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Fallujah Fight

[COMMENT:  From an email list.  These are our sons -- mostly in their late teens and early 20's.  Deo Gratia!  

How does one put this together with Suicide Bomber?  The tragedy on both side is awful.  But we must remain a people of praise to our God who loves all equally and unconditionally.  E. Fox] 

 

            I was the Tank Commander of Charlie 1-4, and the Platoon Sergeant of Charlie Company's 1st Platoon. We had just relieved the Army in Fallujah. My Platoon had been operating with relatively little rest in support of the 1st Marine Regiment, although the contact had been pretty light. We had been operating on the East side of the town and the enemy insurgents there had little desire to tangle with Marine Tanks.

 

            My Platoon had just come in from 3 day's duty out at a coalition strongpoint out in town. Regiment had nothing planned for Tanks that day so it appeared my Marines would get some overdue rest and a chance to turn a few wrenches on the Tanks. We had only been back about an hour when bad news arrived. We were eating breakfast in the firm base chow hall when word arrived about some Americans killed out in town. Worst still, their bodies were being desecrated in the streets. Very shortly after that, I received the word to ready the Platoon to move out again.

 

            I informed the Marines of 1st Platoon about the morning's events. I told them "Nobody does that to Americans," and to mount up and prepare to move out! The looks in their eyes and on their faces told me that the insurgents had made a grievous error in picking a fight with the United States Marine Corps.

 

            By the time we departed the firm base, more details had arrived. The enemy insurgents (I only use this term to describe them for lack of a better one as there really is no good term for such a dishonorable excuse for a human being) had hung the corpses from a train trestle and were vowing to turn Fallujah into a graveyard for Americans.

 

            The first couple of days of the Fallujah offensive were mostly uneventful. We did a lot of reconnaissance of the enemy and they occasionally probed us. After a couple of days of this, the Marines were itching for a fight. We would get one soon.

 

            I received orders to take my Tank section (two Tanks-mine and my wingman) to support Fox Company who had been in contact with enemy probes the night before. I arrived at Fox's AO (area of operations) on the Northwest corner of Fallujah, and located their CO. After a brief meeting we agreed the best place for my Tank was at the center of their company's defensive line, with my wingman protecting my flank. My position was good. I was about 200 meters from the first row of buildings, I had a good berm in front of my Tank to protect from RPG's, a train trestle overhead for mortars, and a lot of grunts in elevated positions. Life was good except that we weren't here to defend, we were anxious to attack!

 

            About mid-day, Fox conducted a security patrol to prevent the enemy from working in close for a mortar or RPG shot. We were unaware of how close the enemy had already come. About ten minutes into their patrol, the infantry squad was ambushed. I couldn't see it, but I heard the insurgents open up with RPG's, AK-47's, and RPK machine guns. This was a little more committed than the enemy usually engaged.

 

            The infantry squad took a casualty, set up a base of fire, and called for support. I asked the CO if he needed the Tanks. He agreed, "Roll Tanks!" At last, we were on the offensive.

 

            I took the lead with my wingman behind me. As I passed through the infantry squad, I saw a Corpsman rendering first-aid to a Marine who had been shot in the face. I was to later learn that this Marine not only survived but returned to his unit to finish the deployment. SEMPER FI!

 

            My Tank crew and I were like sharks with blood in the water, and the enemy insurgents were eager enough to fight with Tanks. There was no coordination or reason to their attacks. They would pop out of buildings or doorways and take a shot at my Tank. Usually their RPG shot wouldn't hit, but almost always my Tank's machine guns or main gun would. In a short while, I had taken a couple of RPG hits (resulting in no damage) and had inflicted over a dozen kills on the enemy. By now, Fox Co. 2nd Platoon had worked their way into the city alongside of my Tank. Fallujah was going to be a graveyard alright, but not for Americans.

 

            We began to work our way into the city. I would lead with my Tank. My wingman would trail about a block back, covering my flanks and rear. The infantry would work building to building, covering my move from the rooftops. This technique was very successful as enemy insurgents would attempt to shoot and then flee into buildings not knowing our infantry were over the top directing the Tank's main gun onto target of whatever room in whatever building the enemy thought he was safe.

