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Mar 20th, 2014 by Richard Lowry
Rafael Peralta – An American Hero

Does Rafael Peralta deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor?

The simple answer is YES! But, the entire story is complicated. There are conflicting eyewitness accounts, even the medical doctors who studied the pathology cannot agree. Additionally, some politicians have made decisions based on political considerations, not the facts of the case.

Sgt Rafael Peralta’s sacrifice, an historical account

Nearly ten years ago, America’s sons, and a few of her daughters, fought the largest battle of Operation Iraqi Freedom in November and December of 2004. Just as is happening today, al Qaeda had taken control of the city of Fallujah and Islamic fundamentalists were spreading terror throughout Iraq from their safe haven inside the fortified city. After months of negotiations and stalemate, the Iraqi government, in concert with the American military, mounted Operation al Fajr to clear the city of the 2000 thugs and criminals who had taken control.

A combined force of Iraqi soldiers and American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines attacked the city on 8 November, sweeping north to south. Iraqi and American Soldiers, and U.S. Marines entered every room in every building, never knowing if they would find a cowering family or an incensed insurgent waiting to shoot and kill them. Heroism and courage were the norm as Soldiers and Marines kicked in door after door after door.

Four Marine Infantry Battalions and portions of an Army Infantry Battalion swept through the city with Iraqi soldiers in support. By the 15th of November, the infantrymen of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines had been fighting with a tenacious enemy and clearing houses for a week. Sergeant Rafael Peralta led a team of 1/3 Marines into another house that afternoon and the enemy was waiting. Gunfire erupted and Peralta was hit in the cheek by a fragment of a stray, ricocheting bullet. He fell, face down, in the center of an entryway that opened into a second large room. Corporal Davi Allen ran to Peralta’s aid. He bent down to try to provide medical assistance and immediately decided that Peralta was dead. Allen had little time to check Peralta as a hand grenade bounced into the room and landed next to them both.

Allen yelled, “GRENADE,” turned, and shoved another Marine into the corner of the room. Both waited for the inevitable blast as the other Marines in the room scrambled for cover. The grenade exploded, wounding only three Marines – Allen, Jones and Morrison. Allen was peppered in the backside with 24 shards of shrapnel. When the dust settled, several Marines said that Peralta had pulled the grenade to his chest, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast before he died.

Allen recalled the incident to the Washington Post in November of 2004.

“After going through about 50 houses, Allen, 21, of Cloverdale, Ore., was looking around the small living room of a residence when he heard gunshots coming from the kitchen…He looked over and saw a grenade roll into the room. The house’s windows had bars on them, and the grenade was too close to the doorway for Allen to make a run for it. He said he had no choice but to ride it out. “I balled myself in the corner and waited,” he said. “It blew up behind me…Two Marines were injured and one was killed in the attack. Medics brought Allen to Bravo Surgical with 24 pieces of shrapnel in his backside.”[1]

Written eyewitness accounts were collected immediately. “I can say with absolute certainty that no one in that platoon was forced to write anything. SSgt Murdoch made us all write statements immediately following the incident.”[2] With many eyewitness statements, Peralta was put in for a Congressional Medal of Honor and a thorough investigation of the incident was started. Marines returned to the house and documented the site by taking photographs as if it were a crime scene investigation. Official interviews were conducted. Peralta’s clothes and his equipment were recovered and held for analysis. Strangely, his rifle slipped through the cracks and ended up with the Battalion Armorer. It was not recovered until it was found in a locker in Okinawa in 2013. Peralta’s body underwent a detailed forensic autopsy and a thorough report of his wounds was generated. Once the results of all the analyses were obtained, a Marine Corps board recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor. The Marines’ recommendation was made only after detailed investigation and serious deliberation. The results of this detailed analysis were forwarded to the office of the Secretary of Defense for final approval.

The Marines concluded that Rafael Peralta deserved a Medal of Honor

“Representatives of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) inspected Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket and retrieved several shrapnel fragments as well as a piece of the grenade’s fuse…It is rare for shrapnel from a grenade of this type to penetrate metal or a flak jacket…”[3]

“EOD’s review of the burn pattern on Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket; combined with the fragmentation pattern documented by the battalion surgeon and the autopsy report; as well as the photographs of the spot where Sergeant Peralta was recovered, where the grenade exploded on the floor and the fragmentation pattern left on the wall inside the Big Room between D4 and D2; leave no doubt that the grenade exploded underneath Sergeant Peralta on the left side of his flak jacket.”[4]

The investigating officer concluded his report with one short recommendation, “That Sergeant Rafael Peralta, United States Marine Corps, receive the Medal of Honor.”[5]

Past Media Debacles

Who doesn’t remember Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch? Pat was a National Football League star who gave up a lucrative job after 9/11 to join the United States Army. He was a handsome, physically imposing figure who became a member of the elite United States Army Rangers. Jessica Lynch was a young pretty female American soldier, captured and held for days by the enemy and then rescued by a perfectly executed operation. Both Pat’s and Jessica’s stories were heavily manipulated by the media and George Bush’s political opponents. To this day, most Americans do not know what really happened to Lynch or Tillman. Most will only remember that the Bush administration lied to the American people.

Pat Tillman’s fellow Rangers came up with a story to tell to his parents to soften their grief and give them a final memory of their son dying as a hero. The truth was that he was killed by friendly fire. A U.S. official, trying to impress a reporter, leaked a story that Jessica Lynch was a hero and that she fought to her last bullet. The military never confirmed that story, because no one knew what had happened to Jessica. Yet, every editor in the US and around the world frothed at the mouth when they read of an innocent American girl being held by the “boogieman.” And, they propagated and embellished the story.

When both of these stories were exposed as inaccurate, anti-war extremists jumped on the Bush administration and claimed that ‘Bush had lied to the American people.’ They continued this mantra for years when it was actually the media who did not properly vet the stories before publishing. So, why bring up Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in a story within which we are talking about Rafael Peralta’s Congressional Medal of Honor?  All three stories converge at the desk of Robert Gates.

Robert Gates, as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration, read that Peralta was killed by friendly fire – an American bullet. He still had a bad taste in his mouth from the Tillman and Lynch incidents. It is clear to me that he did not want to ignite another media firestorm, so he searched for a reason to decline the USMC’s request to award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Rafael Peralta. Conveniently, he found a dissenter.

Controversy Develops

An anonymous complaint was filed with the Pentagon’s inspector general, citing several conflicting reports but emphasizing the dissenting pathologist who continued to insist that Peralta could not possibly have scooped a grenade under his body after sustaining the gunshot wound to his head.

In the original autopsy, the examiner concluded that Peralta could not have possibly been able to move after sustaining the bullet fragment wound to his head. He must not recall the story of Phineas Gage:

“On 13th September, 1848, 25-year-old Gage and his crew were working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish in Vermont. Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. While he was doing this, a spark from the tamping iron ignited the powder, causing the iron to be propelled at high speed straight through Gage’s skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards from the site of the accident.

The doctor who later attended to him, John Martin Harlow, later noted that the tamping iron was found “several rods [1 rod= 5.02m] behind him, where it was afterward picked up by his men smeared with blood and brain”. The tamping iron was 3ft 8 inches in length and 1.25 inches in diameter at one end…It tapered at one end, over a distance of about 1 ft., to a blunt end 0.25 inches in diameter, and weighed more than 6 kg.

Whether or not Gage lost consciousness is not known, but, remarkably, he was conscious and able to walk within minutes of the accident.”[6]

Gage suffered psychological damage and a major personality shift, but he lived for another twelve years. Obviously, Peralta’s wound was not as serious as Gage’s. Three other doctors, neurosurgeons and neurologists, disagreed with the original pathologist’s supposition that Peralta had to have been incapacitated after sustaining the gunshot wound and so stated their disagreement in writing.

Yet, Gates refused to sign the recommendation for Peralta’s Medal of Honor. Leon Panetta reviewed the recommendation during his tenure and he concluded that the evidence did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Peralta pulled the grenade under his body. It is obvious to me that neither Gates nor Panetta took the time to review all the evidence. I have read all the statements and reports given to me by Congressman Duncan Hunter’s office and it is clear to me that the grenade exploded underneath Peralta. If that is true, the only conclusion one can make is that Peralta pulled the grenade to his body to protect the other Marines in the room.

Latest Controversy

Just last week, Chuck Hagel decided again that there was not enough evidence to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Rafael Peralta, yet he signed a recommendation for two dozen new Medals of Honor for veterans of Korea and Vietnam. I have not seen those packages, but I would be willing to venture that Rafael Peralta belongs in that group of two dozen new Medal of Honor winners.

To make matters worse, The Washington Post released a scandalous article shouting to the world that Marines recanted their testimony and that Peralta was not a hero. They quoted Tony Gonzales, who was not even in the house during the firefight, and Davi Allen who I interviewed several weeks ago. Davi told me that he watched the grenade until it exploded and also told me that he did not want to participate in a new investigation, yet he freely gave his new account to The Washington Post.

What do you think?

Put yourself in that room with Davi Allen and Rafael Peralta. One of your fellow Marines has been hit and you believe he is lying dead on the floor next to you. You see a grenade bounce into the room. You yell, “GRENADE” and dive for the corner, pushing another Marine into the corner with you. You cover to protect yourself from the explosion. The grenade goes off and peppers your backside with shrapnel. That is what all the witnesses will tell you. Davi Allen will tell you that too. But, what he told me in an interview, and apparently told The Washington Post too, is that he saw the grenade explode. Really? In 2004, Davi claimed he was “balled up” in the corner. He received all of his shrapnel wounds in his rear end and he is now claiming he watched the grenade until it exploded. Is this what The Washington Post based their claims on?

When a writer crafts a piece, he presents a picture to his readers. When I first read that Peralta had been shot in the head, I immediately thought of a catastrophic wound that would have killed him immediately. The Washington Post printed:

“Tony Gonzales, a corporal who was outside the house, said one of the Marines approached him, put a hand on his shoulder and wept.

“I shot Peralta with a three-round burst to the face,” the Marine told him, according to Gonzales. “He ran right in front of my line of fire.””[7]

I immediately thought, ‘there is no way Peralta could have survived that.’ The Post article neglected to tell the reader that Peralta suffered a small wound to his cheek from a ricocheting fragment of a 5.56 round (NATO ammunition). The fragment traveled through his brain and was recovered at autopsy. They also failed to mention that several respected doctors wrote in the official reports that it was possible for Peralta to survive that wound long enough to drag a grenade to his body.

