Saturday, June 20, 2009

"I don't give a shit! We've got ammo, just start shooting!"

This was the response one Marine Corps Gunny gave to his men when they found themselves surrounded during the first day of the 2nd Battle for Fallujah.

At the end of May, four Marine Corps Majors gave their accounts of the battle from the perspective of a company commander or operations officer (middle management). In the 2004 battle, all were captains, two were company commanders and two were OPSOs. In attendance were many Marines who had been under their command.


The young Lieutenant who shared the headline quote also noted that he learned more about what had happened during the hour long lecture then he knew from having lived through it. At the time he had been, I think, a Lance Corporal. He shared that he was completely clueless the whole time, even though he had a college degree. He said he just went where they told him to go. The first few days he said were so chaotic and noisy. The US was dropping artillery within yards of their positions. By day 4 and 5, he said things started to quiet down and that is when they began to become complacent.

"We'd have spent all day clearing 150 houses and not find anything and then house 151, when we were tired and had let our guard down, we'd get hit and that is when we'd lose someone."

What made this lecture all the more interesting for me was getting the chance to put faces with some names. Major A, whom I had dated last year had been injured by an IED during the feints prior to the battle. Last year, before General Natonski's presentation on Fallujah, Major A introduced me to his Colonel. The Colonel asked me if I knew Major A's story, often times veterans don't share their stories with many other, except close family, friends and other veterans. I knew what he had told me and from what I could find in the news, his hometown paper covered his recovery and eventual return to active duty and deployment back to Iraq and to the same location where he had been injured. He had shown me his Purple Heart and a big jagged piece of metal that had been one of the many pieces of the humvee that had been taken out of his body. Major A had asked the doctors for the pieces of metal, but they hadn't saved any. The piece he had was given to him by his Colonel.

One of the Marines presenting at the lecture had been the OPSO of Major A's unit. Major Chris had been tasked with other things and was unable to give a "tour" to an Army officer, so Major A volunteered. They took Major Chris's Humvee and were driving through the outskirts of Fallujah. When the IED went off, the Colonel said he heard it and came running. By the time he got on the scene, everyone had been removed from the vehicle, Major A was the most seriously hurt. He said he looked at Major A, saw his injuries were pretty bad, but knew that he would survive them.

"He kept telling me he was sorry, it was all his fault and that Chris was going to kill him."

O.k., my "jealous woman" reaction in my mind was, "Who the hell is Chris? I don't want to hear about him calling out some other woman's name while injured on the battle field." Out loud I asked, "Who is Chris?" and they filled me in.

Well, the piece of metal that Major A has as a souvenir from his near miss with death and dismemberment was a piece the Corpsman had removed in order to treat him, somehow it was handed to the Colonel, who put it in the front breast pocket of his uniform. He had that bloodied piece of metal in his pocket for weeks, he said. When he finally realized it was there, he sent it to Major A.

When I introduced myself to Major Chris after the lecture, I shared with him the story of them saying how Brad was saying over and over how Chris was going to kill him. He thought Chris was going to be mad because the IED had destroyed the HUMVEE that had been assigned to Chris and it was the only up armored HUMVEE they had (which probably saved his and the lives of the other men on board).

Chris laughed and shared that when he went to visit Major A at the field hospital, "He was laying there with half his butt cheek blown off and he kept telling me he was sorry he didn't get a chance to finish the report that was due. I told him not to worry about it. That is the kind of guy he is. He's a really good guy."

Major A watched the battle from the hospital.

There was so much information that the Majors shared.

Prior to the battle, US forces conducted tactical feints into the city in an attempt to get the Iraqis to believe that is where they would attack. It worked. The insurgents posted most of their fighting positions in the area where the feints had been conducted. When the battle occurred, the Marines came in from the opposite direction.

The mission was to attack and clear their assigned sections of the town. What did attack and clear mean? To the Marines, it meant clear every building which was a challenge for 4 battalions to do in a specified time frame. One of the challenges they had, was they would clear a block and then the insurgents would move back into the area so they would have to re-clear areas. In addition, they were to set up humanitarian assistance sights up as soon as the area was cleared (this was a PR thing to look good for the world news media). The Majors joked how the insurgents, who had figured out the boundaries between the battalions, would go to one battalion for food and return to fight another battalion.

Another interesting thing they shared and that I have heard from other Marines, was how the insurgents were using drugs and they were told not to talk about what they were finding to the media. The Majors said that now, they didn't care, they were openly talking about how prevalent drug use was with the insurgent fighters, and the number of foreign fighters they were finding.

They said they found many of the insurgents they had killed with IVs and drugs (liquid courage). One guy they killed had gangrenous wounds so with the assistance of the drugs he was taking was able to continue the fight. The drugs helped the insurgents take multiple shots and continue fighting - - often times the Marines would find their bodies later after they had bled out from their wounds.

They were asked about enemy co-ordination. They said the larges co-ordinated group they encountered were 12 in a house. They said someone in that house was well trained, probably a foreign fighter and that group put up a really good fight. The Marines ended up calling in four TOW missiles to put a stop to the fight.

Regarding respecting Mosques, the Marines found that 60% of the mosques were used as weapons caches, communication and control sites and rally points. One Major said a big lesson that he learned after losing one of his men to a sniper in a Mosque minaret was in the future, he'd take out the minaret and apologize for it later. He said it took hours to get permission to take the sniper position out, in the meantime, the sniper had the ability to take out more of his men. This same Major said he wished they had had more embedded journalists with them, he would have used a journalist to say, "See that Marine laying dead on the ground, he got shot from that minaret, we are still taking fire from that position and that is why I am taking it out right now." He felt they didn't capitalize on video embeds as much as they could have to get the stories out.

They also spoke about how they conducted re-supply and that they pre-planned packages. When every a vehicle was leaving from a supply area, it was always full. Units would pick-up more ammunition when dropping off casualties. The logistics group was able to secure routes and supply areas within 2 miles of each of the battalions companies.

In addition to their excellent logistical execution, they were also able to set up trauma units as far forward as possible, they showed us on a map where they had been set up, very impressive. They said having trauma capability so close to the front was very important. They could get severely wounded Marines to a trauma unit within 5-7 minutes.

Within 7 weeks of the battle, citizens were introduced back to the city. That was a big goal of US military leadership, to get Fallujah cleared of insurgents and the citizens back before elections at the end of January 2005. So, within a very short time frame, Marines had to stop looking at the people as the enemy but as people and they had to now deal with things civilians want like power, food, water, and their homes to be repaired.

It was a great lecture and always good to get new insights that I can't get anywhere else. I'd really like to just sit and listen to battle stories like the one the Lieutenant shared. It is good to know about all the planning at a high level and what people knew and what they were doing and why.

No comments: