...,1st Draft

Chapter 9 – 14 April 2004, Crackhouse OP22 May

[dtg] 14 April
[grid] South East Husaybah – 11:45 AM

With the benefit of hindsight, one of the future Lima Company commanding officers would label the month of April, 2004, as a tipping point transition between two major phases of the Iraq War. In that month, in Rory Quinn’s estimation, the population shifted its support towards the insurgents and away from the Americans. But, in the moment, as this transition was taking place, it was more difficult for the Lima Marines to fully comprehend what was occurring. April 14 would mark another major step in the escalation of the insurgency against the Lima Marines in several respects. First, on April 14, the insurgents combined command-detonated IEDs with direct, small-arms fire for the first time. The April 8 IED Ambush on Market Street was an IED-only attack. Second, on April 14, the insurgents coordinated their actions in a narrow time frame — what in the military would be called a “Time on Target” mission.

Following the coordinated ambush of Lima 3 on April 8 on Market Street, the enemy continued to prepare Husaybah for a coordinated attack on Camp Husaybah. On April 10 at 3:45 PM, 2nd Lt Awtry was injured by an IED which left him with a shrapnel wound to the left side of his chin. He was treated by Navy Lt Millegan and released to full duty. Later that night, another IED exploded injuring Private David Juarez, who received a shrapnel wound to his right shoulder. He too was treated by a medic and released to full duty.

On the next day, three more Marines were wounded by shrapnel from IED blasts. Lance Corporal Vargas was wounded in his left flank and upper left thigh. He was evacuated to Al Qaim. Lance Corporal Craigen received shrapnel to this left cheek, was treated by a medic, and released to full duty. Lance Corporal Russell Friedman received a contusion to his right bicep, was treated and was released to full duty.

By April 14, Lieutenant Watson had returned to take command of Lima 3 back from Sergeant Soudan. A year later, in an email, Watson wrote, “April 14th I wanted to be “back in the saddle” as quickly as possible. I’d just returned from medevac at Al Asad a couple of days earlier and I was eager to get out with the platoon again. I don’t think anyone wanted to admit it but ‘mass casualty’ became very convincing at this point because we were facing a dedicated enemy and not just ‘a few dead-enders.'” Watson’s description suggests that the major assumptions which had driven the Operational Plan — from the Department of Defense on down (“dead-enders” was one of Secretary Rumsfeld’s phrases) — were fundamentally flawed.

Watson continues, describing the internal dynamics of Lima 3: “My Platoon Sergeant had just been relieved and I was all the platoon had for leadership beside Sgt Soudan who had been meritoriously promoted to Sergeant only a 6 weeks earlier.” Soudan may have expressed contempt for Watson — a feeling which was shared by some of the Staff Non Commissioned Officers in the Company, as we will see — but he also had at least a little contempt for Soudan’s lack of seniority as well. The main purpose of this book is not to develop the internal dynamics of Lima 3 (one of the main topics in Blood Stripes), but the central relationship between Platoon Commander and Platoon Sergeant in Lima 3 was not as strong as in other platoons.

Watson saw returning to command after his injury on 8 April as a personal challenge. He continues in his email, “I was still in pain from the shrapnel but wanted to prove to myself that I could continue. Every morning Doc Matthews would remove the gauze from my ankle and we would hope that the piece of sock and boot leather that the metal had taken in with it would come out of the wound. Every morning Doc would give me another motrin to swallow and I’d think ‘maybe tomorrow?'”

On the morning of April 14, Gannon assigned Lima 3 the mission of conducting an Observation Post (OP) in order to deny the area in Husaybah to the insurgents. Lima Company was still located in Camp Husaybah, on the edge of the town. Lima 3 and Sierra 4 — a sniper team from the Battalion headquarters company — were on patrol in Southern Husaybah. Lima 3 and Sierra 4 split up in order to establish two separate rooftop OPs overlooking Southern Husaybah.

Watson decided to set up a patrol base in a building which the Marines had named the Crackhouse. This was Checkpoint 69 on the Company’s maps. Corporal Lightfoot, one of Lieutenant Watson’s squad leaders disagreed with the decision to put the patrol base on top of the Crackhouse because it was well known by the enemy. Despite the misgivings of Lightfoot, Watson chose Checkpoint 69, a familiar large three-story pink building along Route Train. Later, Watson emailed me pictures of the building – a former hotel – informally known as the Crackhouse because of its run down condition. He noted, “You can see why it would make a good patrol base with so many stories and good stand off distance.” But, apparently the insurgents had made the same assessment of the building’s attractiveness as an OP.

