...,1st Draft

Chapter 10 – Battle of Husaybah01 Feb

Chapter 10 – 17 Apr 04 Battle of Husaybah

[Section 1]



[Section 2]

In retrospect, a Lima Company Commanding Officer would be able to label the events of April, 2004, as the end of one phase of the Iraq War and the beginning of another. The juncture between these two phases would be apparent as one of several Tipping Points, in the phrase of popular author Gladwell, characterized by the accumulation of small factors which add up to a significant change. In this case, the small factors included the lack of socioeconomic programs to support the military victory in 2003, and the U.S. over-reaction to the killing of 4 Americans in Fallujah at the end of March, 2004. These accumulated factors together caused a tipping point after which the Iraqi population became generally supportive of the insurgents. But, at the time, the Lima Marines had not yet adapted, though, as we have seen, Rick Gannon — a scholar of warfare, and the son of a Marine Officer who had served in the Vietnam War — was amassing evidence in support of the view that the assumptions about the population and the insurgency were wrong.

0830 hours [dtg, grid]
“Lima 5, this is Lima 6,” said Captain Gannon to his second in command, First Lieutenant Neal over the Lima Company tactical net. “I got good news and I got bad news. The good news is we got the casualties onto the bird and we got them safe. The bad news is we’ve already lost one Marine. I’m going to go off freq to go develop the situation.”

At that point, Neal knew that most of the forces were pushed towards the Eastern part of Husaybah. Major Schreffler, the Battalion S-3 Operations Officer and the former Lima Company Commanding Officer, was popping in and out of the Combat Operations Center at Camp Husaybah. Schreffler was also going to his jump vehicle — a hummer equipped with enough radios to monitor all the available communications nets — so that he could talk to the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lopez, and the rest of the Battalion Staff. By that point, Schreffler was already developing a plan to have the Battalion reinforce Lima Company in Husaybah.

An hour went by. Usually, Captain Gannon habitually came up on the radio to give Lieutenant Neal a situation report every 15 minutes so that Neal could have full situational awareness, even though he was in the Combat Operations Center at the Lima base. Neal had only been on patrol in the city of Husaybah once or twice during the deployment so far.

Weapons Platoon had pushed deep into the East of the City, near the dividing line between Lima Company and Kilo Company’s respective zones of action. As it turned out, this was a seam in the Marine’s operational areas that the insurgents sought to exploit. For example, Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham, of Kilo 3/7, was mortally wounded in this seam between the two rifle companies three days earlier.

Neal noted that “company commanders have a tendency to think that whatever manuever element we are with, that’s our security, so we don’t bring security. [Captain Gannon] probably thought that same thing — that between where 3d platoon is and where weapons platoon is, it’s safe.” Weapons Platoon had cleared one building, and then hopped over to the rooftop of another building, not realizing that was another insurgent stronghold designed to be used as a fall back position for the coming attack to seize the Marine base. Captain Gannon, moving from 3d platoon to weapons platoon — to the point where he could best command his company, leading from the front as Marine Officers are taught to do — moved into the stronghold building with the Lima Weapons Platoon Marines on top. Captain Gannon was shot in that building.

Corporal Gibson, Smith, and Valdez — all of Weapons Platoon — notice the gunfire and move to link up with the Company Commander. Gibson, the first to enter the building, is shot too. Gibson reports that he has been hit over his PRR — personal radio for intra-squad communications. Weapons Platoon realizes that they have insurgents underneath them in the house. But, by that point, it’s too late. Smith and Valdez go into the stronghold house to pull out Gibson, but they are both shot too. Neal is monitoring this on the Lima Company command net, trying to figure out where the Company Commander, Captain Gannon is located. Lima 3, Brad Watson, hasn’t seen him. CAAT Blue Actual, Lieutenant Moore, hasn’t seen him. Captain Gannon had moved from where CAAT Blue had been hit and immobilized. Hours go by.

