...,1st Draft

Chapter 11 – Counter Mortar OP01 Feb

Chapter 11

[Section 1]

Carpenter: “I used to walk patrols by that house where Rick was killed.” … wanted to seek revenge, a theme. But restraint of that emotion is what won the war (a theme from Quinn). (minute 53)

“restraint… long war…” Bill Devine… (minute 54)

“very faithful” (minute 56)


[Section 2]

19 June 2004

In the months following the Battle of Husaybah on April 17, Lima Company continued patrolling and conducting observation posts in the town. The enemy continued to mortar Lima Company at Camp Husaybah, however. The main purpose of these attacks was harassment. The Marines and the insurgents observed each other and adapted. By the Summer, Lima 3 was assigned the mission of conducting a counter-mortar observation post (OP).

Lima 3 conducted a highly effective “Covert OP.” Moving in fire team size units, the Platoon conducts a covert infiltration from Camp Gannon (formerly Camp Husbayah) to a structure known as the Mansion to the North East of the town. Lima 3 steped off at 2 AM and arrived by 4 AM. As with patrolling in the city, the platoon uses handheld Garmin Rhino GPS systems (which can transmit a GPS location along with a voice communication to another similar unit) to effect this movement. (Sgt Milinkovic bought his for $250, and most of the team leaders in 3d platoon have also bought these units. They said that the PR — personal radios — that are carried by most Marines are ineffective, particularly in the urban environment, where the power lines interfere with their ability to talk.) The Company had been mortared heavily in the last 2 weeks. Lima 3 had been “fragged” (given a fragmentary order) by the XO (Executive Officer) to do an OP (observation post) at the mansion, the name given to a structure which they had occupied before. During the movement, the platoon successfully avoided disturbing the dogs in the area, quite a feat. The Marines noted that the insurgents did not operate at night, thus, 10 PM to 5 AM there were zero attacks. By 4 AM, Lima 3 had occupied the OP. At 7 AM, insurgents not 150 meters away started firing into the base, which was several kilometers away. Lt Watson immediately sent out “all of my squad leaders — not exactly the preferred course of action.” Cpl Mejia fired a M-203 grenade launcher at the enemy mortar position, immediately stopping the firing. Lt Watson called “incoming” to the base, before the counter battery mortars could pick up the incoming projectiles. Speed and surprise were the key to the success of this operation by Lima 3. Lima 3 rounded up 5 to 10 insurgent suspects, who tested positive for firing mortars with scientific testing procedures. Corporal Bellmont found the ordinance being fired at Camp Gannon.

“How did Lieutenant Watson and you squad leaders intend to exploit the enemy’s weakness or vulnerability?” I asked Link and Bellmont.

“In that situation,” replied Link, “the enemy always had observation, always knew where we were at all times. As soon as you walked out that gate, you were observed. We can’t hide. The fact that we snuck out at night [on the counter-mortar patrol and OP], went out a secret gate that lead into the open, and then managed to move through the canals — we actually got wet a little bit — didn’t take any bridges, snipped fences, and went through fences instead of going around and in front of the houses. Right there, you took away the enemy’s ability to observe. So, the next morning, he wakes up, and he doesn’t know that you are sitting right next door to him. No one gave him a call last night [referring to a network of Iraqi tipsters in the population].”

Link describes the way that Lima 3 moved during that patrol: “We moved in one huge column, but everyone stayed at rally points, then didn’t move until they got to another rally point, then clustered up. The first team [of 4 Marines] snuck through real slow, and radioed for the next team to move. [This movement technique, a type of overwatch] paid off.”

“They were located in the middle of a pear orchard,” recalls Bellmont. “They had a little canal that they built up so that they could pump water from the river so that it would flow over the orchard to grow their crops. The canal was built up so that was their vantage point. They could get up on the canal and actually see our base, so they had a perfect aiming point. They had three [mortar] tubes.”

“Three rounds per tube, and rockets,” added Link.

I asked what was the enemy intent?

“Harassment,” replied Link. “Just to disrupt the plan of the day. We always got mortared. They had probably 4 major harassing fire positions that they used every other day. Right on time, the same time [every day]. Late in the morning, or before dusk.”

“We knew when the mortars were coming in too,” added Bellmont, looking at his watch to emphasize the regularity of the attacks. “Better get inside. We’re going to get mortared in a little bit here. But, they had their [mortar position] in a good spot. There were six-foot tall weeds there. They just hid the [mortar equipment] right in the weeds when they were done using them. We had to trip over [the mortars] to find them. I knew roughly where it came from. But when the echo of the mortar going off bounces, it might change the sound. Well, I got lucky. We had just patrolled out there, and I decided, we are going to search this area very thoroughly. So, everyone went off on their own while we were close together. Rigoli happened to find a mortar container with a live mortar round in it. From there, we thoroughly searched the weeds, and that’s when we found everything.”

Almost everything about this particular patrol and observation post operation went right. This was the result of accumulated observations about the enemy over months. Lima 3 went out at night when the tipsters in the population were not active, and the insurgents did not operate. Lima 3 left by a “secret gate” where they would not be observed. Finally, the platoon moved through the country side in such a way that they did not tip off the population or the enemy. I asked, “was there anything that the enemy did that surprised you?”