Also, Tony Gonzales was not in the room, his claim to involvement is that he helped pull Peralta’s body from the house. I have not heard Brown corroborate Gonzales’ story. And the issues Gonzales and Brown brought up in the Post article were thoroughly addressed by the Marine Corps investigators and discounted.

One of the Marines wounded inside the house, said Peralta saved his life that morning. “He gave me a chance to a second life.” He said the notion that Marines had agreed to make up the story was impossible, noting that he and others were medically evacuated soon after the blast. A Marine colonel assigned to investigate the facts wrote in a Nov. 17, 2005, report that he explored those allegations but became convinced that the Marines who testified to Peralta’s actions “gave an honest account.”

The Washington Post failed to vet its sources in 2001 when an overzealous military official leaked a story that Jessica Lynch ‘fought to her last bullet.” It appears that they have not learned their lesson. On Friday, they published a story about Rafael Peralta without vetting sources again. The Washington Post really needs to be more careful in what it publishes. Millions of people rely on what they read in the Post.

 

Richard S. Lowry is an internationally recognized military historian and author: New Dawn, the battles for Fallujah (Savas Beatie LLC, 2010); Marines in the Garden of Eden (Berkley Caliber, 2006); The Gulf War Chronicles (iUniverse, 2003 and iUniverse Star, 2008), and US Marine in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 (Osprey, 2006).  Additionally, he contributed to Small Unit Actions(United States Marine Corps History Division, 2008). Visit www.RichardSLowry.com for more information about Richard and his work.

 

 



[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8612-2004Nov23.html, “Medics Testify to Fallujah’s Horrors”, Jackie Spinner, The Washington Post, Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page A15.

[2] Email from the combat cameraman who recorded the aftermath of the incident, Steve Sebby, sent to Joe Kasper and Ernesto Londono on 20 February 2014.

[3] Battalion Landing Team 1/3, Investigating Officer – Major REDACTED, Review of insurgent engagement on 15 November 2004 involving Sergeant Rafael Peralta, 1 Jan 05, finding 24.

[4] Ibid. BLT 1/3, finding 27.

[5] Ibid. BLT 1/3.

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Sep 27th, 2013 by Richard Lowry
Coming Soon – Code Name Scarlet – a novel by Richard S. Lowry

Would you sacrifice the one you love to save the world?

 

Code Name Scarlet is a twenty-first century suspense thriller that is pulled from the pages of your newspaper. It begins with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and ends years later in Quetta, Pakistan. As the story progresses, the unrelated lives of men and women from around the world, move closer and closer together, until they all become part of an event that will change the course of history.

Major Ben Rydell, a young Marine infantry officer who lost both of his parents in the World Trade Center tragedy, finds the love of his life, Meredith Wilson, and is forced to leave her to command a strike force in Operation Scarlet. Lindsey Warner, a young, blonde CIA officer meets Lieutenant Commander Rich Graham, a Navy SEAL, at Kandahar Airfield and they too fall in love. Lindsey and Rich also become key players in Operation Scarlet.

Dr. Achmed Ali Bahan, a Pakistani bomb maker, devises an insidious bomb fuse that can be programmed to detonate anywhere in the world. He becomes involved in a grandiose plot to bring fire and destruction to the American infidel. He allies himself with Taliban and al Qaeda leadership and learns that the Pakistani ISI has given them a nuclear weapon.

As Dr. Bahan refines his plan to explode the nuclear weapon in the American homeland, Lindsey begins to hear rumors of a new al Qaeda plot. Meanwhile, the President of the United States asks the military to develop a plan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and Aymen al Zawahiri. CENTCOM brings the American military’s best and brightest leaders together to define Operation Scarlet. As the story develops, Operation Scarlet morphs into a plan to find and secure the rogue nuclear weapon.

The story climaxes with a large military operation in the southwestern mountains of Pakistan. As history has proven over and over again, no plan ever survives first contact. Lindsey and Rich are forced to improvise and must make life and death choices to complete the mission.

This is a story of love and war; heroism and cowardice; hollow victory and painful loss. It will make you think and it will make you cry.

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Mar 24th, 2013 by Richard Lowry
10th Anniversary of the Battle For an Nasiriyah

Entering Nasiriyah

It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company rolled through the dusty streets of An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003. Eleven of Jessica’s fellow soldiers were killed that morning, five were captured and a dozen more injured. Lynch was critically injured and near death when she was brought into a military hospital near the site of her ambush.

Within hours of the ambush, the North Carolina Marines of Task Force Tarawa moved to secure the bridges in An Nasiriyah. LtCol Rickey Grabowski’s 1st Battalion, of the 2nd Marine Regiment rolled into the city and encountered stiff resistance. By midmorning they had rescued nearly half of the soldiers who had been ambushed and by noon the Marines were charging forward through a hail of RPGs, AK-47 gunfire, mortar and artillery barrages. By sunset, Grabowski’s Marines had secured their objectives but at a terrible cost. Eighteen of America’s finest died and another dozen were wounded.

In all, twenty-nine Americans died that day in An Nasiriyah. Initially, the situation in Nasiriyah was so confusing and filled with the fog of war that no one knew the connection between the 507th Maintenance Company and the brave Marines of the 2d Marine Regiment. At first, Jessica’s capture was kept quiet for fear that the enemy would move her if they suspected that America knew where she was.

As the days and weeks passed, the news media moved on to Lynch’s rescue and then the fall of Baghdad. When the Department of Defense finally sorted things out and released the names of the Marines and soldiers who died that day, the media took very little interest. No one ever realized that that bloody day in Nasiriyah, on March 23rd, was the costliest day of combat for America in the long years of operations in Iraq.  Twenty-nine American soldiers and Marines were never given the national attention that they deserved for their ultimate sacrifice. This Saturday, nearly a thousand of the veterans of the fight to free Nasiriyah will be coming together at the Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia to honor those sacrifices.

Before sunrise on the 23rd of March, 2003, thirty-three soldiers, traveling in eighteen trucks, stumbled into the dusty desert city of An Nasiriyah. It wasn’t until they had driven all the way through the city that they realized that they were hopelessly lost. As soon as they turned around and tried to retrace their path, every Iraqi with a gun started shooting at the beleaguered convoy. The lead three vehicles managed to run the gauntlet and get back to the U.S. Marines’ front lines.

Five vehicles broke down and ten soldiers scrambled for cover in a nearby ditch. Surrounded, they each vowed to go down fighting. They fought to hold off the enemy for nearly an hour, when Major Bill Peeples and the Marine tankers of Alpha Company, 8th Tanks arrived to save the day. The Marines beat back the enemy and rushed the ten soldiers to safety.

The remaining seventeen soldiers were not as fortunate. Eleven were killed and six captured. Specialists Jamaal Addison and James Kiehl both died when their vehicle careened through an intersection and rolled over on its top.  Private First Class Howard Johnson II and Private Ruben Estrella-Soto’s truck crashed at the same intersection.  Sergeant Donald Walters was lost north of An Nasiriyah when his vehicle broke down. He leapt from his disabled vehicle behind enemy lines and laid down covering fire so that the rest of his unit could turn their vehicles and get out of a horrific ambush.  Private Brandon Sloan was shot and killed while the vehicle he was in was racing south. Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata’s truck shuddered to a stop atop a railroad overpass and burst into flames. Mata was killed, but his driver, Specialist Hudson, survived.

Jessica Lynch's HMMWV

Near the end to the doomed convoy, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy tried to shepherd his soldiers to safety. Private First Class Lori Piestewa was driving Dowdy’s HMMWV. Specialist Edward Anguiano, Sergeant George Buggs and Private First Class Jessica Lynch were riding in the back. Piestewa managed to maneuver around obstacles and raced all the way back through Nasiriyah when the flatbed in front of her jackknifed. Lori was unable to avoid the back of the skidding truck. She plowed into the rear of the flatbed, instantly killing Dowdy.

We know that Lori and Jessica survived the collision. It is not clear what happened to Buggs and Anguiano. Patrick Miller, Hudson, Hernandez, Lynch, Piestewa, Riley, and Shoshana Johnson were all taken prisoner. Lynch and Piestewa were separated from the others and eventually ended up in the Tykar Military Hospital. Lori died while being treated, leaving Lynch alone and near death.

The soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company that were killed that day were from all walks of life and every corner of this nation. They were a swatch cut from the American fabric and the first to die in this protracted war. Lori Piestewa was an American Indian and single mother. Brandon Sloan and Robert Dowdy were both from Cleveland Ohio. Brandon, 19, had left high school early to join the Army, while Dowdy, 38, was a career soldier. James Kiehl, 22, was a friendly computer technician who left behind a pregnant wife. Buggs and Anguiano were not even members of the 507th. Dowdy had convinced them to take one of their vehicles in tow two nights before. Their tow truck ran out of gas north of An Nasiriyah and Dowdy, Piestewa and Lynch had picked them up.

 

By noon, the Marines were pressing north to secure two vital bridges in An Nasiriyah. The fighting started long before they reached the Euphrates River but it wasn’t until they moved into downtown Nasiriyah that all hell broke loose. Alpha Company secured the Euphrates River Bridge while Bravo Company swung out to the east side of town. Charlie Company raced over the Euphrates River and charged through “Ambush Alley” to the Saddam Canal Bridge.

North of the Saddam Canal

Eighteen Marines died in Charlie Company’s battle for that northern bridge. Donald Cline was a twenty-one year old husband and father of two young boys. Patrick Nixon loved history and wanted to eventually be a teacher. Phillip Jordan was a career Marine and loving husband and father. Fred Pokorney was a giant of a man who had just been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.  Sergeant Michael Bitz was the father of two young boys and one-month old twins. David Fribley and Brian Buesing were both Florida natives. Fribley joined the Corps after 9/11 and Buesing had been in the Marines since he graduated from high school. Brendon Reiss was the son of a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Randal Rosacker was the son of a Navy Master Chief submarine sailor. Jose Garibay and Jorge Gonzalez were both from Southern California. Thomas Slocum was a 22 year old from Colorado and Nolen Hutchings was from South Carolina. They were both troubled teens who had worked to turn their lives around in the Corps.

Tamario Burkett was a young Marine from upstate New York. Kemaphoom Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at nine years old. He was the first to have a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Johnathan Gifford wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy. Michael Williams joined the Corps late in life. At 31, he was just a Lance Corporal but older than most of the young officers he worked for. On his trip over to Iraq, he emailed his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. Thomas Blair was not a member of Charlie Company. He was part of an anti-aircraft unit that had been assigned to Charlie Company. He too, went directly into the Marine Corps after high school graduation.

