I know it’s been a long time since I posted, so apologies for that. But there has been significant progress being made in the background. The biggest news is that the book has now passed a ridiculously long security review process (took many months). DoD approval came through the other day with hardly any required changes. In fact, they were completely non-consequential which was a pleasant surprise. A different outfit, one of the “Other Government Agencies”, also approved it with no changes. So those are out of the way.
On another front, I’ve hired a book designer to put the manuscript in the correct format for producing an e-Book on Amazon and a print book through Ingram-Sparks. So they’re working on that if I decide to go the self-published route
But new developments have revived the traditional publishing option. Chris Starling (Col retired, who was RCT-2’s Ops Officer during 2005) has been using his extensive contact list to find high-powered endorsements for the book. The first is H.R. McMaster, retired 3-star, noted author and former National Security Advisor. He’s given the book a great endorsement (for the back jacket). Here’s part of it:
Ajax Trueblood describes in compelling detail tactical level actions and tough decisions that had strategic consequences… This book should be required reading for NCO’s, junior officers and senior leaders. –H.R. McMaster
We’re pursuing other high-level endorsers as well, which will help attract a traditional publisher. Also, through another of Chris’ contacts, I have a channel to reach some publishing companies that specialize in military history. So the search continues with renewed energy on that front. Finding a good publisher would ensure the book gets much wider distribution than self-publishing.
Besides the security reviews, the biggest obstacle has been figuring out how to get the book published and on “shelves” (virtual or physical) so people can order it. I always knew that would be a challenge, but underestimated all the intricacies involved.
I know its been frustrating to many Marines who are waiting to get their hands on this book. It probably seems like it (and I) had faded away. But I’m still pushing forward.
As I’ve worked on the book, I’ve had several guys offer to help. But other than asking for details on certain operations or engagements, I didn’t have a good answer. Now I have a concrete area I could use volunteer help with. My list of 3/2 vets from the 2005 deployment is incomplete. I’d like to fill in the blanks on that list, and reach out to them (if possible). This would also be a perfect task for a small team coordinating remotely–one guy from each Company, for example.
As I work on final editing, map preparation and a host of other tasks to get the book ready for publication, this would help a lot. So, if you’d like to help with this, please contact me
I’m gathering stories and memories of 3/2’s redeployment in Sep 2005, to plug into one of the final chapters. Not sure what to call it yet, maybe just ‘Redeployment’. It’ll be a short chapter, capturing some of the sights, sounds and feelings that guys remember on the trip back from Iraq. Here are some memories from Jeff Maniscalco, from Kilo Co:
Before we left Al-Qaim we did a left seat right seat with the new unit that replaced us… They were definetly nervous you could tell. [Just] as we probably were 7 months earlier.
[At AQ] I was always feeling like anything could happen… A mortar/rocket attack. Someone trying to hit the main gate or get in the wire… Plus we knew the new guys were manning the posts so you felt like we didn’t know them so you may not have trusted them to do what they needed to do.
[When we left] they left the back hatch of the chopper open so we had a clear view of Camp AQ as we were taking flight. It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt… It was strange. Glad to be leaving but sad at what we all had experienced. Nobody really talked, I remember that. It was also a short flight. [I was like] ‘Thank God I made it out of that dump. I hope I never have to go back!” I felt like I accomplished something good by not dying.
Al-Asad was different. It was huge and we finally felt like we were “off duty”. It was pretty chill. You [could] walk around without your rifle… We could finally “drop our packs” and relax a little… We sat around mainly just made phone calls home, explored the base. Ate at the chow halls. Food was good there. Got haircuts. –Jeff Maniscalco (used with permission)
Here are other possible ‘scenes’ I’d like to capture.
-Getting a burger (or pizza or whatever) at Al-Asad -Crossing out of Iraqi airspace on the flight to Kuwait -Switching from C-130 to ‘charter air’ flight. Airliner seats. Stewardesses. Etc. -Flight across the Atlantic -Landing in the U.S. (not sure where you first touched down). -Arriving at MCAS Cherry Point -Bus ride to Lejeune -Arrival at Lejeune, and forming up, getting dismissed -Meeting family, parents, wives, kids, etc -Days after arriving. Adjusting
Good news: I’m just one chapter away from having an entire manuscript. That will be the chapter about redeployment–title to be decided–and I’m asking for input (see below).
