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Chapter 8 – 8 April 2004, Market Street Patrol, Husaybah22 May

On the morning of April 8, 2004, Lima 3 — 3d Platoon — exited Camp Husaybah at the Western edge of the town. The mission was a presence patrol. The platoon would move down the main street, Market, which ran along the Northern edge of the town. 2nd Lieutenant Bradley Watson commanded the platoon, and Sergeant Dusty Soudan was his platoon sergeant. Staff Sergeant Wilder, the previous platoon sergeant, had been relieved weeks earlier and was working on improving the fortifications at the Camp, a task which Captain Gannon went out of his way to praise in communications to battalion head quarters. Watson had a Psychological Operations (PsyOps) Hummer attached to his platoon for the mission. Violence had been ramping up in the weeks since Lima Company deployed to Iraq for its second tour, but Lima Company had not yet lost any Marines, but some of its attached units had. Despite his growing sense of concern that the environment was not as benign as he had expected, Captain Gannon continued with his operational plan.

In explaining his assumptions about the environment in Husaybah at the time, Brad Watson notes, “Almost everyone a new Lt could talk to in 3/7 before we deployed to Husaybah would tell you, ‘yeah, don’t worry it’s going to be just like Karbala in a month. The Army’s all jacked up and we are going to roll in there and this will be a benign environment in no time. We don’t need their tanks.'”

Watson had one squad travel down Market Street, escorting the PsyOps Hummer. Bellmont was in the lead fire team of 4 Marines. Watson traveled with that squad and the PsyOps Hummer. North of Market Street, and traveling in parallel to the base unit of the movement on Market Street was Corporal Peter Milinkovic and his squad. South of Market, and also traveling in parallel to the the base unit was Corporal Mejia and the squad he commanded.

Going into the patrol, recalls Bellmont, “I assumed that it would not have a good outcome. I did not think we would make it all the way to the end of Market Street. Market Street was not where all of the people were. It was just past the area [with most of the population]. The biggest thing that scared us — the area that was a heavy contact area was the Baath Party Headquarters. West of the Baath Party headquarters, where there was a low population [was a source of concern]. That and moving in a column like that, where you are not moving in other directions [besides the main direction of advance], you’re just moving parallel to each other, in a straight line; they know where we are going to go, they sat there, when they saw us not making any turns, they thought, ‘yeah, we’re going to get these guys now.'” Bellmont’s Fire Team of 4 Marines was in the lead of the 13-Marine Squad going down Market Street.

Bellmont recalls, “We had squads on both sides of us, and we had the Humvee right there, so we had no choice but to move down Market Street.” The first IED hit the middle squad on Market Street — the insurgents were targeting the platoon commander and the PsyOps Vehicle, which was broadcasting messages in Arabic. “When the first IED hit them,” recalls Milinkovic, ” it was so huge and loud that I thought we got hit by an IED, even though I was two blocks away.” Both Lieutenant Watson and Lance Corporal Rigoli, one of Bellmont’s 4 Marines, were hit when the first IED went off. After the first IED went off on Market Street, injuring Watson and Rigoli, IEDs also hit the two squads South and North of Market Street. Lance Corporal Wasser, the point man for the squad South of Market was killed by the blast. He had a bag of soccer balls slung over his back, though he was not actually distributing them at the time of the IED explosion. The enemy intent — not just on Market Street, but throughout Anbar Province that month — was to separate American soft power (economic development, the attractiveness of our culture) from hard power (raw GDP, military force).

A year later, I asked Bellmont and Milinkovic a series of questions, but the questions themselves were drawn from a “CAX Debrief Format” which I had laminated into a field reference booklet while I was serving in Lima Company, a decade earlier. The questions themselves reflected 3d Generation, Manuever Warfare. I asked, “What was the enemy’s location and fire plan?”

“I think they were right in the middle of the crowd,” replied Bellmont. “We walked right by the trigger man. It was a big crowd. They blend in. That’s their key strength — that they can look like everybody else.”

“What was their intention, their most dangerous course of action?” I asked.

“Kill as many Marines as possible with one explosion,” offered Bellmont.

“What was the enemy’s strength or weakness relative to your force?” I asked.

“They are not able to communicate like we can. We have two way radios. They are going to have to re-group and get together to be able to keep hitting us, but other than that it is going to be a hit-and-run nine times out of ten,” said Bellmont.

