This post provides further details about an insurgent attack on 19 Apr 05 against Battle Position Khe Sahn, aka “Retrans”. One of my first blog posts was about Retrans, and quoted John Parina who gave me a little bit of info. Later on, I gathered more details and included the story in the Retrans chapter. (download it here)
Now, thanks to a recent chat with Vinny Brothman, I’ve filled in some more of the story. Brothman led a Fire Direction Center (FDC) in the 81mm mortar platoon of Weapons Co, and often pulled duty out at Retrans directing the mortar crews. Here’s his first-hand account of the action that day.
I was in the main bunker playing Monopoly… We heard the 50 cal open up. The chain of command out there went Corporal Marshall and then myself… He and I sprinted to the 50 cal. bunker to see what was going on.
We get up there and get reports of muzzle flashes coming from the Papa 6 bridge, which was about a click from Retrans… We see the flashes and decided I would request permission to fire mortars… Marshall ran to the Mk19 bunker. The idea was to have the 50 firing against the right side of the bridge and the Mk19 firing on the left and trap them on the bridge. Running back to the main bunker I could hear small arms and the crack of a high powered rifle…likely a sniper. Then I got on the radio and called into battalion… to report what’s happening. The S3, Major Day, breaks the transmission:
Break break, Khe Sahn, this is Betio 3. Who am I speaking with?
Betio 3, this is Echo 3 Bravo
Roger. You have no friendlies or air in your vicinity. Engage any target you see fit.
Roger, Khe Sahn out.
At that point I run to the 50 cal bunker and start a fire mission. We fired an immediate suppression on the bridge. We were also seeing muzzle flashes coming from a multistory building right of the bridge… I climbed onto the bunker to call a fire mission for myself. I estimated the range and shot an azimuth, or direction, from my position. I worked a converged, sheathed mission onto the building, set the fuse to delayed impact and dropped 10 rounds on the building.
The whole time the 50 and the Mk19 were going and had the enemy locked on the bridge. I believe Marshall had our guys pull the 240G out of the bunker and set it up on top and fired away at the bridge too. After that fire mission I focused back on the bridge, where I worked up the data on a traverse mission. I split the two guns further to have all three guns up, gave them their data and had them dropping rounds across the entire bridge.
There was no more firing from the building or the bridge. All we saw were vehicles stopping on the bridge, assuming they were picking up wounded and they left.
After that I called into Betio and reported that contact was over and they notified us that the Battalion Commander and Sgt Major were on their way. Marshall and I debriefed them and that was it. When I got back to Camp AQ, our Platoon Sgt, Gunny Boldin, called me a psycho for being on top of that bunker calling my own fire missions.
In actuality, there was always a chance that insurgents might mount a determined attack against Retrans. One particular incident highlighted that threat. On April 19th, multiple insurgents used the cover of a daytime sandstorm to engage the little hilltop fort with more than hit-and-hide harassment fire.
Just after noon, apparently thinking the blowing sand would keep the Marines from responding effectively, some 15-20 men started firing machine guns and rockets at Retrans from down by the P6 highway bridge and a nearby building.
We were playing spades in the CP when we started taking small arms fire… The insurgents tried to make their move when we couldn’t see. But unfortunately (for them) we could see their muzzle flashes. We all ran to our respective bunkers and started firing back… The .50 and Mk19 were in the front where we were taking fire. We also dismounted the 240 from its bunker, and ran it up to the .50 cal bunker and [used it] to return fire. I was on the Mk19, and took the traverse and elevation off the gun, so I could track targets faster. We returned a lot of rounds before it quieted down, cleared up and was all over. –John Parina
In spite of the storm, the Marines had returned heavy fire, including 400 .50 calibre rounds and some thirty 40mm grenades, which squelched any plans the enemy may have had. But coming a few days after the big attack on Camp Gannon, there was cause for concern. “That incident was somewhat prolonged, a clear probe”. Kilo’s Commander, Capt. Ieva recalls. “It alarmed me a bit because it underlined the risk to Khe Sahn, manned at the squad level to preserve combat power. But it also gave me confidence that the Squad Leaders out there were capable of handling things.” –Chris Ieva
(I’ll need to add in the mortar fire called in by Vinny Brothman)
Recently I had a chat session with Michael Croft, who was a forward observer (FO) with 3/2’s Weapons Company, but was attached to the Fire Support Team in Kilo Company for most of the deployment. He was involved in most of the major operations, and saw a lot of unpleasant stuff. He mentioned that he thought the book should have more reflections of the extremely close bonds that the Marines forged with each other, and that is great feedback. I can see that is something I can work on, to give more depth and meaning to the book.
