...,1st Draft

Chapter 7 – Training and Deployment for Husaybah01 Feb

Chapter 7 – Training and Deployment for Husaybah

How would you describe the training for 3/7 before you went to OIF2?” – Author
“Fast paced, and if you take the training that came from above, practically worthless…”
-Gunnery Sergeant Sandor Vegh, USMC

34 14’48.3” N 116 05’27.96 E elev 570 meters Base Housing, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [18 Sept 2003]

[Section 1]


Lima Company’s Gunnery Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Carpenter, worked very closely with the CO, Captain Gannon, both professionally and personally over the months following Lima Company’s return to 29 Palms. Carpenter was Lima Company’s senior enlisted Marine, not only a logistician, but an adviser on personnel, training, and tactical issues. Carpenter and Gannon were also neighbors with close family connections due to their large families, their common Catholic faith, and the friendship of their spouses. They were neighbors in base housing.

Max Leave. Marines return home, or go on vacation for a month. For Gannon and Carpenter, home is 29 Palms. Gannon made a promise to himself in Iraq to spend more time being a fun father with his kids. He made good on that vow in the days and weeks after his return to The Stumps.

Returning from the skate park with his oldest son, Rick Gannon saw Matt Carpenter, also spending some long, lost time with his kids, all seven of them.

“Matt, how are you doing?”

“Good, Rick, and you?”

“Just coming back from the skate park,” replied Gannon. Sally and Beth would work on Church functions together, and with 11 kids between them, the Gannons and Carpenters were very much part of an extended family in base housing. Boy scouts, cub scouts, hiking — Rick Gannon was a whirlwind of activity with his family in the days after returning from Iraq. Gannon had done much of this before, but he ramped up these activities in the period after Operation Iraqi Freedom.

34 14’0.15” N 116 03’20.43 E elev 562 meters Lima Company Headquarters, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [10 Nov 2003]

10 November. The Birthday Ball. The Marines were headed up to Laughlin for the Ball, a traditional celebration of Marine history and tradition. Lima had been back from Iraq for less than 60 days.

Word came down that Battalion 3/7 was re-deploying to Iraq. Carpenter recalls that the Marines never thought they would be returning to Iraq. Yet, now, Lima Company, which had been the first Marine Rifle Company to deploy to Iraq for The Push, would be among the first Marine Rifle Companies to re-deploy to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. The Company would be going back to Iraq in February, 2004.

Training does not occur without a certain bureaucratic ballet — reservation of ranges, ammunition requests, writing training plans, briefing training plans through several levels of the chain of command. It took weeks to get the ball rolling on training for the re-deployment to Iraq. RCT-7, the parent unit of 3/7, 1/7, 2/7, and 3/4 tasked 1/7 with setting up “Lane Training” — a series of shoot/ no shoot scenarios at the Squad Level to ingrain adherence to the Rules of Engagement in a civilian/ insurgent environment. However, the assumptions seem to have been skewed heavily by the experience of Battalion 3/7 in Karbala, and Battalion 1/7 in Najaf. Karbala and Najaf were relatively permissive environments without a strong insurgency. 1st Marine Division took some pride in the fact that they did not lose a Marine Killed in Action after the seizure of Bagdahd in the latter part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. This confidence spilled over into OpEds by Battalion Commanders celebrating the success of “wave tactics” and even interviews with General Mattis on the same topic. By “wave tactics,” the Marine leadership meant waving to the local population, removing intimidating Oakley sunglasses, and doing foot patrols in their assigned zones, including Karbala and Najaf.

Time Crunch. After a 9-month deployment, Lima Company would have a total of 5 months in the United States, before re-deploying to Iraq. The Company was notified of the pending re-deployment with only 3 months to go. Effectively, the rest of November was used to plan an abbreviated training schedule to prepare for the coming deployment. So, Lima Company would go back to Iraq with about 2 months only of quality training time.

34 14’0.15” N 116 03’20.43 E elev 562 meters Lima Company Headquarters, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [14 Nov 2003]

Husaybah. Captain Gannon sat in his office and traced the city on the Iraqi-Syrian border on the map. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Lopez had taken command of 3/7, and he had given Gannon the word that Lima would be the Battalion main effort, and that Lima would be stationed in Husaybah. Because of this, Lima would be largely independent of the rest of the Battalion. As word of Lima’s designation as the Battalion Main Effort and the location in Husaybah filtered through the Battalion, the Marines grew excited. Away from battalion, Away from the flagpole — these were good things, in the view of Marines.

Captain Gannon was tracking events in Iraq, both through the news, and through official military channels, and he was very concerned. He read reports from the Army units that Lima Company was destined to replace.

The dominant assumption is that the re-deployment would be similar to Karbala. But, the reports that Captain Gannon was reading indicated that there was a growing insurgency, and violence was on the up-tick.

Most of the other officers and Staff NCOs in 3/7 were not as aware of the unfolding situation in Iraq.

“Well, Sir, what do you think?” asked Staff Sergeant Carpenter. Staff Sergeant Carpenter and Captain Gannon were alone in the Lima Company Offices.

“I think this is going to be a rough one,” replied Gannon.

“What do you mean?” asked Carpenter.

“It’s not going to be like Karbala.” Gannon was somber and reflective.

“I agree with you, Sir,” replied Carpenter. “I don’t think we’ll ever get that lucky again.”

“We’re not going to bring everybody home from this one,” concluded Gannon. Gannon tapped his finger on the 1 to 25,000 scale map, adapted from a satellite photograph of the city of Husaybah. A stack of news stories chronicled the deteriorating situation for an Army armored unit stationed in the outpost city. Gannon had studied them all, and dug through classified sources for more information.

“You know, everyone says it is the Army, they are all fucked up. We will just go in and square it away again. Wave tactics, hand out soccer balls and ice water. You don’t think it will be that simple, do you?” Carpenter had his own suspicions.

“No, Staff Sergeant. This is not a matter of the Army versus the Marine Corps.” Gannon’s words hung in the vacant offices. It was 1745, time for dinner. Gannon studied his watch and considered his neglected family, a 15 minute drive away in Base Housing, where “Staff Sergeant Carpenter” was “Matt” and a neighbor. “The insurgency is turning. We fucked up. Not the Marine Corps, but the DOD. The Army is taking some hard whacks. Look at this report,” Gannon gestured at one report from his stack of clippings. “IEDs — we didn’t have this level of IED activity in Karbala. This deployment is going to be a blood-letter.”

34 14’0.15” N 116 03’20.43 E elev 562 meters Lima Company Headquarters, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [2 Dec 2003]

Holidays are coming. Yet… so is a re-deployment to Iraq. Battalion 3/7 and Lima Company start training for the re-deployment coming in February, 2004 — just about 60 days away. No Range 400 — meaning, no Company level infantry attack, one of the hallmark training evolutions of Marine Infantry. Regiment — meaning 7th Marines Regiment, with the headquarters at 29 Palms — required Regimental level SASO Training in December, followed by a Division-mandated SASO package in January. In both packages, 3/7 would be the first unit going through.

SASO. In addition to the time crunch, SASO is the other reason that Lima 3/7 does not conduct a Range 400 Company level attack before the Husaybah deployment. 1/7 is in charge of setting up the first SASO Package — Stability and Support Operations. In future iterations, SASO will migrate to March Air Force Base, and then back again to 29 Palms when it is re-named Mojave Viper. The training is focused at the squad level on shoot/ no-shoot scenarios designed to enhance the squad leader’s proficiency. But, in December, 2003, the first SASO package is to be conducted aboard 29 Palms near the obstacle course on Mainside, walking distance from the barracks.

34 14’5.64” N 116 03’3.96 E elev 587 meters SASO Training, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [2 Dec 2003]

500 Meters. 2 Weeks to Christmas, and Lima Company’s Marines are bivouaced 500 meters from their barracks, going through Lane Training. Instructors from 1/7, a sister battalion whom all the Lima and 3/7 Marines know from common training experiences and social venues on the base and at nearby Palms Springs are the instructors. Link, a new squad leader, takes his men through the evolution. Bradley Watson, a new Lieutenant Platoon Commander, assumes command of 3d Platoon, with Link as one of his squad leaders. Bellmont serves in one of the squads in 3d Platoon, as does Mejia. But most of the training is focused on the squads. The Marines spend 10 days looking at the barracks from the Obstacle Course where they are bivouacked for the SASO package. Having spent 270 days in Iraq, and having less than 60 days until returning to Iraq, the proximity to warm beds while going through the evolution seems like a peculiarly cruel choice of placement for the training.

34 14’0.15” N 116 03’20.43 E elev 562 meters Lima Company Headquarters, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [17 Dec 2003]

“What’s the word, Sir?” Staff Sergeant Carpenter was in Captain Gannon’s office at The Stumps.

Captain Gannon looked up from his growing pile of reports. He thumbed through the latest summaries of IEDs from Husaybah and Al Qaim. “Staff Sergent, I am beefing up my life insurance policies. I suggest you consider the same.”

“That bad, huh?” Carpenter already knew the answer.

“Yeah. I am thinking it is going to be rough.” Gannon looked up. “Lima needs to be doing some training with a more offensive mindset than this SASO package.” After 10 days up on the berm, Lima was back in the barracks, getting ready for Holiday leave. Christmas was a week away.

“Roger that,” Carpenter said, the words coming out slowly as he considered what Rick Gannon was saying.

“I have tasked the XO with putting together a Company-level package out at American Mines.”

“Got it. Lt Neal mentioned that. I am tracking on that package too.” Carpenter was coordinating logistics requests including ammunition and armory support for the training. “Happy Holidays, huh, Sir?” ventured Carpenter.

34 14’48.3” N 116 05’27.96 E elev 570 meters Base Housing, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
Local GMT [26 Dec 2003]

“Cancer?” No shit, Matt Carpenter didn’t say.