I asked, “Was the enemy’s use of IEDs because they could not fight you in a stand up, toe-to-toe fight?”

“Definitely,” recalled Bellmont. “I think that’s the reason that they did it. I mean, I would do the same thing. If I couldn’t go toe-to-toe with someone, you’re going to use what works.”

I asked, “Did you see any exploitable weaknesses or vulnerabilities on the part of the enemy that you could take advantage of?”

Milinkovic noted, “Alot of the IEDs that are freshly placed, like if they know you are coming down the road, they have a certain area where they can detonate. So, if you had some kind of a mobile cordon, maybe not a full cordon, but maybe scattered OPs [observation posts], like 3 major OPs, like maybe punch out 3 squads to isolate a whole block, you would definitely have the trigger man within that circle. Now, he may throw [the cell phone trigger device] under a bush.”

Bellmont joined in: “We also have better technology than them, signal scramblers and stuff like that. That’s a big thing too, staying ahead of their technology.”

Milikovic agreed, “Now they can only use cordless phones. That means that they have to be real close to detonate an IED. That took away most of their center of gravity.”

“How would you describe their center of gravity,” I asked. The idea of a center of gravity comes from the German military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, who used the term to describe the thing that holds together an enemy coalition — the thing without which the enemy falls apart. On a tactical level, it can be something specific like crew served weapons. “What gives them freedom of action?”

“They blend in,” Milinkovic responded right away. “There’s no written thing that says, ‘enemy’ on their forehead. They guy that shakes your hand and you see everyday, he’s the guy trying to snipe your guys.”

With the benefit of hindsight, the interview is notable in several respects. Most significantly, the framework is itself designed to pull out the lessons learned from exercises such as Range 400, deliberate company attacks against a similar opponent. The questions are themselves a indication of 3d Generation, Manuever Warfare, against another state-backed military organized and trained like the American military. But, the enemy, of course is a non-state group of insurgents, many of whom are Iraqi citizens, and only some of whom are Al Qaeda or foreign fighters.

“What decision did you as a squad leader, or your platoon commander make, when faced with that situation on the 8th of April,” I asked.

“I ran down there to support,” recalled Milinkovic. “I cordoned off the area because we heard that they had a couple of casualties. It turns out the Platoon Commander [Watson] was wounded, he was bleeding pretty badly. He didn’t want to leave. But there was no serious mission out there for him to sacrifice his leg. That’s when Sergeant Soudan took over, tactically. Mejia was hit moving up to your [Bellmont’s] position.”

Another book, David Danelo’s Blood Stripes, covers this same engagement, as well as the dynamcis within Lima 3. Danelo’s account in the first edition of his book is taken entirely from the perspective of Sgt Dusty Soudan. Soudan’s over-riding feeling towards Watson is contempt — a fatal emotional element for any long term relationship, as author Gladwell notes in his description of a couples research specialist. The relationship between the platoon commander and platoon sergeant has often been described as the mother and father of the platoon family. If there is tension there, everyone in the platoon is aware of that fact. Soudan had only taken over the billet of platoon sergeant weeks earlier, after moving from another platoon. Perhaps his contempt for Watson was due in part to his taking over the unit in combat. Another explanation for Soudan’s contempt comes from a future Lima Commanding Officer who believes that Soudan’s contempt for Watson was really contempt for the stupidity of the missions assigned — contempt for doing a presence patrol down streets where all three squads in a platoon are hit by IEDs. In this interpretation of Soudan’s feelings towards Watson, Soudan was basically expressing contempt for the stupidity of the mission by channeling his feelings towards the platoon commander who gave the orders. This interpretation seems plausible since Bellmont and Milinkovic also express contempt for the mission of the presence patrol, executed on 8 April 2004, as we will see shortly.

Even within their assigned, zones, though, squad leaders like Milinkovic used initiative to minimize the danger to their Marines. “I was satelliting,” recalled Link. His squad was moving North of the base unit with Bellmont in the lead fire team, Lieutenant Watson commanding the Platoon, and the PsyOps vehicle as the most hated of insurgent targets. Link’s squad was not on a main road, but rather on narrower side streets. “I was satelliting my two-man teams all around the Northern part of the [zone of action]. These guys [gesturing to Bellmont] got hammered, and screwed because they were going down the main road. At least two guys in each [4 Marine] Fire Team had a Garmin RINO [which allowed the Marine to send and receive a GPS Coordinate], so we’d break into two man teams. I shadowed these guys [pointing to Bellmont, who was with the middle squad].”

