A Marine who was recognized for “extraordinary heroism” while rescuing American civilians when terrorists attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, nearly seven years ago is a Wilkes County native.
Tate Jolly was awarded the Navy Cross in a private ceremony in 2013 for his actions at Benghazi, but only now has been publicly identified due to security concerns earlier.
Jolly, 36, grew up in the Wilbar community and is a 2000 graduate of West Wilkes High School.
The citation accompanying the Navy Cross said Jolly’s “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm's way for the protection of others was critical to the success of saving numerous United States civilian lives.”
The Washington Times reported that an unidentified Marine and Army Master Sergeant David R. Halbruner helped rescue about 30 American civilians while under attack early on the morning of Sept. 12, 2012. For his actions at Benghazi, Halbruner was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 2013. Jolly was the unidentified Marine.
The Navy Cross (for the Marines and Navy) and the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross are surpassed only by the Medal of Honor in prestige.
Citations accompanying the medals awarded to Jolly (only identified as “gunnery sergeant” because his name was expunged) and Halbruner for their actions on the night of Sept. 11 and early morning of Sept. 12, 2012, say they continually exposed themselves to fire as they shepherded unarmed civilians to safety and treated the critically wounded.
Their “calm demeanor, professionalism and courage were an inspiration to all and contributed directly to the success of the mission.”
The citations say Halbruner and the Marine gunnery sergeant (Jolly) were members of a joint task force supporting overseas contingency operations, but don’t say where. The Washington Times reported that they were members of Delta Force, an elite Army counterterrorism unit.
Terrorists attacked two walled American compounds in Benghazi, one with the U.S. Consulate and the other with a CIA “safe house” (referred to as “annex” in some reports) about a mile away on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012.
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith, a U.S. foreign service information officer, died when the U.S. Consulate compound was attacked. Stevens was in Benghazi for a meeting concerning the search for ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Ghadafi's weapons stockpiles and to open a cultural center.
In response to the initial attack on the consulate compound, Jolly, Halbruner and five Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees flew from Tripoli, where the U.S. Embassy is located, to Benghazi late on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
They arrived in Tripoli about 1 a.m. Sept. 12 and soon found themselves in the midst of an intense firefight at the CIA safe house, at that point sheltering about 30 Americans who included CIA personnel in defensive positions.
“All hell broke loose” with mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapon fire soon after the team from Tripoli arrived, according to testimony during the 2017 trial of a Libyan man accused of helping to orchestrate the attacks on the American consulate and CIA safe house in Benghazi.
According to a CBS News report, there is ample evidence of “what must have been a ferocious fight” at the CIA safe house.
“The precise mortar strikes on the (CIA) house suggest those who launched them knew exactly where to aim,” the article stated. “Libyan officials say it's clear from the second assault on the safe house that those behind the attack were determined that no Americans made it out alive.”
Glen Doherty, a member of the team from Tripoli, and Tyrone Woods, based in Benghazi with the CIA, were on the roof of the CIA safe house and returning fire as the terrorists attacked when mortar rounds hit the building, killing both and badly wounding State Department security officer David Ubben.
Jolly and Halbruner were exposed to this barrage of fire as they responded to the men on the roof, providing first aid to the wounded and getting all of them to the ground. Ubben’s leg was nearly severed.
While the attackers were repelled, an evacuation was organized and all of the people at the besieged CIA facility were transported in a motor vehicle convoy to an airport. From there they were flown to an American military base in Ramstein, Germany.
Jolly has had a long career in the Marines, including multiple deployments in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
He was featured in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot in an article on December 2003 about his combat experiences in Iraq and he was later awarded the Bronze Star for heroism during the fighting in that country.
Jolly was a multi-sport standout athlete at West Wilkes High School and was among several West Wilkes graduates who were inspired to enlist in the Marines by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He also attended Wilkes Community College.