Twenty-nine lives ended too soon on that clear Sunday in March. Twenty-nine families grieve to this day. These soldiers and Marines died before there was a daily box score in the newspapers of America. They have been buried under thousands more stories. Donald Cline and Michael Williams died because they chose to help their wounded comrades.

Many more soldiers and Marines would have died that day had it not been for the Herculean efforts of men like, Private First Class Patrick Miller, Sergeant Michael Bitz, Gunnery Sergeant Jason Doran, Lieutenant Mike Seely, Captain Eric Garcia, and Major Bill Peeples. These men are true American heroes.

           Read about these brave young men and women in the only book to tell the entire story of America’s first major battle in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marines in the Garden of Eden, Berkley, New York, 2006, is available at all fine bookstores and online booksellers. It is available in Trade Paperback and in many eBook formats.

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Mar 22nd, 2012 by Richard Lowry
An important anniversary

Nine years ago today, American Soldiers and Marines were racing across the southeastern Iraqi wasteland – charging toward Baghdad. Historians will long argue the righteousness of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. During the last nine years I have tried to avoid the political discussion. It has been my goal to tell the stories of America’s sons and daughters at war and to tell them as accurately as possible.

As I conducted my research to tell these amazing stories, I have uncovered details that have not been presented to the American people. I have painstakingly studied the story of Jessica Lynch, Rafael Peralta and the battles of Nasiriyah and Fallujah. I have amassed and read thousands of pages of documentation. I have become an expert on the war in Iraq and I have tried to tell the stories of American men and women who did not pick this fight, but fought it anyway. March 23 will mark the ninth anniversary of the first major battle of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the bloodiest single day for America in that long war. Twenty nine Americans were killed in the battle of An Nasiriyah. Here is the beginning of their story.

On March 22, 2003, American Soldiers and Marines were charging across the Iraqi desert, on their way to Saddam’s center of power – Baghdad. The Marines of Task Force Tarawa had been ordered to drive toward the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. There were several bridges in, and around, the dusty city that provided the only viable Euphrates River crossing point. Two critical bridges crossed the river and a third forded the Saddam Canal, north of Nasiriyah.

1st Battalion, 2d Marines were ordered to secure the eastern Euphrates River Bridge and to then push through the city to secure the northern bridge which spanned the Saddam Canal. Movement across the Iraqi desert was slow-going and Task Force Tarawa arrived at Jalibah late on March 22, 2003.

Around midnight on 22/23 March, the Marines of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines were awakened and ordered into their vehicles. They waited there for about an hour and then they moved north toward the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 1. The Marines moved through the cloverleaf intersection and were headed north on Highway 7 toward Nasiriyah when a small column of Army supply trucks, headlights blazing, raced up the road behind the Marines.

Lieutenant Colonel Rickey Grabowski, believing these to be support vehicles for the Army armored unit he was supposed to relieve, ordered his vehicles off the road to let the soldiers pass. But, this was not a 3d Infantry Division logistics unit. It was Captain Troy King and half of his 507th Maintenance Company. King’s company had become separated in the Kuwaiti desert when several of his vehicles broke down. Captain King was racing forward with 32 of his soldiers in 16 vehicles. They sped past the Marines and headed directly into Nasiriyah.

By 0600, Captain King had led his convoy up a deserted winding highway, across a railroad overpass and past a yellow sign displaying “WELCOME” in large black block letters below what was obviously the same message in Arabic. He led his convoy past a company of dug-in Iraqi tanks, and then through an area filled with giant oil storage tanks.  Dozens of large power lines crisscrossed the road and cluttered the sky. King continued forward into the southern portion of An Nasiriyah. He passed a garbage dump and then a gas station. He drove right through a modern intersection equipped with freeway-style traffic signs, stop lights and a small guard shack built to provide shade for a traffic cop. This major intersection was adorned with a statue commemorating the Iran/Iraq War.

At this intersection, Highway 8 went off to the west, through the southern portion of An Nasiriyah. Captain King missed the large signs, missed the traffic lights, missed the statue, and the left turn onto Highway 8. Instead of heading west toward the Third Infantry Division, he led his soldiers straight into Nasiriyah on Highway 7.

He continued past a manned Iraqi Army checkpoint, and then over the Euphrates River Bridge. Iraqi pickup trucks, loaded with armed Iraqis and machine guns mounted in their beds, began shadowing the American convoy.  Captain King pressed on, obviously incapable of reading a map. He proceeded north across the Saddam Canal Bridge and through more Iraqi defenses. By now, he should have been 100% sure that he was lost. Yet King drove right past the 23rd Brigade’s abandoned headquarters building and turned left on Highway 16. Less than a mile down Highway 16, King approached another “T” intersection with Highway 7. He led the doomed convoy past the Al Quds’ Headquarters and north for more than a mile before he finally realized that he was hopelessly lost.

Finally, King decided to retrace his steps back through Nasiriyah to find the correct route. Just as they were turning to head back down Highway 16, they began to receive sporadic small arms fire. Bullets whizzed overhead and hit the vehicles. The shots seemed to be coming from everywhere. The convoy immediately sped up to get away from the hot fire zone.

Leading the convoy in his HMMWV, King sped forward at such a rate that the larger vehicles were unable to keep up. As the convoy raced forward, ever increasing distances separated the beleaguered vehicles. King drove past the right-hand turn that would take his convoy back down Ambush Alley. In his panic, he continued east on Highway 16.

Not far behind, Sergeant First Class Anthony Pierce and Specialist Timothy Johnson noticed that Captain King had missed the turn. Lacking a working radio, they accelerated their 5-ton truck to catch up with Captain King to tell him that they knew the way back to the turn. Meanwhile, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy approached the Highway 7 intersection at the tail of the fleeing convoy. Dowdy radioed ahead to tell Captain King that the convoy had missed the turn. They all needed to turn around – again.

Still under fire, the convoy continued east on Highway 16, frantically searching for a spot to turn the larger vehicles around. They continued to roll east, farther and farther from Highway 7. There was no decent place to turn around. They pushed east for three kilometers before finally coming upon a suitable spot to turn all of the vehicles. In his small vehicle, King quickly turned around and sped back west.

When the soldiers in the convoy, still under fire, reached the intersection where they needed to turn south, they all turned to retrace their path back through Nasiriyah. Captain King bolted south across the Canal Bridge and through the city, leaving his soldiers in the slower vehicles to fend for themselves. Lori Piestewa, First Sergeant Dowdy, Private First Class Jessica Lynch, Sergeant George Buggs, and Private First Class Edward Anguiano stayed behind with the slowest vehicles.

The faster group of vehicles, led by Captain King and his driver, Private Dale Nace, sped through the city under increasing fire. Pierce and Johnson followed King south as they raced their 5-ton tractor-trailer back through the city.  Sergeant Joel Petrik and Specialist Nicholas Peterson managed to keep their tractor-trailer going fast enough to keep up with Captain King’s Humvee. The three vehicles rushed south through “Ambush Alley” as the Iraqis attempted to block their passage with vehicles and debris. Swerving and dodging the obstacles, they pressed forward over the Euphrates River Bridge.

As they drove south, Petrik noticed a dump truck in the road ahead. The Iraqis had driven the truck onto the road to use as a barricade. An Iraqi officer was standing in the road, waiving for Nace and Captain King to stop. Nace accelerated and the Iraqi dove for cover behind the barricade. Pierce and Johnson swerved around the dump truck and followed King south. By the time Petrik and Peterson had reached the roadblock, the Iraqi Officer was back on his feet in the middle of the road with pistol drawn and he was firing at the approaching eighteen-wheeler.

Petrik and Peterson returned fire with their M-16s and the Iraqi jumped to safety again. Petrik swerved around the right side of the dump truck and momentarily off the road. Now there was an Iraqi Technical directly ahead of them. Petrik jerked the wheel back to the left and his large truck jumped back up onto the road. The gunner in the Technical sprayed the passing truck with machine gun fire as Petrik raced past.

Once past the roadblock, there was a short pause in the shooting. Petrik’s rear view mirror had been shot out so he asked Peterson, “How many vehicles are in back of us?” [1]

“None,” Peterson replied.

“None?” Petrik couldn’t believe it. “Look again!”

Peterson checked again. There were no vehicles in sight. Petrik was flabbergasted. Where had all the other vehicles gone? Petrik considered stopping and waiting for the rest of the Company, but the enemy fire picked up again and then he saw four Iraqi tanks. There were two tanks on either side of the road.

Meanwhile, Grabowski’s tanks were approaching the city from the south. As Captain Scott Dyer’s tank approached two farm houses, Major Donald “Hawk” Hawkins looked to the house on the left side of the road and saw a man in a white robe (man-dress) literally picking up children and throwing them into the over loaded rear bed of his small pickup truck. “That’s not a good sign,” Hawk thought, just as small arms fire erupted and mortar rounds exploded nearby.

The lead tanks quickly turned and charged the farm houses. Dyer stopped his tank about 40 yards from the house on the west side of the road. Hawk and Dyer could hear the small arms fire but could not determine where it was coming from.  Suspecting that they were being shot at from the house, Captain Dyer directed Hawk to fire his machine gun into the building and a vegetated area to the north. The tankers violent response drove the enemy fighters from their cover and both farm houses were quickly secured.

As the tankers were fighting at the farm houses, King’s three lead vehicles sped south through a hail of gunfire, past the Iraqi tanks and over the railroad bridge. At the crest of the bridge, Petrik noticed more tanks in the distance. They were American M1 tanks. Petrik thought, “Please don’t let the Abrams shoot, because they don’t miss.”

King, Nace, Johnson, Pierce, Petrik and Peterson raced south toward the Marines on Highway 7. Just as the tanks were pulling back up onto the road, Peeples’ tankers saw the vehicle racing south, pulling a flaming trailer toward the Marines. Despite the adrenalin rush of “first contact” the reserve tankers had the discipline and maturity to wait to fire until they could make a visual ID. To their surprise, it was Captain King’s HMMWV. Everyone held their fire. Around 0730, King’s Humvee, a small truck and a semi barreled south past Peeples’ lead tanks, and screeched to a stop.

Sitting atop his M1 tank, Major Peeples watched the beleaguered vehicles approach. Captain King jumped out, pistol drawn, and took cover behind the passenger side door.