Meanwhile, Sierra 4 continued north on foot to find a suitable building to establish an additional rooftop post. Lance Corporal Kurt Bellmont’s fireteam from Lima 3 went along to provide additional security. Lt Watson gave Bellmont the mission of escorting the snipers because he had the experience and judgment to operate independently.

Watson ordered to his remaining squad leaders to conduct security patrols in the vicinity. Corporal Milinkovic, 1st Squad Leader, and Corporal Gary DeLawyer, 3d Squad Leader (who had replaced Mejia due to injuries), departed on their missions. The remainder of Lima 3 began the process of clearing the crack house from floor to roof. As the sweep and clear of the Crackhouse entered its final stage, Watson, Corporal Lightfoot, and Lance Corporal Kevin Roshak stepped out onto the flat rooftop of the building and were hit by and IED attack. Lima 3 was setting up in the Crackhouse at 9:33 AM when a pile of wood on one corner of the roof exploded while Lt Watson, Corporal Lightfoot, and Lance Corporal Kevin Roshak, the Platoon Radio Operator, were setting up the Platoon Headquarters. The explosion blew out Lt Watson’s hearing – “but that was the 3d or 4th IED that I’d been next too at that point. I am not sure whether it was that IED that blew out my hearing.” A piece of shrapnel pierced Corporal Lighfoot’s left foot. A piece of shrapnel injured Lance Corporal Roshak’s left shoulder, and a 2×4 piece of wood was propelled into the left side of his neck.

The IED was most likely remote detonated by an enemy insurgent located on a nearby rooftop using a cell phone to trigger the explosive device. The crack house had been used in the past as a patrol base and the enemy most likely emplaced the IED on the roof under the assumption that a patrol would return to reuse the building – further increasing the likelihood that an insurgent was in a position close enough to observe the patrol step onto the roof.

Lima 3 Marines ran to assist and noticed that Lance Corporal Roshak had been impaled in his neck just under his left ear by wood splinters from the IED. Uncertain if his skull had been penetrated or if his inner ear was damaged, Watson — whose eardrum had been ruptured by the explosion — radioed Lima Company headquarters at Camp Husaybah for an evacuation of Roshak and Lightfoot.

The enemy had set up a coordinated ambush throughout much of the city. As soon as the explosion occurred on the top of the Crackhouse roof, a firefight with insurgents broke out between Lima 3 and insurgents north of the Crackhouse. Lima 3 expended at least 700 rounds of ammunition in the exchange. Corporal Milinkovic’s First Squad engaged a vehicle which they believed to be holding an IED as it sped towards their position in a house near the Crackhouse.

Link — who was leading his squad, which was providing security around the Crackhouse when the IED went off on the roof — recalls that the enemy was located between Lima 3 and Sierra 4. The enemy was taking advantage of an ambush opportunity. The insurgents were located in the buildings around the Crackhouse, they spotted the Marines and initiated the complex ambush, using both IEDs and small arms fire. Link recalls, “They had to be located between the Crackhouse and where [Bellmont’s] house was. The contact where we lit up [fired on] the vehicles, and the possible car bomb, and then we engaged a couple of targets on the roof, was maybe just a ambush opportunity.”

The IED exploding on the top of the Crackhouse was probably the trigger event for the ambush. Link recalls, “An IED had blown closer to the firm base, and that’s when we heard the car engine. He came flying out. Right when the car exposed itself, we started taking fire from the roof tops. So, maybe it was an ambush opportunity, or the people on the rooftops knew we were there and they did not want us to engage the car. The guys on the roofs just pretty much took off [when Link’s squad returned fire].”

