Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Our warfighters towered in maturity and guts"

It was called "Operation Dawn - al Fajr." D-Day was November 7, 2004, 1900 hours (7 pm Baghdad time). The fighting that followed was to be among the fiercest urban warfare battles fought in American history. This story conveys a few thoughts of those who fought there.

Fallujah is about 30-35 miles west of Baghdad, in Anbar province, Iraq's largest. Baghdad fell rapidly to the US invasion force, April 14, 2003. Fallujah was one of those urban centers that would not give in. Forces hostile to the Coalition proved to be a thorn in the side for the Coalition forces and, as it turned out, a very tough enemy.

The city was a dense urban center, about 300,000 people living in a 20 km (12 mi) square area.

This photo shows one section, the northwest Jolan district. An average block was 100 x200 meters. There were about 1,000 of these city blocks. The layout was random, resident, business and industrial areas all mixed together.

The US divided the city into six north-south zones of attack. This graph shows the major attack elements, left to right:
  • The first two (3-1 "Thundering Third" and 3-5 "Consumate Professionals") were Marines from the 1st  Maine Division (MARDIV), "The Guadalcanal Division." 
  • The 2-7 "Grey Wolf" were  Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division, "The First Team." 
  • The 1-8 "Beirut Battalion" and 1-3 "Lava Dogs were Marines from the 2nd "Tarawa Division" and 3rd MARDIV "Fighting Third" Division respectively. 
  • The 2-2 "Ramrods" were Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division "Big Red One." The force with Iraqi troops included was about 12,000.
The plan was to fight all the way through the city to the south. They did that, with intense air support, from November 7 - November 16, 2004, the date the military said it had secured Fallujah. As is always the case, fighting continued in certain sections.

The US lost about 81 Marines and Soldiers with about 600 wounded.

With that as brief background, let's get on to hearing the thoughts of a few who fought in Fallujah during this period.

"This is all going to come down to that young man, that 19, 20 year old corporal, lance corporal whether he's a soldier or a marine, leading his particular fire team or his squad through the city, house by house, block by block, room by room." 
Major Francis Piccoli, USMC

"There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second opinion."
Lt. Colonel Willy Buhl, USMC, commander 3-1 Marines

"The only thing that can drive a man to accomplish the task at hand and keep going day in and day out is espirit de corps. Today it's as strong as it was on Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa; the list goes on and on. As long as we have our espirit de corps we'll always win the tough battles." 
Sgt. Michael Farrell, C/1-3 Marines

"After 12 hours of air strikes, our U.S. Army cavalry task force was the first unit to enter the city. Our M1 tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles engaged every enemy strong point we came across. Moving deliberately and violently, it took until 10 a.m. the next day to get two miles into the city. Our three companies of armor killed many insurgents that first day, and weakened numerous defensive points in preparation for the Marines' attack."
From a letter from a West Point graduate, told by Michael Erwin

“Despite their youth, the marines seemed to tower over their peers outside the military in maturity and guts. Many of Bravo Company's best marines, its most proficient killers, were 19 and 20 years old; some directed their comrades in maneuvers and assaults. Bravo Company's three lieutenants, each responsible for the lives of about 50 men, were 23 and 24 years old. They are a strangely anonymous bunch. The men who fight America's wars seem invariably to come from little towns and medium-size cities far away from the nation's arteries along the coast. Line up a group of marines and ask them where they are from, and they will give you a list of places like Pearland, Tex.; Lodi, Ohio; Osawatomie, Kan.”
Dexter Filkins, New York Times embedded reporter
who traveled through Fallujah with B/1-8 Marines

“I will tell you that until the Marines get a chance and the soldiers get a chance to go through, house to house, and clear these houses, that the city is not 100 percent clear. It's a percentage of being clear, but at this time, the only way to do that, in my estimation, for this city, which is the largest cache of weapons and IEDs and explosives that I think we have in any city in Iraq, which we clear up every day -- it is not 100 percent clear, but it is 100 percent having been secured at this time.