Link’s 13 Marine Squad, then, was broken up into as many as six two-Marine teams, each equipped with a Garmin RINO, which had been purchased through the Marines’ own funds to augment their other communication gear. Using this technique made Link’s squad less of a single target, and allowed his unit to flow through the urban terrain more organically, like a basketball team on fast break, rather than a row of soldiers on the drill field. This type of control of a squad resembles the improv-inspired type of movement that Gladwell writes about in Blink in the chapter on Van Riper’s victory as a commander. This comes under the heading of “The Structure of Spontaneity.” It explains why, when Link talks with his hands in the interview, and says, “I moved down to cordon the area where Bellmont’s squad was hit,” he really means that his squad moved around him, organically, like water flowing downhill, or a basketball team on a fast break.

Commenting on the Satellite Patrolling, Bellmont observed, “They may have avoided [an IED] just by using that technique.”

Milinkovic continued, “If an IED does go off, you’re not getting the grand prize of the whole squad [because the use of satellite patrolling caused the Marines to be dispersed, so no more than two Marines would be exposed to any single IED].”

“What did the enemy do that suprised you?,” I asked, continuing with the debrief format inspired by 3d Generation, Manuever Warfare.

“He was willing to die,” recalled Link. “He did not even care about his own life. I want to know what we did to these people to make them hate us that much. They will go to any extent to kill you, they don’t care about anything. They don’t care if they have ten kids and the greatest wife at home, they will die trying to kill you.”

Link’s comments are consistent with that of a later Lima Commanding Officer, Rory Quinn, who will look back and see in the month of April, 2004, a shift into a 3d Phase of the Iraq War. That shift is a major turning point where several factors serve to finally alienate the majority of Iraqis and turn them towards Al Qaeda. First, the Americans failed to provide services, including security, but also basic utilities for much of 2003 and early 2004. Second, the Blackwater killings and the American reaction — which was perceived as overreaction — occurred at the end of March and beginning of April, 2004. Third, the Abu Gharib prison scandal also came to light in this period. Together, these events and the shift in Iraqi public support for Al Qaeda can be described as what Taleb labels a Black Swan event. In Taleb’s book of the same name, a Black Swan has the following characteristics: A) a surprise; B) The event has a major impact; C) After the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it had been expected. The market crash of late 2008 is a black swan. Within the expectations of the US Military for a relatively benign civilian environment in Anbar in Spring, 2004, the shift in public support for Al Qaeda in April 2004 would qualify as a Black Swan event. The shift in sentiment in that month is the backdrop not just for the events of 8 April 2004, but also those of 14 April and 17 April, which will be the subject of coming chapters in this book. What Peter Milinkovic — a leader of 13 Marines among the thousands of Americans in Anbar that Spring was observing — was the rage of the Iraqi public against the Americans. It is notable, though, that this observation — which is really appropriate to 4th Generation Warfare — comes in response to a 3d Generation Warfare question, What did the enemy do that surprised you? It is the wrong question. I was still oriented in a 3d Generation Warfare way of thinking about state-organized militaries — an “enemy” — whereas, the enemy was actually mostly Iraqis who may have been planting IEDs for cash, organized by much smaller cells of Al Qaeda and foreign fighters.

I asked, “What worked and what didn’t work?”

Link and Bellmont look at each other for a moment or two. Then: “The presence patrol needs to get thrown own the window,” says Link, echoing the frustration that lead to Soudan’s contempt for the chain of command, and most immediately, for his platoon commander, Brad Watson.

“They know we are there,” agreed Bellmont. “We don’t need to go and say, ‘hey, we’re here,’ because they know. The mission that we had that day… we gift-wrapped it for them. I don’t know who came up with it. But, I didn’t like it.”

“There were no other major contacts like that before,” noted Link, perhaps explaining why the mission was assigned. “Once that happened, it was kind of a slap in the face for everyone. ‘Oh, well, you can’t do that any more.’