Bad news: I still have lots of work to do, including fixing some draft chapters, (also see below) lots of editing throughout, preparing maps, pulling together notes and references, etc, etc. And I need to find a publisher.
More good news: I submitted my first ‘query letter’ to a publisher today. I’ll be reaching out to others soon. I’ve discovered that it’s common practice for a non-fiction author to query multiple publishers. So if anyone knows about an agent or publisher that works with military history writers, please contact me.
More bad news: The publishing industry is notoriously slow, so I don’t know how long it will really take to get a printed book out the other end of this process. I do think its worth going through it, though, so the book can reach more people. It’s a great story, one that deserves a wider audience.
Here’s where I need help, especially from you vets who were there:
Stories about redeployment – I’m looking for your accounts about pulling out of Camp Gannon and Camp Al-Qaim in early Sep 2005, going through Al-Asad and Kuwait, then back to Camp Lejeune. Particularly, I want to hear about your thoughts and feelings on the way back, when you arrived in the States and in the days after returning home.
Chapter Revisions/rewrites – I’m going to be revising several chapters, and recontacting certain sources. Specifically, I’ll be reworking ‘Target Softening’ so will be reaching out to guys from Reaper as I do that.
Permissions – If I contact you asking for permission to use a quote, please reply to me quickly. Early on I committed to all sources quoted in the book that I’d get their express permission before I published their quotes. Please help me meet that commitment by quickly responding when I contact you.
I’m now writing about August of 2005, the very end of 3/2’s deployment, when foreign fighters and Iraqi members of Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) surged into Al-Qaim to seize control of Husaybah. There are several reports that Zarqawi himself was either in the area or was directing the assault. Their main objective was to destroy the Albu Mahal tribe, which had been actively fighting against them. Since mid-summer, the Albu Mahal tribal militia, known as the Hamza Brigade, had been loosely cooperating with India Company and their relationship with the Marines was growing stronger. But Zarqawi’s forces were determined to stop this development and seize decisive control over the key border city.
Describing this timeframe will be an important part of the book, but challenging to do it accurately. It is tough to understand exactly what happened and when. I especially need help to pin down dates of certain events. I have pieced together a timeline, but more details are needed. I could use help from Marines who were there. If you have stories, photos or information from that time that you can share, please contact me.
Here are some things I’d like help with:
-Descriptions of red-on-red fighting in town. What did it look and sound like? Where did you see it occur? How often? Do you know the dates (maybe from a journal or log entry?)
-Eyewitness accounts of when the local muj (Hamza Brigade) came out of the city with white flags, to Trash OP or elsewhere.
-Close calls you had in July or August, such as sniper shots, RPGs, mortars etc. Dates are helpful.
-An incident (possibly 4 Aug?) where the “local muj” militia leader’s house was attacked, and a helicopter mission was diverted to scare the attackers away.
-Details of the 12 Aug 05 firefight at the ING. This was an engagement where India’s 1st Platoon fended off a determined attack by tactically proficient fighters. See more here.
-Mortar support fired from Gannon for the local muj, using either illum or other rounds.
-Any accounts of first-hand interaction with the Hamza Brigade guys, either processing them on Gannon, loading them on vehicles, or other interactions.
As the sun set on 12 August, the Marines of 1st Platoon, India Company were manning battle positions at the ING compound. Behind layers of sandbags and ballistic glass, they looked over their gunbarrels into the restive city of Husaybah. Squad Leader, Cpl Luis Maxwell, had just checked one of the rooftop positions and commented to another Marine, “This has been a slow day. I wish we had something to do.” Just as he turned away, an RPG round slammed into the building just below the battle position, immediately followed by withering enemy machine-gun fire.
This began an hours-long fight that would severely test the compound’s defenses and the courage of 1st Platoon Marines. Unlike previous firefights at ING, this one featured a very disciplined and determined enemy . The attackers showed good tactics, using fire* and maneuver to get very close, trying to penetrate the compound. Clearly a new brand of bad guy was in town.
August 12th marked the beginning of a ‘surge’ of foreign fighters into Husaybah that continued until 3/2’s departure in early September. During that time, Zarqawi’s AQI made an all-out effort to take over the city and punish the Albu Mahal tribesmen that had been loosely cooperating with India Company. Many dramatic and important events happened in those last few weeks, which I will be covering in the book.