By 1200 hours, Lima Company and its reinforcements, like CAAT, are running low on ammunition in the town. Weapons Platoon, now reinforced by other elements from Lima, is fighting the insurgents in the stronghold house.

“Sir,” Lieutenant Neal says to Major Schreffler, “I don’t have a good feeling about this. No one knows where the six is. I can’t get him on the hook. Something is not right. I don’t like this at all.”

“Roger that,” replied Major Schreffler. “I am going to continue to work with Battalion. Continue to focus on the fight in your zone. Keep me updated on what the company is doing.” In the efficient language of a military unit in action, Schreffler, who was responsible for planning and operations for the 1200-Marine Battalion, could not lose his focus to become overly involved with Neal, who was second in command of the 150-Marine Company at one edge of his battle space. Neal had been one of Schreffler’s students at Infantry Officers’ Course, and Schreffler had commanded Lima Company in the previous year’s invasion of Iraq — and he was Godfather to Rick Gannon’s kids — yet, all of that was kept below the surface of professional, mission oriented communications.

“Roger that,” confirmed Neal. “Good to go.” Neal had limited communications and situational awareness in the Command Post. But, he did know that Lima 3d Platoon, Lima Weapons Platoon, Broadsword [the call sign for the Recon Platoon], and CAAT [the attached heavy weapons platoon commanded by Lt Moore] have all consolidated on one position — the stronghold house where they worked together to kill the insurgents. Captain Sofka, callsign “2 Pam,” the FAC (Forward Air Controller) and Captain Hudson, the Recon Platoon Commander, known as Broadside Actual, were pushing Neal to get out into the town.

“We can’t really do much,” argued Hudson to Neal, who was technically junior to him, “But I got to get out there with my guys. I have a little bit more ass [combat power] that I can provide to them.” The Recon Platoon Commander was expressing the bias of Marine Commanders to be with their Marines, especially while in contact.

Similarly, Captain Sofka, who also outranked Lieutenant Neal, argued, “I can’t control air from where I am. I need to be up where Weapons Platoon is located.”

Neal rejected both Captains. “We have enough Marines out there forward. Let’s not send out more.”

Hudson and Sofka continued to prod Neal to go out into town, personally.

Neal finally relented. “You can head out if you honestly feel you can link up with Weapons Platoon and have a positive effect. But stay off of Market street [the main street out into town] because it is a hot spot. It has a lot of IEDs, I don’t think it has been cleared all the way through.”

The two Captains, who worked together often because the Recon Platoon had more Marines who regularly called in air support than the rest of Lima Company, headed out into town. Neal had made his cautionary point to Sofka, but Sofka didn’t relay the warning to Hudson. Five minutes outside the wire at Camp Husaybah, Captain Hudson’s vehicle was hit by an IED while he was traveling down Market toward the main elements of Lima Company — 3d Platoon, Weapons, Recon, and CAAT — out on the East edge of town. Fortunately, Hudson’s vehicle took minimal damage. Neal, however, was livid because he felt like his guidance was being ignored. He fumed, didn’t I tell you guys not to go straight through town. The word had not been passed from Sofka to Hudson.

In the surgical, antiseptic language of the military, the word that Captain Gannon had been killed in action filtered back into the Lima Command Post in Camp Husaybah with the word that Gannon was “routine.” If he was an “urgent” casualty, it would indicate that he was still alive and needed to receive medical attention right away. But instead, Lieutenant Neal and Major Schreffler were informed that Gannon was “routine,” that his body could be routinely moved through the military system to dispose of fallen Marines. Dominique Neal, a First Lieutenant and Second in Command of Lima Company had just become the first Marine Officer to assume command of a Rifle Company due to the combat death of the Commanding Officer since Vietnam. Neal immediately got onto the Tactical Radio Net and said, “Lima Five is now Lima Six.”

[look up Neal movie with this account]


Kurt Bellmont did not go out into Husaybah with 3d Platoon. He was sick in the early morning of April 17, but he started to feel better throughout the day. Staff Sergeant Wilder was in the living area, passing the word about the ongoing combat throughout the day. He came back into the squad bay, and asked Bellmont, “How are you feeling?”