Upon reflection, Bellmont circled back to the question of what the enemy did that surprised the Marines. “[Milinkovic] mentioned that there had not really been contact before, but it was small, intermittent. [What suprised us was that] they had so much out there, that day. They had so many [IEDs] out there, that day. [There were] the ones that blew up on us. [There were IEDs] that we found that didn’t blow up on us. That’s what surprised me — the fact that they had so many. What a coincidence, they got so lucky.”

On that day, the first squad hit was in the middle, on Market Street, where Bellmont, Watson, and the PsyOps Hummer were located. Less than 15 minutes later, another IED hit the squad South of Market Street, killing Wasser, the point man, and injuring other Marines, Vega and Rumley, to the extent that they are medically discharged from the service for their injuries. Then a third IED hit Link’s squad, North of Market Street. All those events happened within 15 to 30 minutes.

“All different areas,” notes Link.

“Even before Mejia got hit, right after we got hit [in the middle of Market Street],” continues Bellmont, “we found another IED about a hundred meters up the road. It wasn’t a daisy chain, it was just waiting for us to move forward. We found that IED, and then [the second IED blew up injuring Marines in] Mejia’s squad. So, just so much going on all at once.”

“It was on everyone’s route, almost,” continues Link. “It’s like someone took an overlay off the wall, and handed it to them, right on the route that we were walking on. It’s weird.”

“Yeah, that surprised me,” concludes Bellmont.

The description of the complex deployment of IEDs by the insurgents is consistent with the description of this period as a major tipping point in public opinion towards the insurgents, and away from the Americans, caused by the major factors noted by Quinn in his master narrative, above. Placing IEDs along all of those points would have been visible to the majority of the population. Moreover, the trigger men who caused the IEDs to detonate precisely when the platoon commander, Brad Watson, and the PsyOps vehicle would be injured also indicates that the trigger men were blending in with the population. The trigger man who killed Wasser and handicapped Vega and Rumley for life also would have had to choose his moment precisely from the security of anonymity. Finally, to place the IEDs on the routes that the Marines would be traveling with high precision would have required extensive gathering of data from multiple sources — again, an activity that could only have taken place with the knowledge of, and possibly the active support of, the population.

“Another thing that the enemy surprised me with,” continues Link, “was the ability that they actually brought to the table. They had a full-on strategic plan on the 17th of April. The 8th of April was an example of what they could do, but on the 17th, the enemy had the ability to reinforce, they had all those people out there in the town, defenses, and machine gun bunkers. I always underestimated them. I thought they were pop-shot, spray and pray kind of people.”

Brad Watson recalls, “On 8 April the reality of war set in for me. I felt responsible for Wasser, Vega and Rumley. I felt guilty for getting wounded myself. I felt like our strategy as a battalion and maybe even as a Marine Corps had underestimated the threat we faced. On April 9th Marine Corps Armor rolled into Husaybah for the first time.”

Across Anbar in that first week of April, the Black Swan tipping point of broad, Iraqi public support away from the Americans and towards Al Qaeda was taking place. At a tactical level, Link, Bellmont, and Soudan were seeing the immediate indications of that shift: a coordinated IED ambush of an entire platoon of 40 Marines, not just with one detonation, but with a series of detonations over 15 or 30 minutes, each initiated by a trigger man who blended in with the people. In the coming days, the violence would increase in stages in which the enemy generally held the initiative.

To their credit, the Marines of Lima 3 did not attack the Iraqi population without positive identification of their attackers. In similar circumstances, months later in Haditha, a Marine squad that had a Marine killed and others wounded was accused of the murder of Iraqi civilians in a story that was widely publicized in the media, and even cited by Representative Murtha, a former Marine, as grounds for withdrawing US military forces from Iraq. On April 8, 2004, Lima 3 lost its commander to wounds and had the second in command, a Sergeant, take over command. The Marines set a cordon, and called in a MEDEVAC. Then, Lima 3 lost a Marine killed in action — a Marine carrying soccer balls on his back, no less — as well as several Marines critically wounded. But, Lima 3 did not respond with murderous gunfire at the population, which was almost certainly aware of, if not actively assisting the enemy. This restraint was drilled into the Marines by countless repetitions of the “lane training” where the units moved through “shoot/ no shoot” scenarios which emphasized the rules of engagement. Link and Bellmont expressed the contempt towards the presence patrol mission shared by many of their fellow Marines, such as Soudan. Yet, they executed the mission in large part because of the Marine culture of success in combat. They had gone through their 10,000 hours to become combat experts through Boot Camp, School of Infantry, Unit Training in Lima 3/7, and the experience of Operation Iraqi Freedom I in 2003. Lima 3 returned to Camp Husaybah, and prepared for its next mission. Watson, for his part, was medevac’ed but would make a particular effort to return to his platoon. Squad Leaders Mejia and Link re-organized their squads after the casualties.

