOC personnel, the significant time and experience he invested in MSOS, and the recounting of his heroism echoing through the MSOS corridors, the facility’s new name is an entirely appropriate one.
"His fellow instructors remember him for his tireless dedication to student success and his belief that each instructor needed to be able to demonstrate any aspect of training on demand," said Bourne.
"He forced his instructors to remain current and relevant in all aspects of their jobs. These are the traits we look to instill in all of our instructors. It is fitting that our academic facility is named in dedication of Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Gifford."