Beth Carpenter nodded. His wife and the mother of their 7 children was confirmed to have cancer. The news left Matt Carpenter, one of the most highly qualified Infantry Marines, nearly speechless. Surgery was scheduled for January. In the coming weeks, Carpenter would be pulled from the Lima Company deployment, adding yet another leadership challenge to the unit. But, at the moment, Matt Carpenter did his duty to his first and most important obligation, that of Husband.

33 53’26.7″ N 117 16’38.1″ W elev 475m SASO Training, March Air Force Base
Local GMT [7 January 2004]

Battalion 3/7 is the first unit to go through the SASO Training at March Air Force Base. “We were victims of our last experience. We went to March Air Force base thinking that we would do the same thing that we did in Karbala,” recalls Carpenter.

By the January SASO package, Carpenter knew that he would not be deploying with Lima Company due to his wife’s cancer procedure. Carpenter was crushed because of his strong bond with the Lima Marines, especially the Weapons Platoon Marines, like Gibson.

[Section 2]

Link became a squad leader. Lima was back at the Stumps after the Push and Karbala. Lima had firefights in the war during the Push Up. Link had been in little engagements in Bagdahd, but nothing really crazy. Mainly, the combat had consisted of far away engagements, but no real maneuvering on the the enemy. The Marines had conducted raids, but never any heavy contact. Karbala seemed peaceful to Link and the Lima Marines. Karbala lead them to believe they had their job done.

Max Leave. The Marines left the Stumps for their homes for several weeks. Immediately upon returning to the Marine base, the word was passed: Get ready to go again. We are leaving in 3 months. Lima would go to the little town of Husaybah, an outpost on the Iraqi-Syrian border. New Marines were agitated by the prospect, speculating about what to expect in Husaybah. Link, and the veterans of OIF, were skeptical, thinking that Husaybah would be similar to the peaceful tour in Karbala. “Once we got there, it was pretty bad, like a slap in the face — the people changed completely,” reflected Link when the authors interviewed him in mid 2005.

Training for Husaybah consisted of local training at 29 Palms. Lima went through lane training, which focused on the squad. “They ran us through every scenario known to man,” recalled Link. Evaluators critiqued the orders process — basic infantry building blocks that General Mattis would refer to as being “brilliant in the basics.” Link thrived on the training. “It was good training. I liked it. It taught you that it was not about how physical you are, you gotta be able to think, it’s a thinking man’s game too.”

Link and his Platoon Sergeant went to SASO (Stability and Support Operations) School for a week and a half at Camp Pendleton. “Four IEDs blew up on one patrol. We’re looking at each other, like, this is ridiculous, this would never happen,” remembered Link. “But we go out there in real life, and seven of them would blow on one patrol, so it was pretty good training.”

Link’s first Team Leader, Lance Corporal Parker, was a “big Southern boy from Louisiana.” Link and Parker and all of his Fire Team Leaders came in together, having gone through Basic Training and School of Infantry together. They shared the experience of “being messed with” by the senior NCOs during OIF. They would sit and talk about how they would do it when they were in charge. “It’s a great feeling knowing you got that guy behind you. Your First Team Leader is your crutch. Probably the best team leader that I have seen in the Marine Corps, better than me, I would say. Part of that was that we were such good friends. Alot of it was that he wanted to do it for me.”

“My second team leader was forced on me,” notes Link. A NCO who went to Squad Leader’s School, Corporal Green, missed Lane Training and SASO School. Link recalls that Green was “a bitter guy, he couldn’t follow, he just wanted to be in a squad and lead.” Nonetheless, “he did his job, he took care of his three guys, that’s all I could ask for.”

“My third team leader was Corporal Jaramillo. He came from Security Forces,” recalls Link. They valued rank to fill the billet. “He wasn’t fit to be a team leader. I always attached myself with his fire team. I gave him my best 3 guys. They could run themselves. If we did a squad attack, I would always go with the third fire team because I trusted the other two team leaders.” Link thought particularly highly of his friend, Parker, who played a key role in making the squad so good.

Lance Corporal Billerback was Link’s point man. Link relied on him for navigation. “A lot of people say a squad leader needs to know where he is at all times. I agree with that,” notes Link. “But, the squad leader needs to be assessing the environment, especially when you take contact, he shouldn’t have to worry about certain things, like what grid we are at, who is on the radio calling what. Billerback handled that perfectly.” Link groomed Billerback on the orders process, and praised him as a “sponge for knowledge,” who would step up to be a squad leader a deployment later. Billerback was in the First Fire Team, under Parker.

Lance Corporal Plumber: “He’s kind of one of those kids, he’d pull that trigger if you need to. That’s pretty much all the responsibility you’d give him. Good Marine, Good guy. He needed a lot of work, that’s why he was in Parker’s Fire Team.”

“I also had Palmer in there, in Parker’s Team. I gave the hard guys to lead to Parker.”

The second team consisted of Uban and Hansen. “That was my 3 man fire team.” Uban was the squad RO (Radio Operator). “I’d say after 2 months, I didn’t have to say anything anymore. I’d go to having him call in a phase line or a contact report, and he’d be like, ‘I already did it, and I did this and this.’ It was a perfect scenario for a squad leader. I could just go assess an environment [due to Uban mastering the radio procedures.]” Uban, too, would go on to be a squad leader in a later deployment.”

“My third team consisted of Corporal Gates — well, right now [in 2005] he is a PFC because of a DUI. But out in Iraq, Gates was your go-to guy. If you needed to get something done, like making a terrain model, he loved doing tasks like that. He could have been a Squad Leader.”

“Buckmiller was the SAW Gunner in the Third Team. Stereotypical SAW Gunner, big, nasty kid, big chews and just loves shooting machine guns. Lance Corporal Travis Hanson rounded out the squad. This guy had the physical stature of a grizzly bear and the heart of a care-bear…the one man breach team! Hanson also carried a SAW and was commonly referred to as Lcpl Buckmiller’s Bash Brother.”

“Welsh was another SAW Gunner. Third Team was SAW heavy, usually a support element. Welsh usually did what Buckmiller did. Real good Marine too.”

“There was alot of leadership in the teams and in the squads that made it easy.”

Link and Parker lead their squad, one of three in Third Platoon, as a new Platoon Commander assumed command.

[Section 3]


September 11, 2001. Smoke billowed across the national mall from the Pentagon. On the 11th Floor of the CNN Bureau of Washington, DC, Bradley Watson, 23, watched the smoke and decided to go to Marine Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Quantico, Virginia. Having graduated from Vanderbilt University, Class of 2001, with a degree in Political Science, Watson had worked for CNN for only a few months. He signed his papers for OCS on October 1, 2001, though it took a full year to go through the combined Fall 2002 OCC class. He was delayed from a Summer 2002 OCS slot because there were, at that time, not enough ground officer contracts to meet the number of qualified applicants.

Though only a brief 10 weeks long, Watson found that OCS served its purpose of creating a “Darwinian environment where only dedicated and capable candidates can excel.” Only a short drive from Washington, DC, Marine Officer Candidate School had the mission of screening and selecting future Marine Officers – a process accomplished through physical training, tactical field exercises, and some classroom academic work.

Next came The Basic School (TBS), also at Quantico. Watson found that the Basic School field problems were “still mostly based on a Cold War era mentality, essentially third generation warfare where enemy locations are clearly defined, almost always in a rural environment. The Quantico woodlands are good for training to Vietnam TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) but not effective for Urban Techniques. In retrospect, after a full tour with a Rifle Company in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 (and two Purple Hearts), and writing from a Marine Base under regular enemy mortar attack during his second combat tour in 2005-06, Bradley Watson would reflect: “TBS is making a push to adapt to 4th Generation Warfare. It’s interesting to point out that many of the counter-insurgency TTPs learned at TBS today are based on conflicts the US Military did not win decisively (Vietnam and Somalia).”

The last step in the year long training that a Marine Officer receives before taking command of a platoon of Marines was Infantry Officers Course (IOC), run out of a compound adjacent to TBS. Watson found this to be “by far the best training we received.” Shoot Move Communicate – Watson learned the motto at IOC, and those words ran through his mind during certain critical phases of the coming two combat tours in Iraq. His training at IOC, more than at OCS or TBS, conditioned Watson to do just that. He remembers IOC as a “meritocracy where no grades are given and students get more out of it because everyone is there with a sense of purpose to begin with.”

As Bradley Watson went through Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, he experienced first hand the strengths and weaknesses of his training at Quantico, as well as the insights and flaws in the Marine Plan for the 2004 Campaign. He would lose Marines killed in action, as well as being wounded himself repeatedly. He would lead his platoon in intensive urban combat and on a successful night infiltration. He would experience internal conflicts in his platoon with some of his own NCOs as every platoon does when there are changes in key leadership positions, and earn the enduring respect of some of his other NCOs for returning to his unit despite injuries which would have allowed him to leave for medical reasons.

2nd Lieutenant Watson joined Lima 3/7 at 29 Palms during the work up training for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 in late 2003. In recounting the experience of joining 3/7, Bradley Watson writes, “I checked into Lima in October 2003 prior to 3/7’s deployment to OIF II being announced. There was still talk of going to Okinawa and getting back into the previous deployment cycle when I arrived. I checked in solo ahead of another group of infantry lieutenants who followed a couple of months later, and the battalion commander [Lieutenant Colonel Lopez] called me “Wall Street” because I was carrying my laptop in my leather briefcase from CNN. Maj. Gannon liked to take candid photos and asked me to take one carrying the briefcase with my body armor and helmet on – the name stuck. It was all part of being a new 2nd Lt in 3/7.”

He took command of 3d Platoon, Lima 3/7 – a rite of passage for countless 2nd Lieutenants, but a rite of passage that only a minority of new Lieutenants had to go through during a combat tour in a Small Wars environment.


