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2014 Man of the Year: Jim Gant

Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant / AP
• December 31, 2014 2:00 pm

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In 2006, the U.S. government was working to quell a jihadist insurgency in Iraq by building the elements of a modern, liberal state in that country. Winning Iraqi hearts and minds was the order of the day. Maybe this was wise in some ways, and in other ways not—but one thing is clear. Major Jim Gant, U.S. Army Special Forces, was taking a different approach.

Tasked with transforming a battalion-strength, glorified Mahdi Army death squad into a responsible community police force, Gant had to be pulled unconscious out of his burning Humvee by his Iraqi troops after being hit by an IED on the road between Balad and Baghdad. Relatively unharmed, he returned to the site of the attack days later, stood on the roof of his vehicle with a translator and a megaphone, and informed the locals that he would be returning in in a week to fight them. He encouraged the local insurgents to come out and fight by detailing a variety of unprintable things he intended to do to their mothers, inasmuch as he had "seen how they could fight" so he knew they didn’t know how to… you get the idea.

He returned in a week’s time, defeated the insurgents in a hellacious firefight, and was never messed with in that village again. He also personally saved the life of an Iraqi woman wounded in the crossfire. For his actions in the battle, he earned the Silver Star.

This tour was only a warm-up for the main event of his career. Gant was handpicked to lead a tribal engagement program in Afghanistan in 2009. It was his fifth combat deployment in seven years. A very long story short, he went to live among the Afghans in a village in the Konar with a small group of U.S. soldiers, stayed there for 14 months, and basically defeated the Taliban in his area, one of the most hotly contested sectors of eastern Afghanistan.

By way of reward, the U.S. Army arrested Gant, sent him home to the United States, and ultimately compelled him to retire from the Army at a lower rank. Why? Okay—maybe a few rules were bent here and there. Apparently, persuading the accomplished, beautiful, and hard-charging Washington Post reporter sent to cover you to take a hiatus from her career so as to move into your Afghan village with you as your common law wife—in order to join your fight against the Taliban—is frowned upon by the Army’s senior leadership.

Maybe this is why the Taliban is winning.

Published under: Man of the Year