Milinkovic squad was tasked with clearing the houses that the contact came from. He had fire teams moving through the different houses from which Lima 3 took contact. Link’s squad and 3d squad, commanded by DeLawyer, were clearing the houses. Link remembers, “My squad was tasked with clearing every house, block to block. So, I had [4 Marine] Fire Teams, ping-ponging across the street, just bounding back and forth. We had another squad set a screen for anyone that would come out running, and to check the roof tops. We tried manuevering out there to get after them, and we searched every single house in two city blocks, and had a CAAT Team [armored Hummers with heavy machine guns] cordon it off and everything, but we didn’t find anything. We found a couple of AK’s, but they use that for self defense, they are allowed to have an AK.”

Lance Corporal Bellmont’s fire team was operating independently a few hundred meters to the east of the Crackhouse. Lieutenant Watson trusted Bellmont to operate independently because of his judgment and leadership skills. Bellmont had a team of snipers from the Battalion STA (Surveillance, Targeting and Acquisition) Platoon attached to his fire team. Bellmont’s Team had been moving into and out of various houses in order to try to find the best position for the snipers to set in. Just 5 minutes after the IED exploded on the top of the Crackhouse, the snipers were setting up on top of a house, with Bellmont and the rest of his fire team in the house, below. Corporal Thompson, one of the snipers, stood up – and was shot through and through the left leg and into the right leg with a possible fracture. Thompson lay, badly wounded and in pain on the top of the roof while the enemy fired on him. One of the other snipers picked up a M-249 SAW and fired into the general direction of the insurgents while Bellmont ran onto the roof and picked up Thompson and carried him off the roof, and down the stairs so that he could be medevaced. Later, Lima Company put Bellmont in for an award for valor for his actions on top of the roof.

Still further to the East, in the H-K Triangle, at 12:15 PM, the Battalion Commander, LtCol Lopez and his translator, Lance Corporal Fallah were both fired upon, with Fallah receiving a serious wound to his left arm, requiring a medevac to Al Qaim. At 12:20, Lance Corporal Jason Dunham, Lance Corporal William Hampton, and PFC Morris were injured in a grenade blast. Lance Corporal Dunham had covered the grenade with his Kevlar helmet, then with his body, when the insurgent had dropped the explosive while the two wrestled. Dunham probably covered the grenade with the helmet, then his flak vest and body in order to minimize the effects of the bomb on his two fellow Marines. For his actions, 3/7 recommended that Dunham receive the Medal of Honor.

Lima 3 then received small arms fire from the rooftop of a nearby abandoned building known as the “white castle” – 200 meters due east along Route Train. The platoon immediately returned fire and observed that the enemy insurgents were all dressed identically – black robes with red and white checkered head wraps.

Sierra 4 had traveled north approximately 300 meters when they heard the IED explosion at the crack house and subsequent small arms fire. They quickly picked the closest abandoned building in order to establish a rooftop position facing south to orient themselves to the developing situation with Lima 3. Upon reaching the roof, Sierra 4 received small arms fire from a rooftop directly to their east. They immediately returned fire and noticed the insurgents all wearing matching black robes with red and white checkered head wraps. During the initial firefight, Lance Corporal Matthew Thompson was seriously wounded from a gunshot to both legs – his femoral artery had been hit and he was bleeding profusely. Lance Corporal Lucas Munds immediately grabbed the SAW machine gun and provided a base of suppressive fire as Corporal Steven Reifel and Bellmont drug Lance Corporal Thompson to safety inside the house. Bellmont administered first aid in order to stop the bleeding as Corporal Reifel and Lance Corporal Munds returned to the rooftop and continued the firefight.

On the platoon radio net, Link heard Bellmont and Watson arguing about whether Sierra 4 could move with the seriously injured Corporal Thompson. Link says, “I remember hearing [Bellmont] on the radio, saying, ‘Negative, I cannot leave’ and hearing [Bellmont] trying to argue with him. I thought that was a good [decision], in the end it was a good [decision].”

I asked, “Why do you say that?”

Link responded, “That’s a perfect example of why do you have team leaders, why do you have squad leaders. If that fire team leader is three blocks away, and I am calling him saying, ‘Get your ass here now.’ [The team leader responds] ‘Well why do you need it.’ I say, ‘For accountability.’ Well, what if he’s on to something, maybe finding a mortar position. He’s got better [situational awareness], he’s got to be a good enough leader to say, ‘Hey, hold on. I will be there when I can. I am doing this now.’ That is the same as a squad leader talking to the Lieutenant, and it’s particularly good for a fire team leader to be able to say that to a Lieutenant. Link felt that Bellmont made a good call in that he had better situational awareness and made a decision to stay in his position.