Captain Gannon wrote regularly to Major Schreffler, who was the Battalion S-3 Operations Officer. In an email to Schreffler on April 11, Gannon outlined a series of mounting concerns which started to indicate the increasing severity of the insurgency. First, he noted that one of the tanks assigned to Husaybah had gone down due to missing a part, and that it was “completely ineffective (dead weight) without the part.” Part of the Marine response to the Market Street ambush on April 8 was to put 70-ton main battle tanks into the urban environment, whereas their assumption going into Anbar that Spring is that they would be greeted based on the positive reputation earned by the Marines in Southern Iraq in late 2003, when General Mattis had sent his armor home early.

Second, Gannon noted the need for replacements due to combat casualties. “What is the chance of receiving combat replacements. We have effectively lost 20 Marines to CASEVAC [Medical Evacuation]… not including RECON Marines. We are also anticipating the loss of 8 others due to EAS [End of Active Service discharge] in the near future.” The enemy intent of cutting down the Marines’ numbers through attrition was working.

Third, Gannon noted the following about the PsyOps Hummers: “Speaker system of the PSYOPs vehicle was destroyed today by an IED. FYI, the enemy really does not like when we employ it and has targeted the vehicle three of the last four occasions that I sent it out. On the other hand, we have received positive feedback from the population with regard to its use. PSYOPS team is coordinating a replacement. Just wanted to keep you informed and see if you can assist.” The insurgents specifically targeted the vehicles because they were designed to communicate with the population, who apparently responded favorably to them. This is consistent with the image of the population on the fence, on a tipping point, as Rory Quinn would later characterize the situation in April 2004 — a key moment of transition between his Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the Iraq War.

Fourth, there is this item regarding legal liability for use of force: “Could use some more clarity on the transition to Phase III ROE [Rules of Engagement] and possibly some time to discuss scenarios personally with the SJA [Staff Judge Advocate]. My understanding is that it does not substantively change at my level, only that the threat has redefined what we view as ‘hostile act/intent’. I understand Blade 6’s [Battlion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lopez] interpretation with regard to most scenarios, but wanted more legal clarity if I can get it.” Rick Gannon, a scholar of warfare, knew that he was in the middle of a growing counterinsurgency, yet he had doubts about how much and what kind of force to use. A Staff Judge Advocate would be a licensed attorney and a commissioned officer who served a number of functions, including counseling commanders as to Rules of Engagement. That Gannon was asking for an interview with a SJA to clarify the rules — 3 days after the Market Street ambush — indicates that the insurgent tactics of triggering ambushes from the anonymity of the population had put the Marine leadership in a dilemma. Hostile act/ intent was one of the criteria — along with Positive ID or PID — for a Marine to use deadly force. The insurgent tactics were designed to kill Marines without giving them the authorization to respond.

Fifth, Gannon asked, “Need zip ties badly if there are any up there.” This indicates that Lima Company was taking many more prisoners than they anticipated, and that they had not taken enough of the plastic hand cuffs to handle the detainees. This is consistent with later lessons learned from key leaders such as Carpenter who will observe that the Company was not supplied with enough essential ammunition such as grenades and rockets for the SMAW rockets in the Lima Weapons Platoon.

