Page: Richard's Blog
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 for more information about Richard and his work.



[1], “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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Dec 8th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Deadly Gunfight

Blazer's HouseAfter five weeks of fighting in Fallujah, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines ran into a pocket of diehard insurgents holed up in the center of the city. Here is the story of the costliest firefight of Operation Phantom Fury as described in New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah.

With winter approaching, the Fallujah nights had turned bitter cold. As Lieutenant Todd Moulder and the 3/5 Kilo Company XO, Lieutenant Ben Diaz, worked to set up defenses at an abandoned school on December 12th, 2004, Sergeant Jason Arellano’s squad left the school to join in the search for blankets. Third Squad moved into the houses just south of the school and east of the 915 block in search of anything that could help keep them warm during the approaching winter night. Arellano stayed behind on the school roof with his platoon commander.

Back on the long, skinny 915 Block, Arellano’s good friend Corporal Jason Clairday led his squad into the eleventh northern house. Sergeant Jeffery Kirk split his 3rd Squad Marines: some entered the eleventh and twelfth southern houses; others moved to a building in the Janabi Hospital complex across the street to provide overwatch for the foraging Marines.

Corporals Ian Stewart and David Cisneros, along with Lance Corporal Chad Pioske, entered the eleventh southern house. Cisneros and Pioske cleared the bottom floor while Stewart went up the stairs to clear the second floor. But as Stewart moved to enter an upstairs bedroom, shots rang out: he had encountered the first group of a platoon-sized enemy force. Stewart went down in the open doorway, mortally wounded. He called for help, and Cisneros and Pioske charged for the stairs to get to their friend. But gunfire and grenades rained down on them from a dozen insurgents holed up in the second-floor bedrooms, and Cisneros and Pioske were forced to fall back, unable to reach Stewart.

Arellano hadn’t been at the school for more than five minutes when the gunfire erupted. “That’s our Marines in contact,”[1] Arellano exclaimed.  He turned and sprinted down the stairs, taking two, three, four at a time. He ran out into the street, where he could see his squad running west across the street toward the fight; Arellano ran toward the fight too. As he ran past the gun trucks and AMTRACs, he pointed and yelled for them to turn around. More Marines poured out of the school and rushed to the sound of the gunfire.

Sergeant Jeffrey Kirk and Staff Sergeant Melvin Blazer were in the house next door when Stewart was gunned down. Kirk had just returned to duty after having been wounded on November 10th. He had given the medical staff such a hard time that they finally relented and let him check out to return to Kilo Company. Kirk moved outside and started looking for another way to get to the enemy on the second floor. He moved west and found a narrow alley between the enemy’s stronghold and the next house. When he turned to enter the alley, he was shot in the head. Did Kirk know that he would not return home when he framed one of his poems and gave it to his mother?

Just as Kirk went down, Arellano reached the house where Stewart was still trapped. Cisneros, Pioske and others tried repeatedly but in vain to rush back into the building and up the stairs to Stewart’s aid; each time they were met by a hail of gunfire and grenades that forced them to fall back. Marines to Arellano’s north were shooting down from their rooftop positions. Arellano, heart pounding, shouted at the top of his lungs, “Where are they at, Clairday?” Clairday pointed downward and continued to fire onto the rooftop and into the alley below.

Still not knowing Corporal Stewart’s fate, Corporal David Cisneros and Lance Corporal Phillip Miska repeatedly tried to re-enter the building where Stewart was trapped. They kept the enemy pinned for fifteen minutes, preventing them from fleeing or attacking other Marines downstairs. On Cisneros’ third attempt, he too was wounded, peppered with shrapnel from one of a dozen enemy grenades.

The enemy fought ferociously, firing automatic weapons and lobbing grenades down the stairs. “Grenade!” yelled Corporal David Hawley, as another hand grenade rained down on the Marines. Hawley turned and pushed two Marines down the stairs. BOOM! The explosion hurled a golf ball-sized chunk of metal into his thigh, knocking him down the stairs. Hawley continued to fire his M16 until his friends dragged him out of the house.

Then Miska noticed an RPG pointed over the half-wall at the top of the stairs. He repeatedly fired at the metal projectile, hoping to detonate the grenade. His volley forced the grenadier to fire without aiming. The grenade missed the Marines in the stairwell, but the explosion knocked them back down the stairs. Undaunted, Miska and the other Marines regrouped and tried once again to fight their way up the stairs.