“If I can, I’d like to get back out there,” responded Bellmont, who felt bad about abandoning his platoon while they were in combat.

“Lieutenant Neal is the new CO. Captain Gannon is KIA,” Staff Sergeant Wilder informed him. The news of Gannon’s death sank in. Wilder continued, “The new CO is about to go out. Do you want to be his body guard?”

Bellmont answered, “Yeah, absolutely.”

“OK. You’re going to be his RO [Radio Operator] and body guard all at the same time.”

Bellmont started to get his gear together. He was glad to be able to get back out into town since he felt worthless, sitting behind.

Kurt Bellmont’s desire to immediately get back into the fight alongside his unit is one of the characteristic qualities of Combat Marines. Another of those qualities of Marine Leaders was on display among the Company and Battalion leadership in reaction to Gannon’s death — a bias for action. Schreffler — who was Godfather to Rick Gannon’s kids — and Neal — who considered Gannon a friend as well as a Commanding Officer — took almost no time for personal reaction when they heard the news of his death. Schreffler reportedly hung his head for a second or two, then continued to coordinate the battle via the Battalion Tactical Radio Frequency — he was third in command of the Battalion, and the primary plans officer for the unit. The Battalion staff passed word to Neal that there was an intelligence item indicating that another insurgent strong point house was located in the Southwest of the city. The Marine Base, located on the Northeast periphery of the city, was the target of a coordinated insurgent attack with multiple strong points to support hundreds of insurgents who had massed in the city amid the increasingly friendly population. Neal started planning for a 2-platoon attack on that insurgent strong point house at the Southwest of the city.

At the same time, Schreffler was coordinating Lieutenant Colonel Lopez decision to gather the rest of the Battalion, including 2 platoons from Lima, the CAAT Team and the rest of Kilo Company, on the Eastern edge of Husaybah for the purpose of conducting as sweep from East to West through the town. First, however, Battalion was setting a cordon around the city with, among other units, Recon in order to seal the city and make sure that no insurgents escaped the pending sweep. Lieutenant Colonel Lopez would sweep East to West with two Rifle Companies on line and the CAAT Vehicles moving down the roads. Lieutenant Neal, now Commanding Officer of Lima Company in Camp Husaybah, would conduct an immediate 2-platoon attack by moving South out of the Camp through an area that the Marines had termed, “440 Area” — basically, one story homes — then West to the insurgent strong point house that had been recently identified. In other words, the Marines would have what they called a “Geometry of Fires” problem — in plain English, Neal would be attacking towards the West, while Lopez would be attacking to the East, through the same city, separated by only several kilometers — and by time. This is why in Neal’s immediate attack, time was of the essence.

“You’re going to need a medic,” Schreffler noted to Neal. Schreffler was fighting the Battalion, moving units around to set the cordon, answering up to Lopez, confirming the placement of support for the sweep. But, he was also an experience Company Commander who had commanded Lima for a year before Gannon took over. Neal got Doc Purviance, a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Headquarters Platoon, while he briefed Lima 2, commanded by Lt Awtry, a Mustang (former Enlisted) officer, and Kilo 1, for the coming attack. These two platoons were the last Rifle Platoons left in the base. When they emptied into town, the entire base would be out in town, in the middle of the fight.

Second Platoon under Awtry lead the 2-platoon column Southward out of Camp Husaybah. Neal, with his small command element of Bellmont and Doc Perviance, traveled between the two platoons. Second Platoon moved South of Route Train — literally a railroad track that ran the entire length of the Southern edge of Husaybah, and started to turn to the West, aiming for the target house. As Second Platoon’s lead fire team crossed back North of Route Train, the 4-Marine Team was hit by small arms fire from insurgents in the target house.

