PART IV: INTO IRAQ

I was riding with our forward CP. About 35 vehicles and 100 Marines. We went through the breaches without incident and proceeded overland northward. Our GCE was out ahead of us and our movement was easy. Passed a few Bedouin camps along the way, people waved and seemed happy to see us passing through. Around 2100 or so we halted and set up our CP for the night. It was pretty quiet, except for one of our men was accidentally ran over by one of our M1A tanks. Luckily the Marine survived with a broken pelvis, he had dug a shallow trench that he was laying in when he was ran over, so he had a little room.

The next morning we moved out again in the general direction of Nasiriyah. We ended up stopping at a location several miles south of Nasiriyah, waiting for the army to pass through our area before we could proceed. There were so many units on the move north initially that it was a traffic management nightmare. We didn't move for about 3 days. The weather became so windy that visibility was down to less than 30 yards most of the time. Around the 23rd we were able to move north again towards Nasiriyah. We had to secure 3 bridges initially. 1/2 (1st Bn, 2d Marine Regt) was our first unit to reach Nasiriyah and were immediately under fire. In a day they secured a route through town but the fighting was pretty tough. They took the bulk of the casualties, several of our AmTracs were destroyed. The fighting was pretty continuous for about a week. The grunts did a hell of a job. From our CP we supported them with mostly rotary and fixed-wing air support. The grunts had an artillery Bn (1/10) in Direct Support of them, and they worked them hard.

On the 26th We decided to send our Fwd CP up closer to the action. So we headed up the road. Things went wrong, Murphy was there, we were delayed several hours when one of our LAVs overheated, we had to shut down and repair it. Bottom line, we were finally pulling into the south side of Nasiriyah after dark. The fighting was still going on as evidenced by the artillery Bn that was firing nearly continuously, and Cobras making runs on targets firing Hellfire missiles and 20mm cannon. At one point we stopped on the road and sat for about 30 minutes, it was now well after dark. There was a T-55 tank upside down in the road with a two foot hole in the bottom of it, looked like the work of a hellfire. Next thing I know the SgtMaj comes up to my vehicle ands tells me and my men to get out, he needs to get the CG back to the main CP, that 1000-2000 enemy are poised to counterattack. So I was pissed about me, and my two Sgts hitchhiking in Indian country, but I found places for them in other vehicles and found a spot for myself. We continued up the road another mile or so and pulled into our CSSD 22's perimeter for the night. They put us in the middle of their perimeter and just said do not shoot our weapons because we were in a friendly perimeter surrounded by friendlies.

About 10 minutes later all hell broke loose. 23mm rounds started pouring down on our position, from about 1500-2000 yards to our front, based on looking at those big green tracers flying towards us. We took cover behind our vehicles. 23mm was slamming into some of the vehicles. At the same time a few mortar rounds impacted in the general area, not on us, but within 100 meters or so. At the same time some illum flares went up on the perimeter line, which was about 75 yards to our front, and the Marines on the perimeter began engaging enemy troops with M203 40mm grenades, 7.62 MG, and 5.56mm. We were the objective of a coordinated attack by the enemy. We reported back to the main the situation, and at that moment there was not much more to do besides prepare to defend our position. It was at that very moment that I realized it really sucks to be armed with my 9mm peashooter. Nevertheless, we formed a hasty inner perimeter since most of us carried pistols, and stood ready to repel the enemy by fire and close combat if needed. The hardest thing was not being able to see very well ahead of us and being able to tell if the figures we could see moving around were friendly or enemy. Well the fracas went on for only 20 minutes or so, but it seemed like much longer. At one point, one of our LAV-25s opened up on one of our own ammo trucks accidentally, luckily hurting no one, but causing a hell of a light show. We had several friendly units all along this road, but the enemy was trying to get in between us and get into the units behind the grunts, mainly the regiment CP, and the CSSD, and the Artillery. We were now in a position about 1500 meters behind our front line of troops, and about 1000 meters in front of our artillery. I can say that when our arty fired, the noise was nearly deafening due to our proximity, but it was like sweet music.

About an hour after this exchange, two 7-tons slowly drove in from the front with casualties. There were none killed thankfully. But 4 stretcher cases in pretty tough shape and a dozen or so walking wounded with shrapnel wounds that were not immediately life threatening. Sgt Nick and I helped along with several other Marines to get these guys off the trucks. It just happened we were only 20 yards from our shock/trauma platoon that travels with CSSD22. These young wounded men really tugged at my heart. Not one of them was making noise. One lad was shot through the abdomen, another with a serious head injury, and another with both legs nearly shot off below his knees. I never felt so close to a brother Marine as that right then. We comforted them as best we could. The Navy trauma surgeon was a real professional too, and really knew what he was doing. He immediately made me feel confident that these lads were in the best hands possible. There was an Iraqi couple with the casualties too, they were not hurt, but their infant girl had a bad wound to her head, it was unclear how it happened.