Private First Class Renaldo Leal repeatedly rushed back into the fight, pulling three wounded Marines to safety. The casualties were mounting; several Marines were now huddled at a casualty collection point, waiting for medical evacuation.

Frustrated by his inability to get to Stewart, Pioske moved to a second-floor patio in the next building, and from his new position obtained a clear shot. He exchanged protracted fire with the enemy, eventually killing five insurgents. All the while Kilo Company Marines were swarming into all of the adjacent buildings, sealing the enemy’s fate.

The Kilo Marines continued to attack. Arellano ran out of one courtyard into the street. He quickly moved along the wall in search of the next gate and approached a narrow alley. He saw a Marine lying on the ground, and wondered why there was no corpsman helping him. Then he realized that another hero had fallen: Sergeant Kirk was dead. Arellano would remember this sight for the rest of his life, but there was no time to mourn now; he had to keep his head clear, he had to stay in the fight, he had to keep his other Marines from the same fate, he had to get to the trapped Marine. Arellano jumped over Kirk’s body and continued his search for the next gate.

Two doors down to the east, Staff Sergeant Melvin Blazer, Jr., a seasoned, seventeen-year veteran of the Corps, had moved into the next house with a group of Marines; they were trying to find a way across the roof to get to Stewart’s house. Blazer headed up the stairs for the roof. When he reached the landing, three insurgents cut him down in a hail of gunfire. Corporal Mason Fischer rushed to the top of the stairwell, protecting Blazer’s body, while Lance Corporal William Vorheis ran for reinforcements.

Vorheis ran into Stewart’s house. “Staff Sergeant Blazer’s been hit and is trapped on the second deck!” he announced between breaths. First Sergeant Steve Knox, Leal and the other Marines rushed to Blazer’s aid in the building where Corporal Fisher was holding the enemy at bay. Without pause Leal charged up the stairs, jumped into the enemy line of fire, and emptied an entire drum of 5.56 from his SAW. Fisher reached underneath the torrent of outgoing lead and dragged Blazer’s lifeless body out of the line of fire and down the stairs. Leal followed Blazer and Fisher, miraculously unscathed.

By now Captain McNulty, Lieutenant Moulder and the Kilo Company command group had moved to the second-floor balcony of the house between the houses where Stewart and Blazer had been shot; they had enemy insurgents barricaded on either side of them. Arellano moved to the patio to link up with his platoon commander. Moulder ordered him into the house next door where Blazer had just been killed. Arellano’s mind was racing. He scanned the scene, looking for men from his squad.

Moulder pointed and repeated, “Get into that house.”

Not seeing any of his own squad, Arellano turned and pointed at Marines near him. “You, you, you and you, come with me,” he ordered.

Lieutenant Moulder ordered Sergeant Coduto to clear the building below and to find a way into Stewart’s building. He told Corporal Herren to return to Stewart’s building and secure the ground floor.

While Coduto’s squad secured the center building, Sergeant Arellano and his shanghaied squad hurried down the stairs to assault the neighboring house. One of Kilo Company’s gun trucks was parked in the street. Arellano checked to make sure that no Marines were inside the house, then ordered the gun truck gunner to pepper the house with 40mm grenades. The gunner opened fire with his MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, the grenades slammed into the building and exploded in rapid succession; BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Now two separate assaults were ongoing: Arellano and his Marines followed the grenades into the courtyard, while Corporal Clairday and his squad moved roof-to-roof, north-to-south to Stewart’s house. One after the other Clairday, Yeager, Lance Corporals Travis Icard and Hilario Lopez each jumped the four-foot gap between the buildings.  Once on the roof Clairday moved to the front of the stack. Simultaneously Arellano and his newly-formed squad prepared to enter Blazer’s house. Arellano charged in and lobbed grenades into the interior rooms. When Clairday, Arellano’s close friend, moved to enter the second-floor room, an AK-47 rattled, hitting him in the arms and legs. Lance Corporal Yeager laid down a spray of bullets while Clairday crawled out of the line of fire. Clairday refused medical treatment and returned to the front of the stack. Arellano and another Marine headed toward the bottom of the stairs.