I asked, “What decision did Watson as Platoon Commander, and you as Squad Leader make after you took that contact?”

“I remember a couple people were engaging us still. We had SAW gunners [light machine guns] on the rooftops engaging multiple targets. I was sitting there watching this, and thought, ‘Fire’s no good without manuever,’ so I told Watson, ‘I am going out the door, I am gone, is that alright?’ [Watson replied] ‘Just show me where you are going on the map.’ Then, together we worked out where I would go. [Watson said] ‘Check this block, this block, and this block. Stop here.’ He set out a couple of my boundaries, which is what a good Lieutenant does. The squad leader should be aggressive, but he’s got to pull you back a little bit.”

From Link’s perspective as a squad leader, the working relationship between Link and Watson was very effective. Watson held Link back a little, gave him a general mission (clearing the buildings where the fire came from), but otherwise, Link operated on his own. One of the trends that we will see throughout this book is that talented Marines like Link and Bellmont appreciate the autonomy of being allowed to operate with as much independence as they show that they can handle.

Link and Bellmont believe that it was not all the same insurgents shooting at both Lima 3 and Sierra 4. Bellmont could not tell how many fighters the enemy had posted throughout the city. But, he gives them credit for employing very good coordination. Bellmont and Link think that the insurgents had them sandwiched, just based on the geometry of fires — the Marine term for where the small arms fire was coming from.

I asked Link and Bellmont, “What did the enemy do that surprised you?”

“They mortared our helicopters,” replied Link. “They [the mortars] were far off,” continues Link. “But they tried to hit the helicopters with mortars. They knew that the medevac was coming to the LZ there. We were in a 360 [degree perimeter] launching 203s [40mm grenades] at rooftops because we were still taking little pop shots from one of the mansions [one of the prominent local houses]. And we heard [the mortars] going off in the distance. All of a sudden, they were trying to walk the mortar rounds onto the [landing zone].” Link recalls that he was surprised that the enemy attacked the helicopters when they came in. That showed a level of planning, coordination, and preparation that the Marines had not yet seen in their opponents in Husaybah.

Bellmont adds, “What surprised me was that this was a coordinated attack. They had so many attacks going on in different places, so it was obviously something they had set up in their meeting the night prior. With the angles that I got shot from, and the angles that [Link and the rest of Lima 3] were shot from, it was not all the same people firing at them, and the same people firing at me. I think that they had individuals or groups of two posted in different parts of the city. They are not going to post them all in one corner of the city, and hope the [Marines] all go here today. So who knows how many they might have had in different parts of the city that just didn’t get action that day.”

Link adds, “I think we had them sandwiched. [I don’t] know exactly. But just the fact that we had a [Fire] Team plus [Bellmont and the snipers].”

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

Link replied, “Well once everyone is freaking out — well not freaking out — but there is that much chaos, most leaders will try to pull everything in, and reorganize it. Once they could not get Bellmont back and did not know why, and the thing with the Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major was happening, with blood on their Humvee from Fallah, telling us that story [at the H-K triangle, several hundred meters away], and the thing with Dunham was going on at the same time [just a little further to the East], we [the Lima 3 Marines] did not know that, which was complicated enough. [At that point in time], you pretty much took the whole leadership above us away because they were tasked with all this other stuff going on. The Lieutenant was getting on the radio, and there was crazy stuff going on on the net [the radio]. Alright, we have to do this ourselves. All I need is some direction about where to go house to house, and I will take it from here.” For his part, Link seems to have thrived on the chaotic situation, an assessment made by other Lima leaders, such as Gunnery Sergeant Sandor Vegh.

Lieutenant Watson stayed at the Crackhouse. “That’s where the casualty evacuation was going to be. That’s where the react would come if they needed it.”

“That’s how I like it,” continued Link. “I don’t need the Platoon Commander coming with me. Not that I am being disrespectful, I just don’t like that feeling of him on my watch.”