[Section 4]

Gunnery Sergeant Sandor Vegh, USMC, was Lima Company’s Gunnery Sergeant for the Husaybah Deployment. The official job description for a Company Gunny says something about being the unit’s logistician. But, Sandor Vegh is quick to point out that his fitness report says nothing about logistics. Vegh was both the Company Gunnery Sergeant and the Company First Sergeant for much of the pre-deployment training for the Husaybah deployment. He was, first and foremost, Captain Gannon’s senior enlisted adviser, both a tactician and a leader in every respect. His language is colored by a historical, even a biblical, worldview. His worldview is rooted in his profession as a Marine Sniper, encompassing the history of Marine marksmanship training from World War I to the present, and in his Christian faith, encompassing from the Life of Christ to the present. Gunny Vegh’s faith and profession would both came to the forefront in his role as Lima Company’s dominant enlisted leader during the Husaybah deployment.

When he speaks of the training for Husaybah, he invokes the history of Marine Snipers, starting in World War I, taking ownership of the entire doctrine of precision marksmanship to discuss how the Lima Company had to re-learn basic lessons. When he talks about the leadership qualities of Lima Marines like Link or Mejia, he praises their ability to handle a squad independently for several hours in contact with insurgents, which he refers to as “killing Muslims.” Gunny Vegh, a strong Christian who speaks unapologetically about being saved by Christ, would go on runs with Lima Company in sandals because “if it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.” He disdains Anthony Swofford, with whom Vegh served in the same scout sniper platoon described in the book, Jarhead. He reserves his praise only for Marine Gunners, like Tim Gelinas, one of the longest-serving Marine Gunners, now a civilian employee with 29 Palms Marine Base in charge of developing the Mojave Viper facilities. Gunny Vegh is one of those rare individuals who seem quite common in the Marine Corps — truly philosophers of war, with a breadth of historical knowledge but a grasp of everyday, practical realities. When Gunny Vegh talks about a squad of Marines, it is clear that they could just as easily be 12 Disciples from the Gospel, or a squad of Marines from World War II. Take for example Gunny Vegh’s response to the author’s question, “How would you describe the training for 3/7 before you went to OIF2?”

“Fast paced, and if you take the training that came from above, practically worthless, which is pretty harsh language for anyone who is going to read a book,” recalls Vegh. “But if you go back to history, and use snipers as an example. We finish World War I, and we know that we need a long range tool out there. We work in the midst of World War I, to develop something like that. We didn’t have the weapons for that. So we progressively built better firearms. We get to World War II, and we have the same problem because between World War I and World War II we stopped training in that manner. We get to World War II and we are having to pick up [sniper training] again. We didn’t learn our lesson there either. We get to Korea, and we are hand-picking guys just because they can shoot. We are putting them through a fast course so they can learn long rang precision fire, putting them up on hilltops and letting them pick people off that way. We leave from Korea, and we don’t establish a school. We get to Vietnam, and everyone knows about Carlos Hathcock [a famous Marine Sniper], we’ve got to take some time and actually create a [sniper] school. So, in Vietnam, we create a package for snipers, which goes very well. Then, during the Cold War, we go from practically Vietnam to 1982 without an established [sniper] course, which is ridiculous… But from 1982 to the present, we have held onto a sniper school that is going to establish the traits or skills in certain Marines who are qualified so we can prepare them for the battlefields that are coming up. But even in that realm [of Marine Snipers], we still need sniper school because of the stalking that is involved. It is as if no one ever really thought that we would get involved in an urban war, yet we had all this stuff going on in Southwest Asia, where it is obvious that we are not going to fight out in the middle of the desert. We saw in 90-91, [Operation] Desert Storm/ Desert Shield, that I could see them for miles and miles and miles away — you know map sheets, we would go through map sheets before we ever saw anybody [referring to his service as a Scout Sniper in Battalion 2/7 during that conflict]. Then when we saw them, we would run through them, we would bomb them, kill the folks that we needed to, and then we would move on through. The only way that [our enemy] is ever going to fight in an environment like that is they are going to fall back into their homes, which give them cover, which is an urban environment, and that becomes MOUT [Military Operations in Urban Terrain]. We need to teach Marines how to fight in that manner [urban combat training]. We went 10 years before we really got serious about that. We held onto CQB [Close Quarters Battle], and then we started the MOUT training. But we never trained to a realistic manner. There was never any progression, until Marines got into the advanced course with initiative based tactics until the advanced course, but that was only for specialized units like FAST [Fleet Anti-Terrorist Team], but we never taught the grunts [the majority of Marine Infantry units]. So, now we are going to Iraq, and the thinking is that we are just going to take down Bagdahd. And that is a good thought, as long as we hold it to reality, and the reality would be that the only way we could go to Bagdahd, and leave, and say that we were victorious is to kill everyone, but we did not have the intestinal fortitude for that. So, somebody should have been thinking, and they were, but they have their own little wisdom bubble. But they only send drips of that bubble out. So now we are going to have guys go there and relieve them, and we give them these rules of engagement that say, ‘these guys [the Iraqis] are good people.’ If we are thinking that they are good people, then we have forgotten all about history. That’s why OIF 2 was such a burden for all of us. Because they wanted to be on the coattails of we are simply going to turn this country over to these people. And we totally forgot that a majority of those people are our enemies not so much because they had a uniform on, but because they truly don’t want anything to do with Americans. And that’s when it gets into a dispute of a holy war versus a war of oil or a war of just helping out humanity. They [the Iraqis] couldn’t care less about humanity. It’s definitely not about oil. If it was just about oil, we would have just owned Iraq and put our American flags up there. So, it has to be a battle that is on their playing field. [As we said over there] not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim. We want to hold to them being terrorists instead of them being the enemy. So, we didn’t prepare [in the training for the Husaybah deployment] for that. We prepped, more or less, to go out and help people. But we are Marines. We can pretty much do anything with nothing. But in reality, we are not the guy who is going to go in and feed anybody, or teach anybody, because I just don’t have those assets.”

In short, Vegh sees a parallel between the Marine Corps, and, more broadly, the US Military’s tendency to let critical skills deteriorate between major wars. The critical skills that Lima Company needed, but failed to fully develop, before its deployment to Husaybah were urban combat skills. The assumption going into the Husaybah deployment is that it would be like the Karbala deployment, with a focus on nation-building, peace-keeping, and stability operations. Most broadly, Vegh feels that Lima Company failed to prepare for the true nature of the environment that it would deploy into during the 2004 tour. Lima failed to prepare for a fight with a determined insurgency that had the advantage of operating among a population with the same language.

In Vegh’s view, Lima Company’s training for OIF 2 was worthless because the unit did not train enough in urban warfare, and they emphasized humanitarian operations to an excessive extent. “We emphasized, ‘help the guy out,’ and I love the Old Man, the CG [General Mattis] was great. And I am sure he was following commander’s intent. As soon as those people became enemies to us, then we were going to switch over from the humanitarian hat and put on a helmet and go in and fight. Our saving grace, as Marines, is that at the foundation, especially the Grunts, know they are there to locate, close with and destroy [the enemy]. So Marines are capable of switching over quickly. But when you train to cordon and knock, that ridiculous statement that we have. If I train a guy to [knock] and say hello, I am going to search your house, and then the person inside the house becomes hostile, then I have to work up this whole thing of hostility [complying with the rules of engagement]. But if I come in with an offensive [mind set] then the Marines go in from the start and they are never caught off guard. It did not take the Marines long to figure that out, but it took the Marine Corps [chain of command] a long time to figure that out.”

Vegh doesn’t think that the insurgents deliberately used the Marines’ rules of engagements against the Marines. Instead, he thinks that the removal of Saddam Hussein freed the Muslims to re-make Iraq, the Cradle of Islam, into a Muslim country. The Marines were caught in the middle of this fundamental shift. “When we took Saddam out,” argues Vegh, “I believe the majority of Muslims were upset because they were being held down by a dictator. And we got rid of the dictator. That freed up those Muslims to do what the Muslims wanted to do in the first place, which is to make what they consider, and the world considers the hub of humanity a Muslim nation. We are not fighting Iraqis…. We are simply fighting the Republic of Islam, and those guys, by virtue of being who they are, are going to fight us, regardless of where they are.”

“They are simply sitting back, doing what I would do. They are doing their observation. They are finding a breach in the wire, and they are going to breach that gap. That gap becomes a guy standing more erect, or a guy knocking. That becomes a good gap until we go flat onto the offensive and let them know we are not going to do that. Unfortunately, it took our losing Marines, including senior Marines, before somebody realized we started off on the wrong foot let’s get back to the basics of locate, close with, and destroy [the enemy].”


[Section 5]

1st Lieutenant Dominique Neal, the Executive Officer (XO) of Lima 3/7 during the pre-deployment training for Husaybah had assumed his billet when the company was in Karbala. Lieutenant Neal had been working the the Battalion S-3 Shop when Captain Gannon played an instrumental role in recruiting the frustrated Lieutenant back to Lima Company, where he had already served as a platoon commander. Lieutenant Neal had become frustrated with some of the administrative tasks he was assigned in the S-3 Shop. Captain Gannon, recognizing Lt Neal’s frustration, facilitated a move back to Lima Company for Lt Neal, which seems to have created a strong sense of loyalty on the part of Lt Neal towards Captain Gannon, whom several Lima veterans described as a “team builder.” In the episode in Karbala when Captain Gannon recruited Lt Neal to Lima, Neal recalls that Gannon both calmed down Neal after some particularly frustrating administrative assignments, then within a day, set up the transfer to Lima Company. Such seemingly minor personnel shifts can be very important to the experience of a Infantry Officer on his first tour in the Fleet Marine Force. Captain Gannon’s ability to build a strong core of leadership within Lima Company depended on such mundane acts of personnel management — in fact, in the coming deployment to Husaybah, this act of recruiting Neal as XO would set the stage for a historic assumption of leadership by a First Lieutenant. Even his fitness report as the S-3A (assistant Battalion Operations Officer) reported that Neal had the endurance to deal with the administrative drudgery in the staff billet, and to continue to push forward and not lose sight of the intent — a report which allowed Neal to continue without any adverse impact on his future career.

Lieutenant Neal and Gunny Vegh developed a strong bond, and would form the core leadership for Lima in the upcoming deployment to Husaybah.