Major Peeples climbed down from his tank and briskly walked over to King. “What in the Hell is going on?”[2]

“I got more people up there!” King replied, motioning north. King was almost hysterical.

“What is the situation up there?” Peeples tried to get a picture of what he was up against. “Where were you receiving fire?”

King was frazzled. He couldn’t provide any useful information.

Peeples tried once again. “How many soldiers are left up there?”

“I, I just need, I need you to go get some people. I got people up there.” King babbled.

“Okay, Fine!” Peeples left King standing in the road and returned to his tank. Major Peeples got on the radio and reported his bizarre find to Grabowski – then ordered a section of his tanks forward. When Hawk saw the tanks moving north he told Captain Scott Dyer, “I have to be with the lead trace.[3]” So Captain Dyer ordered his tank forward too. Dyer’s driver gunned the engine, and followed Peeples north. As they rolled forward, Hawk, unable to contact the Air Officer, started calling out on the guard frequency[4] for Cobra support.

Captains Matt Schenberger, Brian Bruggeman, and Lieutenants Travis Richie and John Parker had parked their two HML/A 269 Cobra helicopters for the night near Jalibah at a nearby makeshift airfield and had slept on the desert floor next to their refueling trucks. On the morning of March 23, 2003, they climbed into their birds, cranked their engines and lifted into the morning sky. As soon as they were airborne, they were alerted to Hawk’s call. They turned north and raced toward An Nasiriyah to help their fellow North Carolina Marines.

Hawk told the pilots to start searching for more of the 507th soldiers with their high powered optics. As Team Tank charged forward to rescue King’s soldiers, other Marines escorted King south to the relative safety of Grabowski’s Battalion Command Post. The bounding maneuver that Hawk had demonstrated, practiced and was admonished for while at Camp Shoup, was now seamlessly being put into practice by the Air-Ground team of Cobras and tanks.

Separated from Captain King and the lead vehicles, Army Specialist Jun Zhang and Sergeant Curtis Campbell led the second group of helpless vehicles in another 5-ton tractor-trailer. Private First Class Marcus Dubois and Corporal Damien Luten followed in a second truck. CW3[5] Marc Nash and Staff Sergeant Tarik Jackson were towing a trailer with their HMMWV and Private First Class Adam Elliot and Sergeant James Grubb followed in their empty fuel truck. Finally, Sergeant Rose and Corporal Francis Carista rounded out the second group in their 5-ton tractor-trailer.

These ten soldiers raced south in their five vehicles. Zhang, Dubois, Jackson, Elliot, and Rose swerved around obstacles and drove over the Euphrates River Bridge. They raced south past the intersection with Highway 8, past the dug-in tanks, and up onto the railway bridge, only to find a terrifying sight.

The Iraqis had blocked the southern end of the bridge by pushing two dilapidated buses across the road. Iraqi fighters peppered Zhang and Campbell’s vehicles with small arms and RPG fire. Campbell recalled, “I have never been so scared in my life.”[6] While rolling down the bridge, their vehicle was hit repeatedly by RPGs and small arms fire. The vehicle rolled forward from momentum only. Mortally wounded, the engine had ceased to work. Somehow Zhang managed to maneuver the truck around the roadblock of buses but their tractor-trailer soon rolled to a terrifying stop.

Zhang and Campbell immediately jumped from their disabled vehicle. Zhang jumped onto Dubois and Luten’s truck as it passed but Campbell, who had been riding “shotgun,” was now left alone with the disabled truck. He tried to return fire and was shot in the thigh.

Nash and Jackson screeched to a stop and picked up Campbell. The HMMWV kicked up dust and stones as it accelerated to continue south. But the three didn’t get very far before their Hummer was hit and disabled. Dubois, Luten, and Zhang raced south and soon they noticed vehicles on the highway ahead – lots of vehicles. They thought the vehicles on the southern horizon were more Iraqis so they quickly turned their truck around and returned to their stranded friends just south of the railroad bridge. Ten soldiers were now huddled in a trench along the side of the road. The small group formed a defensive perimeter. Rose dressed the others’ wounds as they waited for the Iraqis to overrun their position. Each of the ten soldiers had resigned himself to the fact that the situation was hopeless and that he would probably die soon. They all decided to hold on as long as they could. They agreed that they would go down fighting and not be captured. One said, “I am going to take fifteen or twenty of them with me.”[7]

Major Peeples’ tanks tried to advance by bounds up the road, but the narrow road was raised above a muddy delta and there was very little room for the tankers to maneuver around each other. On his second bound, Captain Jim Thompson radioed Peeples. “Hey, I see them,”[8] he reported. Thompson abandoned the bounding over watch and with the cover of the Cobras, raced forward toward the embattled soldiers of the 507th.

Running low on ammunition and with five wounded, the ten stranded soldiers had been lying in the trench for nearly an hour, waiting for the Iraqis to close in on their position. Suddenly, Staff Sergeant Tarik Jackson, the most seriously wounded, cocked his head, “Listen!” he exclaimed. “Do you hear that? It sounds like our tanks!”[9]

Someone peeked up out of the trench and saw Captain Thompson’s tanks approaching. Thompson’s tankers began picking targets and methodically destroying the enemy with main gun rounds while Hawk’s Cobras swooped in and attacked the enemy from above.

After spending forty-five minutes of sheer hell, believing that they were going to die that day, the sound of M1 tanks and Cobra helicopters immediately rallied the despondent soldiers. They would survive. The Marines had saved the day. Peeples’ tanks rolled up and straddled the trench at the “Garbage Dump,” just south of the railroad overpass.

Cobras and Hueys swooped in and braved anti-aircraft fire to protect the soldiers on the ground. The pilots reported large numbers of fighters moving toward the trapped soldiers.  They flew in low and fast, engaging enemy troops and weapons systems.  Every now and then, anti-aircraft artillery fire would climb up after them.

At one point, there was so much air coming in that Hawk couldn’t keep all the call signs straight; many of which were similar sounding names. Because they were ‘troops in contact,’ all priority for air had shifted to Task Force Tarawa. At one point there were two sections of Marine F18s, one section of Navy F14s and a British Tornado that checked on station in addition to the division of Cobras.  Do to his unfamiliarity with the capabilities of the British Tornados, and less than ideal experiences with F14s providing close air support, Hawk elected to stick with using Marine Corps Air whenever it was available.[10]

Working as a combined arms team, Peeples’ tankers, the aircraft overhead and the artillery were able to destroy several platoon-sized enemy formations, two ZSU 23-4[11] antiaircraft weapons, several mortar and artillery positions, as well as two T-55 tanks spotted moving toward the ambushed soldiers.

As soon as Dyer had seen Campbell and his comrades huddled in the ditch, he called for a cas-evac. Alpha Company sent two AAVs with Gunnery Sergeant Justin LeHew and First Sergeant James Thompson’s Casualty Collection Team forward to assist the wounded soldiers. The Iraqis were still firing as Thompson rolled up in his AMTRAC, A312.[12] Peeples’ tankers continued to lay down covering fire as First Sergeant Thompson, Gunny LeHew and their corpsmen ran to the aid of the wounded soldiers.

As they loaded the casualties on to their track, Thompson noticed some commotion near the soldiers who were not wounded. Chief Warrant Officer Marc Nash was refusing to get into the AMTRAC.

“I can’t leave my men behind, First Sergeant,”[13] he protested to Thompson. “I got men all over the place. They ambushed us bad.”

Thompson tried to calm Nash. “Hey Sir, the Marines have landed. You gotta leave them. You can’t stay here.” Thompson didn’t wait for a response: he just dragged Nash into the track. “We will do everything we can to find them.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Eleven Soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company died in that ambush and eighteen Marines were killed later that day as they moved to secure the bridges. Let us never forget the dedication and sacrifices of these men and women. Please take a moment to remember these Soldiers and Sailors. They will not be completely gone until they are forgotten:

Specialists Jamaal Addison, Specialist Edward Anguiano, Sergeant George Buggs, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy, Private Ruben Estrella-Soto, Private First Class Howard Johnson II, Specialist James Kiehl, Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata, Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Private Brandon Sloan and the real hero of the 507th Maintenance Company, Sergeant Donald Walters.

Later that same day, eighteen Marines died in Charlie Company’s battle for the northern bridge. Donald Cline was a twenty-one year old husband and father of two young boys. Patrick Nixon loved history and wanted to eventually be a teacher. Phillip Jordan was a career Marine and loving husband and father. Fred Pokorney was a giant of a man who had just been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.  Sergeant Michael Bitz was the father of two young boys and one-month old twins. David Fribley and Brian Buesing were both Florida natives. Fribley joind the Corps after 9/11 and Buesing had been in the Marines since he graduated from high school. Brendon Reiss was the son of a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Randal Rosacker was the son of a Navy Master Chief submarine sailor. Jose Garibay and Jorge Gonzalez were both from Southern California. Thomas Slocum was a 22 year old from Colorado and Nolen Hutchings was from South Carolina. They were both troubled teens who had worked to turn their lives around in the Corps.

Tamario Burkett was a young Marine from upstate New York. Kemaphoom Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at nine years old. He was the first to have a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Johnathan Gifford wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy. Michael Williams joined the Corps late in life. At 31, he was just a Lance Corporal but older than most of the young officers he worked for. On his trip over to Iraq, he emailed his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. Thomas Blair was not a member of Charlie Company. He was part of an anti-aircraft unit that had been assigned to Charlie Company. He too, went directly into the Marine Corps after high school graduation.

Please hold these men and women in your thoughts today and read Marines in the Garden of Eden to learn the story of each and every one of these American heroes.


[1] Conversation taken from telephone interview with Sgt Joel Petrik (USA), 5/24/05.

[2] Telephone interview with Major Bill Peeples, 1/29/04.

[3] Major Donald Hawkins, telephone interview, 10/28/11.

[4] The Guard Frequency is an unencrypted general channel used primarily for emergencies. All military aircraft monitor the Guard Frequency.

[5] Chief Warrant Officer 3.

[6] Telephone interview with Sgt Curtis Campbell (USA), 5/11/04.

[7] Telephone interview with Sgt Curtis Campbell (USA), 5/11/04.

[8] Ibid. Peeples.

[9] Ibid. Campbell.

[10] The preceding paragraph taken from interactions between Major Hawkins and Capt Miller in Hammer from Above, Presidio Press, December, 2005.

[11] Russian-built anti-aircraft gun.

