Crowley Chronicles, Part 3; Ramadi and Hurricane Point
the field historian's job is a good one, but as a one-man show you tend to get run down. feel free to post him notes of encouragement here.
11 JUL 05
This edition is dedicated to the six Marines and Navy Corpsmen who sacrificed their lives while fighting for a free Iraq on June 15, 2005: Cpl Trovillion, LCpl Flores, LCpl Maynard, LCpl Whitley, Cpl Jaime, and HM2 Baez. During the time I spent with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2 BCT) we lost another ten Marines and Soldiers. We will remember them and we will complete our mission in their honor. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and especially the twin brother who escorted his brother and five other fallen Marines home that day.
Time in Iraq flies by when you keep busy. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the second edition; unfortunately that is what happens when you spend twenty-one days on the road. This edition will be a real emotional roller coaster with some funny stories, horrific stories, and stories of uncommon valor. I want the reader to see the war through my eyes and if you take the time to digest this newsletter you will have a greater understanding of what the war is truly like. You will not see or hear these true stories on CNN.
18 JUN – Boarded a helo from Al Asad Airbase to Camp Ramadi arriving around 0100. My Army POC was there to pick me up and he showed me to my new mold infested room.
19 JUN- This morning around 0530 I was rattled awake by four 60 mm mortar rounds impacting approximately 300 yards from my room. Luckily the soldiers saw the mortar rounds walking in on them and sought shelter in a bunker. Their office took a direct hit and the maintenance tent was riddled with shrapnel holes. What a great start to Father’s Day. Went to PX for air freshener and Lysol. I will now make sure I don’t leave home without it; they came in very handy during the rest of the trip. I interviewed eleven soldiers in the Army’s 2-17 Field Artillery. My mission is to interview Marine units and other units that fall under USMC commands. The day ended the same way it began with a number of rounds impacting nearby. Six soldiers from the 2nd BCT have been killed on base in the past eleven months by enemy indirect fire (IDF).
20 JUN – I visited the gun line where the self propelled Howitzers (Paladins) fire from. A few months ago one of the huge beasts caught a direct hit from IDF causing close to 70 artillery rounds inside to detonate, killing three crew members and seriously wounding one who was outside at the time of impact. The vehicles look similar to tanks but lack the armor strength of tanks. I also visited with soldiers manning the observation posts (OP’s) lining the wire around the base. The OP’s provide a great vantage point to watch a vast amount of real-estate around the base. I ran into LtCol Jackson who is in charge of the USMC 5th Civil Affairs Group (CAG) who also happens to be a fellow DEA Special Agent from Chicago.
21 JUN – After conducting two days of interviews with 2-17 FA I moved on to the 44th Engineer Bn where I conducted interviews for eleven straight hours. All the soldiers have relayed stories of death and destruction to me. One that stands out in my mind from today concerns a puppy. During a patrol, a group of soldiers found a small puppy wandering in the middle of nowhere (and there is a lot of that in Iraq). They decided to take him back to the base however a short time later they where hit by a well planned insurgent ambush. Rounds were flying all around and as the soldiers fought for their lives all several could think about was the poor puppy they tried to save. Each took turns trying to shield their new friend. After a fierce fire fight they were happy to find that their new friend escaped with only minor injuries. Most stories do not have such a happy ending. The translator who was working with this unit to build a better Iraq was kidnapped and murdered for his efforts – the soldiers knew him affectionately as George. He was a true Iraqi hero who stood up for his beliefs and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Another moving story centered around a fierce ambush in the middle of Ramadi. The events took place on October 10, 2004 and no one in the unit will soon forget this night. Their mission that night was to seize all the weapons from an Iraqi National Guard unit that was not performing their mission. After taking control of the weapons, the whole Battalion started back to Camp Ramadi. They encountered a tremendous all out ambush which resulted in at least one KIA and numerous wounded soldiers. During the fierce battle the convoy did not realize one of their tracked vehicles swerved off the main road and plowed back through several buildings out