Bellmont describes what happened next in among the leadership element with Neal and the Corpsman: “We were crossing a big open area, a big danger area. This is something that always gets me. When an officer is moving in a formation, they usually just float around… well, they always end up at the front because they are moving individually because the rest of the squad is doing their bumping and bounding and they take a while to move. Well, he kept making his way to the front, and I kept trying to hold him back because all right that first team goes across then the bad guys know we’re there, second team goes across, that’s when the bad guys ready to start shooting. Well, he managed to work his way all the way up to being the second team. And I was with him. It was myself and Doc and the CO. The first team went all the way across, not a problem. And I was like, ‘well let’s hold back a little bit sir.'”

Neal, the former Naval Academy sprinter and Sacred Heart High School cornerback, responded, “No, we’ll go on this one.”

Bellmont continues his narrative, “And we started running and we got about halfway across a 250 meter danger area. And about half way across we started getting shot at with rounds ricocheting near our feet. And they were behind me, so I looked back, and they were both laying on the ground so I hit the ground too. I ran behind what little micro terrain there was, which was a 4 inch curb, so I went and laid by that curb which was where they were laying. I threw a couple of rounds in the direction of where it was coming to suppress their fires. And then I yelled for the team in front of us, and the team behind us was not shooting and I could not understand why, so I yelled for both teams to suppress for us, then I had Captain Neal go first, then Doc, then they suppressed for me while I finished the way across.”

Neal and his command element pushed along with the Kilo platoon following in trace of Awtry’s Lima Two. Tracing a map of Husaybah, Neal recognized the island where he and Bellmont had been pinned down by enemy fire. “While we got pinned down,” he says, “that was enough fire for Second Platoon — because they were also taking fire from this general position [from insurgents located outside of Husaybah, South of Route Train], from the position [of the insurgent stronghold house at the Southwest of the city], and down this axis [parallel with the Western edge of the city].” Awtry’s Lima Two, in other words, was pinned down by insurgent fire from three, mutually supporting positions.

“When we took the brunt of the fire [from the insurgents on the Western edge of the city],” continues Neal, discussing the command element crossing the danger area that Bellmont described, “it allowed [Second Platoon] to gain fire superiority [against the insurgents located outside of Husaybah, South of Route Train], and fire superiority here [at the insurgent stronghold house at the Southwest of the city,] calling in mortars [to hit the target house].”

The Marine Corps defines “combined arms” as using one weapon to make the enemy vulnerable to another weapon system. What happened at this juncture of the attack is probably why Neal would rank Awtry as his top Lieutenant in fitness reports evaluating all of his direct reports. Awtry, an experienced former Enlisted Marine who became an officer — a Mustang — had several injured Marines in his lead fire team, and he was under fire from three positions. One of the insurgent positions, however, began to fire instead on Neal and his Radio Operator and Corpsman. Awtry immediately called for accurate mortar fire from the Lima Company 60mm mortar section located in Camp Husaybah.

Awtry would have moved up from his position, possibly behind his first squad, also with his radio operator near by. He would have called for fire:

“Lima Mortars, this is Lima Two, adjust fire, over.”

“Lima Two, this is Lima Mortars, adjust fire, over.”

He would have given the Mortar section a grid, or more likely, called the mission in from a pre-registered target point.

Neal describes the effect of the mortar mission called by Awtry: “It hit right on that building, and it went up in smoke. The fire ceased [from the target building]. So, we were able to maintain fire suppression [on the insurgent position South and outside of Husaybah].” Part of Awtry’s Second Platoon would be firing their M-16A4 Rifles, M-249 SAWs, and M-203 Grenade Launchers at the insurgents South and outside of Husaybah near the train station. The direct hit by the mortars called in by Awtry seems to have tipped the balance of the attack in favor of Lima Company in the first combat action commanded by Neal as Commanding Officer.

After the mortar mission scored a direct hit on the insurgent target house, resulting in a smoke plume, Neal and the Kilo Platoon moved along the road on the Southern edge of Husaybah towards the target house. The combination of the mortar mission and the continued suppressive fire from Second Platoon toward the insurgents South and outside of Husaybah “gave us enough umph, or clearance, through the MSR [Main Supply Route on the South of Husaybah], literally going from house to house, shooting and moving from house to house.”