[12] Each company in the 1st Battalion had twelve tracks. They were numbered by company, AAV platoon and vehicle. Alpha Company had A301 through A312; Bravo had B201 to B212; Charlie had C201 through C212.

[13] Telephone Interview with 1stSgt James Thompson, Jr., 8/1/04.

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Feb 24th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Operation Desert Storm – 20 years later

The Ground War Begins

cigar_smallMarine Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Ray led the 1st Marine Regiment’s charge to Baghdad as commander of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. This was not his first taste of battle. Ray is a decorated veteran of Operation Desert Storm. It is hard to believe that it has been twenty years since coalition forces ejected the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. Contrary to popular belief, the Iraqi Army stood and fought our advance into Kuwait. Following is a short, updated, excerpt from “The Gulf War Chronicles” which reveals the details of Ray’s first encounter with Saddam’s army.

By the end of the first day of the ground war, Task Force Ripper had Al Jaber Airfield, in Southern Kuwait, under siege and Task Force Papa Bear was protecting the right flank of the 1st Marine Division. General Thomas Draude, the 1st Marine Division’s assistant commander, had led the division’s “Jump” CP forward into Kuwait during the afternoon. He set up the forward command post somewhere between Task Force Ripper and Papa Bear with the burning Burqan Oil Field just east of his site. A young intelligence captain cautioned the general that he believed the Iraqis were massing for a counterattack in the center of the facility. Draude discounted the warning believing that no one could tolerate the heat from the dozens of fires raging throughout the field.

Throughout the night of 24-25 February, 1991, Marines received more and more information indicating that there was an Iraqi armor brigade and a mechanized infantry brigade on the 1st Marine Division’s right flank in the Burqan Oil Field. So, plans were made to flush these Iraqis out with a massive artillery barrage the next morning.

Prior to the artillery barrage, at 0715, the commanders of Task Force Papa Bear started a morning staff meeting at their field headquarters, just southwest of the Burqan Oil Field. As the Regiment’s senior officers were discussing the day’s plans, a single Iraqi tank and a Chinese-built Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) appeared not one hundred yards from the officers. Smoke from the oil fires was so bad on this morning that the Iraqis had wandered unseen through the Marine sentry posts. Fortunately these Iraqis had ventured out to surrender. Their senior officer volunteered that the rest of his brigade was close behind and that they wanted to fight.

Around 0815, five battalions of Marine artillery began pounding the suspected Iraqi positions in the Al Burqan Oil Field. Sixty-six howitzers fired two hundred forty-four rounds in the first volley. Three minutes later a second salvo unleashed nearly five hundred more rounds. The young intelligence officer had called it right. The Iraqi 5th Mechanized Division had spent all night massing in the cover of Burqan preparing to counterattack the 1st Marines.

Within fifteen minutes, RCT-1 reported: “T-62s everywhere, scattering like cockroaches from the Burqan Oil Field.” Papa Bear’s commanders immediately called for close air support. Captain Randall Hammond responded to the call for help. He brought his four Cobra helicopters in to attack the advancing Iraqis. Smoke still obscured the battlefield, but unlike the night before, the Arabian sun helped the Cobra pilots see through the billowing smoke. Scout Marines on the ground painted targets for the Cobra pilots while they launched their Hellfire missiles at the Iraqi armored vehicles. With the help of Hammond’s Cobras and other pilots, the 1st Tank Battalion beat back the brigade-sized attack on Papa Bear’s position after three and a half hours of fighting. The combined air-ground defense destroyed fifty tanks and twenty-five APCs. Papa Bear’s Marines herded three hundred dazed Iraqi soldiers from the battlefield.

Eight miles to the north, General Draude monitored Papa Bear’s battle from the 1st Division’s forward command post located on the western edge of the Emir’s Farm. The Emir’s Farm was a small oasis located directly to the east of the Division’s breach head. Only a rifle platoon and a LAV platoon from the 1st LAI Battalion protected the Division forward command post. Captain Eddie Steven Ray had his seven LAV-25s positioned on a screen line, about a quarter of a mile east of General Draude’s command unit. The rifle platoon was dug in to Ray’s north.

Around 0930, Iraqi artillery rounds began falling near the rifle platoon. Ray raced north in his LAV, to find Iraqi Armored Personnel Carriers (BMPs) disgorging troops on the edge of the oasis. Ray and the rifle platoon opened fire on the advancing Iraqis. Realizing that his division commander was in immediate danger, Captain Ray called for his platoon to come north and engage the enemy.

Meanwhile, General Draude and his staff watched as an Iraqi mechanized brigade attacked out of the oasis. Draude turned to an aid and quipped. “If I die today, my wife is going to kill me.” The 1st Marine Division’s Operations Officer, Colonel Jerry Humble, immediately called Task Force Ripper for reinforcements (armed with TOW missiles), then called I MEF headquarters.

“We need some help!” he exclaimed. “Send all the Cobras you can.”

A MEF staff officer replied that everybody was in a fight. Colonel Humble raised the handset into the air, waited a few seconds, then said: “…we’re in a REAL fight at Division Forward.”

“Oh, shit, I hear.” the staff officer answered.

Meanwhile, Ray began picking off BMPs with his 25-mm cannon fire. Within minutes, Ray’s other LAVs were on line. Artillery support was out of the question. The enemy was too close. Within moments, two Cobra gunships swooped in at low level. Ray directed their rocket fire by shooting his 25-mm cannon at Iraqi infantry positions.

Then Ray counterattacked. Supported by the gunships overhead, Ray’s seven LAVs rolled forward toward the oasis. More Cobras arrived and the LAV platoon pressed the attack, destroying everything in sight. Captain Ray and his men swept through the oasis. The Marines halted on the eastern edge of the Emir’s Farm. Thirty-eight burning Iraqi armored vehicles lay scattered behind them. Ray had not only protected the command post but his aggressive counterattack completely destroyed the Iraqi brigade. Captain Ray received the Navy Cross for his courage under fire that day.

Discover what really happened in Desert Storm. Visit www.gwchronicles.com and purchase your copy of “The Gulf War Chronicles” today.

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Nov 9th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Semper Fi! And Happy Birthday
The Government Center

The Government Center

“On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was

created by a resolution of the Continental Congress.

Since that date many thousands of men have borne

the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that

we who are Marines should commemorate the

birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the

glories of its long and illustrious history…”

MajGen John A. Lejeune, USMC

1 November, 1921

The United States Marine Corps’ 229th birthday would be a blue sky, sunny day in Fallujah. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the Task Force Blue Diamond would have little opportunity to celebrate on this day of intense combat. As Kilo Company, 3/5 prepared for the coming fight through the Jolan District, Captain Drew McNulty went on the HET[1] loudspeaker to read General Lejeune’s and the Commandant’s birthday message. McNulty’s voice echoed through the assembly area in the early morning light. After reading the birthday messages, he concluded with, “slow is smooth and smooth is Fast. Today, I expect the enemy to stand and fight. Kill him and kill him twice. HooRah, Semper Fi and happy birthday.”[2]

The enemy woke up in the center of town and found that Avenger had occupied the Government Center during the night. They started firing on the Marines around 0730. Cunningham’s Marines returned the fire from every building that faced south. Enemy snipers and machine gunners continued their fierce duel with the Marines. Meyers’ tanks knocked down a wall and Markley and Meyers pulled their tanks up in between the parade ground bleachers, next to the buildings where Cunningham’s Marines were taking fire. They started shooting across MICHIGAN into an insurgent-filled mosque and hotel on the other side of the main east-west thoroughfare.

Meyers and Markley were pounding the enemy from the protected positions among the concrete bleachers. The enemy fired back from the mosque and charged out in groups of two or three onto MICHIGAN with RPGs and AKs. Most were quickly mowed down by the tankers’ machine gun fire. One determined insurgent ran to flank Meyers’ tank on his right and fired his RPG. The rocket whooshed toward Panzer 6 and exploded against the side of the tank, rocking the entire vehicle off the ground a couple inches. The anti-armor projectile penetrated the hull, nearly missing the fuel cells. Fortunately, none of Meyers’ crew was injured. They kept fighting. They would worry about the damage later.

After quickly checking to insure that he wasn’t wounded, Ball returned to scanning for targets, his turret whining like a vacuum cleaner as it rotated from side to side. He caught a glimpse of the tip of an RPG at the corner of the building next to the mosque. He told Meyers and got the order to fire a main gun round. Ball fired at the corner and watched the HEAT[3] round blow away the side of the building. Bodies flew when the round exploded. Meyers and Markley fought from their protected positions for most of the morning.

Colonel Tucker, the RCT-7 Commanding Officer, had handed out MRE pound cakes and cards with the Commandant’s message to all the squad leaders. They were told to read the birthday message to their Marines when there was a break in the fighting. Then, they would slice the birthday cakes in their timeless ceremony. As a final ceremonial touch, Tucker had asked his commanders to try to play the Marines Hymn at some point during the day.

During a lull in the fighting on the afternoon of the 10th, LtCol Gary Brandl turned to Tucker, his boss. “Maybe we should play the Marines Hymn now.” Brandl called over to the Army psyops team and told them to play the Hymn over their loudspeakers. As soon as the music started, every enemy fighter within earshot opened fire. They were either incensed at the brazen taunt or they anticipated that the music was heralding an attack. They lost their discipline and began showing themselves, firing on the Marines. The Marines cut down the exposed fighters as if they were shooting pop-ups at a carnival shooting gallery.

The Marines Hymn was playing. Brandl’s Marines were killing the exposed enemy fighters. The spontaneous battle raged until the final note. As if on queue, the enemy quit firing. Brandl turned to Tucker, “That worked pretty well, let’s play it again.”[4]

Three-Five had nearly finished its second long day of clearing. A few more buildings and Kilo Company could rest for the day. Suddenly, McNulty’s Marines encountered two enemy positions a block apart. Sergeant Jeffery Kirk single-handedly assaulted a machine gun team in the first house. He couldn’t seem to find a spot to get a clean shot at the machine gunners without exposing himself. Wounded, Kirk had to fall back again and again. But, he continued his assault. Finally, on his third try, he overcame the enemy machine gunners and killed them.