 

            We used this tactic to take block after block. Soon we had a pretty good tally of enemy kills and the remaining enemy were getting less eager to tangle with a Marine Tank. The next tactic we employed was after a period of more than ten minutes without a contact, I would start to back up the Tank as if I were leaving. The enemy would come out for one last shot. I would then order the Tank back forward again and continue to kill the enemy. I was amazed at how often this would work.

 

            My Tank crew and I fed off each other's motivation and intensity. My gunner, Corporal Chambers, surgically removed enemy from the face of the Earth with the Tank's main gun and coax machine gun. My loader, Lance Corporal Hernandez, courageously manned his machine gun and put down many insurgents. My driver, Lance Corporal Frias, flawlessly maneuvered the Tank down tight city streets. We took block after block. The infantry rallied behind the carnage the Tank was dispensing. The only problem was that we were expending a lot of ammunition.

 

            Late that afternoon, I began to run low on ammunition. Because I was in the lead, I had expended much more ammunition than my wingman, Staff Sergeant Escamilla. His Tank still had a relatively full combat load. I backed up to closer to his Tank and the infantry put down some good suppressive fire. Our two crews quickly transferred ammunition from his Tank to mine. The problem was solved, at least temporarily.

 

            Back into the lead and back into the attack I went. I was only monitoring my Platoon's radio frequency and that of Fox Company, so my situational awareness of what was going on with the rest of the Task Force was limited. The CO informed me that we were the furthest penetration into the city, which was very motivating. This also was good news because with no friendly units to the left or right or ahead, there was no need to deconflict fires before I shot. The enemy fights very asymmetrically in Fallujah, and the ability to engage more quickly resulted in less insurgents getting away. A Tank in a city is like a bull in a china cabinet. With all the friendlies well behind us, this was a very good thing and very bad for the enemy! The attack was going well, but the enemy had prepared to ! make a stand against us up ahead.

 

            About two blocks to our front was a courtyard. Blocking the entrance were two telephone poles with power lines strung between them like a fishing net. Generally all obstacles are covered by fire and it was obvious that the courtyard was the killsack for this ambush. As I closed on this obstacle, I observed many sandbagged fighting positions in the courtyard. I didn't know if the power lines were electrified and I really didn't want to find out the hard way. The one thing that the enemy didn't count on was that about a half block short of the obstacle, I could see almost the entire courtyard. I stopped there and showed the insurgents that a few sandbag bunkers against a 68 ton Main Battle Tank was a poor choice and a quick end to your life. We killed about ten enemy and only a few were! quick enough to escape. The power line obstacle had brought our advance to a halt, however.

 

            I called up higher on the radio and asked if we had any engineering assets available. I don't think anybody thought that a Bangalore torpedo or line charge would be an overly useful item in an urban fight. We had none. I looked for a bypass. There was an alley unblocked to the right. About ten meters down that alley was a fuel tanker truck trailer parked. Obviously this was the route the enemy wanted me to take. I was sure it was full and wired to blow. I began to plan other options. I couldn't stand the fact that our attack had been halted and I began to grow impatient.

 

            Luckily, during this time there was a building in the courtyard that must have been a stockpile point for weapons for them. About every ten minutes, an insurgent would attempt to make it across the courtyard and enter it. Sometimes they would actually make it only to get killed taking an RPG shot at us on the way out. This kept my gunner busy while I plotted.

 

            I figured that the power lines would get tangled in my track and possibly halt my Tank in the courtyard. In addition to this, I still didn't know if they were electrified. I eliminated the bypass as an option, due to the fuel trailer. I didn't have any main gun ammunition to spare to attempt knocking the telephone poles down which supported the power lines. That would be a difficult shot and I figured it would take too many rounds before I hit it. Also, there still was a small portion of the courtyard that I hadn't been able to see up to now.