of sight. The driver had been shot dead. The soldiers on board were engaged by superior enemy numbers especially once the remainder of the convoy had passed. The tracked vehicle was stuck in rubble from buildings collapsing all around. Men fought bravely to hold off the enemy while others tried to save the fallen soldiers’ lives. The vehicle broke free and the squad mounted up under heavy fire. The fog of war was all around as Sgt Lux realized his vehicle was pulling away. He had stayed in between the enemy and his squad to return fire and now somehow he was left behind. Tonight there would be at least three times he was sure he would die. As he tried repeatedly to jump and grab onto the speeding tracked vehicle he was sure he would be crushed under the tracks. There was no way to grab on and no one could hear his calls for help except the ambushing insurgents who now only had one target left – Sgt Lux! (I plan on submitting an article to the USMC historical magazine on his story since it is too amazing to cover in details here.) He was left alone in downtown Ramadi and no one would notice he was missing for hours. It is an amazing story of evasion, escape, and wits as he eluded his pursuers for hours during which the insurgents got to within feet of him several times. Sgt Lux eventually was rescued thanks to a massive search and rescue effort by his unit, Marine ground forces, and Marine air support. This story had a happy ending for him and a valuable lesson was learned by all.
Tonight while in the 2 BCT headquarters we heard the calls over the radio that one of their Bradleys was hit by a massive improvised explosive device (IED). Two more brave warriors were dead near the Provincial Government Center in Ramadi. A Bradley is the next step down from a tank and usually they are a very safe vehicle to ride in.
22 JUN – Continued interviews with the 44th Eng Bn.
23 JUN – Moved to a Marine Corps outpost called Hurricane Point in West Ramadi. Started off the day with a memorial service for six slain brothers (3rd Edition dedicated to them). As I was seated in the first row, my first thought was “why are there so many pamphlets stacked on my chair” at which point I realized there was one for each of the six men. This was a horrific week for 1st Battalion 5th Marines (1/5); this was their second group memorial in two days. I do not believe there is anything more eerie and emotional then a Marine memorial service. With standing room only it starts out with bag pipes playing Amazing Grace, the chaplain speaks, the Commanding Officer talks, followed by a number of young Marines and Sailors who where the fallen’s best friends. There wasn’t a dry eye in the service and most of them are hard combat veterans on their third tour at the age of 20 and 21. A tear ran down my cheek as all who stood to speak could hardly finish their messages, and some were unable to finish stories of their friends. A roll call is performed where Marines must answer to their names – once a Marine does not answer to his rank and last name the 1stSgt then calls his rank, first name and last name – still no answer he calls one final time with the Marines rank, first name, middle initial, and last name and finishes by stating that he was killed in action on June 15, 2005 in Ramadi, Iraq. Each time the name is called the three Marines standing in front of the KIA’s photograph place an item in front of the picture – 1st places his rifle and bayonet, 2nd places his boots, 3rd hangs his dog tags on the rifle. The 1stSgt then had to go through the remaining five names in the same manner. In a room packed with hundreds of Marines you could have heard a pin drop. The ceremony ended after the 21 gun salute and Taps was played by bugle. Each Marine, Sailor, and Soldier came forward to pay their last respects. Their individual stories are tragic but not uncommon: one has a wife, three children, and he had just received baby shoes in the mail to let him know they were expecting their fourth child; one had a twin brother in the unit with him who escorted all the bodies back to America – prior to boarding the aircraft the CO, LtCol Smith stated he did not know what to tell the young Marine who just lost his brother, but the Marine did the speaking and said “it has been a pleasure to serve in this Battalion”; one of the Marines was from the CO’s hometown and the CO’s family went to be with the family; another young 19 year old left a young bride at home with a newborn never to meet his father; all have a story and the youngest killed on June 15th was an 18 year old Marine. The 2 BCT (above 1/5 in the chain of command) Commander is an Army Colonel who saluted each fallen Marine. One of the Marines I interviewed told me his deceased friend would have gotten a real kick out of seeing a Colonel salute him.