Lieutenant Neal describes his relationship with Captain Gannon as the “closest relationship that I have had with any Marine Officer, or any senior officer. They tell you that you should never get too close to any Marine because you might lose them, or you might have to make a difficult decision. But Captain Gannon was one of those individuals that you just had to [form a close personal bond with.] You’d probably hurt more if you didn’t get to know him or get close to him.” Neal’s praise for Gannon’s personal qualities echoes Gunny Vegh’s regard for Gannon, who described him as a “fine man.”

Continuing in his description of Gannon, Neal notes, “He’s the kind of person if you got out of the Marine Corps, he could be a friend. Quite honestly, he could be a Godfather of my kids. A good friend of mine, Major Schreffler [the former Lima Commanding Officer during The Push] is the Godfather of [Captain Gannon’s] son. I look at Captain Gannon the same way. He’s just that guy. He was a mentor. He was a teacher. He was a friend. He was the kind of person that if you failed him, you felt bad. He was the kind of person that you expected to give your best effort to him.”

Neal notes some of Captain Gannon’s best qualities as follows. “When he gave you a task, he always gave you a task and purpose. Anything guidance that he gave you, he always pushed out to you that he made sure how important it was to him. I’ve never seen that from any other officer that I have worked with.” Neal is describing the idea of “mission orders” in which a superior is supposed to give “intent” but not describe exactly how to accomplish that “intent” or “mission.” This is one of the central tenets of 3d Generation, Manuever Warfare, which is the official doctrine of the Marine Corps, noted in the official publications such as Fleet Marine Force Manual 1 – Maneuver Warfare. As a life-long student of military affairs and doctrine, Captain Gannon would have recognized the important of issuing mission oriented orders and guidance. That Neal singles him out as the exception in using mission guidance may suggest that using Maneuver Warfare in practice in the Marine Corps may be the exception, not the rule, official doctrine notwithstanding.

Neal cites an example of Gannon’s use of mission type orders in the training for the Husaybah deployment. Captain Gannon had limited time in the work up for Husaybah. Most of the training was oriented at the squad level. The Karbala phase of the OIF1 deployment seems to have created a low expectation for the level of violence in the upcoming deployment. Captain Gannon gave Lt Neal, his XO, the following guidance for a brief, 3 day period of Company level training as follows: “Hey, XO, I am thinking of doing this Range out in American Mines. This range is very important to me because we have been doing this SASO [Stability and Support Operations] training. I want to get back to the conventional side. I need you to go out there 3 days early to build this [set up the range for training].”

American Mines is one of the training areas on 29 Palms Marine Base — little more than a section on military maps consisting of dozens of square kilometers of empty, high desert terrain. 1st Lieutenant Neal would have gone out to the area, set up targets, and developed a plan for the 180 Marines of Lima Company to cycle through Squad and Platoon attacks. Captain Gannon’s intent and concern for conventional training belies a concern about the upcoming deployment that the environment would not be as benign as more senior commander’s assumed.

American Mines would have been Company level training, a 3 day period of training conducted at the discretion of the Company Commander and his staff. The SASO training was organized by the Division with assistance from the Quantico-based Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL). The SASO Package would evolve, over the course of several years, into Mojave Viper. SASO was originally based at March Air Force Base, close to Camp Pendleton, but Mojave Viper would be developed at 29 Palms. The SASO “Lane Training” put the 13-Marine Squads — such as the one lead by Sgt Milinkovic — through a series of Rules of Engagement (ROE) scenarios in which the Marines had to choose between the right use of levels of force when dealing with a mixed civilian-insurgent environment.

But, Gannon’s guidance to Neal suggests that the Lima CO was concerned with a more kinetic set of scenarios. Gannon’s intent to Neal reveals his mindset, which was a result of consulting with the intelligence reports, and reading and studying the situation through open source news reports, as well as classified reports. Gannon thought that Lima Company was under-prepared to fight as a cohesive Rifle Company. In the abbreviated work-up for Husaybah, the SASO training was oriented at the 13-Marine Squad Level, and was mainly oriented towards a benign environment like Karbala. In the American Mines 3-day exercise, Lima Company trained for what Neal called “having an offensive mindset.” Neal recalls, “we did squad level, and platoon-level training [at American Mines]

Another example of Captain Gannon giving Neal a “mission type order” with “commander’s intent” was when Gannon directed Neal to go on advance party for the deployment to Husaybah. Gannon said, “Hey XO, I need you to go out on advance party 3 days or a week before everyone else leaves with the Company Commanders so you can get a fair assessment of what is going on.” Gannon was very conscientious in making sure that his second-in-command, Lieutenant Neal, had a high degree of “situational awareness” even from the first step in deploying Lima Company to Iraq for its second combat tour. This is consistent with the characterization of Captain Gannon as deeply concerned that the situation in Iraq was very different from the scenario of a benign environment, which most of Lima’s pre-deployment training had been based upon. Captain Gannon, a student of military history, and the son of a Marine Officer who had served in a complex insurgency in Vietnam, would have known that there was a high possibility that Husaybah could erupt into a full-fledged counter-insurgency fight. He would have known that his own incapacitation was a very real possibility. In such as situation, he would have known that Lima Company would depend on leaders being required to step up — for a XO to step up to the role of CO; for a Platoon Sergeant to step-up to the role of Platoon Commander; for a 1st Fire Team Leader to step up to the role of Squad Leader. Even in the small decisions — such as including Lieutenant Neal on advance party in order to “get a fair assessment of what is going on,” Captain Gannon was preparing his unit for a situation in Husaybah that was much more volatile than the pre-deployment training assumed.

The Authors, Doug Halepaska and Janar Wasito, were both Lima Company alumni who had served in the early 1990s in the roles of Machine Gunner (Doug), and Platoon Commander and Company Executive Officer (Janar). They came into this project with that experience, but also with the life experience of having gone to college (Doug) and law school (Janar) after leaving the Marine Corps, then into Federal Law Enforcement (Doug) and the Investment Management Business (Janar). The Authors approached the project as building a case, similar to a legal case, for the idea that Lima Company made the transition from 3d Generation Manuever Warfare to 4th Generation Advanced Counterinsurgency. But, first and foremost, in their recollection of their experience as Marines, Authors Halepaska and Wasito recalled their roles with Lima Company, more than a decade earlier. As such, the Authors were aware of how small clues, such as Captain Gannon’s focus on giving intent with every order could shape the Command Climate or culture of a unit like a Rifle Company. Authors Halepaska and Wasito were not friends in the early 1990s when they served together in Lima 3/7, then again on the Regimental Staff in the S-3 Operations section — military rules against “fraternization” restricted the two from becoming friends. But, they did frequently discuss military history, from German campaigns during World War II, to modern campaigns, simply because both Halepaska and Wasito liked reading military history. These discussions occurred out in the training area of 29 Palms while waiting for trucks to move back to Mainside from Range 400, or out on deployment in Korea or Thailand. Years later, Authors Halepaska and Wasito would become friends, and decide to work on this project together.

The relationship between a Company Commander and a Company Executive Officer is one of the crucial relationships that sets the tone for the entire unit of 150 Marines. From Dominique Neal’s interviews, we find that Captain Gannon was the type of man who inspired his subordinates to give their best out of high regard and respect for all the personal qualities that Rick Gannon possessed — physical courage, and intellectual insight into the profession which was a family calling. Lt Neal thrived in his role as Lima XO because Captain Gannon gave him mission orders and a clear purpose. The purpose that Captain Gannon described belied a concern that the insurgency that Lima would fight in the coming deployment would be much worse than the relatively benign environment in which Lima operated in Karbala in 2003. Rick Gannon’s cultivating Dom Neal’s thorough situational awareness also suggests that he knew that there was a likelihood that his second-in-command may have to take over in combat.

The authors asked Dom Neal what he thought of the pre-deployment training for the Husaybah deployment. “We didn’t have a CAX. All we did was Lane Training with 1/7 and then we did some SASO training down at March Air Force Base.” Regarding the SASO training, Neal notes, “Initially, I thought it was right on the mark. This was because we came from Karbala, which was a permissive environment. You could patrol out there without doors on your Humvees. We heard about IEDs but they did not exist. There was a lot of waving and smiling, and alot of waves back. So that is what I thought the environment [in Husaybah] was going to be like. However, Captain Gannon was still very concerned about the offensive mindset. Yeah, we need to be able to do that [SASO type operation], but we still need to have a good fight. So, [in summary, the pre-deployment training for Husaybah] was effective for the mission that we were going into. But, then going into OIF 2, and realizing how volatile the environment was, we definitely had to do some shifting gears. The SASO [training] that we went through was not at all like the environment that we were going into. It was much more complex.”

Unfortunately, the American Mines training only included Squad- and Platoon-level training, but not Company-level training. 13-Marine squads would have conducted attacks with full use of all their organic weapons — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, and light machine guns (SAWs), and perhaps supporting medium machine guns (M-240 G). 40-Marine Platoons would have also conducted attacks with the same weapons, and perhaps 60 millimeter mortars, and 83 millimeter rockets (SMAW). But, the entire 150-Marine Lima Company did not maneuver as a unit using live ammunition. There simply was not time.

Moreover, Lima Company, and 3/7, did not conduct a full CAX (Combined Arms Exercise), which would have included a running of the Range 400 Series, which included squad-, platoon-, and company-level attacks, followed by a mechanized battalion-level exercise over multiple days. After 3/7 left for Husaybah, Battalion 1/7 would execute an abbreviated CAX training schedule which included the Range 400 series, but not the full battalion level mechanized training. Instead of the battalion level mechanized training, Battalion 1/7 would cycle through a company-level convoy exercise which included ambushes in a rudimentary village; an ambush with a helicopter casualty evacuation further down the road; and a limited use of helicopter gunship (AH-1 Cobra) combined arms. Lima Company, as part of the first battalion to deploy back to Iraq for OIF 2 would not have this level of Company-level combined arms training.