Sixth, Gannon noted the following about his interpreters: “Originally we talked about me getting my interpreter back within 24 hours of the completion of the regt [7th Marine Regiment] operation. I understand that he was needed to interrogate prisoners after that, but I am really starting to need him. Right now I do not have a single interpreter that will walk the streets (looks like my local finds flew the coop). Any thoughts on when I can get him back. Could also use HET [Human Intelligence Exploitation Team]. I have gotten absolutely no actionable intelligence (except one piece from SST) since their departure. Prior to that, we were consistently making progress.” Lima Company was literally a few hundred yards from the Syrian border, on the extreme edge of the Marines zone of action in Anbar that Spring. The Fallujah situation had caused Major General Mattis to pull 7th Marine Regiment back towards Fallujah in order to isolate the city for a possible assault by another Marine Regiment, lead by Colonel Toolan. 3d Battalion, 7th Marines was out on the edge of the 1st Marine Division’s area. Resources such as armor, and even interpreters were given to the main effort of 7th Marine Regiment, which was assisting the 1st Marine Division in Fallujah. The cultural distance between the Lima Company Marines and the population was therefore widened at a critical juncture by the lack of interpreters because there were no interpreters who would walk patrol with the Marines. The insurgents may have successfully threatened or intimidated any Iraqis who could be recruited as interpreters.

A day later, on April 12, Gannon wrote another email to Schreffler. Gannon asked whether Schreffler could send out a short range unmanned aerial vehicle, possibly because of the attrition to his manpower due to the insurgent IED attacks. He also wrote, “Blade 6 [LtCol Lopez] indicated to me that he was going to get the entire engineer platoon down here to augment my patrolling efforts. His intent is that I can then pull rifle platoons off the line for a few days of recovery. Not sure if he has run that by you, but know that he already gave Lt Ponzo the warning order. Wanted to know the timeline on that one as well.” This request, too, indicates the inadequacy of the amount of troops for the task at hand.

Schreffler, had, however, responded to one of Gannon’s requests from the previous day, indicating his understanding of the high importance of language skills. Gannon wrote in the same email, “Thanks a million for getting my translator and HET back to me. Hopefully I can produce actionable intel here now and get back at conducting targeted missions. Not getting a whole lot from higher on the intel side over the last 10 days. SST is producing a lot of hits, and at least one appears to have produced a valid target (the guys I rolled up with Blade 6 at the Yellow Hotel). ODA [US Army Special Forces] is highly efficient at the art of interrogation so I welcome any opportunity to get them down here.”

One of the few reporters to make it out to Husaybah that Spring was Ron Harris of the Saint Louis Dispatch. He noted that Husaybah was “on the farthest reaches of the US military effort in Iraq, [where Marines] don’t make the headlines, not like those in Fallujah or Baghdad…” He noted the ceremony commemorating the death of Lance Corporal Christopher Wasser: “Wasser was a well-liked youngster who last year had gone through the first phase of the war with Lima Company and returned with the company this year…” The story quoted Lance Corporal Tim Dilorenzo: “I remember that Chris would do anything for any of us — anytime, any day.” Regarding the larger situation, the story quoted Lance Corporal Carp as saying, “Karbala was a lot safer. This is a hell hole.” The story quoted Captain Gannon as saying to the Lima Marines, “Make no mistake about it, we’re here in a battle. I want you to go out and paint a school like we did before. But right now, we’re going to go out and kill some people, because there is some killing that needs to be done.” Harris wrote, “Gannon was surprised when he saw the heavy casualty reports from the 82nd Airborne, which had been there before the Marines. ‘I was like Whoa why haven’t I been reading about this?… What’s been going on here? Have they been having some kind of silent war? And sure enough, they had been.”

Rick Gannon and George Schreffler knew what was happening, but they lacked the structure to respond to it quickly. Their dilemma can best be explained to a non-military audience by appealing to two ideas both drawn from Gladwell’s Blink. In Blink, Gladwell describes the “Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way.” He describes how certain relationship counselors can tell whether a couple will divorce based on 15 minutes of video taped interviews. Gannon was a scholar of warfare, and his father had served as a Marine Officer in another counter-insurgency in Vietnam. He would have read about insurgencies and he would have been aware of the indications that he was witnessing a tipping point in the insurgency. The terse, spare language that Gannon used to communicate with his friend, George Schreffler, who was Godfather to his children, points out the details that Gannon was collecting — the need for the interpreter, the importance that the insurgents placed on the PsyOps Vehicle, the appeal for Special Forces expertise. Schreffler, too, would have been fully aware of what was happening; the fact that he responds to the request to return the interpreter to Lima Company within 24 hours demonstrates this awareness of the most important factors in the present situation. Yet, the same messages betray Gannon’s dilemma.