As Kirk’s fight raged, three close friends, Private First Class Chris Adlesperger, Lance Corporal Erick Hodges and Corporal Ryan Sunnerville came to a corner house, only a block east of Kirk. They entered their umpteenth courtyard of the day. Lance Corporals Alston Hays and John Aylmer and Corporal Jeremy Baker were right behind them in the gate to the street. Adlesperger went to the right and kicked in the first door. Hodges and Sunnerville headed for the second door across the courtyard and walked into a hail of machinegun fire from inside the building. The enemy had been lying in wait for the Marines. One had positioned himself so that he could shoot out into the courtyard through a small hole in the wall. His first burst of gunfire cut Hodges down.

Inside the courtyard, Navy Corpsman Alonso Rogero and Sunnerville were also hit, Rogero in the stomach and Sunnerville in the leg. The Marines exchanged fire with eleven insurgents, less than twenty feet away. Adlesperger rushed to Rogero and Sunnerville’s aid, firing toward the hidden machinegun position. All three made it into an outside alcove out of the enemy’s line of fire.

Aylmer and Hays had just started into the courtyard when the enemy machine gunner opened fire. They hugged the left wall and backed out into the street. Aylmer grabbed Hays. “Hang on.” He told Hays, “just chill right here until we know what’s going on.” Corporal Baker could see Adlesperger, Sunnerville and Rogero huddled just inside the courtyard gate. He waited for the machine gun to stop and then he rushed through the gate. Hays crossed the line of fire behind Baker and rushed into an adjacent courtyard, leaving Aylmer at the corner of the house. Inside the courtyard, Baker noticed a stairway in their alcove, leading to the roof. Baker stood at the door covering the courtyard and he sent Adlesperger to the roof.

The Darkhorse Marines had stumbled into a Chechnyan ambush. The enemy had planned to surprise the Marines as they entered the courtyard and then kill more Marines rushing to their aid. Down the alley, another enemy machine gunner patiently waited on an adjoining rooftop. With the courtyard now empty, the Muj gunner inside the house continued to fire into Hodges’ lifeless body.

Adlesperger cleared the stairway and checked the roof and then raced back to Baker and the others. “The roof is clear,” he told Baker. Baker and Adlesperger helped Sunnerville and Rogero to their feet and up the stairs, none too soon. The enemy threw several grenades into the courtyard and then they went on the attack. Several enemy fighters rushed the stairs. Adlesperger cut them down as they rounded the corner in the alcove.

Lieutenant Cragholm was just south of the house. When the shooting started, he had to make a decision – attack or take cover. In an instant, he pulled a grenade from his vest and started to round the corner into the open. Corporal Fernandez placed his hand on Cragholm’s shoulder. “Sir! No,” the corporal cautioned.

Cragholm shrugged the corporal’s hand from his shoulder and started to move forward. Fernandez grabbed Cragholm, spun him around. “Dude! NO!” He shouted into his platoon commander’s face just as a hundred machine gun rounds peppered the wall just outside the courtyard. Had Cragholm moved into the open, he would have been dead. Cragholm, stopped, took a deep breath and immediately calmed. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” From this point forward, he became a warrior, not an excited, green lieutenant.

Aylmer was in the second machine gunner’s line of fire. Bullets hit all around. One punctured his pant leg. Miraculously, none of the rounds found their target. Aylmer waited for the gunner to stop to reload and then he sprinted south in Hays’ footsteps into the adjacent courtyard.

Cragholm started positioning his men to support Adlesperger and his wounded comrades. Corporal Terrence van Doorn’s Third Squad rushed to the adjacent rooftop and found a brick wall separating them from the trapped Marines. They pushed on the wall and it toppled over. Still, the enemy machine gunners were holding Kilo Company at bay. The Marines could not get at the barricaded enemy fighters and they couldn’t call in artillery or close air support while Adlesperger, Rogero and Sunnerville were on the roof.

Inside, two more insurgents charged into the courtyard. Adlesperger greeted them with a fragmentation grenade. One tried to run up the stairs to avoid the explosion, the other ran into the street. Adlesperger shot the man as he ran up the stairs and a dozen Marines sprayed the other man as soon as he stepped into the street. Then, three more insurgents charged out of the house into the courtyard. One tried to get Hodges’ SAW. Adlesperger killed all three from his perch above.

McNulty was in the street between Kirk’s and Hodges’ houses. He had the company’s FiST team and his CAAT vehicles with him when the fighting broke out. He could hear the machine gun fire and his Marines yelling, but he couldn’t figure out where the fight was developing. Gunshots rang out on his right as Kirk made his repeated charges toward the entrenched enemy machine gunners and then shots echoed on his left as Adlesperger fought to protect his friends. An AMTRAC was parked just ahead of the CAAT vehicle. McNulty quickly ordered the up-gunner to open fire. The Marine opened fire on Adlesperger’s house at point blank range, with his .50 caliber machine gun, chipping away large chunks of the building with each round.

McNulty rushed across the street with his First Sergeant, Steve Knox, and some of Taylor’s SEALs to get a better view of the fight. They rushed a building that was catty-corner to Adlesperger’s house, quickly cleared the rooms and then rushed to the roof.

Baker kept trying to call his company commander to tell him that Hodges was trapped in the courtyard. All McNulty could make out was “Hajis in the courtyard.”

By now, van Doorn and his squad had reached Baker, Adlesperger, Sunnerville and Rogero. They helped them climb onto their roof and then rushed the wounded down to a waiting casevac vehicle.

As McNulty positioned himself to command the assault, nearly all of Kilo Company was moving in on Hodge’s house. Once McNulty understood the situation, he moved back down into the street and crossed over to the south wall of the courtyard. He ordered the AMTRAC to push in the blue courtyard gate. The moment the track backed away from the crumpled gate, McNulty pitched two grenades into the courtyard.

By now, Adlesperger, Baker and van Doorn’s squad were down on the street. Adlesperger’s face was bloodied by shrapnel. His blouse was riddled with bullet holes, but he refused to be casevaced until Hodges’ body was recovered. Finally, Baker, also with a bloody face, could finally report to his Company Commander. He told him, “Hodges is in the courtyard.”

McNulty immediately ordered his Marines into the courtyard. Adlesperger led the three-man stack through the collapsed courtyard wall with Baker and McNulty following. As McNulty entered the courtyard, he noticed a wounded insurgent reaching for his weapon. McNulty turned and shot and killed the last holdout as Adlesperger and Baker looked for Hodges’ body. They finally found their friend, buried in the rubble of the collapsed wall. They cleared the rubble and removed his body. Then McNulty had the house completely demolished. Adlesperger, Hodges and Sunnerville had entered an enemy command center. By the time Darkhorse’s fight was over, the Marines had killed fifty enemy fighters in that area. From this point forward the enemy would fight to the death with a fatal fanaticism.

Read the entire story of the fight to free Fallujah in New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah.


[1] Human Exploitation Team

[2] Captain Andrew McNulty, USMC. Raw ABC news footage taken by Geoffrey Thorpe-Willett. Disk #4 18:45

[3] High Explosive, Anti-Tank.

[4] Col Tucker telephone interview, 1/10/08.

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May 29th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Remembering Fallujah
Photo courtesy Maj Rob Bodisch, USMC

Photo courtesy Maj Rob Bodisch, USMC

Throughout our short history, the American warrior has been fierce yet compassionate. Free men who fight for our nation have motivation unequaled anywhere. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and Marines know that freedom is not free. They have sacrificed at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Normandy, the Chosin Reservoir, the Ia Drang Valley and in Kuwait.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fought in Fallujah were no different; they paid a heavy price to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, many stories of these brave young men and women have gone untold. Among those heroes stood Juan Rubio, Jason Arellano, David Bellavia Jeremiah Workman, Nick Popaditch, Brad Kasal, Jeffery Lee and Todd Desgrosseilliers. They were just a few of many men commended for exceptional gallantry while fighting in, and around, Fallujah.

Nine Navy Crosses and twenty-two Silver Stars were awarded to participants of Operation Phantom Fury.

Marine Corps Sergeant Jason Arellano is one of my personal heroes, not because he charged into a house full of insurgents or risked his life to keep other Marines away from an exploding grenade, but because he led his squad, his Marines, through the bloodiest urban fight since Hue City, Vietnam, without losing a single man. Jason was the consummate squad leader. He led his men with determination, intelligence and attention to detail. There is no question that his Marines made it through the fight in Fallujah because of his leadership.

Jason was severely wounded in the bloodiest firefight of Operation Phantom Fury on December 12, 2004 when his company ran into a large group of fanatic diehards who had barricaded themselves in a block of buildings. Five Marines were killed clearing those fortified buildings and dozens were wounded. Many more would have been wounded or killed had it not been for Arellano’s selfless actions that day, warning fellow Marines of a live grenade and taking the brunt of the explosion himself. Jason nearly died in that explosion, but his fellow Marines were not hurt.

New Dawn tells stories of modern-day American heroes.

Jason wasn’t alone. US Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia expertly led his squad through the fight too. On one occasion, Bellavia single-handedly cleared an enemy stronghold in a fight that degenerated into hand-to-hand combat. David was awarded a Silver Star after receiving a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The stories from that battle abound, but for me the hero of heroes was a Navy Corpsman, Juan Rubio. He didn’t go to Fallujah to fight, he went to save lives. Yet, he was in the thick of many horrendous firefights and was nearly killed himself while trying to save the lives of Marines and soldiers in his charge.

He braved enemy gunfire many times to treat the wounded. He frantically worked alone to keep soldiers and Marines alive long enough to get them to surgical care. In his last firefight, Juan suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and is now retired on 100% disability. The Silver Star sitting on his mantle is not enough. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his selfless dedication to the Marines, the Navy, our nation and those in his care. We also owe our heartfelt thanks to all the young men and women who have gone off to fight our enemies in distant lands. They have risked everything for us.

Some fell at the hands of a hidden sniper; others died entering darkened rooms, and more gave their lives while trying to save their comrades. Still more American servicemen were wounded in the fight; some suffered superficial wounds while others were terribly disfigured. Gunnery Sergeant Nicholas Popaditch was one of the first Marines wounded in the fight in Fallujah. The Marine Corps was his home – his career. He was a Marine tanker, and a damn good one. Popaditch had fought in Desert Storm and had led the Marines into Baghdad in 2003. Then, on April 5, 2004, Popaditch and his wingman were in the first Marine tanks to attack into Fallujah.

After nearly twenty-four hours of fighting off repeated attacks, Popaditch was hit in the head with an RPG. The glancing blow knocked his helmet off and the explosion slammed him to the floor of his tank. His world went black. One of his eyes had been blown out of his head and the other mangled terribly. Popaditch’s gunner assumed command of the tank and rushed his Gunny out of the city to get him to medical attention.