“There just wasn’t alot of time,” summarizes Dominique Neal, recalling the period. “We got back in October. We went on leave, then found out we were going back over and had to re-constitute quickly and prepare with what we had. But that American Mines training was the best thing because it made us realize how much SASO is not about how much lead you throw down range, but it is like being a surgeon, making precise hits. After that [SASO training] our gunnery was not as aggressive, we were not getting that overwhelming firepower that we wanted. It was good that we went through American Mines, because we could say, ‘get that SASO mindset out of your brain. These targets here are no-kidding hostile enemy, you gotta shoot them, or they are going to kill you.’ That’s what we did. We went out there and worked on squad-level and platoon-training.”

Source: Neal5.mov


[Section 6]

The Authors asked Gunny Vegh to describe the personalities of the key Lima leaders going into OIF2. Again, Gunny Vegh’s response goes to the collective and individual qualities that allow a unit and a Marine to function in the stress of combat, especially the ability to maintain a certain sense of humor in the most stressful situations.

“We didn’t go as a full Company. Our platoon sergeants were Sergeants or Staff Sergeants and we had very junior Lieutenants. But just like any other war, you go into [the war with key leaders who are more junior than the table of organization requires]. But our unit picture shows ‘Luscious Lima’ [a illustration of the Rolling Stone lips], that bothers alot of people [among the rest of the Battalion 3/7 staff]. It is strange that it would bother those folks. And the folks that it bothers have never done the job that these Marines are being called to do. If you send a guy in to fight a battle, and you don’t allow a guy to smile in the midst of that. He doesn’t smile because he thinks killing is fun, he smiles because if he doesn’t smile, he is going to lose body function, he is going to lose control of his faculties and you can’t afford that. So, the way our company defeated that, is we kept things together. And history shows that the units that stayed together in that manner that were capable of laughing when laughter was needed and crying when crying was needed were capable of doing that. But in all things, they were going to stick together because they were the ones that were going to get the job done, regardless of what anyone else was going to do. And I think as a whole our characters proved that.”

The Authors would find this theme of “Luscious Lima” repeated in multiple interviews, including with Rory Quinn, who joined Battalion 3/7 mid-way through the Husaybah deployment, and who would take over Lima 3/7 after the Husaybah deployment. Quinn, recognizing the humorous, even counter-cultural, nature of the “Luscious Lima” character would solicit input from the unit’s leaders, notably Staff Sergeant Carpenter, who apparently coined the term, “Luscious Lima” with the Rolling Stones’ lips image, as a illustration that captured the humor in the face of risk that allowed the unit to keep functioning on a unit- and individual-level. Elsewhere, Gunny Vegh and Lieutenant Neal note that Captain Gannon both accepted and encouraged this sense of humor among Lima’s key leaders in the work up to Husaybah. On one occasion, while briefing more senior officers on a terrain model during SASO training at March Air Force Base, Captain Gannon, using a candy swizzle stick, remarked, “Hey, XO, this is crack.” Gunny Vegh notes, “You had to know Captain Gannon to realize, ‘Hey, Captain Gannon just made a funny. That was a joke for Captain Gannon.'”

The Authors asked Gunny Vegh to point out certain situations where Lima Company demonstrated the resilience borne of the Luscious Lima sense of humor in order to persevere. Gunny Vegh pointed not so much to the Company’s top leadership, but rather to the Squad Leaders. “When people look at the key leaders, they are thinking more of the Company Commander, like Captain Gannon. It’s the Squad Leaders that are running the show. If you take a Marine Corps Squad Leader who in our case was a Lance Corporal, or a Corporal, or a Sergeant at TO [Table of Organization], and that’s never going to happen in this company, or hasn’t happened because we just don’t have Sergeants for that.”

Gunny Vegh makes the point that most of Lima Company’s Squad Leaders going into OIF 2 were more junior than required by the TO [Table of Organization] grade required — a Sergeant. This environment created a meritocracy where the best Marines moved up, Marines like Link, Parker, and Mejia who became the 3 Squad Leaders in 3d Platoon either at the start of or early in the Husaybah deployment. Link clearly excelled among his peers, and was assigned a squad leader from the end of OIF1. Link’s first team leader, Parker, would become a Squad Leader early in the OIF 2 deployment. But, Link was a junior Corporal, an E-4, in a Sergeant or E-5 Billet. Parker, his friend from Basic Training and School of Infantry, also was a Lance Corporal, E-3 or Corporal, E-4, who “stepped up” when circumstances demanded it. Mejia also was a Lance Corporal or Corporal who would shortly step up to assume the role of Squad Leader during the upcoming deployment. As Link noted, many of the senior Staff NCOs had left Lima Company, “leaving all of us in charge” — meaning that Enlisted Marines on their first infantry tour were in a position to move up to the role of senior NCOs and Staff NCOs. Sergeants are often on their second infantry tour by the time that they command Squads, and Staff Sergeants are often on their third infantry tour by the time that they are Platoon Sergeants. Gunny Vegh and Link’s point is that the unusual personnel environment of the Iraq War created the need for the usual meritocracy of Marine Infantry to be radically accelerated. As Marines in later Lima Company Iraq Tours would put it, Rank is Nothing, Talent is Everything. This theme was in place by the training for OIF2.

Describing the role of the Squad Leaders during the Husaybah deployment, Gunny Vegh invokes the dual themes of his faith and focus on infantry proficiency. “If you take the Squad Leader, he is like 13 in the chain of command of the world. If you think of the President of the United States as next to Jesus, and then everyone else is junior to him. So, he is a major leader. It is the Squad Leader who is making the calls out there. If you look at the Squad Leaders that we lost, and the Fire Team leaders that we lost, those are the leaders that had to keep the squads together and have them come back and stick together. He’s truly the guy who is making the decisions out there.”

The authors asked Gunny Vegh to describe the squad leaders during the OIF 2 Deployment. “You have Link, Sweeney. Third Platoon’s saving grace was their squad leaders, especially once their platoon sergeant left. Sergeant Soudan was able to pick up Platoon Sergeant for 3d Platoon. That is a hard step in the midst of that.” Sergeant Soudan was a squad leader in 2nd Platoon, but he moved to 3d Platoon as the Platoon Sergeant eary in the Husaybah deployment.

“Too often people are looking at Platoon Sergeants and Company Gunnery Sergeants as being logisticians, but my fitness report doesn’t say anything about being a logistician. My job as a Company Gunny is to make sure my boys can go out there and find Muslims and kill them, or whoever the enemy is at that time. I have a police sergeant who hands out MREs and tents. The platoon sergeant needs to make sure that those things are happening in his platoon. Sergeant Soudan did a good job with that. There were some issues between [Sergeant Soudan] and the Platoon Commander [Lt Watson as a result of] character.”

The authors asked Gunny Vegh to characterize the individual squad leaders. Speaking of the OIF 2 Squad Leaders as a group, Vegh recalls, “Their goodness came from OIF 1, where they spent that whole trip in the back of an Amtrac together. Then you hit the combat in Bagdahd, and the monotony of the patrols in Karbala. All of those Marines were very young. Then those senior Marines from OIF1 left, and those junior Marines had to take over. To give some kudos to the training that we did, it gave those junior Marines who are now squad leaders the opportunity to ensure that the rest of the squad knew that they are the squad leader. It gave them the basic leadership skills to direct the fire and movement and go where they needed to go.”

Regarding Link, Vegh noted, “Link is a good kid. He’s a little sick in the head. He’s a good Marine. That boy can eat anything. If he doesn’t eat it, he will darn sure bite the head off. He knows his place, he has a good presence of mind. He can think on his feet when he is out in the midst of that, which is a good attribute of what you want for a squad leader or a platoon sergeant. And when the fog of war gets in there and other people are having a tough time focusing or concentrating, you got to have someone like Link who is capable of saying, ‘Oh yeah, we have to do this.’ And if someone is capable of making a decision in the midst of that, someone like Link is capable of making a decision on his own, is just as capable of following a Marine who is willing to make a decision in a timely manner.”

Vegh thought “Lightfoot was a pretty good squad leader. When he had his boys, he was good with his boys. He was taken out too soon” to see how he would perform in the long run.

Vegh thought “Parker jumped up and did a good job. He filled the boots he needed to fill. That platoon [3d Platoon] was capable of doing great things. You could have taken Parker or Link or Mejia and sent them out to the world and knew that they were going to handle what ever [was going to happen]. They all three were capable of knowing that they had 13 Marines with rifles, and unless they were up against 20 or 30 Muslims, they could handle it, and they were willing to get into the fight, and take the fight to whomever wanted to fight, and calmly over the net say, ‘hey, this is the situation I am in.’ ‘Do you need support?’ ‘No, we’re good right now, but a little bit of support down the road is not bad.’ But it wasn’t them getting on the net saying, ‘Hey, I need a react force right now because I got 3 guys shooting at me.'”

In short, Vegh gives great credit to the independent, operational competence of Squad Leaders Link, Parker, and Mejia. In his estimation, one of the hallmarks of a good squad leaders was the ability to continue to operate independently despite being in contact with an enemy force and to keep his cool under fire.

Source: Vegh8.mov


Source: Vegh9.mov


[Section 7]



[Section 8]


[Section 9]


34 14’0.15” N 116 03’20.43 E elev 562 meters Lima Company Armory, Twentynine Palms Marine Base
2015 Local GMT 5 February 04

Lima Company was drawing weapons from the Armory, preparing to board buses to March Air Force Base for the flight to Iraq. But everything was wrong. Weapons were not ready, and the delays were backing up the schedule to make the move to March Air Force Base.

Captain Gannon had a reputation for remaining calm in almost any situation. But this was enough. Whether a deliberate choice to show his temper, or simply out of interminable frustrations built up over several months, Captain Gannon almost exploded at the incompetent Armory staff.

Carpenter drove Gannon back to “the grinder” — a large, asphalt deck with parking and basket ball courts, perfectly situated for organizing hundreds of men with their packs while waiting for transportation to deployment. Lima was launching, with a full compliment of weapons or not.

“Hey, can you take care of this. Can you send as much of our gear out there as possible?” Gannon was livid, but he had calmed down in the short ride to the grinder from the armory. He was a Marine Rifle Company Commander, getting ready to take 185 Marines to a war zone with an insurgency on the rise, and he was leaving without all of his weapons.