Watson heard the firefight to the north at Sierra 4’s position and advised Lima Company headquarters of the developing situation. He observed that Sierra 4 was under fire from identically dressed terrorists on a separate rooftop and directed his squads to fire onto that rooftop in addition to the castle’s rooftop. Moments later, a gray sedan with two occupants dressed in black robes with red and white head wraps, appeared from a side road to the northwest of the crack house and drove directly into the crossfire between 3d Platoon and the northern enemy position. The vehicle was hit and immediately disabled and the Marines temporarily ceased fire. 2nd Lt Watson radioed Lima headquarters and updated them on the situation as his platoon and Sierra 4 continued to receive sporadic fire.

CAAT Blue A — which consisted of armored Hummers mounted with heavy machine guns — lead by Sergeant Ryan Harnett departed Camp Husaybah for the crack house in order to extract the injured. Lima Company headquarters then advised Battalion headquarters of the impending casualty evacuations and the Air Ambulances at Camp Al Qaim prepared for the fight. In addition, Lima headquarters dispatched the company reaction squad – 3d Squad, 2nd Platoon (Lima 23), led by Lance Corporal Jeremy Rodgers – to reinforce 3d Platoon. Lima 23 moved through town on foot and linked up with 2nd Lt Watson in the vicinity of the crack house. Lima 23 then stayed attached to Lima 3 throughout the remaining engagements. Meanwhile, CAAT Blue — another unit comprised of armored Hummers — arrived at Sierra 4’s position and Bellmont carried Lance Corporal Thompson down from the roof and loaded him into a Humvee. Bellmont then returned to the roof as Sierra 4 continued their firefight with insurgents. CAAT Blue moved south and searched the gray sedan to discover the driver dead and the front seat passenger seriously wounded. CAAT Blue made their final stop at the crack house and picked up Corporal Lightfoot and Lance Corporal Roshak.

With all four injured onboard, CAAT Blue departed for LZ Sparrow, an empty grass field on the southeastern edge of Husaybah. Sierra 4 and Lima 3 continued to engage the enemy and provide covering fire as CAAT Blue drove east along Route Train, the main East-West road on the Southern edge of Husaybah. CAAT Blue arrived at the landing zone and secured it for aerial medical evacuation as Staff Sergeant Wilder established communications with two Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. One of the helicopters maintained aerial overwatch as Wilder guided the other into the zone. Nearing touchdown, the helicopter came under enemy fire and was forced to abort the landing and depart the landing zone. Unable to locate the enemy shooters and guarantee reasonable landing zone security, CAAT Blue abandoned LZ Sparrow and drove all four injured to another landing zone, a large paved parking lot just to the southeast of Camp Husaybah. 2nd Platoon, Lima Company (Lima 2) was on scene and had already secured the area. Captain Jon “2 Pam” Stofka, the Lima Company Forward Air Controller (FAC), was with Lima 2 and he instructed the helicopters to remain airborne and hold nearby until CAAT Blue arrived on scene with the wounded. Once the vehicles arrived, all four injured were loaded onto the Air Ambulances and taken to Camp Al Qaim for further medical attention. CAAT Blue was then re-routed to the Husaybah-Karabilah Triangle in order to provide assistance to an ongoing firefight involving the Battalion Commander and the Civil Affairs Group (CAG).

The narrative above — largely taken from the 3/7 unit chronology — sets the skeleton of events on April 14. Stepping back — scrolling the Google map back an order of magnitude, if you will — we begin to see some significant patterns emerge. The first pattern is the timing of events. The following are the list of injuries sustained by Marines from 3/7, from the unit medical diary:

At around 11:45 an I.E.D exploded injuring two Marines. Corporal Lightfoot received shrapnel to his left foot. Lance Corporal Roshak received shrapnel to his left posterior shoulder and a protruding object on the left side of his neck. Both Marines were a priority medevac to Al Qaim.

At around 12:00 Peacemaker took small arms fire injuring two Marines. Private Simental received a bullet wound to his right calf. He was a routine medical evacuation to Al Qaim. Captain Lewis received a gun shot wound to the left upper arm. He was a priority evacuation to Al Qaim.

At around 11:50 one Marine from the Battalion sniper platoon was injured due to enemy fire. Corporal Thompson received a gunshot wound through and through the left leg and into the right leg with possible fracture. He was a priority medevac to Al Qaim.