Link replied, “I walked up on these guys and they were ducked down like little sheep. I sent a fire team around one side. When we came out of the tree line, he looked in the direction of the fire team, then he looked at me, and sat down. They knew they were done, just got ghost faces on them.”

“So, in that situation, you surprised them?”

“Yeah,” confirmed Link.

Brad Watson recalled the following about that operation: “The day at the Mansion was a lesson in initiative. The entire deployment I had hoped to gain the initiative on the enemy. I knew that our efforts at presence patrolling were not effective and that our effort to deter enemy activity with ‘presence’ (an ambiguous term at best) was not enough to break enemy’s will to fight.
For the first time third platoon had the drop on the enemy. We spotted him before he spotted us and we fired on him. We proved the critics of the utility of covert inserts and observation wrong and opened up a new line of tactical thinking in the company that led to ambush Observation Posts. (This was later perfected and well implemented by 1/7).”

“What were the lessons learned from that?” I asked Bellmont and Link.

“You can move at night, tactically. You can do it with a platoon, you can damn sure do it with a squad. You can really do it with a fire team. Everyone says that Marine Infantry is big clunky, ground-pounders. But, a Marine is an all-around jack-of-all trades. You can do anything you put your mind to. Discipline is what gets you through moving at night like that.”

About Mejia, one of his squad leaders, Brad Watson notes: “Sgt Mejia’s first name is ‘Jose’ though I believe he prefers to be called just ‘Mejia.’ When he refers to himself in the third person he calls himself ‘Big Dog.’ He would probably rather die than let one of the other Marines in the company pin him in a martial arts drill. ‘Loyal’ and ‘fierce’ are the first two words that come to mind [when] someone mentions Mejia. At 3:30 in the morning when the other Marines in the ambush were starting to get bored or tired, like clockwork, Mejia’s voice would come over the PRR awake and at the ready. Great guy to have on your team. The kind of guy you don’t want the other team to have.”

“What was the unit’s strength in executing that patrol?” I asked Link and Bellmont.

“Discipline,” replied Link. “We also had eliminated some of the ‘cancer’ elements in our platoon from 3/4 [another Marine Battalion in 7th Marine Regiment]. We all came together again. The love to do it, the fun in it, made it so that we were out there stalking at night.”

“With our original platoon before Marines from 3/4 showed up, we were tight,” recalled Bellmont. “We would go out and party together as a platoon. These guys came in from 3/4 and kind of threw a wrench in our engine. Some guys got along with some of them, but it started to break down and form cliques in the platoon. A lot of guys started to get at each other’s throats, which was weird. These guys [from 3/4] left. And all of a sudden, we grew back together again, the way that we were before. That’s a big reason that we were able to operate like that. We were back to the old third platoon.”

Link’s quick to add, “We’re not saying anything about 3/4 or anything. Just using that as an example.”

Marine units are very much like small, Celtic villages where loyalties and relationships are very local. The 32 Infantry Battalions of the Marine Corps could be compared to the 32 counties of Ireland. County Kerry flies a flag when it plays in the National Football championship against County Galway. A visiting tourist who buys a Kerry flag for his car would be wise to hide the flag by the time he made his way to Galway. Bars in Killarney, in County Kerry, will be filled with fans who watch every play. Such are the loyalties of former 3/7 Marines who watch their battalion years later. Link, Bellmont and Mejia came into 3/7 and Lima Company at almost the same time, and developed a strongly cohesive platoon. The Marines from 3/4 who joined 3d Platoon interfered with that cohesion, though to the rest of the world, they would all appear as Marines, just as to the rest of the world, natives of Galway and Kerry would all appear as Irishmen.

On July 28, Captain Neal sent Major Schreffler, the Battalion S-3 Operations Officer, a message, which read, in part: “Sir. I have a couple of concerns that I wanted to discuss. The first issue is with the counter battery radar. While Blade 6 [Lt Col Lopez, the Battalion Commander] stayed at Camp Gannon, we sustained (1) 6-round mortar attack. During that period, CBR [counter battery radar] was not available. Based on the reporting from our patrols and OPs, we received traffic that the mortars were fired from the northeast in vicinity of the orchard. With out CBR [our] normal action was to hold tight in the camp. We are not going to go send a QRF [quick reaction force] unit out to chase insurgents shooting mortars at Camp Gannon. Up to date, I have placed multiple units up to platoon size in areas where we suspect insurgents may employ mortars in hopes to ambush them. 3d Platoon is the only unit that has been the closest to any mortar firing position.” So, the problem of preventing the enemy from firing on Camp Gannon with mortars persisted until the end of the Lima 3/7 deployment. Lima 3 had the greatest success, but it was the exception, not the rule. The rest of Captain Neal’s communication goes on to describe the challenges of not having enough troops for the tasks assigned, the challenges of operating with friendly Iraqi units without sufficient interpreter support, and the burden on his limited manpower created by having to provide security for the counter battery radar. Though the success of Lima 3’s counter battery mortar patrol was promising, the overall lack of sufficient troops, and the lack of the ability to leverage his Marines through the use of native forces limited Neal’s tactical options.

[Section 3]

[Section 4]

[Section 5]

[Section 6]

[Section 7]

[Section 8]

[Section 9]

[Section 10]

[Section 11]

[Section 12]

[Section 13]

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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.