When I asked Michael to describe those bonds, here’s what he shared. I’m posting it here (with his permission), to hopefully generate some more thoughts from other 3/2 Marines… Also, I have a specific question about the “We Happy Few” phrase (from the famous speech by Henry V in Shakespeare’s play). Was it a common phrase in 3/2? How did it start?
Anyway, here’s what Michael Croft says about the bonds of brotherhood:
When we would go through something like seeing those kids dead or the AAV hitting that mine and catching on fire and Marines burning to death, it would really shake us. I personally remember after seeing those kids dead, I stood up on the balcony of that house and just stared out in the distance for a while feeling empty inside. We didn’t have anybody but each other to lean on in those moments and the fight didn’t stop so that we could feel upset about what had happened so it was the brothers beside us that would pull us out of those moments of shock and remind us that they needed us to push through so we could do our jobs in order to make sure the next time we saw bodies on the floor it wasnt one of our own.
I remember after a major tragedy would happen, 1st Sgt. Gregory would always notice who was feeling it the most and would make it a point to make sure they were OK. Knowing that in the midst of battle and seeing the horrifying stuff we would see, that the guys beside us had our back and were not judging us even if we had tears running down our face created a type of bond I have yet to achieve with anybody else since, and those bonds are still just as strong today. Even though physical distance may separate us now, I would still jump on a grenade for any of my brothers from back then.
I remember a quote that went around a lot during that deployment was “We few, we happy few”, and it was perfect for the type of brotherhood that is created from the type of battles we fought in. It’s how you get a young kid to be the first to go into a house where he knows insurgents are waiting for him. That bond makes him want to sacrifice himself so that the other men behind him live. –Michael Croft, chat session with author
I’d love to hear more thoughts about this from other Marines. Please contact me if you have something to add.
Update (20jun18): I did get a response about the Shakespeare quote,
“Comment: “We few, we happy few.” A quote that would stick with me for a very long time. A brotherhood that will never be broken. We are indestructible. And yet so vulnerable… We were fighting ghosts. And sometimes that still haunts me.”
The desert outpost known as “Retrans”, or as it was officially called, Battle Position Khe Sahn, was one of the most isolated, desolated posts in Iraq. David Pape, a mortarman with Kilo Co. described it like this: It sucked!! The enemy hit us constantly… The all-MRE diet, sleeping in bunkers, and the godawful heat. But there were good times too. We dropped hundreds of mortar rounds, and I saw the most beautiful sunsets and stars I’ve ever seen.
I’ve just finished the draft chapter on Retrans. Download it here Thanks to the Marines who talked and chatted with me about it, and shared their photos. Enjoy…
This popped up on Facebook today. It’s letter from LtCol Tim Mundy, 3/2 Battalion Commander, to families and other members of the community back home…
Operation MATADOR report from the front (19may05)
From LtCol Mundy in Al Qaim:
Friends and families, I think it was Mark Twain who once said, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” Thankfully Mr. Twain is not running this Task Force, chasing the enemy, or keeping you updated of all that’s going on. From the news reports of last week, many of you are aware of what happened during Operation MATADOR and now know why you did not receive that Mother’s Day call from your son or husband–they were out showing the world why there is no better friend and no worse enemy than a United States Marine. As their Commanding Officer, I wanted to personally share with you why I’m so intensely proud of YOUR Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/2.