“We fired up in here,” Neal continued, pointing to the road on the Western edge of Husaybah. “And when we got closer, we took a few more shots from buildings in here,” Neal points to buildings in the city, immediately adjacent to the target house, which was already burning from the mortar mission. “And we did fire back. Battalion was still working on sweeping through,” Neal motions across the town, indicating the on-line movement by several platoons from East to West, which Lopez was planning on the opposite side of town.

“Now, after the mortars ceased here — after the fire ceased here,” Neal points to the target house, which had been hit directly by Awtry’s mortar mission, “That’s what allowed [the Kilo platoon and Bellmont and the Corpsman and me] to go up close because this whole building was definitely smoking. Just to make sure we killed everything in that building, that’s when Lt Fleming [commanding Kilo 1], said, ‘I’m going to put two SMAW HE rounds in there, and I am going to put two AT-4 Rounds in there.’ A SMAW is a “Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon” designed to be used against bunkers and light armored vehicles. It fires an 83mm rocket with a dual fuze, designed to delay if it hits a soft target, like a bunker. AT-4s are the standard, 84mm anti tank rocket carried by Marines. The Marines were applying combined arms in the situation by using the effects of the mortars to make the enemy vulnerable to the rockets.

“That’s exactly what they did,” recalls Neal. “I stayed close in this building where I could get eyes on,” Neal points to a building almost adjacent to the target house. “I saw his Assault guys fire into those buildings, then we pushed up.”

Neal then ordered Kilo 1 to cease fire while maintaining observation towards the surrounding building in Husaybah as well as toward the threat areas South and outside of Husaybah, since they had seized the target house. When Kilo 1 and Neal occupied the target house, Awtry’s Second Platoon collapsed his support by fire position South and outside of Husaybah. Awtry’s Marines moved into the target house too, while still maintaining observation south of Husaybah, the areas where they had received fire from as well.

Lieutenant Neal, Staff Sergeant St Pierre, the Lima 2 Platoon Sergeant, and Lieutenant Awtry met briefly. “We were happy to see each other,” recalls Neal. “That was pretty interesting,” Neal remembers saying. The Marines continued to sweep through the adjacent buildings, rounding up casualties. “We put so much overwhelming firepower in this small complex here, keeping our fires oriented South, that some of the local Iraqi civilians actually gave up some viable intel on where the insurgents were hiding out. So, essentially, the locals there, the fence sitters, dimed out some of the insurgents. We picked up 5 insurgents and brought them back with us.” Neal’s description of the the locals as “fence sitters” — recorded years apart from an interview with an entirely different Lima Commanding Officer who characterized April 04 as a tipping point — reinforces the idea that the Lima Marines were, in fact, fighting a tactical action amid a Tipping Point in which Al Qaeda was being accepted more broadly by the Iraqi population in Anbar.


* * *

Gunny Vegh had run out into Husaybah with Gannon. Vegh always saw himself as the primary tactical adviser to the company commander, not as the company logistician. “I have a police sergeant for logistics,” Vegh told me. Vegh, a school-trained scout sniper, was among the most proficient Marines in Lima Company, and he coordinated the evacuation of casualties in Husaybah on that hectic day when Gannon was killed. At one point, he came up on Link’s squad, which was held up near the Baath Party Headquarters on Market Street by a sniper.

“A sniper had started taking fire at us,” recalled Link. “We were moving into the Baath Party house. We had security outside. That’s when the sniper started taking shots at us. He hit a 7-ton [truck] driver. He was trying to shoot at us. We were pinned down, trying to see where it was coming from. I sent Sergeant Soudan out to the building where it was coming from to take an AT-4 [rocket] shot, but then the sniper moved positions. All of a sudden, Gunny Vegh is just standing there, and the rounds were dinging. [Vegh said,] ‘You guys scared to meet Jesus… Let’s fucking go.’ I took off running, Parker [the first fire team leader in Link’s squad] took off running. Then the whole squad took off running. [It was one of those situations] where that was enough leadership until we got to the house [where the sniper was]. Then, I said, ‘First team do this,’ but that initial run up there was just a matter of ‘everyone, who’s coming with me.’ [The house that they assaulted was] 150 to 200 meters [away from the position where Gunny Vegh came up on Link’s squad].”