I’m currently piecing together those events, starting with the 12 August firefight. Several India Marines have given me their accounts, but I could use more. If you were there that night, or supported the fight somehow, I’d like to hear your story. Also, if you can help refine my map of the ING compound, that would be very useful.
*At one of the ING gun positions, a slab of ballistic glass took multiple MG rounds, which nearly penetrated it. That ballistic glass (from an uparmored HumVee door) is now displayed at 3/2 headquarters on Camp Lejeune.
In preparation for writing about the 12 Aug 05 firefight, I need to clarify some locations on the ING Compound in the northwest corner of Husaybah. I’m hoping some vets can help me with that. It was called ‘ING’ because a few Iraqi National Guard soldiers were using it at one point, but they were long gone in 2005. India Company 3/2 used it as a forward combat outpost, to keep eyes on Market Street and the surrounding neighborhoods They rotated India’s 3 rifle platoons through it, and sometimes referred to it as ‘the platoon position’. Many firefights (including 12 August) occurred here.
Below is an overhead imagery map that I’m annotating to show streets and certain buildings. It’s from Google Earth, which says its dated 30dec04. Possibly a few things changed by February 05 when India took over, but probably not much. I’m hoping some guys can accurately ID the various buildings and posts. (Note the orientation. North is down on this image)
Background on ING:
There were just a few buildings really on the very northwest corner of Husaybah that had been all shot up. They [Marines] had moved out and occupied, and it was their Forward Platoon, almost like an outpost, although it was within a couple hundred meters of the main camp, where the rest of the company was. It was barricaded, you know, HESCO barriers, so you couldn’t get to it other than from inside Camp Gannon to move out to that area. They had a Platoon Forward out there, because they could observe parts of the city that you couldn’t see from Camp Gannon. …You could look down on Market Street, probably the busiest area of Market Street right along there. It just seemed to be the routine up there that somebody would come along Market Street and challenge them by either taking a few sniper shots or stop to try to pop off an RPG… Although the Marines didn’t occupy all the space in between [Gannon and ING], in essence it was an extension of Camp Gannon into the town so that they could be looking straight down Market Street and a little bit into the southwest part of the town out there. –LtCol Mundy interview in ‘Awakening, Vol IIIA’
Jon Cornett, a gunner in WarPig 1, just shared some photos with me. They were taken with a portable film camera, and include shots of Gannon and Operation Matador. One of them is from Day 1 of Matador, and is pretty cool. It was taken from WarPig 1’s blocking position near the Golden Gate bridge north of Karabilah, where they held for several days and nights trading shots with the insurgents.
The photo’s cool ’cause it shows an enemy mortar round at the moment of impact. I looks to be 200-300 meters away but you can see dark gray puff of the explosion. Even though that impact wasn’t too close, it gives you some idea of how exposed the Marines were. Jon says the guntruck seen on the left carried two Cobra helo pilots who were FACs with the ANGLICO team, calling in air support at the bridge fight. One appears to be out of the vehicle, maybe trying to spot an enemy position to call air in on.
Just to the right of the tree, you can see the ‘splash’ of the mortar round. Below it is a more zoomed in view.
Here’s how he describes the scene:
We had pulled up to take our positions in the middle of the field, to relieve the tanks [and WarPig 2]. Once we were set, one of the tanks ran over a mine/IED. Shortly after the explosion, we started to receive semi-accurate mortar fire. At that point, a Huey gunship landed to Medevac the wounded tank crew. Once the Huey took off a mortar landed right next to the one unarmored guntruck. The shrapnel flattened both driver-side tires and cause other damage.
At that point we opened fire on the buildings facing the field. We were trying to hit any forward observers the insurgents might have had. Then we withdrew to a somewhat shielded area by the river. We continued to get mortar fire and exchange fire for the rest of the day, with it slowing later in the day. I think we were in that open field for several hours before we withdrew.
–Jon Cornett, WarPig 1
Quite a while ago, I posted a short video showing a daytime firefight at Trash OP. At the time, I didn’t know any of the details surrounding it. I also made some comments, based on my own observations. Here’s that post; Firefight at Trash OP. The video’s pretty good, so I suggest you see that first, then come back here…
Thanks to Jason Ellis and a few other Marines, I now have much more info on this engagement. First off, now I know the Squad Leader was Cpl Luis Maxwell in India’s 1st Platoon. Based on what I saw in the video, I made positive comments about the way he was handling his end of the fight, so its good to know who that was.