Miraculously, the doctors were able to repair the mangled eye. Gunny “Pop” was out of the fight and his Marine Corps career was over, but the fight to free Fallujah was just beginning. The fight would be left to nearly ten-thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and the vast majority of those servicemen simply did their duty. They fought a treacherous enemy and slogged their way from the northern edge of Fallujah to the southern suburbs, putting their lives at risk every step of the way. Many of those soldiers, sailors and Marines returned with emotional scars that they will carry for the rest of their lives. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

All American veterans have a common bond. They have been willing to lay down their lives in defense of our nation. Today’s generation of young men and women are no different. They are the best trained, best equipped, most highly motivated fighting force on the face of this earth. These remarkable men and women are no different than the millions who went off to war in Europe, the South Pacific, Korea or Vietnam. They do not seek riches. They do not seek notoriety. They do their job for our country and the person standing on their right and left. On this Memorial Day, search out a veteran and shake his or her hand. Thank them for their service to our nation. Let them know that you know that Freedom is not free.

_________________________________________________

Since 9/11, Richard S. Lowry’s mission has been to tell as many of these stories as is possible. He has strived to tell the stories of decorated heroes and of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as just plain ordinary men and women who are serving their nation in these turbulent times. He has recorded the story of Operation Desert Storm and the 2003 battle of Nasiriyah in three published books. Now, he is about to release his most compelling book yet. New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah. It tells the story of America’s sons and daughters at war in the 21st Century. It tells the story of the largest fight of the war in Iraq. It is the first book to tell the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and it honors many of the men and women who fought to free Fallujah. Their sacrifices turned the tide of the war in Iraq.

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May 11th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Courage on the homefront

Jason was a Marine infantryman, and a damn good one at that. Jason knew Lindsey was special the moment he met her at his cousin’s wedding. This was a girl he wanted to be around. By the summer of 2004, Jason began to think that Lindsey might be the woman that he wanted to marry. Lindsey kept reminding herself that Jason was a Marine and that he would soon have to go back to war. But that did not seem to make a difference, Lindsey was smitten too. She couldn’t help herself from falling in love.

Lindsey Woods

Lindsey Woods

Jason flew back to Iraq on September 11, 2004. Difficult as it was, Lindsey knew that Jason had a job to do and Jason was eager to get back into the fight. But this deployment was different. This time Jason couldn’t wait to get back home and ask Lindsey to be his wife.

Forced to endure a second wartime separation, they turned their attention to their work. Jason worked hard to prepare his Marines for the coming fight and Lindsey dove into her job, working 12-hour days. Jason’s Marines became entangled in the largest urban fight since Vietnam – the fight to free Fallujah – and on December 12th, 2004, Jason ended up in the bloodiest battle of the fight. He found himself on the second floor of an enemy stronghold with a live grenade cooking off at his feet. His first thought was to warn his fellow Marines. “GRENADE!” he shouted, just as he was showered with shrapnel and debris. Jason was thrown to the floor, bleeding badly.

***
It was a crisp cool Sunday half-a-world away in Kansas City. Lindsey’s day began just like every day. Her morning prayer for Jason always renewed her strength, but today, her heart was heavy – she hadn’t heard from Jason in over a week. She hoped she would hear from him today. He almost always called on Sunday. She thought about Jason all day but the call never came and Lindsey fell asleep with her phone at her side.

Monday was a busy day at work. Lindsey kept busy with constant phone calls and chaos. She was so busy that she ignored her cell phone when it first rang. When it kept ringing she looked at the number and didn’t recognize the area code, Lindsey didn’t answer. Then, the phone started ringing again. It was the same area code, but a different telephone number. “What in the world?” Lindsey thought “Who was calling? Maybe they would leave a message.” Lindsey shoved the phone into her desk drawer to muffle the sound and then resumed her typing. Today was just not the day for extra interruptions.

When Lindsey stood to go to the restroom, she felt the dog tags clink around her neck. She gently rested her hand upon them and grinned, wondering where he was today. Then she prayed, “Lord, please be with him today and strengthen him, send your angels to protect him.” She returned to her desk to hear that muffled ring tone again. This was beginning to get a little creepy. Nobody called her this often. The fifth time around panic struck.

Lindsey flung the desk drawer open. She read the name lit up in bright blue letters – Jaime. Suddenly it all made sense. “All this time, how could she have been so ignorant?” Fear slapped her. All of the calls were from New Mexico – Jason’s family. It was the moment she had prayed would never come. Her heart stood still as the realization sank in. Staring at the phone wide eyed, she nervously bit at her fingers. “No. Not now. How could this be happening?”

The fear of the unknown was paralyzing. She didn’t want to know. “This couldn’t happen. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. It was never supposed to happen this way.” But, she needed to know what was going on. She had to know what happened! She grabbed the phone so quickly it slipped and fell to the floor. As she bent to retrieve the telephone, Jason’s tags jingled and she wrapped her fingers around them tightly. She had to know everything, no matter how hard it might be. She dialed as quickly as she could.

Lindsey’s heart raced. Jaime’s voice was calm and collected as she answered the phone with a simple question. “Have you heard?”

The lump crawling up in Lindsey’s throat almost gagged her. “No. Tell me.”

“Jason has been shot” Jamie said. “I don’t know the details; just that he has been shot.”

Lindsey’s heart dropped into her stomach and she lost all composure. Her words were jumbled as she stuttered and stumbled through them before quickly hanging up the phone with the promise to relay important information. Fingers shaking, Lindsey dialed Jason’s mother. Two rings, three rings – no answer. She tried his brother. Three rings, four rings – no answer. “Why weren’t they answering their phones?” “Where were they?” She dialed Jason’s father. Four rings, five rings – no answer. This was not possible. She dialed his brother again. Five rings, six rings – no answer. She couldn’t be left hanging like this. “What was she supposed to do?” She could barely sit still with her knees and hands shaking. She pressed against the tags and tried to breathe. “What was his mother doing?” Lindsey thought. “Why wasn’t she answering?” This was all crazy! She dialed Jason’s mother one more time and there still was no answer.

“Lord, please let someone answer!” Lindsey prayed. She dialed Jason’s father again and decided to leave a message. “Danny, this is Lindsey. I just got a phone call and I would love to talk to you and find out more about what’s going on.” Then, she hung up and sat alone in her small bare office, staring at the wall.

Lindsey sat there in silence and shock. “Was this even real? Was it a dream? How could this be happening? Breathe Lindsey, breathe.” Blood was coursing through her body and heat began to rise up her neck. Small beads of sweat broke on her forehead. There was nothing to do but sit and wait. Her heart began to race faster and faster and it echoed in her ears.

The ring briefly stopped her heart. It was Jason’s stepmother, Trudy. She verified Jaime’s news. Jason had in fact been shot, probably in the leg. Nobody knew if he was alive, dead, or dying. Lindsey could only imagine the graphic details. Snapping the phone shut, she tossed it onto her desk and dropped her head into her hands. Tears erupted from the depths of her soul and flooded her flushed face. Lindsey’s mind raced. “How? Where? When? Would he survive? Would he lose any limbs? Would he be paralyzed? Was he being taken care of? Was he in pain? Was he conscious?” Minutes went by. Lindsey sat there barely breathing – sobbing and crying.
The ring of her cell phone startled her again. The voice on the other end brought more grief. “We just found out he wasn’t shot. He was actually hit with a grenade. They are taking him to Germany and that is all that I know.”

In complete shock, Lindsey tossed her phone into her purse, grabbed her keys and left her office. Her large dark sunglasses couldn’t hide the black streaks running down her cheeks and neck. She jumped into her car and began driving, with tears and mascara clouding her sight. She raced around the corner into the Hy-Vee grocery store parking lot and threw the car into park. All alone and with nobody in sight, she wept. The truth was just too much to handle.

Jason and Lindsey both knew that there was a good possibility of injury or death and still nothing could have prepared her for today’s news. Their last face-to-face conversation had been in the airport terminal, three days before Jason had to leave for Iraq. He had embraced her with tears in his eyes and had drawn her in close. “Whatever happens over there, just know that I will always be with you, watching over you.” Jason whispered.

Jason’s words replayed in her mind and she hit the steering wheel. Overcome with grief she sat alone in her car and cried out to God at the top of her lungs, “Jesus!” “Lord we need you!” All else was silent above her gasps for breath. “Lord God, Please!” Her head dropped to the steering wheel as her burdened heart grew weak. It was just too much to take in at once. “Jesus!”

An hour went by and still no word. Rolling the windows down, the cool December air felt fresh on her red hot face. She needed to start a prayer chain. When there was a need there was one person she knew to call. Quickly she dialed the phone.

“Mom.”

Her mother immediately recognized the panic in Lindsey’s voice. “What?”

“I need you to pray.” Tears exploded again and the words seemed jumbled. “It’s Jason…He’s been hit with a grenade.” They prayed together and as always Lindsey was buoyed by her mother’s faith. Lindsey kept trying all evening to get in touch with Jason’s family and around 10 P.M. she finally spoke with his mother. The two cried together and promised to pray and stay in touch. There still had been no word. Exhausted and emotionally drained, Lindsey fell asleep just after midnight.

At 6:00 A.M. the phone startled her into consciousness. She knew the call had to be important. Good or bad, she had to know. She flipped the light on… “Hello?” It was the sweetest sound she could have possibly imagined. Somehow from the other side of the world Jason whispered back, “Hello.”

A wave of relief swept over Lindsey. He was alive. That was all that mattered. He was alive and he was able to talk and she immediately thanked the Lord.

It would be three weeks, several surgeries and many plane flights before the two would see each other. Jason had been hit by a grenade and had received shrapnel wounds throughout his body; some had barely missed his jugular vein. He had also been shot in the groin. The bullet barely missed his femoral artery, bones and joints. He is often told how lucky he was to have survived, Jason is quick to say that luck had nothing to do with it, he is blessed. The Lord really does work in mysterious ways.

Having bravely served his country and having brought his entire squad through the fight in Fallujah, Jason left the Marine Corps and married Lindsey. The Lord has more plans for Jason. Today Jason and Lindsey have two beautiful children and are living happily ever after.

Jason and Lindsey Arellano

Jason and Lindsey Arellano

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Jason was wounded in the bloodiest fight of Operation Phantom Fury. Five Marines were killed in, and around, the house where he was seriously wounded. Jason’s story, along with many other heroes who fought in Fallujah, is told in Richard S. Lowry’s newest book – New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah – available in bookstores in May, 2010.

