Monday, November 22, 2004

A Letter to Dad

From LTCOL Dave Bellon to his Dad, about FallujahDear Dad -

Just came out of the city and I honestly do not know where to start. I am afraid that whatever I send you will not do sufficient honor to the men who fought and took Fallujah.

Shortly before the attack, Task Force Fallujah was built. It consisted of Regimental Combat Team 1 built around 1st Marine Regiment and Regimental Combat Team 7 built around 7th Marine Regiment. Each Regiment consisted of two Marine Rifle Battalions reinforced and one Army mechanized infantry battalion.

Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1) consisted of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (3rd LAR), 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5); 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (3/1)and 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry (2/7). RCT-7 was slightly less weighted but still a formidable force. Cutting a swath around the city was an Army Brigade known as Blackjack. The Marine RCT's were to assault the city while Blackjack kept the enemy off of the backs of the assault force.

The night prior to the actual invasion, we all moved out into the desert just north of the city. It was something to see. You could just feel the intensity in the Marines and Soldiers. It was all business. As the day cleared, the Task Force began striking targets and moving into final attack positions. As the invasion force commenced its movement into attack positions, 3rd LAR led off RCT-1's offensive with an attack up a peninsula formed by the Euphrates River on the west side of the city. Their mission was to secure the Fallujah Hospital and the two bridges leading out of the city. They executed there tasks like clockwork and smashed the enemy resistance holding the bridges. Simultaneous to all of this, Blackjack sealed the escape routes to the south of the city. As invasion day dawned, the net was around the city and the Marines and Soldiers knew that the enemy that failed to escape was now sealed.

3/5 began the actual attack on the city by taking an apartment complex on the northwest corner of the city. It was key terrain as the elevated positions allowed the command to look down into the attack lanes. The Marines took the apartments quickly and moved to the rooftops and began engaging enemy that were trying to move into their fighting positions. The scene on the rooftop was surreal. Machine gun teams were running boxes of ammo up 8 flights of stairs in full body armor and carrying up machine guns while snipers engaged enemy shooters. The whole time the enemy was firing mortars and rockets at the apartments. Honest to God, I don't think I saw a single Marine even distracted by the enemy fire. Their squad leaders, and platoon commanders had them prepared and they were executing their assigned tasks.

As mentioned, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry joined the Regiment just prior to the fight. In fact, they started showing up for planning a couple of weeks in advance. There is always a professional rivalry between the Army and the Marine Corps but it was obvious from the outset that these guys were the real deal. They had fought in Najaf and were eager to fight with the Regiment in Fallujah. They are exceptionally well led and supremely confident.

2/7 became our wedge. In short, they worked with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. We were limited in the amount of prep fires that we were allowed to fire on the city prior to the invasion. This was a point of some consternation to the forces actually taking the city. Our compensation was to turn to 2/7 and ask them to slash into the city and create as much turbulence as possible for 3/1 to follow. Because of the political reality, the Marine Corps was also under pressure to "get it done quickly." For this reason, 2/7 and 3/1 became the penetration force into the city.

Immediately following 3/5's attack on the apartment buildings, 3/1 took the train station on the north end of the city. While the engineers blew a breach through the train trestle, the Cavalry soldiers poured through with their tanks and Bradley's and chewed an opening in the enemy defense. 3/1 followed them through until they reached a phase[line deep into the northern half of the city. The Marine infantry along with a few tanks then turned to the right and attacked the heart of the enemy defense. The fighting was tough as the enemy had the area dialed in with mortars. 3/5 then attacked into the northwest corner of the city. This fight continued as both Marine rifle battalions clawed their way into the city on different axis.

There is an image burned into my brain that I hope I never forget. We came up behind 3/5 one day as the lead squads were working down the Byzantine streets of the Jolan area. An assault team of two Marines ran out from behind cover and put a rocket into a wall of an enemy strongpoint. Before the smoke cleared the squad behind them was up and moving through the hole and clearing the house. Just down the block another squad was doing the same thing. The house was cleared quickly and the Marines were running down the street to the next contact. Even in the midst of that mayhem, it was an awesome site.