Also, now I understand this shootout was much longer than the video portrays. Firing went on for hours and thousands of rounds were expended.
Finally, this was just part of other events going on in Husaybah on May 2nd. Foreign fighters of Zarqawi’s AQI had murdered and beheaded the new Police Chief, trying to intimidate the local militia of the Albu-Mahal tribe–sometimes called the “local muj” by the Marines. Which is why in one of my my draft chapters, I call 2 May 05 “Bloody Monday”. Other violence was also occurring in the city (see a chapter excerpt at the bottom of this page).
Anyway, here’s an entry from Jason Ellis’ combat journal, which he’s shared with me. He kept written details of the firefights he was involved in, and gave me permission to post this.
May 2 – Trash OP
At Trash OP, 2nd Squad with attachments took contact. The attachments were LCpl Carnes, Butcher, Pale and CAAT [Section from WarPig1]. Pvt Fitzgerald was with CAAT. At 8am we took a few pop shots at our post. Roughly at noon we took full contact to our post. Cpl Maxwell had all the SAW gunners get online, me being one of them, and fire into the house that we were getting contact from. We opened up with a 30-round burst.
After we hit the house we received more fire. You could here the enemy’s rounds whizzing over our heads. Then we were in a full firefight. Everyone was unloading on all 12 of the house we were taking fire from. Fitzgerald was on the .50cal, he unloaded hundreds of rounds into the house. The Mk19 was on the CAAT HumVee, they started launching HEDP at any target that presented itself.
At times, I was firing 100 bursts at the enemy. It got so bad that we were running out of ammo. The AAVs had to bring more ammo out to us in the middle of the firefight. By the end of the 6-hour firefight none of us were wounded or hurt. We couldn’t say the same for the enemy. The total amount of rounds that were shot were 7,000 5.56mm, 80 HEDP out of 203s, 200 .50cal rounds, 200 HEDP out of the Mk19. I alone fired 2000 rounds out of my SAW. Halfway through the firefight, the .50cal went down and was taken out of the battle. The Mk19 also went down, but they got it back up. There were so many targets to engage that it was insane.
This is a section from my draft chapter, ‘Ramana’, that briefly discusses May 2nd, 2005 and the violence that occurred in Husaybah. I’ll be revising it slightly to mention this extended firefight at Trash OP.
The 2nd of May was a particularly volatile day, and in hindsight seems to have been the precursor for other developments. Although available sources are limited and indirect, they portray the picture of AQI flexing its muscle and local forces starting to push back.
That Monday in Husaybah, Ahmed Adiya Asaf walked openly among the shoppers and merchant stalls along Market Street. He had recently been installed as the city’s new Chief of Police, with the rank of Major. He was a well-connected Mahawali, and by placing him into this position the tribe was showing it would bring security to the area, on their own terms, not as puppets of foreign-born radical ideologues.
But Major Ahmed’s connections weren’t enough to protect him. Suddenly, seven men emerged from the crowd and attacked him, shooting him dead on the street, then publicly beheading him. News of the gruesome murder pulsed through the population like a shockwave, a blood-spattered announcement of the costs of resisting AQI. Yet there were those ready to resist, meeting violence with violence.
Behind their fortifications at Gannon, India Company had limited awareness of what was happening in the streets that day, but received reports of red-on-red fighting in and around the city. A large group of armed men was spotted, and a Cobra/Huey team was dispatched. Upon arrival over the city, the helo crews reportedly monitored a firefight between two armed Iraqi groups. At one point, the helicopters themselves took ground fire and the Huey was damaged seriously enough to make a temporary emergency landing.
Looking back through the prism of time, it now appears the fight between the tribal forces of the Albu Mahal and the foreign fighters of AQI was intensifying just as Operation Matador was about to kick off. This would have implications for the upcoming mission, subsequent operations by 3/2 and for the further development of relations with tribal leaders.
At the start of its deployment to Camp Gannon, India Company 3/2 looked for positional advantages, finding ways to use observation and firepower to control key parts of Husaybah. During April of 2005, the centerpiece of this approach was construction of a new, two-story battle position on the north edge of the city. Officially called “BP Harman”, the Marines always just called it “Trash OP”. For the full story, read my draft chapter on it.
The chapter features excerpts from interviews with Will Marconi, Brian Hogancamp, Mike Hodd and Frank Diorio. There are also other links on this site with stories about Trash OP: Blowing up the bakery Firefight at Trash OP