After the memorial, the unit asked me to start my interviews to get the Marines back in action. That night I had the honor and privilege to go on a Battalion sized mission where we searched over 350 houses between midnight and 0600. We arrested well over twenty detainees and seized numerous weapons. Within two minutes of leaving the base, tracer rounds could be seen flying all around and four IED’s hit our convoy. With over five hundred Marines flooding a section of Ramadi the enemy still attacked. This did surprise me but their favorite tactics besides IED’s is to shoot, drop the weapons, and run. Nothing from the insurgents surprises me any more. I earned a new level of respect for the young hard charging Marines when after three hours into the mission I was wiped out. I thought I was in pretty good shape and I can throw a fair amount of weight around in the weight room but after my first six hour combat foot patrol with rifle, pistol, plenty of ammo for both, flak jacket with SAPI plates, and helmet I was ready for a week off. The Marines are often on three to four foot patrols a day of several hours each. The platoon I was attached to was a great bunch of guys who were all highly professional in their actions. After losing eight members of a unit in a two day period it would be easy to get over zealous. As we patrolled around our sector of Ramadi raiding house, after house, after house I commented to Lt Holt who was with me that it reminded me of Halloween. He said he had been thinking the same thing. The moon was full and everywhere you looked you saw Marines moving and running, many tripping, falling, and some stragglers rushing to catch up to their group. It was just like Halloween except for the fact we where in Ramadi. The night was successful with only one wounded SEAL and it helped to get the Marines refocused. While we prepared to return to base the sun was coming up and the roosters were calling – what are roosters doing in the middle of a city anyway? As far as myself, I realized I need more cardio exercise (Dad you were right).
24 JUN – I got a couple of hours of sleep and then it was back to conducting oral interviews. I started off with the medical staff where I got to learn a thing or two about medical humor. During my interviews I like to ask if they have experienced any funny times in Iraq, this helps bring them back up after we talk about bad times. The funniest thing the medical staff had seen was easy for them to all agree upon – when one of the Corpsmen was searching a house he accidentally put his hand into a moving ceiling fan. The result was a sliced artery that caused him to shoot blood in about a six foot arch like a fountain. They patched him up but they all thought it was hysterical. I told them you had to be there.
While I was there a young Marine came in to have his dressings changed. He had been shot through the side and the bullet came out of his chest without hitting any vital organs. He has the bullet which was stopped by his SAPI plate after exiting his chest. Anyway, he needs to have his bandages changed three times a day. As I took pictures the doctor proceeded to pull about twenty feet of packing out of his chest. The Marine and I were joking around the whole time as the doctor then utilized a long wooden stick to push packing approximately five inches deep into the wound. I continued to take photographs and then decided to take a picture of the Marines tattoo at which point he wasn’t happy. I asked him what was wrong, he had just held open his chest wound for me to photograph and now he wasn’t happy because I took a picture of his tattoo. He said “look at it and read it sir”. Well it had your typical skull with crossed rifles wearing an USMC cover and it said “Mess with the Rest die like the Rest”. It should have said Mess with the Best die like the Rest. He went on to tell me how he and his buddies were drunk when they got tattoos and they told him it looked fine. Having it fixed is on his list of things to do. But the real point of this story is how all he could think about was getting back out on patrol with his squad. All the wounded warriors hobbling around Hurricane Point said the same thing; they want to be there for their fellow Marines. Many have fought to stay in Iraq when wounded because they want to be there for their brothers.