 

            The success we had caused me to grow more impatient with this halt in our attack. I had a plan. I wasn't overly thrilled with it but I couldn't stand the thought that the enemy insurgents had stopped me even more. I informed my wingman and the infantry platoon that I intended to ram the obstacle at an angle where I would hopefully hit mostly telephone pole and entangle as little power line as possible in my track. If I sealed my hatches shut, I figured that the distance from the fuel trailer was enough that it would do no damage other spray burning fuel on the outside of the Tank. I was mostly concerned about the fire I would inevitably take when I entered the courtyard. I knew that between the power lines and the certain RPG shots, there was a good possibility that I would be immobil! ized in the courtyard so I needed Staff Sergeant Escamilla's Tank and the infantry platoon to be prepared to enter the courtyard closely behind me and take the lead if my Tank was immobilized. As I said I wasn't thrilled with this plan, but it was the best I had. Luckily, just prior to executing it, the CO called on the radio and presented another option.

 

            I was informed that a C-130 Gunship would be on station, but not until after the sun went down. The next problem was how to mark the obstacle for the aircraft. First, I tried to give them a grid, since we were deep into the city and the CO no longer had a visual contact with us. I only had a 1:100,000 map, therefore I couldn't give an accurate grid for an air strike. The aircraft could identify my Tank, but not the obstacle. The only solution was for me to drive up to it to designate it. Under the cover of darkness, I took my Tank up to the obstacle. Just to be sure, I threw an infrared chemstick onto it. The aircraft reported that it had a tally on the target.

 

            I must admit that I was a little nervous being this close to the obstacle without taking any fire, I was anxious for this obstacle to be gone. The aircraft informed me to let them know when I was 125 meters away from the target. I thought they were being overly cautious, so when I was about 100 meters away, I gave the green light.

 

            As it turns out, they were not. The first impacts from the aircraft were most impressive. The burst of the first salvo went all the way to my Tank, very impressive! The Gunship continued to pound the target. The resulting fuel explosion confirmed my suspicion that the tanker was full of fuel. Soon the air strike ended and it was time to assess the damage.

 

            I drove my Tank up and reported the following. "The obstacle has been reduced. The IED (tanker truck trailer) had been destroyed. Half of a city block had been destroyed (to include the previously mentioned stockpile point). I could sense the motivation amongst the Marines at the overwhelming success of the air strike.

 

            What next? Night had fallen and the CO of Fox had asked for a SITREP (situation report). I told him that the road was open and I wanted to continue to press the attack! The enemy had surely been decimated and demoralized by the Gunship's strike. We definitely had the initiative and as a bonus, the Gunship was going to remain on station for a while more. The CO gave the go-ahead to continue to push deeper into the city.

 

            I used the Gunship's overwatch to search for enemy out ahead. With this and the Tank's thermal sights, I really had the advantage at night. I chose to violently take the fight to the enemy. The insurgents had very poor night vision and could easily be caught in the open at night. Due to the rotor wash of the Gunship, they often didn't hear the Tank coming until the first burst of my machineguns. The speed that my Tank section and the Gunship could take the fight to the enemy meant that the infantry were going to be left out of the night's festivities. They went firm in two 3 story structures as my Tank section sped off into the night.

 

            We moved fast and shot accurately. We pushed deeper and deeper into the city and left a trail of dead insurgents. Hunting was good that night. I really think we caught them off guard being so deep into Fallujah. Their communications weren't good and so few escaped my fires that combined with the speed we moved at, we consistently had the initiative and what seemed like complete surprise on the enemy. I was so caught up in the attack that I had lost track of my ammunition situation

 

            At approximately 0400, my gunner, Corporal Chambers informed me "Gunny, I'm down to my last 200 rounds!" I informed the CO that I was black on ammo and could no longer continue the attack. He ordered my Tank section to return to where we had left the infantry, go firm and await resupply.

 

            I ordered Staff Sergeant Escamilla to turn around and go back exactly the same way we had cut our way through the city. I would be the last one out. Due to the casualties we had inflicted on the enemy going in, we encountered no contact on the way back. In about a half an hour we were back alongside our infantry, still about 1000 meters deeper in the city than any other Coalition forces. We turned around again and hunkered down for the next 2 hours until daybreak and hopefully, resupply.