About midnight or so a huge arty mission was shot at a train station a couple klicks (Kilometers) west of us. Nearly 200 rounds of DPICM (cluster munitions) were rained down on a group of over 1000 men forming and distributing ammo. It broke the back of their planned counterattack. Later that night an Air Force AC130 went to work nearby. Talk about a $hitstorm, for whoever was under that. When daylight came, we could finally see around the area. I was appalled at the thin defenses around us. But we all were unhurt. There were several prisoners captured , being held for movement back to the rear.

We moved our CP to another location maybe 500 yards down the road in the AM, and set our own security up and started digging in. Later in the day, Seabees came up with a dozer and commenced to pushing up berms around our CP, they did fast work and in a couple hours had a decent berm around our area. Later that day a platoon of enemy was caught in the open coming across a wheat field towards our and CSSD22s direction. They were cut down with 155mm artillery, about 1000 meters from our berm. I realized this was no joke, I burned my credit card and blank checks that day, just to safeguard my wife's finances, should anything bad come to me.

The fighting continued a few more days in An Nasiriyah, our main CP came up and joined us. It was then that we rescued the Soldier Jessica Lynch. Special Forces were really in the lead on that, but we provided artillery, and the whole evolution was orchestrated from our CP. Pretty neat stuff.

Around this time we were putting in some long, long hours. We crossed the Euphrates River and moved north to Ad Diwaniyah, east all the way to Al Amarah, and finally north to Al Kut. The rest of these places fell pretty easily. We used Fires well to root out and destroy leadership targets. The people along the way that we saw were cheering us wildly, chanting "good Bush, no Saddam" and thanking us profusely. I was always careful though, never know when there is danger lurking. We found lots and lots of abandoned weapons, equipment, uniforms along the way. It was apparent the army was blending in with the civilians.

In Al Kut things went pretty quietly overall, but we did take some fire, and kill a few Iraqis as well. Our main CP was at an airfield out of town a couple miles. I ended up in town at what we called the "Tarawa House". It was one of Saddam's homes on the Tigris river. We did get shot up a couple times one night, but nobody got hit. Idiots spraying with AK47s. A well aimed burst from a M240G at the Aks muzzle flash ended the deal. The following night I awoke to horrendous boom that I first thought was an RPG hitting the building, Well what had happened was the good neighbors on the rooftop next door, wacked an AK47 toting Iraqi with their night-vision sighted Barret .50 at a distance of maybe 100 yards. We spent most of our time in Al Kut trying to get water, power, police, schools, and hospitals up and running again. We were relieved by 3/23, a Marine reserve Battalion from Louisiana.

The snipers did some great work throughout. From talking with some of the grunts here on ship, they were all getting dozens of kills, in Nasiriyah especially.

I went back to the Al Kut airfield, named Blair Field after one of our lads who died in Nasiriyah, on the 5th of May. It was nice to be in a secure place for a couple days. I was able to catch up on some sleep, and hygiene. Sadly, 3 of our Marines died there at that airfield when a captured RPG7 exploded inadvertently. On the 7th I boarded a C130, along with most of the Marines in my section. We flew to an Air Force field in Kuwait, then got on a Marine CH-53, and flew back to our ship, the USS Kearsarge. My involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom was over.

Freedom isn't free, and 23 of our Marines paid the highest price possible, their lives. Around 60 or so WIA. Thankfully, no POW or MIA.

I lost between 15 and 20 pounds in the 3 months ashore. And slept on the ground nearly the whole time. We got cots at Camp Ryan about a week before crossing the line, but did not take them with us. On average maybe 3 hours sleep a night, many times two or three days with no sleep. I can only imagine the longer hardships endured by those in previous wars.

Well, I feel fortunate to be heading home, and will be there in a few short days. The last six weeks or so aboard ship have been good to reflect on what we did, get rested and fed well, and get strength back up. When we got back on the ship the sailors were all remarking on how thin we all were from the time they saw us get off the ship.

I really feel for all the men and women still serving over there. I know this will go on for some time, and the casualties will continue to grow. It has given me more reverence than ever for Memorial Day.

So there you have it. Hope it wasn't too painful for those who decided to give it a read. I know that a lot more went on than I was able to relate. But, I pretty much gave you my view of what I saw and did. We did not have much information on what was going on outside of our zone. As far as taking B'dad and all that.

(Continue to QUESTIONS)

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