The Marines could see Corporal Stewart’s boots just inside and to the right of the patio door. Yeager tossed two grenades into the house. Clairday and Lopez charged in and moved left while Gonzalez and Icard charged right. Sergeant Gonzalez sprayed the wall lockers with bullets as another Marine retrieved Stewart’s body. One of the bullet-riddled cupboard doors swung open and out stumbled an insurgent; Gonzalez instantly cut him down. Across the house Clairday led more Marines into the last room. As Clairday, Yeager and Lopez were assaulting the enemy, Miska and his squad leader charged the stairway one last time. Gunfire rang out and Clairday fell, this time mortally wounded. Lopez jumped into the doorway and began firing while Yeager pulled Clairday’s body from harm’s way. The enemy opened fire on Lopez, at point-blank range, killing him too.

Once Yeager had retrieved Clairday he and Icard returned to the fight, attacking the enemy’s last stronghold. Yeager killed another Muj, but more remained. Icard and Yeager began firing into the door jamb. The insurgents responded by lobbing a grenade onto the landing. Yeager and Icard tried to melt into the walls, hoping to protect themselves from the impending blast, but luckily the grenade failed to explode. Yeager, Miska and Icard resumed their attack and didn’t let up until the last two insurgents were dead.

Meanwhile, two houses down, Arellano moved toward the stairwell on which Melvin Blazer, husband and father of two, had just been mortally wounded.  His M16 pointed up, Arellano began to climb the first flight of stairs—backwards—keeping his weapon trained on the second floor. Another Marine followed and threw a grenade up onto the second floor. As soon as that grenade went off, Arellano and the trailing Marine charged up the remaining stairs. They quickly moved past the room into which Leal had emptied his SAW and ran straight toward the adjacent bedroom.

Smoke from the previous grenades filled the house. Enemy rounds were chipping at the walls all around them. Like Gonzalez, Arellano shot at areas where the insurgents could be hiding as he charged into the bedroom. His bullets ripped into each corner, through a bed, and splintered a row of standup wooden dressers.

Arellano shouted “Clear left! Clear right! Room clear! Nada!”

He returned to the bedroom door and grabbed a grenade to throw into the room the two men had just run past. He could see a group of Marines stacked on the stairs waiting to charge onto the second floor, so he shouted to them that he was about to frag the room. But they had their own plan, and one of the Marines broke from the stack on the stairs and ran toward Arellano. Grenade in hand, pin pulled, Arellano made way for the Marine charging toward his room. The Marine who rushed past threw his grenade into the uncleared room.

“Frag out!” the Marine yelled.

There stood Arellano, holding a live grenade. He wasn’t about to try to put the pin back in, so he tossed his grenade into the room, too.

Arellano shouted, “Frag out,” only seconds after the first exclamation.

The first grenade had not yet exploded. Arellano feared that the Marines below would not realize that two grenades were cooking off.  Arellano’s mind raced as he scrambled for cover. He knew that his Marines were trained to rush a room the instant their grenade detonated, so as to take advantage of the stun effect of the explosion; he feared the Marines would charge up the stairs as soon as the first grenade blew. Arellano had to take action, and would only have a split second after the first explosion.

BOOM! As soon as the first grenade went off, the Marines below did just what Arellano had feared: they started up the stairs. Sergeant Arellano ran to the doorway to stop them. Glancing over, he saw his grenade in the room.

How could this be? Jason thought. Did the insurgents toss my grenade back toward the door? Did it bounce off something in the room, or did the first explosion blow my grenade into the open? No time now to wonder.

Arellano yelled, “Get back! There’s another grena…” BOOM!

Arellano’s life turned to slow motion. He saw everything clearly: the curtains rose in the room; smoke came through each crevice in the bricks, joined by sparks from the flesh-eating fragmentation coming through the mud-brick wall. The force of the explosion spun Arellano onto his hands and knees. The loud boom continued to echo in his ears; he was certain he was deaf.

His world collapsed down into a narrow focus. Had he saved his Marines? Had he kept them from the door?

As the world closed in, another thought filled his consciousness. “I’m hit, I’m hit!”

A distant voice tried to encourage Arellano. “You’re okay.”

Arellano tried to move around, but his palms slipped in a pool of his own blood. Dazed, breathing hard, and feeling weak, Arellano asked the Marine, “What do you mean I’m good?! Can’t you see I’m bleeding to death?”