The fighting has been incredibly close inside the city. The enemy is willing to die and is literally waiting until they see the whites of the eyes of the Marines before they open up. Just two days ago, as a firefight raged in close quarters, one of the interpreters yelled for the enemy in the house to surrender. The enemy yelled back that it was better to die and go to heaven than to surrender to infidels. This exchange is a graphic window into the world that the Marines and Soldiers have been fighting in these last 10 days.

I could go on and on about how the city was taken but one of the most amazing aspects to the fighting was that we saw virtually no civilians during the battle. Only after the fighting had passed did a few come out of their homes. They were provided food and water and most were evacuated out of the city. At least 90-95% of the people were gone from the city when we attacked.

I will end with a couple of stories of individual heroism that you may not have heard yet. I was told about both of these incidents shortly after they occurred. No doubt some of the facts will change slightly but I am confident that the meat is correct.

The first is a Marine from 3/5. His name is Corporal Yeager (Chuck Yeager's grandson). As the Marines cleared and apartment building, they got to the top floor and the point man kicked in the door. As he did so, an enemy grenade and a burst of gunfire came out. The explosion and enemy fire took off the point man's leg. He was then immediately shot in the arm as he lay in the doorway. Corporal Yeager tossed a grenade in the room and ran into the doorway and into the enemy fire in order to pull his buddy back to cover. As he was dragging the wounded Marine to cover, his own grenade came back through the doorway. Without pausing, he reached down and threw the grenade back through the door while he heaved his buddy to safety. The grenade went off inside the room and Cpl Yeager threw another in. He immediately entered the room following the second explosion. He gunned down three enemy all within three feet of where he stood and then let fly a third grenade as he backed out of the room to complete the evacuation of the wounded Marine. You have to understand that a grenade goes off within 5 seconds of having the pin pulled. Marines usually let them "cook off" for a second or two before tossing them in. Therefore, this entire episode took place in less than 30 seconds.

The second example comes from 3/1. Cpl Mitchell is a squad leader. He was wounded as his squad was clearing a house when some enemy threw pineapple grenades down on top of them. As he was getting triaged, the doctor told him that he had been shot through the arm. Cpl Mitchell told the doctor that he had actually been shot "a couple of days ago" and had given himself self aide on the wound. When the doctor got on him about not coming off the line, he firmly told the doctor that he was a squad leader and did not have time to get treated as his men were still fighting. There are a number of Marines who have been wounded multiple times but refuse to leave their fellow Marines.

It is incredibly humbling to walk among such men. They fought as hard as any Marines in history and deserve to be remembered as such. The enemy they fought burrowed into houses and fired through mouse holes cut in walls, lured them into houses rigged with explosives and detonated the houses on pursuing Marines, and actually hid behind surrender flags only to engage the Marines with small arms fire once they perceived that the Marines had let their guard down. I know of several instances where near dead enemy rolled grenades out on Marines who were preparing to render them aid. It was a fight to the finish in every sense and the Marines delivered.

I have called the enemy cowards many times in the past because they have never really held their ground and fought but these guys in the city did. We can call them many things but they were not cowards.

My whole life I have read about the greatest generation and sat in wonder at their accomplishments. For the first time, as I watch these Marines and Soldiers, I am eager for the future as this is just the beginning for them. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of all is that the morale of the men is sky high. They hurt for the wounded and the dead but they are eager to continue to attack. Further, not one of them would be comfortable with being called a hero even though they clearly are.

By now the Marines and Soldiers have killed well over a thousand enemy. These were not peasants or rabble. They were reasonably well trained and entirely fanatical. Most of the enemy we have seen have chest rigs full of ammunition and are well armed are willing to fight to the death. The Marines and Soldiers are eager to close with them and the fighting at the end is inevitably close.

I will write you more the next time I come in about what we have found inside the city. All I can say is that even with everything that I knew and expected from the last nine months, the brutality and fanaticism of the enemy surprised me. The beheadings were even more common place than we thought but so were torture and summary executions. Even though it is an exaggeration, it seems as though every block in the northern part of the city has a torture chamber or execution site. There are hundreds of tons of munitions and tens of thousands of weapons that our Regiment alone has recovered. The Marines and Soldiers of the Regiment have also found over 400 IEDs already wired and ready to detonate. No doubt these numbers will grow in the days ahead.