I followed the medical interviews with additional grunt interviews as well as K-9 handlers. I even got some pictures with the dogs and one of “Tommy” wearing his goggles to protect his eyes. I then traveled to Charlie Company 1/5 at the Snake Pit a nearby outpost. I conducted interviews there until 0300 and returned to Hurricane Point to hit the shower and download 20 interviews so I would be ready for more in the morning. The days blend together after a week of hitting the rack between 0200 and 0600 every night or should I say morning. Even when I’m not on the road I get to bed around 0200. Time flies by.
25 JUN – As I download 129 photos from the previous day I notice how young the Marines are. Most serving on the front lines are between 17 and 21. I can not believe how many received wavers from their parents to be able to serve their country at the age of seventeen. I’m proud of them and have told them so during unit formations. Think about what you were doing at that age. They have grown old before their time in some ways but manage to maintain their youth by playing jokes on one another, playing video games, and by sharing their lives packed forty into a small room. You can not get any closer as a family then living the life with these young men. I am more then twice the age of most of them but I am humbled by their brotherhood, dedication, and sacrifice they make for one another.
During my time with 1/5 I have heard more heroic stories then I have ever heard before. Everyday they lay their own life on the line to save their brothers. On the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Statue) it says “Uncommon valor was a common virtue”, this holds true on the streets of Ramadi and all over Iraq. I don’t know how many times during interviews I have had to stop the recording because of the outflow of emotions with the person I am interviewing, too many times I have had tears swelling up in my own eyes as the brave men and women tell of the exploits of their fellow Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors. I know those who sit before me have performed similar acts of bravery but are far too modest to tell me. Take for example the Corpsmen who ran across fifty yards of open ground with bullets dancing all around his feet to aid a fallen Marine. While he patched up this Marine the call for “corpsman” came from where he had just been. Racing across the open ground with bullets crashing all around he reached another wounded Marine saving his life. Again the call for “corpsman” sounded and he set off once again across open ground under enemy fire only he never reached his wounded brother this time because he finally fell to the gunfire. As a Lieutenant called for his corpsman he was informed that he would not be coming, he was KIA. I have heard numerous such stories about corpsmen and medics – they are all truly unsung heroes.
If that last story wasn’t enough to let you know the caliber of the US fighting men here is another tremendous story of sacrifice. During June another vehicle in 1/5 was hit by an IED, this wasn’t just any IED for it packed a huge wallop. Instantly the Company Commander, a Captain, was killed along with a LCpl. Two other Marines were fully engulfed in fire. Before anyone could reach their vehicle to assist, one of the Marines fully engulfed in fire exited the vehicle. While burning he was able to drag his fellow Marine from the burning HMMV. He put his buddy down and proceeded to put out the fire on his friend before dropping to put out his own fire. Sadly, I have to tell you that even with his Herculean efforts his friend did not make it and he suffered severe burns over 75% of his body. This is the true American hero that I am privileged to serve with and to record their stories on a daily basis. On average of six times a day I hear such stories of heroism, unselfishness, and extreme sacrifice for their brothers and sisters in the armed forces.
I have heard hundreds of more amazing and horrific stories in the past two months. Many stories I can not relay in such a forum because of the ghastly details but all have young men going above and beyond to fight for a free Iraq and for each other. In all the interviews I have conducted not a single person has spoken badly about the mission in Iraq. Even the twenty year olds on their third tour with three Purple Hearts (there are many in this category) are proud to be here fighting for what they believe in. All have seen a positive change in Iraq and with each passing month new changes are seen. The news fails to cover the heartfelt stories of our young warriors. The news fails to cover the fact that the cities across Iraq now have plumbing, sewer systems, electricity, schools, and a much nicer standard of living. So much good takes place everyday. I have been on the streets numerous times being greeted by the children and some adults. The kids love us, they like to watch us in action, they respect our strength as individuals as well as the strength America represents. Many of the adults will side with whoever is standing next to them at any given time with a gun. In other areas the neighbors and tribes band together and make a stand against the insurgents. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are growing everyday and a main effort is underway to train and equip them. I have had the pleasure of patrolling several times with the Defenders of Baghdad and have been impressed by how much they have learned from their Marine and Army trainers. I have shared dinner and tea on several occasions with senior ISF officers. They are all eager to take back control of Iraq from the US and eliminate the remaining insurgents. They are thrilled to work along side the Marines who they feel are the greatest fighting force in the world. Most of the ISF officers know first hand since we defeated them in two previous wars that they fought in. It seems strange at times that I can be sitting there and interviewing or just talking to a man who was our sworn enemy in two wars. Now as professional warriors we sit as friends and equals with a common cause to provide for a free and peaceful Iraq. The children I see waving and who I have played soccer with are the future. The ISF is the future and the rest of the Iraqi people need to learn that the US, ISF, and children can not do it alone. We need a nationwide effort to remove and eliminate the insurgent threat.