Arellano felt the blood streaming from his neck, shredded by shrapnel. More metal fragments had ripped into his leg, only millimeters from his femoral artery. When others rushed to try to help him to his feet, he crumpled like a rag doll. It felt as if he were being electrocuted; the pain was excruciating. But he tried to remain as calm as possible, and tried to help as Marines removed his flak jacket.

Kilo Company Marines quickly cleared the house and hoisted their wounded sergeant to carry him to safety. He was dead weight; Arellano couldn’t do much to help as he was dragged down the stairs, head bouncing on each level. Moaning in pain, Arellano watched the wall, then the ceiling, then more Marines rushing into the house, and finally the dingy grey sky. He could still hear gunfire. Now he was lying in the street with the mounting numbers of other wounded, a corpsman cutting away his uniform. It was beautiful to be outside.

Lance Corporal Lenard had finally found his friend and squad leader. He rushed to Arellano’s side and reached down and grabbed his hand. Arellano squeezed Lenard’s hand as the corpsmen worked furiously to stop the bleeding.

“They are going to have to put a tourniquet on your neck,” Lenard joked.

“They better make it tight.” Arellano replied. Then he pointed to his crotch. “How am I down there?”

Smiling, “It’s gone, bro’!” Lenard quipped.

As he was rushed to the waiting AMTRAC, a cold chill engulfed Arellano’s body. Marines hurriedly placed him on the center bench, the back ramp was quickly raised, and the vehicle lurched forward, racing to get Arellano to Bravo Surgical in Camp Fallujah before he really did bleed to death. “Stop giving me morphine,” he told First Sergeant Knox. “I want to feel the pain so I don’t slip away.” Arellano reached to his chest and grabbed the cross dangling from his dogtag chain. He wondered if he would die, and tried to picture his family and Lindsey’s beautiful face. Would he ever see her again? Arellano would fight for his life to the end; he couldn’t leave Lindsey behind.

The other wounded Marines moaned and groaned with every bump in the road on a journey which seemed to take forever. Finally the casevac ground to a stop, the ramp dropped, and Arellano was whisked into the trauma unit.

Kilo Company’s 915 Block fight was the costliest of the entire operation. Five Darkhorse Marines were killed in the fight and more than a dozen were wounded. Read the entire story of the fight to free Fallujah in New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah. If you don’t see it where you buy your books – ask for it.

[1] Sgt Jason Arellano telephone interview, 3/10/08.

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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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Nov 5th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Remembering Fallujah

FallujahSix years ago, at 7 PM local time in Iraq, the 10,000+ Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines of Task Force Blue Diamond started Operation Phantom Fury with their movement to take the western Peninsula and block the two bridges across the Euphrates River. Task Force Wolfpack moved to secure the Fallujah General Hospital and an Iraqi National Guard facility first. The western diversion by The Wolfpack masked the mass movement of the 1st Marine Division into its attack positions all along the northern edge of the city and blocked the enemy’s ability to resupply from the west.

Fallujah has always been a restive city. With the ever-shifting political climate, the tribes and clans in, and around, Fallujah have had little regard for the artificial international boundaries. To the people of Anbar, smuggling is all in a day’s work; a necessity of commerce. So, 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, radiator soldered or a new radio in your truck, Fallujahans stood ready to provide the service. Once the Americans arrived in 2003, the city had the talent and resources to turn to a new industry – the manufacture of IEDs[1] and the smuggling of weapons.

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

Like most Iraqi cities, Fallujah was a city of cinder blocks. Nearly every building was surrounded by a wall. Some walls had been meticulously constructed, obviously the work of a proud stonemason. Others were thrown together in a helter-skelter fashion and many had the look of the repetitive cycle of destruction, repair, more destruction and hasty re-assembly. Blocks were 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. Compound walls protected large homes with landscaped courtyards, marble floors and ornate furnishings.

Fallujah’s homes were built to shelter their residents from the sweltering heat of the Iraqi summers and 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. Fallujah could not have been more attractive to the resistance. The population was distrusting of outsiders and naturally rebellious. Its workers provided the where-with-all to smuggle weapons, explosives and foreign fighters, its craftsmen provided the talent to build bombs and every home was a fortress.