“Yessir. Not a problem,” Carpenter replied.

“Who the fuck dropped the ball on this?” Gannon was not a man who swore often.

“I have my suspicions, but the Battalion is short-staffed all around,” Carpenter observed. It was true, of course. All of Lima’s squad leaders were junior Corporals filling a senior Sergeant’s billet. The same trend was true in Headquarters and Service Company, which staffed the Armory. “Don’t worry, I will take care of it.”

“Thanks, Staff Sergeant.” Composed again, Gannon got out of the truck.

45 minutes later, the NCOs were standing outside of the bus, the last ones to load up.

Carpenter shook Corporal Gibson’s hand, saying, “Take care of your brothers.”

“No problem,” replied Gibson. “I will see you when you get over there.”

“Roger that,” confirmed Carpenter.

Carpenter next said goodbye to Sergeant Champion, the acting Weapons Platoon Sergeant. The understanding was that Carpenter would take over that role again when he re-joined Lima Company in Iraq. Gunnery Sergeant Vegh, who had been the Lima 1st Sergeant for much of the last 5 months, had moved down to take over the Company Gunnery Sergeant function when Carpenter’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer at Christmas. First Sergeant Calderon had joined Lima Company in January also. He had taken over the role of Company 1st Sergeant while the Company was at SASO.

Carpenter looked at Champion and said, “Hey take good care of them.”

“Roger that,” replied Sergeant Champion. “I’ll do a good job.”

The last man that Carpenter said goodbye to was Rick Gannon. He shook his hand and gave him a hug.

“Staff Sergeant,” said Gannon. “This will probably be the last time that we will work together.”

“Oh, hell no,” Carpenter rejected the idea. “I am coming over there. Don’t you worry. Beth is going to get a clean bill of health, and my ass will be over there.”

Gannon replied, “Well, don’t be rushing. You take care of Beth.”


[Section 10]

After 3/7 deployed to Qaim in early 2004, 1/7 remained at 29 Palms. 1/7 was slated to replace 3/7 at the end of the summer. Through the year, 1/7 would monitor the news from Anbar while it trained.

34 13’51.09” N 116 03’21.31 W elev 1758 ft

Local GMT 31 March 2004

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Woodbridge sat in the Battalion Commander’s Office of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, at 29 Palms, California – known in the Corps as The Stumps. The sprawling desert combat base, home of the desert tortoise, and almost half of the combat power of the 1st Marine Division, was set in an inhospitable stretch of land halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 1/7 was headed back to Operation Iraqi Freedom for the second round – OIF 2. The Battalion had participated in The March Up from Kuwait to Baghdad in the Spring of 2003. After the 19 day sprint, 1/7 had been assigned an area of responsibility in the City of Najaf, one of the most holy sites in the Shiite sect of Islam. There, LtCol Woodbridge assumed command of the battalion. Now, in the Summer of 2004, 1/7 was preparing to head back to Iraq, this time to relieve 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, which was operating out on the border of Iraq and Syria near towns with names like Al Qaim and Husabayah. 1/7 had rotated through the Combined Arms Exercise at 29 Palms, which had been stripped down from the armor heavy and supporting arms heavy training programs of the 1990s to a bare bones package which focused on convoy operations and the squad, platoon, and rifle company attacks which were the heart of Marine Infantry training. When 1/6 and 3/6 had rotated through the Combined Arms Exercise earlier in the year, the two Afghanistan-bound battalions had opted for exercises which focused almost entirely on foot mobile operations in the jagged mountain ranges of 29 Palms.

LtCol Woodbridge, and his Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major Weiser had focused on small unit skills as well because of their experience in An Najaf in the Summer of 2003. In the Spring of 2004, elements of the 1st Marine Division had started to rotate back into Iraq – this time into the so-called Sunni Triangle in Al Anbar Province. The Commanding General of the Division, Major General Jim Mattis, and some of his subordinate commanders, like LtCol Sam Mundy, had given interviews in which they openly discussed “wave tactics” – waving to the locals – and the value of providing ice water to crowds to establish a positive relationship with the local population. They had been quoted saying that in the Summer of 2003, the Marines patrolled without flak jackets, removed their intimidating Oakley sunglasses, and otherwise fulfilled General Mattis’ guidance to be “no better friend, no worse enemy.” Articles in local San Diego newspapers in January 2004 even suggested that the Marines would wear their green digital camouflage uniforms to distinguish them from the other American armed forces, which the 3 star general commanding the Marine Expeditionary Force suggested were using excessive force. The Marines, according to their campaign plan for OIF 2, would take a less confrontational approach which emphasized civic affairs programs to build a positive rapport with the local population, which, it was hoped, would welcome the digital clad leathernecks with the same level of cooperation as the 1st Marine Division had enjoyed south of Baghdad in the Summer of 2003.

The enemy – whoever that was, exactly? – apparently understood the 1st Marine Division Commander’s Intent just as well as the troops. All of the interviews and news stories were, after all, open source – that is, they were available on the Internet. The enemy attacked General Mattis’ strategy from the time that the first Marines hit the deck in Al Anbar province to relieve the 82nd Airborne Division. The most prominent event, of course, was the killing, mutilation, and graphic hanging of 4 American military contractors – former Special Forces soldiers and SEALs employed by Blackwater USA of North Carolina. Through this act, among others, the insurgents got inside the Marine’s Information Operations decision making loop. Actually, the Marine Command itself, lead by LtGen Conway, advocated restraint at first, so that it would not appear that the Marines, freshly arrived in theater, were reacting to the provocative event. But then, the brute violence of the insurgents’ action gained momentum at the higher levels of the Coalition and American command structure. The indelible images of those 4 charred corpses, hanging from that bridge in Fallujah, had their inevitable effect. Against the better advice of the Marines on the ground, the American national command authority ordered the Marines into combat in order to seize Fallujah, a massive city of 300,000. Then, just as abruptly, days before final victory, the American chain of command ordered a halt to offensive operations, while a combination of non governmental negotiators from the U.N., and representatives from the Coalition Provisional Authority, and representatives of the Marine units themselves negotiated a series of inadequate truce arrangements which left an Iraqi militia in charge of Najaf.

The Marines, who had been rotating through a mock Iraqi town built out of a former housing complex next to March Air Force Base in the Inland Empire of California, were planning on a combination of civil affairs and selective, combat patrols to continue General Mattis’ guidance of “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy,” to which he had added, “First, Do No Harm” for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. Now, with the combination of well publicized, hyper violence in Fallujah, and indecisive, contradictory orders from their own chain of command, the 1st Marine Division had basically been pulled into a branch plan of its original campaign plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.

34 18’13.23” N 115 59’07.72” W elev 2260

0715 Hours Local GMT 31 March 2004

On the day that the horrible killing and mutilation of the 4 Blackwater USA contractors had started flashing across televisions and computer screens worldwide, LtCol Woodbridge and Sergeant Major Weiser had been observing the company attack of one of their 3 Rifle Companies down Range 400 aboard 29 Palms. Perched somewhere up above Machine Gun Hill, where the Company Commander inevitably placed most of his section of six M-240G machine guns, but below the spot that the snipers from the battalion Surveillance, Targeting and Acquisition (STA) platoon usually chose, LtCol Woodbridge watched Baker 1/7 conduct its attack. First, the Marines conducted a breach of an obstacle belt using a Bangalore torpedo. The massive explosion was followed, minutes later, by over 100 Marines running downrange in full combat gear. The Machine Gun platoon ran up the hill, emplacing 4 of their 6 guns in positions which had been sandbagged and surveyed to provide a measure of safety, because the guns would be firing over the heads of the infantry Marines running below them. Mortars from the Rifle Company light mortar section and the Battalion’s medium mortar section boomed in the distance.

Sergeant Major Weiser came up to Chris Woodbridge, who was taking it all in with a practiced eye – he had been a platoon commander, then a company commander in 1/7 in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and had run this very range himself in those billets several times. “Sir, I was talking to the Marines in 1st Platoon, they are cocky as hell.”

LtCol Woodbridge knew that, as he knew many of the individual personalities within his 1200 Marine command. He knew, for example, that one of the platoons in Suicide Charley Company, under 1stLt Davis, had three of the best squad leaders in the battalion, including Sergeant Owens, an exceptional small unit leader that had excelled in leading combat patrols in Najaf last year. Above the Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major, the snipers had already been at work with their M-40A3 7.62mm and M-82A1 .50cal rifles. The team of 4 snipers, under the watchful eye of their platoon sergeant, had been methodically calling in fire from the mortars on the simulated targets, shifting fire to the deeper targets, then shifting fire East, as the attack progressed.

As the first assault platoons went downrange, .50 cal fire from the Battalion’s heavy weapons platoon added to the supporting fires, nailing specific targets with precise bursts of armor piercing incendiary rounds which flashed bright silver in the morning light. A Javelin Missile team from the Battalion medium anti armor platoon ran forward to a spot next to Machine Gun hill, set up under the watchful eye of an exercise controller, and prepared to take several shots with the weapon that could reach out over a 1000 meters. But, for various technical reasons, the Javelin team failed to fire their missile. Meanwhile, the lead assault platoon encountered another wire obstacle, which they breached by using an APOD, man portable breaching rocket which towed a string of plastic explosive balls behind it as it arced over the simulated wire belt. The mini shock wave of the explosion reached up to the hillside.

As the lead assault platoon pushed through the breach created by the APOD, LtCol Woodbridge watched the progress. At the same time, Col Tucker, commanding officer of 7th Marine Regiment walked up to Machine Gun Hill and greeted LtCol Woodbridge. Col Tucker watched the machine guns teams at work, fully aware that the proficiency of these teams 3 or 4 levels below him in the chain of command could play a decisive role in the Small Wars types of operations which his 7000-Marine Regiment was conducting. As he watched the Corporals and Sergeants distribute belts of 7.62 mm ammunition under the watchful eyes of the exercise controllers from TEECG – the Tactical Exercise Control Group — Col Tucker had another item fresh on his mind – the killing of the 4 Blackwater contractors on this, the last day of March, 2004. He knew that his immediate senior, Major General Mattis, had just returned to Iraq, and was just getting acclimated to the new environment in Al Anbar Province. Col Tucker had seen the reports of the gruesome killings in the news this morning. He wondered how this would affect the Division’s campaign plan.