In closing, I want to share with you a vignette about when the Marines secured the Old Bridge (the one where the Americans were mutilated and hung on March 31) this week. After the Marines had done all the work and secured the bridge, we walked across to meet up with 3rd LAR on the other side. On the Fallujah side of the bridge where the Americans were hung there is some Arabic writing on the bridge. An interpreter translated it for me as we walked through. It read: "Long Live the Mujahadeen. Fallujah is the Graveyard for Americans and the end of the Marine Corps."

As I came back across the bridge there was a squad sitting in their Amtrac smoking and watching the show. The Marines had written their own message below the enemy's. It is not something that Mom would appreciate but it fit the moment to a T. Not far from the vehicle were two dead enemy laying where they died. The Marines were sick of watching the "Dog and Pony show" and wanted to get back to work.

Dave


Sunday, November 21, 2004

A Letter from Herbert Meyer

I kind of like this guy...

Letter from Herbert E. Meyer

Hi. Are you nuts?

Forgive me for being so blunt, but your reaction to our reelection of President Bush has been so outrageous that I'm wondering if you have quite literally lost your minds. One of Britain's largest newspapers ran a headline asking "How Can 59 Million Americans Be So Dumb?", and commentators in France all seemed to use the same word ­ bizarre -- to explain the election's outcome to their readers. In Germany the editors of Die Tageszeitung responded to our vote by writing that ³"ush belongs at a war tribunal ­ not in the White House." And on a London radio talk show last week one Jeremy Hardy described our President and those of us who voted for him as "stupid, crazy, ignorant, bellicose Christian fundamentalists." Of course, you are entitled to whatever views about us that you care to hold. (And lucky for you we Americans aren't like so many of the Muslims on your own continent; as the late Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh just discovered, make one nasty crack about them and you¹re likely to get six bullets pumped into your head and a knife plunged into your chest.)

But before you write us off as just a bunch of sweaty, hairy-chested, Bible-thumping morons who are more likely to break their fast by dipping a Krispy Kreme into a diet cola than a biscotti into an espresso and who inexplicably have won more Nobel prizes than all other countries combined, host 25 or 30 of the world's finest universities and five or six of the world's best symphonies, produce wines that win prizes at your own tasting competitions, have built the world's most vibrant economy, are the world's only military superpower and, so to speak in our spare time, have landed on the moon and sent our robots to Mars ­ may I suggest you stop frothing at the mouth long enough to consider just what are these ideas we hold that you find so silly and repugnant?

We believe that church and state should be separate, but that religion should remain at the center of life. We are a Judeo-Christian culture, which means we consider those ten things on a tablet to be commandments, not suggestions. We believe that individuals are more important than groups, that families are more important than governments, that children should be raised by their parents rather than by the State, and that marriage should take place only between a man and a woman. We believe that rights must be balanced by responsibilities, that personal freedom is a privilege we must be careful not to abuse, and that the rule of law cannot be set aside when it becomes inconvenient. We believe in economic liberty, and in the right of purposeful and industrious entrepreneurs to run their businesses ­ and thus create jobs ­ with a minimum of government interference. We recognize that other people see things differently, and we are tolerant of their views. But we believe that our country is worth defending, and if anyone decides that killing us is an okay thing to do we will go after them with everything we've got. If these beliefs seem strange to you, they shouldn't. For these are precisely the beliefs that powered Western Europe ­ you -- from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, on to the Enlightenment, and forward into the modern world. They are the beliefs that made Europe itself the glory of Western civilization and ­ not coincidentally ­ ignited the greatest outpouring of art, literature, music and scientific discovery the world has ever known including Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Bach, Issac Newton and Descartes.