 

            My Tank crew and I alternated standing watch so that we all could get at least a little rest. I shut the Tank's engine down and we became a big metal bunker in the middle of that Fallujah city street for the next 2 hours. After the previous 16 hours worth of firing and destruction, everything seemed amazingly peaceful now. It was strangely quiet. The enemy was going to take one last attempt at my Tank before dawn, however.

 

            I was standing watch, while the rest of my crew slept in their crew positions. They had earned the rest even though they weren't going to get much. Out of the pre- dawn quiet came the CRACK CRACK CRACK of an assault rifle. It was not an AK-47 but it was very close. About a second later, just as I was figuring out that the shots were from an M-16, came a short burst from a SAW (squad automatic weapon). It was the infantry in the buildings next to me who were firing and they were shooting close! The firing then stopped as suddenly as it had started and it was eerily silent. Shortly after that, I heard the Marine infantry who had shot start to laugh a little. Marines are amazing in our ability to find humor in just about anything.

 

            "What's going on up there?" I called to them.

 

            "Three of them were trying to infiltrate you, Gunny. You'll see them when the sun comes up." They replied from the rooftop.

 

            Soon the dawn broke on Fallujah. I must admit that I was surprised to see that the dead enemy insurgents were only about ten meters from the rear fender of my Tank. About as quickly as thoughts of what could have happened were it not for the infantry came into my head I put them back out and focused on the task ahead. I then had a great sense of satisfaction. I thought of how the enemy had vowed to make Fallujah a graveyard for Americans. Today, they would awaken and see two Marine Tanks and a platoon of infantry defiantly set up in the middle of their city. Many of the dead enemy combatants still littered the streets around us. I figured this would serve as a warning to any other insurgents as to the consequences of tangling with us.

 

            Soon civilians began to slowly appear in the streets. I knew some of them were certainly insurgents with weapons hidden nearby. I was sure they were looking for an opportunity and I didn't plan on giving them one. We stood poised for a fight but due to our ammunition situation could not continue to push forward into the city again.

 

            I called on the radio and inquired about the resupply. I also informed them that my Tanks were running low on fuel and that by tonight that would be an issue also. I was informed that we were pretty far into the city and moving ammunition to where we were at would be difficult and to get fuel to me would be impossible. I couldn't stand the thought of giving any of the ground we had taken back to the enemy, so I figured we would deal with the fuel issue later. While I waited for more ammo, I watched Iraqi civilians picking up all the expended brass from my machine guns off the streets. I wondered if I should stop them from doing that, but I couldn't think of a reason why.

 

            The resupply arrived about an hour after daybreak. It came on foot! Resupplying a Main Battle Tank is not a small task and is usually done with large trucks. The high volume of RPG fire in this area of Fallujah meant that no trucks were coming in here, certainly not a fuel truck! I looked behind me and seen a column of running Marines. They were in pairs, with ammo crates slung between them. The Marine Corps commitment to mission accomplishment is amazing and the Fox Co. Marines were going to get ammunition to me if they had to carry it by hand, which they did!

 

            The infantry platoon surged out of their buildings and pushed forward ahead of my Tank, to provide an overwatch while my section uploaded. The civilians saw the infantry moving and due to the life the insurgents have forced them into, know how to anticipate when a firefight is going to break out in their streets. They disappeared. In The Iraqi Theater of operations, whenever the civilians are not present at all, it indicates an impending insurgent attack. They know who the enemy is and protect themselves from their violence.

 

            The infantry's surge forward must have caught them off-guard. No attack came and we were resupplied with machine gun ammunition. Main gun ammo was again transferred from Staff Sergeant Escamilla's Tank to mine, but again this was only a temporary fix as both of our Tanks were extremely low on them. My crew and I linked up 2600 rounds of 7.62 mm and loaded it into the ready bin of the Tank.