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May 5th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Chapter 1 (Part 3) Fallujah: The Most Dangerous City in Iraq

The Marines’ Initial Response

Within hours of the Blackwater ambush on the last day of March 2004, the Marines moved to cordon off the entire city. Inside, the enemy prepared for the inevitable assault. Major General James Mattis and Lieutenant General James Conway, however, recommended restraint. The Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General John Kelly, sought to temper America’s response in the Division’s daily report:

As we review the actions in Fallujah yesterday, the murder of four private security personnel in the most brutal way, we are convinced that this act was spontaneous mob action. Under the wrong circumstances this could have taken place in any city in Iraq. We must avoid the temptation to strike out in retribution. In the only 10 days we have been here we have engaged the “good” and the bad in Fallujah everyday, and have casualties to show for our efforts. We must remember that the citizens and officials of Fallujah were already gathering up and delivering what was left of three victims before asked to do so, and continue in their efforts to collect up what they can of the dismembered remnants of the fourth.

We have a well thought out campaign plan that considers the Fallujah problem across its very complicated spectrum. This plan most certainly includes kinetic action, but going overly kinetic at this juncture plays into the hands of the opposition in exactly the way they assume we will. This is why they shoot and throw hand grenades out of crowds, to bait us into overreaction. The insurgents did not plan this crime, it dropped into their lap.

We should not fall victim to their hopes for a vengeful response. To react to this provocation, as heinous as it is, will likely negate the efforts of the 82nd Airborne Division paid for in blood, and complicate our campaign plan, which we have not yet been given the opportunity to implement. Counterinsurgency forces have learned many times in the past that the desire to demonstrate force and resolve has long term and generally negative implications, and destabilize rather than stabilize the environment.

The Marine commanders did not want to further disenfranchise the people of Fallujah. They told their corps commander, U. S. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, that they could find the perpetrators of the ambush and bring them to justice within two weeks. Sanchez passed on the Marines’ recommendation. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, was not impressed with the suggestion for a tempered response and ordered the Marines to attack. Conway and Mattis had delivered their recommendation as to how they thought they should respond, but when they received their orders, they—like any good Marines—unflinchingly obeyed
them.

The Fight Begins: Operation Vigilant Resolve

On April 5, 2004, U.S. Marines charged into the city, destroying enemy positions and killing every enemy combatant who stood in their path. One of the Marines driving into Fallujah was Gunnery Sergeant Nicholas Popaditch. Angered by the heinous murders of the Blackwater contractors and the insurgents’ claims that Fallujah was the graveyard of Americans, “Gunny Pop” couldn’t wait to get into the fight. His tank platoon was one of only two armor platoons deployed around Fallujah. Popaditch’s First Platoon was attached to Lieutenant Colonel Gregg Olson’s Marines. With so few tanks, Captain Michael Skaggs, the 1st Tank Battalion’s Charlie Company Commander, was forced to split up his platoons. His Second Platoon, under First Lieutenant Troy Sayler, was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne’s 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The Marine tanks would operate in sections of two tanks each, and would be sent out to support the infantry companies as they were needed.

Olson’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, moved into attack positions in the northwest corner of the city on April 5, 2004, and Byrne’s Marines manned the cordon across town in the southeast corner of the city. On April 6, Captain Kyle Stoddard, 2/1’s Fox Company Commander, sent a small squad-sized patrol into the northern edge of the city to assess enemy strength. The squad was attacked within the first few blocks, and one of the Marines was wounded in the initial bursts of gunfire. Outgunned and
outnumbered, the squad called for reinforcements and a medevac. As soon as Stoddard heard the call for help, he ordered, “Roll the QRT.”

Gunny Pop, Charlie Company’s First Platoon Sergeant, was sitting in his tank under the railroad overpass in the northwest corner of the city, waiting as part of the QRT. Popaditch had been in Marine tanks his entire career. He had fought in southern Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm and had led the charge to Baghdad in 2003, where his tanks surrounded Firdos Square and toppled the large statue of Saddam. Straining at his leash, Popaditch asked Stoddard for permission to enter the city.

“Roll the tanks,” ordered Stoddard.

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Apr 24th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Chapter 1 (Part 2) Fallujah: The Most Dangerous City in Iraq

The Perpetual Problem

The war had never really ended in Fallujah, even though Saddam’s regime was quickly deposed in the spring of 2003. Subsequently the All Americans of the 82nd Airborne Division had been given the onerous mission of securing this restive town thirty miles west of Baghdad. Unfortunately, they never had enough combat power to clear the city of an increasing number of enemy fighters. On April 28, 2003, a protest within the city turned violent and fifteen Iraqis were killed, further inflaming the local population.

The increase in violence throughout the summer and fall of 2003 prompted the American commanders to withdraw their forces to a series of camps outside the city. Fallujah became a safe haven and rallying point for hardened Saddam supporters, former Ba’ath party leaders, Republican Guard members, Iraqi Army diehards and, finally, Islamic fundamentalists. “These were hardcore insurgents who wanted nothing more than to kill Americans,” explained a high ranking officer.

The lightly armed paratroopers developed a “Fort Apache” mentality, only venturing into the city in heavily armed groups. They had not expected so much civilian discontent, but they quickly realized that the people were tied to centuries of local tribe and clan loyalties. Initially, the paratroopers were completely unprepared to deal with the people of Fallujah, but the soldiers worked hard to understand them and their history.

The Euphrates River cuts a swath through the Iraqi wasteland, bringing life-giving water to the Fertile Crescent. Vast barren plains lie to the north, east, and west of Fallujah. The city is an ancient crossroads and Euphrates River crossing connecting Saudi Arabia in the south with Syria and Turkey in the north. The river and roads are lifelines of trade. Fallujah has always been a hub of commerce, both legal and illegal. The main east-west road— Iraq’s oldest and most important commercial artery— is its link to the western world and today known as Highway 10, connecting Baghdad with Amman, Jordan.

Because of Fallujah’s location, control of the city has been contested since antiquity. In the 18th century B.C., Hammurabi expanded his Babylonian empire when he acquired the ancient city of Sippar. During the 1st century A.D., the Romans, Trojans, Arabs, and Persians fought at one time or another for control of what is now known as Fallujah. When the Mongols laid waste to Baghdad in 1258 A.D., Iraq’s economy fell into ruin. Iraq’s civilization lay dormant for centuries until the Iraqi people were conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Control of the Fertile Crescent flipped back and forth between the Ottomans and the Persians for hundreds of years until the Turks reasserted their rule in the early 1800s.

After the Ottoman Empire sided with the Germans in World War I, England fought a series of battles against the Turks along the Euphrates River valley. After the Allied victory in 1918, the British occupied what is now known as Iraq. In 1920 resistance to their occupation increased—and was uncannily similar to what America experienced in the months following the 2003 invasion. Fallujah, the divided city, was one of the flashpoints. The British learned quickly that reconciliation was the key to success in this ancient land. “Fallujah,” explained a regional expert, “had become the symbol of the resistance and had to become the symbol of the reconciliation process.” Thus the British worked to woo the tribal and clan leaders, and Fallujah soon became a model for the nation. As a symbol of national pride, the British selected Fallujah as the site for the coronation of King Faisal, the new pro-British leader, on August 23, 1921.

Throughout the turbulent history of Anbar Province, daily life, business, and government have all revolved around its families, clans, and tribes. The province’s rugged people depend upon one another to survive in an austere environment. Their ancestors learned that the only way to endure through the blistering summers, whimsical shifts in the Euphrates River, and even more whimsical changes in government, was by helping each other. The people are close-knit, fiercely loyal, radically independent, and distrusting of outsiders. They have been ruled by the leaders of their clans and tribes for as long as can be remembered. In 2003, the most prominent tribal leader was Sheik Abdullah Al Janabi, the self-proclaimed leader of the city’s governing Shura Council. Janabi’s tribe was the most hostile to the Americans.

With the ever-shifting political climate, the tribes and clans have had little regard for the country’s artificial international boundaries. To the people of Anbar, smuggling is all in a day’s work, a necessity of commerce. As a result, Fallujah is peppered with trucking industry businesses. Flatbeds and long-haul trucks continually clog the main road. Truck stops, machine shops, and junkyards dominate the industrial area. If you need a tire changed, a chassis welded, a radiator soldered, or a new radio installed, Fallujahans stand ready to provide the service. Once the Americans arrived, the people of Fallujah had the talent, resources, and inclination to smuggle weapons and manufacture IEDs.

Fallujah’s main thoroughfare teemed with BMWs, donkey carts, and long-haul trucks. The road was lined with a mixture of magnificent mansions, majestic mosques, multi-storied concrete buildings, and mudbrick shanties. Throughout the city there were many poor neighborhoods, some middle-class areas, and enclaves with luxurious homes. More large mansions and estates lined the banks of the Euphrates River.

Like most Iraqi cities, Fallujah was built of cinder blocks. Nearly every building was surrounded by a wall. Some walls had been meticulously constructed, the obvious work of a proud stonemason. But many had the look of the repetitive cycle of destruction, repair, more destruction, and hasty reassembly, thrown together in a helter-skelter fashion with blocks stacked upon blocks with little or no mortar, just waiting to be pushed over again. Most houses were small, two- or three-story buildings with concrete slab floors and thick roofs. Others were large, with landscaped courtyards, marble floors, and ornate furnishings.

Fallujah’s homes had been built to shelter their residents from the sweltering heat of the Iraqi summers. They also served to protect their residents from the continuous cycle of senseless violence. Concrete walls and roofs were sometimes three feet thick, with another three feet of dirt piled on the flat roofs. They were veritable bunkers. Most courtyard doors were made of sheet metal with two or three locks. Doors leading into homes were either metal or protected by a locked metal gate.

Because of this, Fallujah could not have been more attractive to the resistance. The population was distrusting of outsiders and naturally rebellious. Its workers provided the wherewithal to smuggle weapons, explosives, and foreign fighters. Its craftsmen provided the talent to build bombs, and every home was a mini-fortress.

As 2003 turned to 2004, the cancer inside Fallujah was growing. Most Fallujahans were unemployed. The insurgents launched attacks on nearby Baghdad and to control commercial traffic. The city was home to gunrunners and smugglers. It seemed as if every storefront had a backroom full of weapons. Everyone knew who specialized in particular items: some sold machine guns, and others provided sophisticated night-vision devices. The local bazaars were crawling with merchants of death.

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