Europe is Dying

It is your abandonment of these beliefs that has created the gap between Europe and the United States. You have ceased to be a Judeo-Christian culture, and have become instead a secular culture. And a secular culture quickly goes from being "un-religious" to anti-religious. Indeed, your hostility to the basic concepts of Judaism and Christianity has literally been written into your new European Union constitution, despite the Pope's heroic efforts to the contrary. Your rate of marriage is at an all-time low, and the number of abortions in Europe is at an all-time high. Indeed, your birth rates are so far below replacement levels that in 30 years or so there will be 70 million fewer Europeans alive than are alive today. Europe is literally dying. And of the children you do manage to produce, all too few will be raised in stable, two-parent households. Your economy is stagnant because your government regulators make it just about impossible for your entrepreneurs to succeed,­ except by fleeing to the United States, where we welcome them and celebrate their success. And your armed forces are a joke. With the notable exception of Great Britain, you no longer have the military strength to defend yourselves. Alas, you no longer have the will to defend yourselves. What worries me even more than all this is your willful blindness. You refuse to see that it is you, not we Americans, who have abandoned Western Civilization. It's worrisome because, to tell you the truth, we need each other. Western Civilization today is under siege, from radical Islam on the outside and from our own selfish hedonism within. It's going to take all of our effort, our talent, our creativity and, above all, our will to pull through. So take a good, hard look at yourselves and see what your own future will be if you don't change course. And please, stop sneering at America long enough to understand it. After all, Western Civilization was your gift to us, and you ought to be proud of what we Americans have made of it.

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council.

A young Marine's experience.

Really think on this one before you second-guess a young man's instincts in battle.

A Young Marines' Real Experience

This is one story of many that people normally don't hear, and one that everyone does.This is just one most don't hear:

A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives.

The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag. But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares.

This is the story everyone hears:
A young Marine and his fire team cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with AK-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded. Suddenly, he pulls from under his bloody clothes a grenade, without the pin. The explosion rocks the room, killing one Marine, wounding the others. The young Marine catches shrapnel in the face. The next day, same Marine, same type of situation, a different story. The young Marine and his cover man enter a room with two wounded insurgents. One lies on the floor in puddle of blood, another against the wall. A reporter and his camera survey the wreckage inside, and in the background can be heard the voice of a Marine, "He's moving, he's moving!" The pop of a rifle is heard, and the insurgent against the wall is now dead.Minutes, hours later, the scene is aired on national television, and the Marine is being held for committing a war crime. Unlawful killing.

And now, another Marine has the possibility of being burned at the stake for protecting the life of his brethren. His family now wrings their hands in grief, tears streaming down their face. Brother, should I have been in your boots, I too would have done the same. For those of you who don't know, we Marines, Band of Brothers, Jarheads, Leathernecks, etc., do not fight because we think it is right, or think it is wrong. We are here for the man to our left, and the man to our right. We choose to give our lives so that the man or woman next to us can go home and see their husbands, wives, children, friends and families.For those of you who sit on your couches in front of your television, and choose to condemn this man's actions, I have but one thing to say to you. Get out of you recliner, lace up my boots, pick up a rifle, leave your family behind and join me. See what I've seen, walk where I have walked.

To those of you who support us, my sincerest gratitude. You keep us alive. I am a Marine currently doing his second tour in Iraq. These are my opinions and mine alone. They do not represent those of the Marine Corps or of the US military, or any other.

Sincerely, LCPL SchmidtUSMC

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Quiet time for reflection

Ah, rested now, but it is after 2 in the morning. Times zones are a bitch.

A blisteringly fast (relatively speaking of course) trip into the 'Stan this time. Much has improved but there are endless details that will need attending to before we can RIP. And in a few months time everything can change. A few thoughts, thrown together in no particular order:

* Security and stability are the key issues there right now- very few incidents at all after the election and it seems like the enemy is licking his wounds and waiting for the parlamentary elections. Construction is everywhere in downtown Kandahar, Bagram and all bases. Cell phones advertised. DVDs hawked. A Textile plant going up. Real progress. A real sense of permanence. We are here to stay until Afghanistan gets back up on it's feet.