When I asked Gunny Vegh about this incident, he said only, “I’ll let the Marines talk about that,” and “It’s one of those things that Gunnies do.”


[Section 3]

[Section 4]

[Section 5]

[Section 6]

[Section 7]

[Section 8]

[Section 9]

[Section 10]

[Section 11]

[Section 12]

[Section 13]

[N 29 14’4.2″ E 47 58’22.44″ Kuwait International Airport]
2400 Local GMT 17 April 2004

Staff Sergeant Carpenter arrives in Kuwait, after the delay caused by his baggage being lost.

After getting oriented on the ground, Matt Carpenter calls his wife, Beth.

“Matt, Lima Company had a really bad day,” said Beth. By that point, Matt Carpenter already knew that Wasser had been killed in action. He knew it was imperative to get up to Lima Company as soon as possible.

“What are you talking about?” said Carpenter. He had a suspicion that Rick Gannon was gone.

“There’s been a bunch of guys — some of your guys — were killed today,” replied Beth, referring to some of Carpenter’s Weapons Platoon Marines.

“Like who?” asked Carpenter.

“Valdez, Gibson, Smith, and,” Beth paused. “I can’t remember the last name.”

“Don’t tell me it was Van Leuven?” For whatever reason, Carpenter picked the name out of a roster in his brain.

“Yeah, that’s the other Marine,” confirmed Beth. “And Rick.”

“Rick!” Carpenter was shocked.

“Yeah, Rick was killed last night.”

Carpenter started yelling into the phone. Beth put Sally Gannon on the phone. Sally was cool and calm.

“Hey Matt, how are you?” asked Sally.

“Jesus, I am so sorry,” said Matt Carpenter.

“Matt, I don’t want you to worry about avenging Rick. I want you to just take care of Lima, just take care of the guys.”

After hanging up the phone, Staff Sergeant Carpenter went straight to the 1st Marine Division Representative, a Master Sergeant. “I need to get in country, like now,” Carpenter told the higher ranking Staff NCO.

“Well Devil Dog, there’s nothing going in until tomorrow, and you’re on the list. It’s kind of first come first serve, and rank dependent,” replied the Master Sergeant.

“I don’t give a fuck, you put me on a goddamned convoy. I don’t care what it takes, I have got to get into Al Qaim,” said Carpenter. “My guys just took some heavy fucking hits and I am not sitting in this fucking camp in Kuwait any more.”

“Well, you’ll just have to wait until the next flight,” said the Master Sergeant. Livid, Carpenter was ready to punch the man, rank or threat of court martial be damned.

“Well, what time do I need to be here so I can get fucking signed up on this list?” asked Carpenter.

“You’ve got to be here at zero-eight,” said the Master Sergeant.

“Roger that.” Carpenter didn’t sleep at all that night.

N 34 23’45.24″ E 40 58′ 31.08″ Camp Husaybah, Iraq
Local GMT 18 April 2004

Major General Mattis, the Commanding General of 1st Marine Division, surveyed the map as 1st Lt Neal briefed him on the previous day’s fight. Mattis then addressed the Lima Company Marines, and asked them, “Is there anything that you need?”

Several of the Weapons Platoon Marines responded, “Yeah, we want Staff Sergeant Carpenter up here, our Platoon Sergeant. He’s been sitting in Kuwait for 2 weeks.” They didn’t know that his bags never arrived. They thought Carpenter was sitting in Kuwait.

Mattis looked over at his Aide, and said, “I can do that.” The Aide-de-Camp, a field grade officer, typed an email to expedite Carpenter’s passage to Husaybah shortly thereafter.

