Fifty-four soldiers and officers who took part in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge and who have been cited for their extraordinary bravery under fire will receive on Monday their decorations at a ceremony at Palmahim Air Force Base.
Among them is 21-yearold St.-Sgt. Ceirgio Albarran, who served in the 202 Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, and whose quick thinking and lightning responses helped save eight of this fellow soldiers in the midst of battle. Albarran shared his story with The Jerusalem Post.
He moved to Israel from Venezuela in 2006 with his siblings, and today lives with his girlfriend near Ashkelon.
On July 23, in the middle of Israel’s ground operation against Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip, his unit arrived at a neighborhood on the outskirts of Khan Yunis.
“We got to three buildings that the company had to focus on, in order to control the sector. As we searched the buildings, we found that one of the rooms was filled with weapons, grenades, mortars, and vests. After our company commander saw this, he decided to check some of the other homes around us. We got to the third structure, a small home, and in one of the rooms, we found two Kalashnikovs and two vests,” he recounted.”
Then, Albarran and a few of the soldiers discovered a ventilation shaft opening in the floor, which was connected to a small pipe. This, he said was an unmistakable sign of a tunnel.
Albarran helped move the newly found enemy weapons to another building, sorting and organizing them neatly.
As they left the building, the soldiers heard an ear-shattering blast nearby.
“We immediately left the building. I saw an officer run down an alley toward me, his face covered in blood and shrapnel. His eyes were filled with blood. He shouted that there were wounded behind him.”
Without thinking twice, Albarran ran to the blast site. At first, he could not see much due to the dust and debris that filled the air.
“When I got closer, I saw the company commander and the unit members, my officer, the MAG machine gunner, all of them were under the rubble from a wall that collapsed on them as they stood in the building’s yard. Either a bomb or an RPG blew up that wall. All of it collapsed,” he recalled.
The soldiers suffered all manner of serious injuries, including broken legs and hands.
“My company commander lost consciousness for the first few seconds. His face was distorted and covered with shrapnel. There was a lot of blood...I started evacuating them all, one by one,” said Albarran.
As he rescued his fellow soldiers, Albarran saw terrorists emerging from a tunnel shaft behind the collapsed wall and opened fire. At the same time, terrorists on the second floor of a nearby building fired at him as well. He was caught in the crossfire.
Despite being under fire from multiple directions, Albarran continued to drag his wounded comrades to safety, while returning fire.
“In one hand, I dragged them, and in the other, I shot back,” he recalled. The attack on him intensified, with grenades and RPGs exploding in his vicinity and Kalashnikov bullets flying all around.
“It was a mess,” he said. “I brought a wounded soldier back 150 meters, and went forward to get the next one.
I rescued a total of eight, including the company commander. He was the last one who remained. He was a big guy, and the hardest to evacuate.”
As Albarran dragged his commander to safety, a bullet pierced his ankle. He continued to evacuate his company commander, completing the last 50 meters and entering a home, where he had gathered the wounded.
At that point, “I could not continue,” he said. “Inside the home, the soldiers were in total shock. Some did not respond. I told them where to stand, what positions to take up in the home near the windows to cover the house,” Albarran said.
“Then, the doctor and his medics arrived. The deputy company commander took charge.”
Looking back, Albarran said, “I can’t describe what went on there. It was unreal.”
He said his instincts and adrenaline helped him respond correctly.
“Everyone survived, thank God,” the soldier added.
Subsequent IDF examination concluded that Albarran’s actions not only likely kept soldiers alive, but also prevented wounded soldiers from being kidnapped.
Albarran and the other wounded were driven in an APC out of Gaza to Kibbutz Nirim, where they were airlifted to hospitals.
Today, he said, “I am still recovering. I was lightly hurt, as they say, but I’ve taken the longest to recover. I’m still in pain. All of the others who were wounded have completed their [recovery process]. I still live this battle.”
Albarran is set to receive a Division Commander’s Citation for his actions, of which he said, “I didn’t do this to be awarded. I did what I had to do.”