 

            I called the Fox CO and informed him that the resupply was complete and we were prepared to continue the attack. I reminded him of my low fuel situation and that I was very low on main gun ammunition. He was going to resupply the other two Tanks in my platoon (the Platoon Commander's Tank and his wingman) since they were still not into the city yet. They would then relieve my Tank section and we would go upload fuel and main gun ammo outside the city since those trucks couldn't come in.

 

            The infantry moved back into the two buildings that they had been occupying and I moved back into the lead. We were ready to take the fight to the enemy again. The Co told us to hold. We were much further into the city than anyone else at this point and combined with our fuel and ammo wasn't the best scenario for an attack. Much to our disappointment, we stayed defensive and held the attack.

 

            The enemy has the ability in Fallujah to move around unarmed as a civilian and conduct recommaissance on us for their attacks. All you can do is present as tough a target to them as possible; be hard to kill. We must have done this well because it took about an hour and a half before the first attack came. The urban environment allows the enemy the ability to get very close to you before he has to commit. The first enemy RPG shot was a good one, taken from very close. It passed right between Lance Corporal Hernandez's head and my head. It was so close that I felt the heat of it's rocket propulsion on my face. The shooter was gone as quick as he shot. Not many got away from my Tank, but this one did. He must have inspired the lesser trained insurgents to fight.

 

            Just like the previous day, they came out to attack my Tank. Again there was no coordination to their attacks. The result was the same. A few hits on my Tank, producing no damage, and many dead insurgents. The only thing different about today was that we were stuck sitting on the defensive and the enemy had the initiative. The attacks were coming from a lot closer. I was getting anxious to get back on the offensive. I wanted to take the fight to the enemy, not the other way around.

 

            This continued through the morning, netting us ten enemy kills. I was then informed that the Platoon Commander's Tank had thrown track outside of the city and had still not conducted it's resupply yet either. It appeared our next attack would not be for a while. I would be wrong.

 

            One of the infantrymen on the rooftops spotted a dozen insurgents gathering three blocks ahead. I called the CO and requested to go back into the attack before they could get away. "Go get 'em!" was his reply. That was the best news I heard all day. I commanded, "Red 3, this is Red4. Follow my move. Driver, move out!" We were back on the attack and I was happy.

 

            The speed that we were going to move with again meant that the infantry would stay behind. My Tank charged ahead a couple blocks. We had caught them in the open on a city street. They were assembled outside of a mosque. All were males of what we referred to as "military aged" and most had weapons, AK-47's. Half tried to flee into the mosque, none made it. The other half of them ran around the corner down a narrow street. It appeared to me that the mosque was a staging area and almost certainly a stockpiling point for insurgent weapons. I could stay and secure the mosque or pursue the fleeing insurgents. I decided to stay on the attack and take the fight to the enemy. I commanded my Tank and wingman to move out around the corner and down that narrow street.

 

            Once I entered the street, I observed that the fleeing insurgents had taken cover. My gunner, Corporal Chambers searched with the Tank's high powered optics while Lance Corporal Hernandez and I scanned from our hatches for enemy. The insurgents quickly darted from doorway to doorway. Some we got some got away. They were definitely attempting to get down this street away from my Tank. I didn't want to give them a chance to dig in and defend so I kept up the pursuit.

 

            The street got narrower as we went further down it. Soon, I could no longer traverse my Tank's turret. I still had the two machine guns on top to fight with so I continued. I couldn't stand the thought of giving any of the ground we had taken back. I passed a small crossroad about 8 feet wide. As I entered this intersection, I scanned to my right for enemy. I spotted one about 50 feet away just as he fired a RPG at my Tank.

 

            I dropped into my hatch to swing my machine gun over and kill him. His rocket hit the side of my turret, doing no damage. As I was swinging my fifty calibre over, I didn't see the second insurgent firing from the rooftop of a 3 story building next to me.

 

            I heard a hiss about a split second before it hit me. The Rocket Propelled Grenade hit right inside my hatch striking me on the head. I saw a bright flash of light and then nothing but blackness. I had been blinded in both eyes. It felt as though I had been hit in the head with a sledgehammer and it knocked me down onto the turret floor. I was still conscious so I stood back up. I couldn't hear anything except a dull static-like humming in my ears.