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

Sunni dominated Fallujah was home to many of Saddam’s elite followers. The city was filled with former Iraqi Army, Republican Guard and Ba’ath Party officials who were all cronies of Saddam Hussein. Many of these Iraqis wanted to continue the struggle to return Saddam Hussein to power and all had been put out of work with the dissolution of the Ba’ath Party and the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. The disgruntled bureaucrats and soldiers wanted to reestablish the privilege, power and prestige they once held during Saddam’s reign. Some former officers saw the violence in Fallujah as an opportunity to regain their influence. So, they formed the “Fallujah Brigade.”

The Brigade was made up primarily of out-of-work Iraqi soldiers. Their officers were corrupt and bore no loyalty to the fledgling, Shia-dominated Iraqi government. They hated the Americans and, more likely than not, supported the insurgents. At best, the Fallujah Brigade was ineffective and at worst, was part of the problem. But, in April of 2004, the Fallujah Brigade was a necessary evil. The American military leadership wanted to put an Iraqi face on the solution to the violence in Fallujah. The Marines sincerely hoped that the Fallujah Brigade could start the much-needed reconciliation process between the powers in Fallujah and the Iraqi government. “We tried to get the Iraqis help us solve the problem.”[2] As it turned out, the Fallujah Brigade’s dismal failure would finally show the government in Baghdad that they needed help in curing the ills within Fallujah. Prime Minister Iyad Alawi and his leadership finally understood that the Iraqis themselves were not yet prepared to solve this problem.

Within months, the Fallujah Brigade vaporized and the city once again became an enemy sanctuary. Emboldened insurgents began spreading terror from their safe haven in Fallujah. Roving gangs attacked convoys. Foreign jihadists rallied in Fallujah, then spread terror in a hundred-mile radius through kidnappings, torture and murder. The city filled with local and foreign Islamic extremists at an alarming rate. They allied with local criminals, thugs and warlords. There were scores of neighborhood gangs and a dozen key leaders.

Most of the tribal Sheikhs viewed the Americans as usurpers of their authority. Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi, cleric, chieftain and mystic, was the foremost insurgent leader.  He led the town’s governing council and was a mover and shaker.  He viewed the Americans as invaders and wanted to drive them out of Iraq. Janabi’s principal henchman was a local electrician turned jihadi. Omar Hadid was Janabi’s enforcer and motivator. He had allied himself with Janabi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the early days of the Fallujah insurgency and had become a front-line leader during the first fight. Hadid was a dangerous man, eager to die in the fight to rid his land of the infidel.

Abu Musab Zarqawi was probably the most famous of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leaders.  Jordanian-born, he fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan where he was wounded in 2002. He fled to Baghdad where he was treated and recuperated in an Iraqi hospital. Then he dropped out of sight.  The militant leader built the largest terrorist training camp in the world on a small finger of Iraqi land near Muqdadiyah, surrounded by Iranian mountains on three sides[3]. When American Special Forces chased him out of his hilltop stronghold in March of 2003, Zarqawi fled and eventually ended up in Fallujah where he became the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Janabi and Zarqawi had claimed victory in the first Fallujah fight. They used their claims to recruit jihadists from around the world. The call went out – come to Fallujah and kill Americans. They knew the fight was not over. Inside the city, they set out to fortify their positions, knowing the Marines would return. They built bunkers, roadblocks, and obstacles. They set up ambush sites and buried thousands of mines and IEDs. They dug trenches and fortified fighting positions. They knocked holes in walls that were just large enough for a man to crawl through. These “rat holes” allowed the insurgents to move from compound to compound within the city without having to go out into the streets. They did everything they could to prepare to kill as many Americans as possible in the next round of fighting. If the Marines could overcome these defenses, crush the resistance inside the city and break the enemy’s grip on the people of Fallujah, it would herald the beginning of the end for the insurgency. Victory in Fallujah would bring a New Dawn of hope to the people of Iraq.

The Iraq government and the US military command knew that the January, 2005 elections would not succeed under the threat of bombings and reprisals from the thugs in Fallujah. They knew that they malignancy needed to be cut out. But, the New Dawn would have to wait for sunset. Major General Richard F. Natonski wanted to attack under cover of darkness. At 1900 on November 8th, the sky lit up on the eastern horizon and a distant rumble rolled in from Camp Fallujah. Then, a smoke barrage shrouded the entire northern edge of the city. More 155mm howitzer rounds came screaming in like freight trains, exploding on enemy targets and shaking the ground a mile from their impact. Then, the main attack was launched with several coordinated breaching operations at key points along the railroad tracks.