* Most people are happy that the coalition forces are there. Went on a patrol with some MPs in downtown Kandahar and kids ran to see us....the thumbs up evident everywhere. We are not seen as the oppressor. The roads are now paved, unlike when I was last here, and people notice. A few kids throwing rocks, but not bad overall. Just remember, Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, eat your heart out. And 6 hours in an uparmor HMMWV sucks, even with air conditioning. I like to feel the wind in my face, armor or no. I went 300km in an unarmored HMMWV on convoys twice last tour. No freedom in an uparmor. You can't taste the enviornment, you're not connected to it. Armor is more prevalent now than last tour, but it is mostly not needed. It is nice to have though.

*A better effort at integrating the civil reconstruction and combat operations is going on. More work needs to be done so we are truly "gung-ho" or striving towards harmony. But it is getting better, and money is available. As a military we are reaching out towards any populace available as long as we can provide the correct forces and proper security. A lot of land and too few of those forces. The 'Stan is the a black hole for military forces. I could dump the entire US Army in there and we would still find more to do. Rest assured we are doing the best with what we have and it will be enough.

*ANA. Afghan National Army. The surprise hit of the season. The locals love them and with some good trainers they are heading down the right path. Last time I was here we had a couple companies and none down south. Now they have several battalions worth down south and growing every day. A drive through Kandahar on the 16 Nov showed no weapons in the hands of anyone other than ANA or police. Definately progress. The warlords, as long as they are rolled into the money and power scheme provide some tense moments but nothing terrible. When shown superior (or even not so superior) force they back down. Counter-drug will be the next big effort.

* Drug eradication. Karzai has said drugs ar illegal and they will wipe them out. This will cause most of the big unrest in the next couple of years. The ANA will have to do it, and this is an issue because it is a cash crop. Drug lords will not be happy. We must find some crop or industry to take the place of opium or this could be a black hole. The Afghan people want to survive and they want an economy- they just can't base it on drugs. Subsidize the opium crop for a few years and then replace it with something else we subsidize I suppose. We shall see. The Taliban/AQ could take advantage of this and the upcoming national assembly elections. They are mostly punks, but this could give them some leverage.

All told a very useful trip but I devolve now into endless numbers of niggling little details preparing our paratroopers to train for their individual and section missions. No high speed romance or glamor for me this tour (or last tour come to think of it). I must plan to establish a headquarters and get systems in place to fiX howitzers and HMMWVs, and feed mail, and howitzer ammunition to our boys. As our president says, it will be hard work and often unappreciated. But no US Artillery unit has ever run out of ammunition, and none will while I am responsible for it. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Busy now. The frustrations I feel are normal to make sure we get this right. Because we have to. It is too important to fail.

Rest assured we are succeeding. Afghanistan is improving. But they cannot be left on their own right now. Thw work we do is important and our Soldiers and Marines are important in doing that mission. Please take the time to remember them. You can even give a few thanks to the USAF Movement Control Teams whose Chinese Fire Drill attempts at move people by strategic and intra-theater air are probably well intentioned if a bit misguided.

I leave you with a little John Stuart Mill (1806-1873):
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made so and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Kicking Ass and Taking Names

Want to know why we are doing so well in Fallujah? Training friends, training. Or watching Fox News from Germany. Pray for our boys in the fight. Pray for clean deaths for the godless terrorists who want to kill them and us.

But is still very hard. Always very hard. And good men die even when you are doing it right. Because the enemy wants to live too.

From USA today.

http:\\www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-11-08-urban-warfare_x?POE=click-refer

that is all for now

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's in your hands

Election day. I don't care who you vote for but go out and vote. It is your right and it is your duty to do so. Do so wisely and with all the thought and education you possess.

You owe it to your country to go out and vote if you have the right to do so.

Whatever the outcome I hope it is decided tonight. It would be a fine thing after the polls close tonight if both candidates decided to accept the final results gracefully instead of putting the country through what it went through in the aftermath of 2000. No one was better for that, and it robbed President Bush of the potential unity of mind that absolute legitimacy bestows. We'll see. I believe one of the candidate possesses the breadth of character to do so, I don't think the other has that quality in his makeup.

Myself, I will be having a single malt scotch in front of the TV tonight seeing history happen for good or ill.

Tschuss