[N 29 14’4.2″ E 47 58’22.44″ Kuwait International Airport]
0700 Local GMT 18 April 2004

Carpenter was standing at the door to the Master Sergeant an hour before the appointed time.

“Staff Sergeant, could you come here a minute?” The Master Sergeant, who had been obstinate the night before, was a little sheepish.

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” said Carpenter.

“Staff Sergeant, do you know General Mattis?” asked the Master Sergeant.

“Yeah, who the fuck doesn’t know General Mattis?” replied Carpenter.

“No, like do you know him?” asked top.

“Like a drinking buddy?”

“Yeah,” asked the Master Sergeant.

“No,” replied Carpenter.

“Well, that’s interesting.” The Master Sergeant slid his laptop around to show Carpenter the screen, which read: “Top, Staff Sergeant Carpenter and First Sergeant Martin [the Weapons Company First Sergeant, who had broken his ankle] from 3/7 will be on the next flight into Al Qaim. No one below the rank of 0-6 Colonel will bump them from this flight. Mattis.”

Holy shit, thought Carpenter to himself. He made the flight into Al Asad,

N 33 46’41.7″ E 42 26’6.9″ “The Cans” Al Asad Airbase
1100 Local GMT 18 April 2004

At Al Asad Air Base, Staff Sergeant Carpenter linked up with the 1st Marine Division Chaplain, Father Bill Devine, a Catholic priest who had been 7th Marines chaplain and who Sally and Rick. Devine was on his way to Al Qaim to spend time with the units who had just suffered casualties. Devine was a wreck, as was Carpenter. They both spent the night at Al Asad, then took a flight of Marine CH-53 Helicopters to Al Qaim the next day.

N 34 22’9.3″ E 41 05’39.3″ Al Qaim
2100 Local GMT 20 April 2004

After the helicopter flight, Carpenter took a convoy from Al Qaim into Husaybah. The Lima Marines were there to meet and greet Carpenter.

He got to Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, and discussed the events of the last few days. “I’d never seen guys who just seemed like they were gutted,” recalled Carpenter. The loss of the 4 Marines from Weapons Platoon as well as the Company Commander, Captain Gannon, was the first large loss of Marines killed in action that most Marine units had taken up to that point, with the exception of 12 Marines killed in action in Battalion 2/4 in Ramadi also in the month of April 2004.


34 23’45.06” N 40 58’28.74 E elev 179 meters Camp Gannon, Husaybah, Iraq
Local GMT 24 April 2004

Carpenter remembers Rick Gannon as a very down to earth kind of guy who gave a shit about the Marines. These are high compliments for a Marine Infantry Officer. Gannon’s death resonated through the entire Battalion.

Staff Sergeant Carpenter was walking through the Camp. He looked at the lone figure of a Marine from 2nd Platoon, a hard nosed Marine who had been in the first deployment with Lima Company. The lone Marine seemed a little depressed.

Carpenter sat beside the Marine, asking, “Hey, what’s going on buddy?”

“Staff Sergeant, I am just thinking about Captain Gannon.”

“Yeah.” Carpenter didn’t have to say very much.

“My dad didn’t play a big role in my upbringing,” continued the younger Marine. Carpenter took it in. It was uncharacteristic of most Marines to show very much emotion. But the feelings about Captain Gannon’s death rippled through the unit. “The first real father figure that I had was him,” continued the 2nd Platoon Marine. “I remember Captain Gannon coming out when I was on fire watch, like zero-two-hundred. He was just shooting the shit. He must have stood post with me for two hours asking about my family, where I was from.”

Carpenter had heard the story before, from many of the Lima Marines. In fact, he had grown to know Gannon from one of those conversations out in the Soccer Stadium in Karbala, when Gannon expressed a relentless, but sincere, interest in all of the Marines in Lima Company, regardless of rank.


