On Day 1 of Operation Matador, during the assault on New Ubaydi, the 3rd Platoon of 3/2’s Weapons Company (otherwise known as WarPig 3) took up support-by-fire positions outside the town. With their up-armored HumVees, which they called gun-trucks, they provided heavy firepower with turret-mounted .50 cal machine-guns and Mk19 40mm grenade launchers.
Lieutenant Gabe Diana’s command vehicle and one gun-truck section were on the north side of New Ubaydi, while a second section was south of town about 500 meters out. Cpl Jonathan Penland was a Mk19 gunner on one of the trucks. Like most of 3/2’s marines that day, this was his first taste of combat. He’s shared the following account with me (used with permission):
SSgt Daniel Garcia was my Section Leader and our vehicle commander (VC). Robert Branch was driving. In the back were McGrath our comms guy, and McIntyre. I was up top on the Mk19. It was a brand new truck, hardly a scratch on it when we started out that day.
As we pulled up in the support by fire position, SSgt Vargas’ truck was on our left. Eric Haight was their .50 cal gunner. Just as we stopped, an RPG came whooshing by, right between our vehicles. Haight and I looked at each other. I could see his eyes. And it was like I could see him say “Holy shit! That was a rocket!” Then we both looked forward, and he opened up with his Ma Deuce.
Branch talked me on to a plume of smoke in an alley. I opened up on that spot, but he said “No, they’re running away”. I cranked up my elevation for more distance.
I had a malfunction. The weapon was jammed. I started yanking back on the charging handles, over and over. But I still couldn’t clear it. At the same time, our truck was getting lit up. Here I was, just 21 years old, and didn’t really realize or care how close those rounds were. I was just focused on getting my gun back in action.
Finally I put my feet all the way up on the turret to get leverage, and got it unjammed. But by then the incoming was so intense I could hardly reach out to reload. Every time I’d reach my arm out, more MG rounds would hit. Obviously somebody was watching me, trying to take me out.
Then Garcia started yelling, ‘Penny get down! Penny get down!’ He grabbed me by the belt and yanked me down. Almost pulled my pants down. Just as he did, there was a hugh ‘clang!’ My ears rang and I felt a burning on my face. A 7.62mm round had hit right where I was, right on the traverse mechanism, and fragments had stung my face. It left a huge mark, as big as my hand, on the metal.
So then Branch yells at me, ‘just turn your turret around!’ And I started traversing the turret to the rear to reload, then cranked back around to fire. I did this multiple times. When I’d turn back, I could hear enemy fire hitting the backside armor, making a hell of a racket. It was kinda like being inside a bell.
Our Platoon Sergeant, SSgt Vargas, started calling over the radio. “Vehicle 5, shoot the middle window of the tower!”. So I fired 6 rounds off, and they overshot and hit near a mosque. Vargas calls, “No, hit the tower!” So I fire about 6 more, ka-chunk! ka-chunk! ka-chunk!. It was like an Atari game. I could see the rounds arcing out, and they splashed directly on the middle window. I unleash again, and pegged it again. All incoming from there stopped, and right after that is when the helos came in and hit it with rockets and a gun run. I think they were using my impacts to spot the target.
When that day was over, our truck’s nice paint job was a mess, with dents and gauges all over it where we’d been hit. And I figure I owe my life to Daniel Garcia. If he hadn’t pulled me down, I don’t know what that slug would have done. Most likely it would have hit me in the gut, and I’d have bled out on the floor. By the way, that’s how I got my nickname, from that firefight. After that, everybody started calling me “Penny” and it stuck.
Here’s a short clip, showing the fire station tower getting attacked by Cobra helicopter gunships. The vehicle in the foreground is a LAV-25, situated to the east (right) of where Penny’s gun-truck was.
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