In Blink, Gladwell also devotes a chapter to “Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity.” Gladwell quotes General Van Riper as saying, “Suppose you had a rifle company pinned down by machine-gun fire. And the company commander calls his troops together and says, ‘We have to go through the command staff with the decision-making process.’ That’s crazy. He should make a decision on the spot, execute it, and move on.” The quote illustrates a key idea of the Marine Warfighting doctrine — that speed itself is a weapon. In the messages of April 11 and 12, however, Gannon shows that the rigidity of the Marine Operations Order Format itself was an obstacle; it was not the right “structure for spontaneity.” The protocol for a Marine operations order is summarized by the acronym, SMEAC — Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command & Control. I have full copies of all of Rick Gannon’s operations orders from this period, and they are military works of art — pages and pages of detailed, accurate description of the enemy; the rules of engagement; the task organization; ad infinitum. One of my last jobs in the Marine Corps was to write those orders, and I appreciate the work that Gannon did. But, that’s just the point. The Operations Orders are almost too complete. Gannon changed his orders as the situation deteriorated in the first weeks of April, 2004. As the situation changed — as the Blackwater contracter’s lynching in Fallujah resulted in a reaction, pulling 7th Marine Regiment resources towards Fallujah — first Division, then Regiment, then Battalion, then Company (Gannon) re-wrote his order. In the messages to Schreffler, Gannon is working on getting an interview with a military lawyer in order to clarify a point about the rules of engagement regarding hostile intent — at the same time, he is telling his Marines (as quoted by reporter Harris), “we’re going to go out and kill some people, because there is some killing that needs to be done.” Writing an Operations Order — to use a civilian analogy — is like writing a legal brief; writing a change to the order (known in the military as a “frag order” or fragmentary order) is like writing a motion for that brief. In the space of two weeks, Gannon writes several frag orders modifying his original Operations Order. In effect, the enemy was pinning down Lima Company with their equivalent of Van Riper’s machine gun — the IED — which killed or wounded six Lima Marines on 8 April, alone. Instead of “making a decision, executing it, and moving on” as Van Riper suggests, Gannon had to go through layers of command in order to get clarification about his order (which would have included a section on rules of engagement under the Execution section) through a command staff process.

The right “Structure for Spontaneity” in a counter-insurgency is a Combined Action Platoon (known as a CAP in the Marines), in which a Marine unit of 13 joins with two indigenous squads of 26 (the numbers can be adjusted) to form a joint platoon of 40. The CAPs should be widely dispersed throughout the area in which the counter-insurgency is being fought. The 13 Marines (a squad) may still come under the operational control of the 180-Marine Company, but decision-making is highly decentralized. Gannon knew this, as did Schreffler, as well as every Marine commander up to Generals Mattis and Conway (the top Marine commanders in Anbar) — but for the moment, the insurgents had the initiative. During this time, I had a chance to talk to the Chief of Staff of the 1st Marine Division, and he commented that we are “in a branch plan, of a branch plan.” This means that the original 1st Marine Division Operations Order itself had been adjusted at least several times. But adjusting the Operations Order for these multiple layers of authority is a process that requires more than just re-writing the document — it also requires disseminating the orders, doing appropriate training, and then executing the orders. In the coming deployments, the units that came after 3/7 in Husaybah and Al Qaim would be among the first to use the CAP technique; and in time, Lima Company would use those techniques — but this is years away from April 8, 2004. In retrospect, the painful irony of Gannon’s situation then was that he almost certainly had enough thin slices of knowledge to know that the insurgency in his area was morphing on a day by day basis, yet he also lacked the structure for spontaneity to adjust to it in the most effective manner.


At around 1545hrs an I.E.D exploded injuring one Marine. 2ndLT Awtry, Aaron, received a shrapnel wound to the left side of his chin. He was treated by LT Millegan and released to full duty.

At around 2233hrs an I.E.D exploded injuring one Marine. PFC Juarez, David, received shrapnel to his right shoulder and treated by HM2 Close and released to full duty


At around 0933hrs three Marines were injured by an I.E.D blast. LCPL Vargas, Joshua, received shrapnel wounds to his left flank and upper left thigh. He will be a convenient casevac to Al Quiam. LCPL Craigen, Jonathon, received shrapnel to his left cheek and was treated by HM2 Close and released to full duty. CPL Friedman, Russel, received a contusion to his right bisep and was treated by HM2 Close and released to full duty.






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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.