Once again it is 0200 and I managed to get way off track from my daily journal so I’ll try to wrap this up. I will launch this as the 3rd Edition and pick up where I left off for the 4th Edition, that way my Editor and Chief (Mom) has more work to do. Rest assured that our nation is in capable hands and if I can steal a line from a friend of mine “this is the greatest generation”. The battles are not large scale as in World War II, often it is only a squad of Marines involved, but the bravery and sacrifice is still the same. Next time you see a returning service member you will now understand a little better what the front line troops have gone through. It is far more violent and bloody on the streets of Ramadi then you will ever know. The last reporter who ventured to East Ramadi left after a soldier escorting her was shot in the stomach. I can’t blame them because they can get paid the same sitting in Baghdad and not only that, they don’t even have a weapon to return fire. I am proud to be by my fellow Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors sides in order to capture their stories and history as it happens on the streets of Iraq.
I would be remiss if I did not end this on an up note in the same manner that I end my interviews. So let me jump to a little story that happened tonight July 11th or at this point last night because once again it is morning. Anyway, before I left on my 21 day road trip I decided to paint my room. It was too dark and when I work in there I can’t read or see to type and my office is worse (but I’ll cover that in the next edition). I didn’t get around to painting it until July 11th. I decided to go in late and paint the room during the morning. The only paint I could find was manufactured here in Iraq and needless to say it isn’t water soluble since there is very little water in the middle of the desert. I started painting and I couldn’t help but notice the fumes are far stronger and worse then any paint I have smelled before. In fact the whole building I live in smelled. I thought about putting a sign on the front door but then forgot. When I came back to my room at 2030 I had planned to take a quick bike (that’s another story) ride before it got too dark. I raced in and changed and as I started for the front door I could see lots of flashing lights over our eight foot cement barriers. The sound of large trucks could be heard and there was quite a commotion. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as fifteen fire fighters all heavily laden in their gear rushed the building. The first bunch passed me as I tried to tell/ask them if they were here about the fumes. I finally grabbed a fire fighter and told him it was paint fumes. They insisted that I stand clear and evacuate as the forth fire truck pulled in. Up to this point I didn’t know there were this many firemen on the base. An SUV pulled up and more firemen spilled out, apparently they didn’t have enough trucks to fit them all. Finally I got hold of the Chief and after some convincing he sent me in to link up with fire fighters inside. As I turned down my hall I could see five of them gathered outside my room – I had left the door open to help the paint dry. They instructed me to leave the building and they were knocking on each door to have the occupants flee for their lives. Finally a sane fireman listened to me and after touching the paint to see that it was in fact still wet, he called off the alarm. The men looking to use their axes were not happy. They would have turned the building into rubble. Their oxygen readers showed that there was enough oxygen to breath and I watched the traffic jam slowly maneuver out of my parking lot. It was now too dark to ride my bike. Once again it proves that there are no dull days in Iraq.
Hopefully the last story made you smile. Please remember our fallen who have given their all for freedom.
LtCol Tim Crowley
HQMC Field HistorianAl Asad, Iraq