Student and Former Marine Captain Ben Gifford Honors Fallen Brother on Veteran's Day
Most first-year law students struggle with time management and absorbing hundreds of pages of information each day. To get them through the rough patches, they tap into what motivates them: the promise of a bright future, a big salary, and professional success. Pepperdine School of Law student Ben Gifford ('11) has a slightly different motivation: his brother, Micah.
"I think of my little brother Micah every single day," he says.
Micah was killed on December 7, 2006 while serving with the 3-509th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the United States Army in action near Baghdad, Iraq. He was 27 years old.
Ben, too, served his country for eight years. Directly out of college he joined the United States Marine Corps in 2000. "I had a deep desire to give back and contribute to a nation that we are all so blessed to live in," he says.
He graduated Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia on August 11, 2000 and was later commissioned a second lieutenant on December 15, 2000. Shortly after he finished the Basic School, the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred and Ben checked into his first duty station at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where he joined up with Second Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division.
As an infantry platoon commander, Ben led Marines into combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his first tour in Iraq he served with Task Force Tarawa and saw significant combat in March 2003 while serving in An Nasiriyah, Iraq. Ben's reputation within the Marine Corps as a reliable, sturdy, inspiring, and steadfast officer during combat operations prompted his commanders to elevate his leadership role by giving him command of "Task Force Sledgehammer." This task force was composed of 90 infantry Marines armed with Light Armored Vehicles and Heavy Gun Mounted Humvee's.
"I was nothing special," he deflects. "I rose to the rank of captain after multiple combat tours and trust extended to me by my commanders that I could get the job done. As a Company Commander I was able to lead Marines in combat the greatest honor I could ever hope to have as a Marine Officer."
In total Ben did three tours in support of the Global War on Terrorism earning two combat action ribbons and two Navy Commendation Medals. Ben was serving as a company commander for entry-level Marines at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, California when he found out that Micah was killed.
"Micah spent his summers building homes for the indigent in Mexico, he counseled the youth at his church, and was simply one of America's best. I couldn't figure out why this happened to such a great man at such a young age," Ben recalls. "Ultimately, I became convinced that, however tragic, Micah gave his life for something bigger than himself and therefore his death was truly the perfect conclusion to a wonderful life of service, sacrifice and giving."
After Micah's death, Ben felt strongly about not wanting to turn his back on his country, but to do something in which he could have a bigger impact. "I love my brother and feel connected and committed to making the most of his sacrifice by continuing in the tradition of service to this great nation," he says.
Ben decided to apply to Pepperdine School of Law with the intention of getting involved in politics and making a difference in Washington D.C.
Things have always come easily to Ben, who in high school was homecoming king, athlete of the year, class vice president, captain of the football team, soccer team, and baseball team, and involved with student government. Ben graduated from South High in 1995 and attended the University of California at Berkeley on a baseball scholarship, earning his bachelor's degree in American Studies in 2000.
Law school, he says, is posing a new challenge for the father of three. "Yes, law school is very difficult and by some people's estimate, may be an example of biting off too much too soon," he says. But Micah remains his motivation. "I actually feel that I have been given a mandate to share the relevance of the sacrifice of not just my brother, but of all my fallen brothers who have been slain or wounded during the war on terrorism."
This Veteran's Day, Ben will speak at a public ceremony held at Heroes Garden, a place of honor, reflection, and especially, remembrance on Pepperdine University's Malibu campus.
"No matter what war, or even outside of war, as recently occurred in Fort Hood, I seek to embrace and share in the pain of the families of the fallen, and to honor them for raising such amazing Americans," Ben says. "I owe every ounce of liberty I have inherited to these men and women. For me and my children, we will never, and fortunately can never, forget."
by Audra Quinn