 

            I knew at the time that it was a RPG that had hit me. I couldn't see anything so I reached up and felt my face. It was wet and gooey feeling. My first concern was to get the Tank moving out of what was obviously a bad place for it to be. Since I could not see to direct the Tank, I grabbed Corporal Chambers by his flak jacket and said to him. "Chambers, you've got to get the Tank moving. You've got to start working on a medivac for me."

 

            I could feel Chambers moving but he was not answering me. I repeated my commands to Corporal Chambers. Again I received no response. I was to figure out later that he had been answering me but I couldn't hear it. Corporal Chambers had been wounded himself yet he unhesitatingly moved out of his gunner's position and into the Tank Commander's hatch, the same hatch I had just been blown out of. I felt the Tank begin to move forward and I felt good about that.

 

            The RPG had hit me on the head inside the Commander's hatch. The majority of shrapnel ended up in my Flak jacket, helmet, and head. Shrapnel struck Lance Corporal Hernandez in the left hand and Corporal Chambers in the left tricep. I wonder what the insurgent who fired the rocket must have thought after seeing it score a direct hit inside the hatch and then see all the crewmen of the Tank still on their feet, to include the one he had hit with the rocket. He must have thought, "What do I have to do to kill these Americans!"

 

            The gunner on a Main Battle Tank has the most restricted field of view and perception of the world outside of the Tank, although he is the second in command. Corporal Chambers got the Tank moving, but he didn't know exactly where we were at. We were deep into the city at this time. Lance Corporal Hernandez because of his position up top manning a machine gun knew the way back. He directed Chambers which way to go. Hernandez's hand was bleeding profusely and he had to drop down to apply a pressure dressing. At this point the driver, Lance Corporal Frias took over the direction of the Tank. There would be no medivac to where we were at, so my Tank had to return to the Fox Co. defensive line and Frias knew the way.

 

            I must wonder again what the enemy must have thought after hitting this American Tank with everything it had only to see it drive right through their ambush and continue on its way. I was truly lucky to be in command of what I believe to be the best Tank crew in the Marine Corps. Pressure brings out the best in some people and I am alive today because of their actions under fire.

 

            During the trip back to the Fox defensive line, I began to try to figure out how bad I had been hit. I couldn't see and I couldn't hear and that wasn't good. I could feel that I was bleeding badly from my head and neck, which also wasn't good. I was still conscious and I was still standing up. This was very good. I was in little pain, my whole head felt somewhat numb. I felt both nauseous and sleepy; very sleepy as if I just lay down on the turret floor and went to sleep I would feel better. I knew that was bad and I focused on staying awake. I grabbed onto the Tanks turret to help me stay on my feet.

 

            The next thing I remember was feeling the Tank pitch back and then slam forward forcefully. I knew this could only be one place. We had just crossed the same berm I was set up behind two days ago in the Fox Co. defensive line. I knew the medivac was soon. I felt good about things at this point and knew that everything was going to be all right. The Tank stopped and I climbed to the top of the turret and waited for someone to come and get me.

 

            Soon Marines and Corpsmen came and pulled me down from the Tank and began to render first aid. During this, mortar rounds began to impact near us. The Corpsmen who were treating me took off their own body armor and piled it on top of me to protect my wounded body. The dedication and skill displayed by these men was truly extraordinary.

 

            Next I was placed on a Humvee and transported to a surgical unit. While I was there, I could hear (I was starting to get a little hearing back in my left ear) a commotion going on near my stretcher. I asked who was there. The response was, "General Hagee." Although the Commandant of the Marine Corps is not a doctor, there is something about his presence in the hospital that makes you feel that everything is going to be all right. Marines take care of their own!

 

            I was then sedated for the removal of what remained of my right eye. I awoke and felt as though I was moving. I asked into the darkness, "Where am I?"

 

            "You're on a plane to Germany, dude," was the response.

 

[Like I said, Deo Gratia!]

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