Operation MATADOR was a great success. It was my privilege to lead the men of Task Force 3/2 into enemy territory to conduct combat operations against anti-coalition forces situated along, and north of, the Euphrates River. During the weeklong operation, I saw our Marines and Sailors conduct themselves with the height of honor, depth of courage, and breadth of commitment indicative of the world’s finest warriors. I couldn’t be prouder of these men and all they accomplished. I know you must feel the same.
Let me explain why this operation was necessary:
The war on the terrorists came late to Al Qa’im. This area is isolated by distance and cultural idiosyncrasies from central Iraq . For centuries, this has been a corrupt trade route area on the Euphrates. For decades, not even Saddam Hussein truly controlled the crime, corruption, and disloyalties. This abnormal, different area became the natural safe haven for some foreign fighters. They transit the area and use it as a staging ground for insurgency and terrorist actions in other areas of the country. We didn’t have a good ability to cross to the north side of the Euphrates and stay for longer than a raid. In the last six to eight months, the foreign fighter presence and activity grew in the area north of the river. Task Force 3/2 is situated in the midst of this volatile area, and believe me, none of your sons, brothers, husbands and/or fathers shrink from the challenges we find because of it! There is a dangerous enemy here, but your Marines and Sailors know their jobs, and they do them well, so we can handle the threats.
Our RCT headquarters planned offensive operations under the name MATADOR to clear the area of insurgents and to prove to the foreign fighters that they had no safe haven north of the river. Your men proved just that! We were joined in the fight by several units: Bravo Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion and Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25 th Marines. While we have always been superior in individual fights in the area, we increased the strength of the Task Force to clear through the strongholds in the north and maintain security in the south.
Our two rifle companies, Kilo Company 3/2 and Lima Company 3/25, reinforced by one Warpig mobile platoon fought bravely with entrenched insurgents in the towns of Ubaydi and Ramana. Their tenacity to take the fight to the enemy resulted in a significant number of enemy kills and captures, thereby hampering enemy ability to move at will in this region.
Bravo Company, 2D LAR and Alpha Company, 4th AAV provided protection on our flanks, much need flexibility in the field of battle, as well as the ability to quickly move large numbers of our men across enemy territory. The men of India provided a blocking position in support of the operation, and also continued their fight around Camp Gannon , while the Warpigs of Weapons Company also manned the key blocking position as well as provided effective fire support during the entire operation.
Needless to say, there were many moments of fierce fighting. Many Marines demonstrated heroism and accomplished extraordinary feats. I don’t need to provide details of firefights — trust me when I say your men performed as I expect them to perform when they carry the title of United States Marine. They were awesome! As we continue our mission in this region, we humbly ask for your prayers and thank you for the faithful support you’ve given this Task Force. We could not do what we do without all of you.
Our thoughts are also with the friends and families of the 9 Marines who died protecting their brothers in arms. I held a memorial service in their honor Sunday evening, 15 May in the orange light of a setting sun. These are the names of our fallen comrades:
SSgt Anthony L. Goodwin, RCT-2, attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
SSgt Kendall H. Ivy II, RCT-2, attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
Cpl Dustin A. Derga, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
LCpl Lawrence R. Phillippon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines
LCpl Wesley G. Davids, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
LCpl Nicholas B. Erdy, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
LCpl Jonathan W. Grant, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
LCpl Jordan L. Grez, 4th Combat Engineer BN, attached to Lima Company, 3/25 BN
PFC Christopher R. Dixon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines
There really is no greater love than he who lays his life down for his friends. They lived as warriors, died heroes, and will forever be honored. May God bless their memories and comfort their families. We also had wounded Marines who will require, in some cases, lengthy recovery times. Keep them and their families in your prayers as well, as we wish for a full recovery and return to 3/2.
I’ve said this once before and it bears repeating: Mail and care packages from home continue to be a weekly highlight for our men. Anything you send from home reminds us of your love and support and really boosts morale. The generosity of all who’ve given does not go unnoticed.
The 8th of May is a hard day for the families of three Marines who lost their lives during Operation Matador, in New Ubaydi, in 2005. It was the first day of the operation and a Sunday. And that Sunday was Mother’s Day.