“There would be certain pockets of resistance as the roads and the alleyways would not allow armored or mechanized vehicles. And in those city blocks it might have had alleys of three- feet wide, it was an individual fight, man to man; spider holes where guys would pop out of; after a Marine would go by it or a soldier would go by it, they'd pop out and attempt to shoot the Marine in the legs or in the back. So it became a very tenuous fight, that if you weren't streetwise -- and you got streetwise about an hour into this operation -- you'd find yourself as a casualty.”
 Colonel Mike Regner, USMC, operations officer I MEF

 “The fighting experienced in Fallujah was some of the most violent I have observed over my career in the US Marine Corps. We were up against determined adversaries who were well armed, and had prepared defensive fighting positions in complex urban terrain. The 1st Marine Regiment (RCT-1) advanced into the western half of Fallujah with the Thundering Third, 3d Bn., 5th Marines, and the 2d Bn, 7th Cavalry, armed with M1A2 tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Fully supported with all the combined arms resonant in the Marine Air Ground Task Force to include USAF AC-130 Gunships, your Marines, Sailors and Soldiers aggressively attacked the enemy and maintained relentless pressure on him until he was reduced to operating in small isolated groups, hiding in homes.

“As I mentioned above, the fighting was extremely fierce. During our advance we uncovered enemy from many different neighboring Arab countries, large quantities of weapons and ordnance of every type, sensitive items such as passports of murdered hostages, torture rooms, propaganda studios, military skills training centers, etc. As we had long suspected, Fallujah proved to be a massive sanctuary and cache site for the enemies of peace. Indeed, the extent of the ordnance located in this city is such that the city continues to experience daily explosions, as our Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams destroy newly discovered explosives and munitions.” 
Lt. Colonel Willy Buhl, USMC, commander 3-1 Marines

“Everywhere I looked I saw barrel flashes from AK-47s. It all seemed unreal. I was scared, but I had a job to do.”
LCpl. Kaleb Welch, 3rd Platoon automatic weapon gunner

"We came to a clearing between my squad and the Al Tawfiq mosque then started taking small arms fire from the roof. I radioed in that we were taking fire and requested permission to engage. After I was asked to confirm, a rocket propelled grenade flew over my head and I said 'yes I'm sure.' We opened up with machinegun and small arms fire. The insurgents started coming off the rooftop and firing from the courtyard so I took one of our AT-4s and fired a shot in the middle. After that we didn't receive any fire from the mosque."
Cpl. Dave Willis, 3rd Squad leader

"The first left we made I saw four insurgents fire at us with their AK-47s before running into one of the buildings on the street. The next road we had to cross had a large opening that spanned a few hundred feet. I was the first one to run across and I could hear and feel rounds whizzing by. All I was thinking about was to take cover once I got across. That was the biggest adrenaline rush I ever had in my life."
LCpl. Michael Starr, a breachman with 3rd platoon

"The troops on the ground give us exact coordinates and requested support, and we will fire at those coordinates and hopefully destroy the enemy they are engaging. We destroyed an enemy command and control headquarters; we’ve killed enemy snipers, bunkers, mortar teams, enemy squads: just about anything we're called upon. There was a Marine platoon that was ambushed by about 70 insurgents. The enemy was dug in at a trench line, and the Marines were engaged pretty heavily. They called in support and we disengaged the enemy … later on Marines came up to our firing line and thanked my guys for saving the lives of the platoon.”
Captain Michael Burgoyne, A, 3-82 Field Artillery (FA)

Pfc. Christopher Adlesperger, USMC, 20, Albuquerque, N.M.
Killed at least 11 enemy insurgents in Fallujah with his M-16 and grenade launcher at close range
He protected two wounded squad members from attack and saved innumerable Marines.
He had been hit in the face by shrapnel, had bullet holes in the sleeve and collar of his uniform.
He refused to be evacuated until his best friend's body was recovered.
He was killed one month later in other action in Fallujah.
He received the Navy Cross posthumous for his valor.
It would come down to men like Adlesperger, and he exceeded the call of duty.
"Despite their youth, the marines seemed to tower over their peers
 outside the military in maturity and guts."

The Navy Cross

Editor's note: To all university teachers and sports coaches --- your students and team members are not "kids." They are adults.

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