“Good Morning, Sir” – LtCol Woodbridge greeted his reporting senior as the attack progressed.

“Hi Chris, how are you?”

“Great, Sir. Baker Company going through this morning. The Company Commander is all over the place, trying to coach all of his platoons, really maximizing the training value of the exercise. We’re pretty familiar with Range 400, as you know.”

“Of course,” said Col Tucker, whose regimental headquarters was just across the central parade deck at 29 Palms from 1/7. 7th Marines, one of three Regiments in the 1st Marine Division, had the dubious benefit of being stationed out here in the middle of the Marine Corps’ largest base, smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Most battalions in the Marine Corps came through 29 Palms at least once every two years in their normal pre-deployment combined arms exercise. But the four infantry battalions in 7th Marines, along with 3d Light Armored Recon, and 1st Tanks, had the questionable fortune of being permanently stationed out here in the Stumps. The three rifle companies in 1/7 could just walk over the hill for three hours and they could run through the Range 400 series as much as they wanted.

“Chris, there’s been a pretty violent incident in Fallujah. The insurgents strung up 4 contractors, Americans, from a bridge, after burning the bodies to a crisp. I’ve seen the pictures in the morning press. It’s pretty disgusting. The question is how this affects the Division and the MEF’s plan.”

“Yessir, I saw the reports,” said LtCol Woodbridge, as a SMAW rocket from one of the assault teams attached to one of the lead assault platoons scored a direct hit on a stack of tires, setting the target ablaze. A sooty, oily smoke would emanate from the point of the direct hit for the rest of the exercise. LtCol Woodbridge scanned the lead platoon using his binoculars, while he continued to talk to his Regimental Commander. He had to admire the work of the SMAW gunner, and made a mental note to find out the Marine’s name. Always multitasking, Chris Woodbridge pulled out a Blackberry device, and scrolled through the emails in his account, while noting the SMAW gunner’s accuracy to Sergeant Major Weiser.

Col Tucker bantered on about the potential implications of the Fallujah incident with LtCol Woodbridge. Chris Woodbridge had a fine appreciation of the social and political nuance of the kind of Small Wars incidents that had dominated Operation Iraqi Freedom after the first 19 day March Up had toppled a symbolic statue in Fidros Square in a burst of maneuver warfare in March and early April, 2003. 1/7 had been one of the last infantry battalions in the 1st Marine Division to leave Iraq in September 2003, perhaps because it was General Mattis’ old unit, perhaps because it was located in the middle of Najaf, with its crucial effect on the regional stability of the Shiite dominated South. In any event, those 4 months in Najaf had taught Chris Woodbridge, and the other key Marines in 1/7 crucial, real world lessons in leading a battalion, company, platoons, and squads that were many times more valuable than all of the books and courses in their careers combined. LtCol Woodbridge, for example, learned the nuance of local economic forces – Najaf, for example, was completely isolated from the vagaries of the oil economy because of the revenue producing potential of religious tourism generated by the Grand Ali Mosque and adjacent massive, ancient graveyard in Najaf. In those few months of the Summer and Fall 2003, LtCol Woodbridge had inherited a well developed Stability Plan from his predecessor, now-Colonel Conlin, but he had executed in a flexible and intelligent manner as an assassination in the Mosque threatened to destabilize the Holy City.

LtCol Woodbridge’s Marines, too, had adapted. In a few short minutes time, the Marines in his vehicle born CAAT (Combined Anti Armor Team) platoon would go from the relatively impoverished Al Kufa neighborhood, and its lesser mosque where the so called “upstart,” “firebrand” cleric Moqtada Al Sadr preached, to the Grand Ali Mosque, where the Ayatollah Ali Sistani exerted his considerable power based on his over 70 years of painstaking Islamic religious scholarship. LtCol Woodbridge’s seniors had not lost sight of his deft handling of these complex, difficult circumstances.

Now, on a morning in late March 2004, Col Tucker conferred with LtCol Woodbridge, one of his battalion commanders, in order to put some context to the killing of the Blackwater contractors. In judo, or martial arts, it was a well known tactic of the weak to use the momentum or strength of the stronger opponent against him. Were the insurgents deliberately attempting to pull the Marines out of their battle plan? General Mattis’ admonition to be “no better friend, no worse enemy” had become famous in the 12 months after the stunning success of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The wave tactics, no Oakleys, ice water for the protestors, patrolling without body armor and helmets had become grist for Wall Street Journal editorials and NewsHour interviews. What did Sun Tzu say – attack your opponents plan? Were the insurgents deliberately trying to kill Marines, kill as many aid workers and reporters, and other CPA agents as possible? From 10,000 miles away, as the Marines of Baker Company methodically reduced the last of the bunker obstacles with precise fire from AT-4 rockets and M-203 40mm grenades, it sure seemed like the enemy was a thinking, planning, reacting foe, fully capable of adapting to the situation. Col Tucker’s reaction to the pictures of the corpses dangling from the bridges was the same as any Marines – the bastards, let’s hunt them down and kill them.

At the same time, Col Tucker screened his emotions through over two decades of professional education, as did the officers above him in the chain of command, to include Lieutenant General Conway, the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, just now taking charge of Al Anbar Province. This is exactly what they want us to do. Maybe the better thing to do is to wait, so as not to be seen as reacting.

Out in Al Anbar Province, Major General Mattis was touring Abu Gharaib Prison, which would become the focus of a media frenzy in a few short months on that day in late March 2004, when he first received word of the grisly killing of the Blackwater USA contractors in Fallujah. It was not an exceptional event, from the point of view of General Mattis, just the latest in a series of similar events which were, unfortunately, part of a bigger pattern of violence designed to separate American military and economic power from the power of economic development, education, and the spread of democracy and economic freedom. Col John Toolan, who commanded the 1st Marine Regiment, just now setting up for operations outside of Fallujah, monitored the same events with concern.

But here, atop Machine Gun Hill, LtCol Woodbridge didn’t give the killing of the Blackwater contractors special significance at first glance. 700 meters downrange, the last of the objectives was under intense fire from a platoon of Marines, who suppressed a bunker with small arms and 40mm grenades, while a SMAW and AT-4 rockets hit targets with pinpoint accuracy. This was almost 2 hours after the assault had been initiated with a Bangalore torpedo blasting a hole in the obstacle belt to start the attack. The units maneuvering downrange had displayed extremely good fire discipline throughout the exercise, from the battalion level down through the company and platoon level. Rather than rush through the exercise, or let it taper off anti climactically at the end as many units on this Range were tempted to do, this Company, under the detail oriented leadership of a very experienced Captain, had used the training exercise to extract every bit of training value out of every last engagement of every weapon system, beginning with the Battalion heavy machine guns and Battalion-level snipers who initiated the exercise, down to the last fire team that suppressed a bunker so that an AT-4 anti tank rocket could decisively end it. The Combined Arms Exercise, or CAX, had been modified significantly from its mid 1990s variation, which was heavy on large mechanized formations of tank and tank-infantry companies running down the long swaths of 29 Palms, like Delta Corridor out into the Blacktop at the far Northern edge of the base, sometimes accompanied by support from national level assets, such as B-1B heavy bombers, which started to show up at 29 Palms after the Cold War ended, and close air support looked like a viable mission for aircraft originally designed to penetrate Soviet airspace on missions to deliver nuclear weapons.

Now, in preparation for OIF2, the CAX was dominated by the small unit infantry skills that the units could expect in Afghanistan and Iraq. The exercise was shortened considerably, from 4 weeks to 2 weeks. It was focused, and it was conjoined with the Stability and Support Operations (SASO) training package at March Air Force Base set up by the Project Metropolis Staff from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab at Quantico, Virginia together with a detachment from Division Schools at the 1st Marine Division.

A few weeks after their abbreviated CAX in late March, 1/7 would head down the road to the SASO package at March Air Force Base in order to build on the basic infantry skills which they had sharpened out here in the desert ranges of 29 Palms.

After the last of the platoons from Baker Company, 1/7, finished their assault on Range 400, the key leaders – the company commander, the platoon commanders, the squad leaders, gathered on a hill in the middle of Range 400 to debrief the exercise. By this time, Col Tucker had left, enroute back to Mainside, 29 Palms in order to run through the myriad tasks of a Regimental Commander with at least one of his battalions attached to another Regiment in theater in Iraq, and quite possibly preparing to react to the events of the morning in Fallujah. 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, was out on the Syria-Iraq frontier, in the vicinity of Qaim and Husabayah. Meanwhile, LtCol Woodbridge and Sergeant Major Weiser joined the debrief in the hill at the middle of Range 400, which basically became a classroom for the assembled infantry Marines.

The tone of the debrief was matter of fact, and anticlimactic. The Company Commander of Baker Company could very easily have been one of the instructors from the exercise control group – his knowledge of this range, and almost every range at 29 Palms was just as detailed as the instructors. 1/7 was playing on its home turf here, unlike Marine Infantry Battalions from Camp Pendleton, Hawaii, or Camp Lejeune. Instead of injecting detailed commentary to the debrief, the instructor staff more or less watched and supported the Captain, as he essentially lead the debrief with his subordinate leaders. The Captain walked the dog through every step of the attack. He had slowed the tempo of the attack down and deliberately micromanaged the attack in a way that he would never do in actual combat. He had done this to maximize the value of the training not so much for himself and the cadre of experienced leaders who filled the billets of platoon commander, squad leaders, and weapons section leaders, but rather to maximize the value of the training for the most junior Marines who had joined Baker 1/7 since the Battalion returned from Iraq last year. This was, first and foremost, a training opportunity for these new Marines, and he wanted to maximize the value of the evolution for the junior leaders – the squad leaders and fire team leaders with newly promoted lance corporals, and Privates First Class just in from the Recruit Depots.