The fight would last for several bloody weeks and would be the largest American urban fight since Hue City, Vietnam. By Christmas every enemy fighter would be cleared from the city. Operation Phantom Fury would end up being the most important fight in the war and would mark the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Nine Navy Crosses and twenty-two Silver Stars were awarded for heroism in Fallujah. Read these stories and more in the most detailed account yet published. New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah tells a story you will never forget.

[1] Improvised Explosive Device

[2] LtGen John Sattler telephone interview, 12/3/07.

[3] Robinson, Linda Masters of Chaos – The Secret History of the Special Forces, PublicAffairs, New York, 2004. Operation Viking Hammer.

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Aug 31st, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Kandahar is not Fallujah
Sgt Jason Carter - DVIDS

Sgt Jason Carter - DVIDS

While Kandahar and Fallujah are both located at ancient crossroads of civilization, the cities could not be more different. Fallujah lies in the heart of the ancient Assyrian civilization while Kandahar has always skirted two ancient empires. Fallujah is made up of a compact, densely-populated middle-eastern urban center while Kandahar is spread out over many thousands of acres with a central urban center and hundreds of outlying villages, nestled in some of the most rugged terrain on the face of the earth.

If you think it was difficult isolating the Fallujah battlefield, it was easy compared to the challenges of cordoning Kandahar. Clearing Kandahar will be a momentous task. The International Security Assistance Forces and the Afghan Army and Police will have a very difficult time clearing and holding Kandahar.

In the fall of 2004, Coalition Forces isolated Fallujah and evacuated most of the population before sweeping into the city to clear every room of every house. Then, they cordoned the city and only let residents back in. ISAF has no hope of isolating the battlefield of Kandahar, we will have to work to clear the area and we will have to work among the population. The Taliban know this truth. They will continue to use the people as shields and they will try to illicit violence that will cause civilian deaths.

The coming operation to wrest control of Kandahar and its surrounding districts will be tricky. I expect to see a sudden increase in ISAF military presence, followed by an inkwell strategy of expanding the ISAF security zone. There will be no massive sweep through the area like the fight to free Fallujah. Instead, the Taliban will wake up one morning and American, Afghan and Canadian soldiers will be on their doorstep. And, once there – they will stay.

Taliban leaders will be targeted; rounded up or killed. The rank and file Taliban soldiers will be given a choice – fight and die or surrender and re-integrate into the Afghan society. Once the streets of Kandahar City, Zhari, Panjwaii, and Arghandab are secure, the real work will begin.

The people of southern Afghanistan have lived through almost continuing struggles for control of their land for centuries. The only thing that the tribal elders know is struggle and maneuvering for power. They have learned that when their schemes fail, violence rules supreme. It will take more than a generation to change this mindset. Once there is a modicum of security in Kandahar, ISAF will help to set the people on the right track to peace and prosperity. Attempting to impose the Federal government in Kabul on the people of southern Afghanistan will not work. We must build a brand new Afghanistan from the ground up, not from the top-down. Let us all pray that General Petraeus succeeds.


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Jul 14th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn Update


A Gold Star Mother recently thanked me for telling her son’s story. She went on to say, “My biggest fear was that he would be forgotten.”

New Dawn tells the stories of our brave young men and women at war half a world away. Ed Iwan, Jason Clairday, Antoine Smith, Chris Adlesperger and Kevin Shea will all live forever in the pages of New Dawn. Please help me to tell their stories to the American people. Go to my facebook page. Post links to my sites. Tell your frineds. Buy a book and then post a review on the site of your choice.

New Dawn tells a story you will never forget.

New Dawn has already been nominated for the 2011 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s ‘General Wallace M. Greene Award.’ The award is given to non-fiction writers who excel in telling the story of the United States Marine Corps.

In addition, New Dawn has been nominated for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in History.

My most honored endorsement recently came from a Marine Sergeant. He called me to tell me, “Your book is friggin awesome.” He went on to say, “I was there and it is ‘spot-on.’”









Thank you all for your continued support.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard S. Lowry

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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.


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


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

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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