N 34 22’9.3″ E 41 05’39.3″ Al Qaim
2100 Local GMT 25 April 2004

Carp is down in Al Qaim with his Weapons Platoon. The platoon is torn up emotionally. He is going through that with them. He gets the word from 3 runners to get on the satellite phone to Lima Company. He turns down the request. Then he gets called by Major Schreffler, who orders him up to Husaybah to take over Lima 1 because the platoon commander and the platoon sergeant were relieved. (45 minute)


The Battle of Husaybah, unlike the First Battle of Fallujah chronicled in accounts like West’s No True Glory, was conclusive. There were very few reporters, and no politicians micro-managed Lieutenant Colonel Lopez’ decision to clear the town through two sweeps through the town on April 17 and April 18. Whereas Fallujah caused Major General Mattis to fume that he should have been allowed to “take Vienna” in a historical allusion, Husaybah was cleared decisively. In the weeks after the Battle of Husaybah on April 17 and 18, Captain Neal would observe a marked decline in insurgent activities in his zone of action — but it was not to last.

In the larger picture, a future Lima Commanding Officer, Rory Quinn, marks April 2004, as a transition point between two major phases of his account of the entire Iraq War. April 2004 was a tipping point, and moreover, it was a Black Swan event. In the financial world, the events of a month like October, 2008, are a Black Swan event. Black Swan events are large-impact, hard-to-predict events that we try to rationalize in retrospect. 9-11 was a Black Swan event. In the Iraq insurgency, April 2004 was a juncture where the Iraqi population tipped in its support towards the insurgents, lead by Al Qaeda cells, and away from the Americans. In Quinn’s estimate, the major achievement of the Marines during the long phase that commenced in April 2004 was simply not to lose. This is consistent with the non-defeatist attitude which is an integral part of the Marine Corps culture.

Lima Company remained in its based in Camp Husaybah, patrolling and conducting observation posts (OPs) in town. As Bing West will observe in his later book, The Strongest Tribe, the far reaches of Anbar, such as Al Qaim and Husaybah, will see faster progress than cities like Fallujah and Ramadi. This faster rate of progress may be due, in part, to the decisive action taken by 3/7 in April 2004 whereas a decisive assault on Fallujah was not conducted until the end of 2004, immediately after the American presidential election. Back in the States, the unit that would replace Lima 3/7 — Bravo 1/7 — observed the actions in Husaybah, and trained accordingly, as we will see. 1/7 would begin two important patterns in the coming years in Al Qaim. First, 1/7 would make repeated deployments to the same area, thus increasing the familiarity of its key leaders with the physical and human terrain; and the battalion would start using Combined Action Platoons by its second deployment to Al Qaim. But, at the end of April, 2004, these were still trends which would take years to evolve. At the end of April 2004, Lima Company still had a rising counterinsurgency to fight.

5 Responses to “Chapter 10 – Battle of Husaybah”

  1. talavera

    Lima co. 60’s were not in service during april 17Th. I was the section leader and was acting Lima 4 radio operator. There were 2 lima mortarmen in camp gannon at the time who were on detainee duty.Lcpl haugan of Lima 2 was involved with the mortar call for fire in the 440.

  2. talavera

    The Lima Co. 60 mm mortar section was out in town on the 17th. I was the section leader and was assigned as LIma 4 radio operator. The mortars had been down due to overhang issues in the base. There were only two Lima mortarmen in the base, both on detainee duty. Lcpl Haugan of Lima 2 was involved in the call for fire and may be able to clrify the point. The “insurgent stronghold” was taken down by Recon as well as several members of Lima 4, with Lima 3 providing covering fire from the surrounding buildings as well as AT-4 fire (both left over SMAW rockets were in the court yard with Valdez and Smith).

  3. Purviance

    The correct spelling for the Doc that went out with Capt. Neal is Purviance, Justin T. HM3 USN.

  4. Administrator

    Thanks, Justin. I will make the correction. Janar

  5. Ryan Blair

    I will never forget this day…. My husband (Robert, or as his marine buddies called him “Bobby”) was a squad leader in Weapons Platoon during the 2004 deployment to Husaybah. These men and their families will forever be in my heart and on my mind.

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This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.


This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.