Throughout the battalion, from the Lieutenant Colonel who commanded the battalion on down to the PFCs who were on their way to command the fire teams and squads that made up the DNA of a Marine Infantry Battalion, the Marines with experience in Najaf from the Summer of 2003, were sifting through their hard won lessons learned to maximize the chances of their units to excel and win the next time that they deployed to Iraq. As the brutal images of those 4 burned bodies demonstrated, the battalion was preparing to deploy into an environment that was far different from the one that they expected.

34 13’51.09” N 116 03’21.31 W elev 1758 ft

Local GMT 31 March 2004

LtCol Woodbridge returned to his Battalion’s offices at Mainside after the debrief at Range 400 ended. The Marines from Baker Company would return to Mainside, too, where they would clean weapons and prepare for another precious weekend of liberty in the few months before the Battalion deployed to Iraq again.

31 59’ 44.95” N 44 19’07.61 E elev 178 ft

Local GMT 1 July 2003

LtCol Woodbridge thought back to the Summer of 2003 in Najaf, where he had first assumed command of 1/7. On his desk, sat a dog-eared copy of a book by Janet Wallach entitled, Janet Wallach, Desert Queen. One passage which Chris Woodbridge had highlighted in yellow read: “At Najaf, the situation was even worse. The city, a web of underground houses connected by tunnels, a malignant, fanatical place, drew her with its mystery and beauty. There, she wrote, the holy men sat in an atmosphere reeking of antiquity, so thick with the dust of ages that you can’t see through it – nor can they.”

LtCol Woodbridge’ predecessor, now-Col Conlin had commanded 1/7 through the assault up to Bagdahd, and had set the structure of the stability operations which 1/7 was conducting in Najaf. LtCol Woodbridge, fresh from a staff assignment with the MEF, checked aboard the Battalion in June 2003. Every Thursday, the Battalion conducted a battalion level operation, which became known as the “battle of the mosques.” Essentially, Moqtada Al Sadr, a relatively young Shiite cleric in his early 30s incited his congregation in the Kufa Mosque to conduct a protest from East to West along the central East-West route in Najaf connecting the Imam Ali Mosque with the Kufa Mosque, which was known to the Marines as “Route Lu Lu.”

The two mosques did not get along for a combination of religious and socioeconomic reasons. As the seat of power for the Shiite faith, the Imam Ali Mosque was the larger and more prominent of the two mosques in Najaf/ Kufa, and the richer of the two. From a stack of maps and OpOrders next to his desk that he had accumulated during Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, Chris Woodbridge pulled a detailed 1:15,000 map of Najaf prepared by the 1st Marine Division Intelligence Section. The cemetery adjacent to the Imam Ali Shrine occupied the sum of perhaps 5 grid squares – each square representing an area 1000 meters by 1000 meters, or a square kilometer, or “klick” in military-speak. Chris Woodbridge traced his finger over the vast area of the black colored cemetery. The cemetery and the Imam Ali Mosque were among the most holy sites in the Shiite Sect of Islam. Pilgrims in that part of the Muslim faith were obligated to visit this site if they could in their adult lifetimes. These pilgrims, like tourists everywhere, would spend money – thus assuring the site of economic viability without regard to whether the rest of the economy functioned or not.

Chris Woodbridge traced the smaller circumference of the perimeter of the Imam Ali Shrine with his index finger as he recalled the rude awakening to internecine, religious rivalry which had erupted not long after he became the Battalion Commander of 1/7.

The Sergeant Major came into LtCol Woodbridge’s office, which was framed, like most Marine Commanding Officers, by a pair of flags – the American, and the Marine Corps. His combat gear – helmet and advanced body armor hung on a frame, and Janet Wallach’s Desert Queen — which he had highlighted liberally, particularly the sections on Najaf – sat on a table. “Sir, here are the Non Judicial Punishments for the week.”

Chris Woodbridge worked through the cases, which would be adjudicated by him together with his senior commanders with input from the Staff Non Commissioned Officers tomorrow afternoon, after the last Rifle Company ran through Range 400. After this distraction, he returned to the 1:15,000 map which occupied his attention at the moment.

Shortly after LtCol Woodbridge assumed command, one of the followers of Al Sistani was killed through a bombing by the followers of the rival Moqtada Al Sadr from the Kufa Mosque. The clerics who preached under the authority of Al Sistani at the Imam Ali Mosque were of higher prominence – like the Cardinals at the Vatican who might be eyed jealously by a local parish priest in Rome, trying to compete for legitimacy with the Pope through a series of fiery sermons.

At first, 1/7 took a neutral position towards the obvious rivalry between the two religious centers. Every Friday, the battalion engaged in the standard battle drill – it wasn’t really a battle, was it? – which was centered around the key positions of forces in order to respond to the potential for mass demonstrations coming out of the Kufa Mosque where Sadr gave his sermons and fatwas. Every Muslim prays five times a day, regardless of the circumstances, but one day a week is set aside for public prayer. That public prayer usually occurs at one of the larger mosques, and following after the prayer, it is traditional for one of the Imams, or his clerics of a lesser rank, to give some form of sermon. The sermon usually centers on how to live a righteous life. The fatwas concern what a good Muslim needs to do, usually answering some form of question. The fatwa is a religious answer to the question that the religious leader poses. It is always topical and in the form of a question, like “What should we do as good Muslims?”

On one of these Friday afternoons, as 1/7 was executing its battle drill to stabilize the crowd during the post fatwa protest march, a massive vehicle bomb killed Bakir Al Hakim, one of Sistani’s most important subordinate clerics, and killed or injured about one hundred other people in the shrine. 1/7 not only had to react to the immediate fallout from the bombing – the mass casualty drill at the hospital, requiring 1/7 to augment the medical staff there – but the battalion also had to prepare for the massive funeral procession which followed within a week for the prominent cleric, who was connected to SCIRI, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. LtCol Woodbridge ran through the so-called Commander’s Critical Intelligence Requirements – the CCIRs of this little episode: Who was going to attend the funeral? What are our responsibilities for security? Where do we link up with VIPs? What route do we take to get them to the Shrine area? What is our course of action for the battalion and coalition forces during in Najaf during the funeral?

Chris Woodbridge ran a finger over the map spread out on his desk, and he could imagine 1st Marine Regiment – Colonel John A. Toolan – and the Division and MEF Staff out in Camp Fallujah at this very moment going through a similar crisis response drill. They could, of course, locate down to the meter the exact bridge where those contractors had been strung up – lynched – like obscene piñatas on a bridge trestle. Those were Americans, by God – SEALS and Special Forces troopers. One former SEAL had been quite a local character down in San Diego. 1st Marines was just getting on the deck there in Al Anbar, and the insurgents had clearly greeted the Marines with a round of extreme violence designed to elicit an emotional response.

Unlike the funeral exercise last summer in Najaf last summer in 2003, this new challenge seemed less likely to be contained and downplayed, even though the absolute number of casualties was much smaller in the latest Fallujah violence. It was all a matter of perception, really. Four dead American contractors graphically slain and strung up could impact the world media network more powerfully than 100 Muslim worshippers in the Imam Ali Mosque – it was a function of the pictures and sounds that emanated from the event. It was pure information operations, or IO, as the Marine and military Staffs put it. Within the first few weeks on the ground, the Marines had lost the initiative in the IO campaign. Instead of getting the word out about the great civil affairs ops that they could offer to the population – to be “no better friend” – the newly arriving Marines had been greeted with a media event that they could not minimize, contain, or downplay.

Chris Woodbridge thought back to the funeral exercise last summer. During the funeral, 1/7 did not provide any security escort for the funeral procession as a whole, though they did provide security for some of the individual delegates coming down from Bagdahd. Chris Woodbridge traced the route from Route 9 to Route Lu Lu, bisecting the city of Kufa/ Najaf. He recalled the three circles of security which had been provided for the event, the outermost of which was the responsibility of 1/7, the innermost of which was the responsibility of Sistani’s closest followers. These local militias, originally formed for local security for this cataclysmic event, mutated into the more robust local militias which were active today in Najaf. There was a law of unintended consequences at work here – pure chaos theory: The fluttering of the wings of a butterfly in one hemisphere causes, through untraceable causes and effects, a hurricane in the next hemisphere weeks later. 1/7 had task organized with considerable outside attachments – a shock trauma platoon, a truck platoon, civil affairs Marines, Army psychological operations troops, an Army MP company, even a Puerto Rican MP unit that turned out to be worthless. Chris Woodbridge, could, in his mind’s eye, trained through the best schools that the Marines offered, see the exact same drill happening now in the coming days in Camp Fallujah. Where would the law of unintended consequences dictate that events flowed in Fallujah in the coming days?

The major difference between the Najaf funeral exercise last summer and the current Fallujah event was that the Marines had reasserted control and initiative over the situation after the massive truck bomb killed that prominent Muslim cleric. Now, Chris Woodbridge was concerned that the judo push-pull of information operations favored the insurgents. The insurgents had pushed alright. What reaction would be forthcoming?

[Section 11, 12, 13]


[Section 14, 15]


39 10’47.1″ N 76 40’2.1″W elevation 43 meters Baltimore Washington International Airport
Local GMT 4 April 2004

Staff Sergeant Matt Carpenter was delayed enroute to Kuwait. Lost Bags. You’ve gotta be shitting me, a frustrated Carpenter cursed the system. His grandfather had been a US Navy Sea Bee with service in the Marine Pacific Campaigns. His grandfather’s friends were US Marine veterans of World War II. Carpenter visited his kin in the Pennsylvania of his youth during the delay.

One of his neighbors, Harold Codger had been an influential role model from an early age. “Every deployment I had been on, Harold had always sent me a letter, wishing me well. Every Marine Corps birthday I was in the states, I would always call Harold. I saw Harold on the 15th or 16th [of April]. I flew out the next day.”

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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.