At around 12:15 Blade 6, the Battalion Commander, received small arms fire injuring two Marines. Lieutenant Colonel Lopez received a burn to his right rib cage and was treated by Navy Medic Close and released to full duty. Lance Corporal Fallah received a through and through gun shot wound to the left arm with possible humerous fracture. He was a urgent medevac to Al Qaim.

At around 12:20 three Marines were injured from a grenade blast. Corporal Dunham received blast trauma to his head. He was a urgent surgery medevac to Al Qaim. Lance Corporal Hampton received multiple shrapnel wounds to his body. Private Morris, received multiple shrapnel to his body. Both were routine medevac to Al Qaim.

Several observations stand out from a review of the exact time of the injuries. First, five distinct attacks take place all within 35 minutes, approximately. This is what is called a “time on target” or synchronized attack in the military (9-11 was a time on target attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capital). Given the communications that the insurgents had, this level of coordination is notable. The insurgents had to observe the activities of the 3/7 Marines for weeks in order to discern the patterns and targets that would have the biggest effect.

Second, the insurgents targeted leaders. On the top of the Crackhouse OP, the insurgents hit Lt Watson (again) with a command detonated IED that ruptured his eardrum, impaled his radio operator’s (Roshak’s) neck with a piece of wood, and put a hole through the foot of one of his squad leaders (Lighfoot). At the H-K Triangle — a road intersection with a distinctive arch that marked the dividing line between Lima Company and Kilo Company’s respective zones of action — the insurgents targeted the Battalion Commander, LtCol Lopez.

Third, the insurgents targeted interpreters — what political science scholars (like Joseph Nye) might term a source of “soft power.” A Marine like Wasser with a bag of soccer balls meant to build good will with Iraqi kids would also be a source of “soft power.” The insurgents did, in fact, injure Corporal Fallah — a Marine who spoke Arabic because he was a native speaker — an indication that they targeted him in particular.

Fourth, the insurgents targeted a sniper — Corporal Thompson. In a counterinsurgency, as has been observed of the Fallujah operation, snipers were the weapon that insurgents feared the most.

Fifth, the insurgents targeted the area where Lima Company and Kilo Company’s zone of actions were divided. This is the area where Corporal Dunham sustained the trauma to his head. Dunham actually jumped on an insurgent grenade, covering the explosive with his helmet, and then his own body, thus protecting his two fellow Marines from likely more serious injury. For his actions, Dunham would later receive the Medal of Honor, but he died of his injuries so his parents received the nation’s highest award for valor on his behalf. His story, including many of these same events on April 14 is also the subject of a book by Michael Phillips, The Gift of Valor.

These were not just a series of random attacks carried out by opportunistic individuals. Rather, the IED blast on top of the Crackhouse, followed immediately by small arms fire; the well aimed shot that dropped Corporal Thompson, followed immediately by small arms fire; the shots that almost killed the Battalion Commander and his translator; the intensity of the close combat with Dunham, Hampton, and Morris – all together these enemy actions indicated a coordination that had been lacking in the enemy actions up to that point. The enemy had ratcheted up the violence against the Marines. Before April 8, the Marines faced individual IED blasts without small arms fire. In the April 8 ambush, the Marines faced 3 IEDs, all coordinated to explode in the path of 3 squads as they moved together down Market Street. Yet, there were many, many more IEDs in almost any path that the Marines of Lima 3 could have chosen on April 8. Now, on April 14, the Marines were facing not only coordinated IEDs, clearly detonated by enemy trigger men with “eyes on” the Marines as they set into the top of the Crackhouse. The Marines were also facing small arms fire which was integrated with the IEDs. A basic tactical principle of the US Military is that obstacles should be covered by fire. By April 14, the enemy was covering their IEDs with small arms fire, coordinated by information gathered from the population or their own spotters.

Summing up April 14, Watson recalled in an email, “At sundown on 14 April I had been in Iraq only 5 weeks and had already been wounded twice. (the IED on the crackhouse ruptured my eardrum).”


In Outliers, Gladwell argues that success is a function primarily of culture. In the complex ambush of April 14, we see several indications of the culture of success in combat that the Marine Corps has developed. Two of the concepts from Outliers are most applicable. The first principle of success that applies here is The Matthew Effect, or the idea of cumulative advantage expressed in the Biblical verse, “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” Link and Bellmont, both in their own way, display this characteristic of successful Marine combat leaders.