It was also a hard day for many of the Marines who were there that day, fighting alongside their brothers in strange and dangerous place. Some of them still struggle with their memories of that day.
LCpl Lawrence (Larry) Philippon, from Kilo Company, 2nd Plt, was killed during house-to-house fighting as Kilo Company cleared New Ubaydi. He was an exemplary Marine, a leader in his platoon, who had pushed to get combat duty.
According to an article in his hometown newspaper, Larry was a star athlete in high school, then went to Central Connecticut University for a time. But in 2003 “He came home one day and said he was going to join the Marines.” He was selected for the Marine color guard, and served with distinction there, but persistently requested duty with a front-line infantry unit. He told his parents, “I didn’t sign up to be a pretty boy”.
I know this is a tough time for the Philippon family, and my heart goes out to them. I’ve had some initial contact with them, and will soon be writing more about that day and Operation Matador overall. It is a daunting task that I do not take lightly.
Two other Marines also lost their lives that day, from the 3/25, a Marine Reserve unit from Ohio. SSgt Anthony Goodwin, on his third deployment to Iraq, and one of the key NCOs in his unit. This is an excellent video tribute about him.
Cpl Dustin Derga, was a firefighter back home and another young man who pursued a calling he felt to be a Marine, through the reserves. Here’s a touching tribute, written by his father.
Several Marines have reached me tonight with more info about their time at the outpost known as Retrans (it was set up as a radio retransmission station). See more here. I’m working on a short chapter about it, and asked for stories, memories and photos, and they started rolling in. Thanks guys!
David Pape sent me the story of the great 4th of July sheep BBQ, and its posted here [slightly edited] with his permission:
I can pretty much guarantee that there was not a single marine in 3/2 who spent more time at Retrans then I did. 81’s [mortar crews] would’ve been the closest but even they got relieved more then I did… It sucked up there man! But we dropped hundreds of rounds from there, ran illum [illumination] missions for sniper attachments. And had serious Spades tournaments to kill time! It was the MRE diet, sleeping in bunkers, and the heat! But that is also where I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets and stars I have ever seen!!
And [then there are the] stories about the sheep I cleaned and cooked. One the first tour [at Retrans] and the second on the Fourth of July!! The first trip out there I was eating an MRE at daylight and I look up and across the wadi there is a lone sheep. I asked SSgt Jeremy Martinez to let me shoot it and he wouldn’t let me. So a sniper shot it, and me and Gayle drug it over and cleaned it. Then we cooked it on the bone.
The week of the 4th I told everybody watch for the sheep herders and if they come let me know. On the 3rd two kids had a herd down by the bridge. So 6 or 8 of us kicked out a little patrol. A guy went high and set up overwatch with a SAW a few hundred back. We get down there and trade 20 American dollars and a case of MREs for two sheep. One didn’t want to leave the herd, so Montoya dropped it. We finally got back and put the live one in the M-240 bunker overnight. It shit everywhere!!
Next day we killed it. I showed John Parina how to gut it. Hung it on the front of a 7-ton [truck] on the spreader bar used for towing, skinned it out and quartered it. They had a pan in the .50 cal bunker, and some Tony Cajun’s [seasoning]. I can’t remember where the grate came from. So me and Wheatley, a kid from the 81’s, cooked it and we all ate it. It came out pretty good actually. It was fresh meat, hoof-to-table…
We were Marines at war and it was rugged, and manly on our Independence Day. It felt symbolic. I don’t know, maybe we were all thinking what guys our age were doing back home, or what we would have been doing. What we were actually doing was way more badass!! –David Pape, Weapons Co, Chat session with author
Here’s what Steve Gray remembers about Retrans (used with permission):
Retrans was playing monopoly till someone mortared you then shooting the hell out of them… There were so many IDF [indirect fire] attacks it was more common to have them then not… The fact that no one was killed there was incredible since it was almost daily contact…
Six-foot-long Chinese rockets, so many mortar attacks I couldn’t count, some small arms, a lot of monopoly, goat herder’s food, mortar attacks. It was always a boring week or 2 on rotation though. Even if everyone got some trigger time.
–Steve Gray, Chat session with author
And Ian Katner sent me several photos of the bunkers, and surroundings, showing the, umm… living conditions:
Update (17jun18) – The chapters on Operation Spear have been finished for some time. The first is Tip of the Spear, which covers Day 1 and the middle of Day 2 of the operation. The 2nd is The Hard Edge, which starts with the action that led to the loss of LCpl Adam Crumpler.
Update (10jul17) – I’ve got the draft section as complete as possible right now, and I’m pretty comfortable with it. The eye witnesses I’ve interviewed have all approved it, so I’m ready to share. This was a challenge for me as a writer, emotionally and technically. A brave young Marine died, and by writing about it I realized I was creating a monument of sorts; to honor him, the men who went into battle with him, and his family. I wanted to make sure I got the details right and that I treated this incident with respect. I hope I’ve accomplished that. It will be part of a larger chapter about Operation Spear, which I’m still slogging away on. There will be sections before and after this that put things into context.
(16jun17) – For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing an account of the engagement in Karabilah, during Operation Spear, that resulted in the death of LCpl Adam Crumpler. In a few days it will be the anniversary of that date, 18 June 2005.
Writing about this has been a hard task, and I have proceeded carefully to treat the event with as much accuracy, fidelity and respect as possible. In doing so, I have interviewed several Marines who were there, and they have shared with me their detailed first-hand accounts of what happened, and why. They’ve shared very personal feelings, and the emotional impact the event has had on them. I am grateful, and honored, by the confidence they have shown in me to tell the story.
With their ongoing input, I am still editing and refining the section. I am not sure when I’ll be ready to post it here, but that is what I’d like to do–when it’s appropriate.
Also, I’m still searching out members of Kilo Co, 1st Platoon, especially those in 1st Squad who were with Adam as they cleared that house. If someone was there, and wants to add to my understanding of what happened, I’d like to talk to you.
In the meantime, I just want to remember and honor a brave Marine who gave his life in his country’s service, and literally placed himself in the line of fire to protect his squad-mates and friends. May he Rest in Peace, and may God bless his family and loved ones.
An account by Capt. Chris Ieva (now LtCol retired), CO of Kilo Company, describing Kilo’s operations in August 2005, during Operation Quick Strike (used with permission):
My company worked with 3rd Bn, 25th Marines in Haditha where the dam was located on the Euphrates. Tragically, another 3/25 AAV (right) was hit responding to the loss of a six man sniper team around the old soccer stadium. At the time, the body of one of the snipers was still not recovered.
We immediately left the Syrian border with a little over half of my company pushing about a hundred miles to the east, staged in the desert in order to first seize the west half of Haditha.
Even though this was far away from our area, it was our third time operating in Haditha for an extensive period. The battalion’s first and only killed [during this operation] occurred that morning when Iraqi Special Operations forces lost four, as Lima 3/2 cleared a refinery to the south while my company, Kilo 3/2, pushed in from the east.
The locals knew…I mean damn well knew… we were not playing, because 3/25’s sniper was still missing. That is when we heard 3/25 lost an entire AAV on the other side of the river. It was 3/25 battalion’s and its Lima company’s second lost AAV resulting in mass casualties. The IED lifted the AAV and actually flipped the vehicle upside down. The other was lost earlier during Operation MATADOR during a forward passage of lines where I worked the MEDEVAC.
I think around the same day, we learned that the sniper’s body was found and we heard that he was murdered on a bridge spanning the Euphrates between Haditha and Barwana. I think we spent about a week there occupying the town, running patrols, and trying to develop intel to conduct raids at night by foot.
Two times we played a trick where we would show a position during a day, pull out at night and leave chem lights behind, but have a sniper team in overwatch. So I think 2-3 times, these positions were shot at and the snipers immediately killed the attackers resulting in 2 enemy killed. We also ran a clearing operation that gave the enemy in the palm groves an obvious approach, but we had a sniper team in ambush resulting in another 3 enemy killed. One shot was an amazing face shot at 300 meters.