On April 8, Link lead his squad North of Market Street. He was using Satellite patrolling to disperse his Marines into 2-Marine teams so that no IED would kill or injure more than just two Marines. Although his squad sustained injuries on April 8, his unit — perhaps by luck, but also perhaps by the use of Satellite Patrolling — came out of the ill-fated presence patrol with fewer injured Marines than the other two squads.

By April 14, Link and his commander, Watson, had a high degree of mutual respect. Link lead his squad West of the Crackhouse, reporting in to Watson, but largely running his 13-Marine unit with autonomy. His squad engaged the vehicle of insurgents, and his squad cleared a structure from which the platoon had taken fire. Watson was in command of the 40-Marine platoon, but Link was stepping up and taking over decisions and actions sometimes reserved for a higher level unit. In contrast to the contempt from Soudan, Link had a higher degree of respect for Watson — in fact, when Danelo’s book regarding the Watson-Soudan tension came out, Link was one of Watson’s defenders. While the relationship between Watson and Soudan may have been souring, the commander to commander relationship between Watson and Link was improving.

Similarly, by April 14, Bellmont was also given a higher degree of autonomy by Watson. Watson detached Bellmont to escort the sniper teams because he thought Bellmont could handle the autonomy. When confronted with the complex ambush in which Corporal Thompson was hit with a grievous wound, Bellmont validated his commander’s judgment of his independent leadership ability. Bellmont carried the injured Marine from the roof, then Bellmont made the call to not move the injured Marine. Bellmont helped to make sure that Corporal Thompson was evacuated in a way that would give the Marine the best chance of surviving.

Another chapter in Outliers is devoted to “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” This chapter turns on what sociologists call the Power Distance Index (PDI), which is “concerned with attitudes towards hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority.” A high PDI may have been the reason that pilots from certain ethnic backgrounds crashed their planes due to avoidable errors like running out of gas when crew members are confronted with incompetent (but high PDI) senior pilots, or brusque (low PDI) air traffic controllers. In Lima Company, this concept comes up under the title — to foreshadow a major idea used by Lima leadership in 2007 — “Rank is nothing, talent is everything,” a nice shorthand for a low PDI combat culture.

In the stress of the complex ambush of April 14, Link’s talent as a squad leader starts to trump his rank. Similarly, Bellmont’s good judgment and timely actions start to trump his rank as well (at that point, Bellmont is not even a non-commissioned officer, which is the rank of Corporal and Sergeant). Bellmont’s heroism with the sniper team were the subject of a passage in Michael Phillips’ The Gift of Valor, and the Lima Company leadership wrote Bellmont up for an award, but it was never given to him. Bellmont’s actions lead to further responsibility.

Finally, the account of the evacuation of the injured Marines depends to a great degree on the competence of Staff Sergeant Wilder. His role that day, too, could be noted under the heading of “Rank is nothing, talent is everything.” Wilder was credited by Link for “teaching him everything he knew,” when Link first joined Lima Company in 2002. But, earlier in the Husaybah deployment of 2004, Wilder was the Lima 3 Platoon Sergeant who was relieved due to striking a Marine who had failed to bring along the assigned gear out on a patrol in Husaybah. Wilder was potentially in a lot of trouble, though his case would end for administrative reasons in a few days. But Captain Gannon went out of his way in his spare communications with Battalion to praise Wilder for the work that he did in fortifying Camp Husaybah. On the 14th of April, with Marines critically injured with limb- and life-threatening injuries, Gannon assigned Wilder the important task of going to a landing zone, securing it, and then calling in a medical evacuation helicopter. Not only did Wilder secure one landing zone, but when the insurgents shot at the evacuation aircraft — a surprise for Link and Bellmont — Wilder went to a second landing zone, secured that area, and then repeated the medical evacuation protocols.

[The Marine Corps is a low PDI culture, which will be useful in transitioning to Small Wars operations, as we will see in coming sections of the book.]

This was taken following the firefight at the Crackhouse 14 April 2004. These are members of 1st Squad Third Platoon Company L, 3/7. I’m seated in the middle, Sgt Peter C. Milinkovic is standing with his kevlar under his arm to my right. Cpl Bilderback is kneeling to my left with a red motorola radio on his flak

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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.