We captured two others who were not killed because they just dropped their AKs. One of the captured was a brother of one of the enemy dead. I later learned that these two guys were immediately released because they said that they were fishing, even though we documented the evidence and articulated the incident.
One squad had a hair raising moment where they entered a building rigged with multiple IEDs, but it never blew. I think we destroyed two buildings that were rigged with airstrikes .
The only real action that week was a blue van and a suicide laden vehicle. A heavy machine gun team engaged the suicide vehicle resulting in secondary explosions and another group, after a brief firefight, made an escape in a blue 1970s van. Luckily, there was a split section of a cobra and huey gunship that came on station…that as we lost contact with the van, but it was quickly engaged and destroyed. We never bothered to count the enemy dead.
About a year later, I was at a party where a Marine door gunner was telling a story of lighting up a 1970s blue van and we realized it was the same engagement. I always felt some small measure of payback by the little gains we achieved during the week.
Last month I made contact with Chris Ieva, who was the Commander of Kilo Co. That initiated a great email exchange, which I’m including below (with his permission).
As a Capt in 2005, Chris led the battalion’s primary maneuver unit through all of 3/2’s major operations and most of the kinetic fights. He has recently retired as a LtCol, and now lives with his family in New Jersey.
After our initial contact on FB, Chris sent me a fantastic ‘40,000ft overview’ of western Iraq (AO Denver) during that timeframe, and the context that 3/2 was operating in.
I’m sharing it here because it is such a great ‘frame-setter’ for understanding the big picture. At the end, he also discusses the current situation in Iraq & Syria. I’m also including my response, which provides more details on my background and experience in Iraq.
On Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 8:44 PM, Chris wrote:
Subj: Framing Email
I wanted to provide you with quick reflections of our deployment. As always, I wish to acknowledge the Marines and Sailors who I had the pleasure to serve alongside. A decade removed, I am more humbled and respectful for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. In case I drift off, I wanted to capture their sacrifice and dedication. Instead of a chronological approach, I wish to provide some thematically organized impressions of the deployment to provide both context and perspective to the individual actions.
#1. Economy of Force
A. Operational. After the 2d Battle of Fallujah in November 2014, Western Al Anbar was seen as an economy of force mission. In the post Fallujah vacuum, AQI leadership, facilitators, and a growing Sunni foreign fighter connection grew along the rat-lines from the Syrian Border. 2d Marines (RCT 2), along with its battalions 2d LAR, 3/2 & 3/25, was affected by the latency between force and mission prioritization in a post Fallujah landscape. 3/2 had to give up one Rifle Company (Company L) for airfield security at Al Asad. 3/25 also had to yield forces for this task. With one company from 3/2 in Husaybah (Company I) and one Company from 3/25 in Hit. 3/2’s Company K and 3/25’s Company L, plus 2d LAR from Rutbah and SOF forces, were the only maneuver forces between Al Qaim, Haditha, and Al Asad. By the peak of the surge, this same battle space would be controlled by a force of about 8 US and Iraqi battalions!
B. Tactically. Company K was charged with Security of Al-Qaim and a radio relay station north of Camp Al-Qaim for VHF Communications. Upon arrival, my team executed my vision for reducing force commitments for static missions along with the task of obtaining a standardization of processes, procedures, force rotations and logistics in the execution of these requirements. I named the relay station Khe Sanh, where we would eventually send a squad for weekly rotations. Senior NCOs, many who had diverse backgrounds, were invaluable in establishing this level of standardization. While the combat maybe glamorous, this necessary evil successfully protected two positions for an entire deployment in order to enable the preponderance of Company K along with Weapons Company 3/2 to operate offensively.
#2 Adjacent Forces
A. Company L, 3/25. 3/25 was a reserve battalion based out of the Haditha Dam. I believe their Lima Co. took the most KIA than any other Company in Iraq or Afghanistan. 3/25 took 48 KIA and over 200 wounded. They had a hard mission and the reservists, quite simply, lacked the same technical proficiency in the heavy fighting as their active equivalents. As an Officer and a Marine, my greatest career contribution was the technical proficiency of my company. Quite simply, I ignored the prevailing attitudes at Lejeune before the deployment that we would be conducting ‘stability operations.’ I prioritized urban fighting with an emphasis on combined arms. In all major named operations, we fought alongside Company L 3/25 more than 3/2 companies. The RCT-2 Commander used Company K as a fire brigade across AO Denver. I think we spent 4-6 weeks total in Haditha. One time, after a sniper team was killed, and we were sent with Company L 3/2 to find an MIA sniper. You cannot tell 3/2’s story by omitting 3/25.
B. SOF. Based on the increase of HVTs, many top tiered SOF and Special Forces operated from Al Qaim at the end of the deployment. I know of 6 KIA from a top tier force (one was a friend). They should not be overlooked. My Company also displaced to Al Asad to support a 1st Force RECON raid around 4 July 2005.
#3. Technical Proficiency. Company K was blessed with a great bunch of SNCOs and LTs… gifted really. In preparation for combat, I was ruthless stressing technical proficiency. Rehearsals were real distance, real time, real gear, and real comms. Amateurs practice till they get it right, Pros practice until they don’t get it wrong.
#4. Operations SPEAR & MATADOR were at direct odds with prevailing COIN theory. The organization & coagulation of AQI insurgents required flat out destruction. As a frame of reference, during SPEAR Company K called in over 30 airstrikes and used 400 tanks rounds in an area bounded 1 KM wide and maybe 2.5 KM deep in Karabilah.
#5. The ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ in Iraq was 25 inches deep. This was my personal observation. On our first operation in 2005, we exploited a cache. Something like 100 arty rounds plus small arms. I felt jubilant…we had saved the lives of fellow Marines. Then we found more and more. RCT 2 did an operation where they found 1,000 arty rounds plus other weapons just by walking along the Euphrates. Two weeks later, they went back out and found the same amount. We had an insurgent network who not only had 1,000 arty rounds (about 40,000 lbs total!), but could logistically move and store their weapons at scale. On my first operation to Haditha, we passed Ammo Supply Point (ASP) Wolf. Out in the middle of the desert, there were arty rounds everywhere. We stopped to blow rounds, but were overwhelmed… too many… had to make arrival times @ Haditha. I found out that ASP Wolf was a former Iraqi ASP. I did my research, and at the time there were 4,000 ASPs across Iraq. The private contract to sweep them was only 24 inches deep and only rounds greater than 122mm were swept. When I did a staff tour in Iraq in 2009, I learned that 4,000 had eventually been swept, and so finally insurgents had resorted to Homemade Explosive (HME) and importing illicit weapons. Outside of our raid cycle, named operations, guarding Al-Qaim and Khe Sanh, I would try to find unexploded ordinance (UXO) at known ASPs in my AO. Most notably, the H series of airfields (along the former H-1 pipeline to Haifa) was rich in UXO. I wish in 2003 US forces would have done a better sweep. I was shocked considering the WMD issue. I would apply this observation/lesson learned in Afghanistan in 2011.
#6. Anbar Awakening. My staff tour in 2009 gave me a better understanding of the dynamics inside Iraq… meaning I had no understanding. Too many people thought they understood the situation and applied their own cognitive filters (myself included) to this problem set. The fall of Husaybah to Al Qaeda towards the end of deployment, right before 3/6 arrived, was a weird turning point. Chris Starling (Operations Officer for RCT-2), who is a friend and mentor, has a really good handle across 3/2 & 3/6 deployment. I attended the Naval Postgraduate School from 2006-2008 for a dual degree in Systems Engineering and International Relations. For many of my papers and thesis work, I explored these concepts. While there is an art in simplification, it can be dangerous. More than once, I have used this analogy in articulating the challenge of predictive analysis: In last year’s ESPN NCAA DIV I Men’s B-Ball bracket contest, there was only one person who predicted the course of the tournament exactly. Think about that! Known rankings, known assets to each team and strict rule-based engagements (games) and construct, but only one dude got it right. I think predicting and understanding these tribal, political, and social dynamics should be approached with the same caution as you would predicting a bracket in an office pool.
#7. Iraq & Syria Today. 1/7, 3/2, and 3/6’s time in Western Al Anbar and Al Qaim should be a case study for the present state of play with ISIS in Iraq & Syria. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad? Although ISIS is a terrorist organization, it is also a Sunni nationalist group. As a civilian now, I just recently saw that the Iraqi government voted to incorporate Shia Militias into the Iraqi Army…the very thing US Forces tried to prevent. I am 100% positive that the reports of Shia atrocities against Sunnis are very much true and likely underreported. Newspapers say that there are 100,000 Iranian troops fighting in Iraq. While the preponderance of the media today is rooting for the re-capture of Mosul as a liberation akin to Paris ’44, they all but ignore that the elements at play are very different. During the 2016 Presidential debates, I watched Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine announce a policy decision to have an INTEL surge to get Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. But they forgot, omitted, or simply did not know, that we already captured & released him in 2005 and the same in 2009. Our #1 enemy was someone who we had and let go… two times. President Trump and VP Pence missed a chance to pounce on the incongruence in approach and history, but likely forgot, omitted, or simply did not know that we already had the dude before. Sorry to bang on about this point, but it is startling!
I hope this provides some measure of context, I am happy to answer any questions!
On Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 1:08 AM, Ajax Trueblood wrote:
Subj: Re: Framing Email
Fantastic overview! Thank you so much for taking that time. Let me tell you a little about myself, and then about the research I’ve done so far:
I’m a retired Air Force intel guy, but I’m actually very attuned to ground operations, COIN precepts, the progress of strategy and operations in Iraq, and the origins of the Awakening. In 2004/05, I served a tour at the CAOC at Al-Udeid AB in Qatar, but with several in-and-out trips into Iraq. I was providing intel support to a ground TF around Balad, so struggled (like everyone then) to understand the multi-faceted, fast-morphing insurgency. Then, in 2007, I was attached to the Army’s 3rd ID during the surge and was involved in small exploitation teams supporting maneuver units south of Baghdad. I was at FOB Kalsu in the ‘southern belt’ and then out by Al-Kut and the Iranian border, trying to help stanch the flow of EFPs and other ‘accelerants’. The effects of the Awakening were obvious and exciting.
Also, I’m the father of an Army Ranger, in the 75th RGR REGT. He’s part of those ‘upper tier’ operators you mentioned, with 11 combat deployments in IZ and AF. So I have a very personal connection to someone at the speartip, and have learned much from him, both in concrete and intangible ways.
And, being an intel guy from way back, I have a knack for putting pieces together to form the bigger picture, and ‘filling in the holes’. At this point, I’ve been studying the campaign in west Anbar for several years, and have amassed quite a chunk of references and reports. And in just the last month, I’ve started reaching many 3/2 vets through FB (incl quite a few Kilo Marines). They have expanded my understanding in many ways.
I’m not saying this to impress, just so you know I’m not your typical ‘outsider’ (like a staff researcher, reporter or academic) coming in to skim off the surface. Outside of 3/2, I think it would be hard to find anyone else that understands more about your 2005 deployment, the dynamics of your AO and the operational environment. I have truly been digging deep.
Having said that, your ‘frame setter’ is outstanding and very valuable. I’m well aware of the ‘macro’ factors you outline (economy of force, RCT2s campaign plan, AQI’s intent, etc), but several of your emphasis items have struck home — 3/25 and its role in the story, the dug-in enemy in Karabilah, and the TF side of the campaign.
Along those lines, one of the sections I’m working on is what I call the ‘four-way war’. Which entails 3/2 and RCT2 engaging in very kinetic ‘security & stability ops’, the Albu-Mahal tribe and allies fighting against AQI and their allies (red v red), the ODAs engaging the tribes, and the TF going after Zarqawi’s network. I’ll focus on 3/2’s operations, but place them in the full context of the other three.
Anyway, I’m really glad I found you, and that you’ve responded (It was Gabe Diana that helped me find your FB profile). I look forward to getting to know you better and learning more from you.
3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines and the fight for Al-Qaim, Iraq