WINNER - Brian McCleary
Story is submitted by Brian but written by James Ross, Sergeant Major, Task Force 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvalry Division
Baghdad, Iraq, April 2004
My Best Friend is In Iraq Serving Now, I told him about the contest and he sent me this Patrol Report - It's a great story.
The patrol departed Camp Blackjack , Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) at 0530 hours. The patrol consisted of 2nd Platoon, Foxtrot Battery, 4-5 ADA . At 0545 hours we picked up “J our translator at the Titan Company Headquarters. Everyone calls him J because his Arabic Name is too tough to pronounce. The patrol consisted of 8 M114 Up-Armor HWMMVs. Each HWMMV had a crew of 3 or 4 personnel. Each HWMMV had a crew-served weapon mounted in the rotating turret of the HWMMV. The crew served weapons were a mix of M240B Machine Guns (7.62 mm) M249 Machine Guns (5.56 mm Link) and MK-19 Grenade Launchers. The patrol consisted of a total of 28 personnel. Every soldier in the platoon had an individual weapon consisting of a mix of M16A2 Rifles (5.56 mm), M9 mm Pistols, M203 Grenade Launchers, and M4 Machine Guns (5.56 mm). I personally had a 9mm strapped on my leg holster and a M16A2 Rifle. It was Easter Sunday but to the soldiers in the platoon our main concern
was the fact that it was right in the middle of a very Holy Week in Iraq and many Shia’s were in our zone of operations as they headed south to Ramadi to visit a Holy Shrine. We were pretty sure there were some insurgents using the pilgrimage through Baghdad to come into our zone. My Battalion is responsible for the approximately 300 kilometers of Battle Space all around the Baghdad International Airport .
As a senior leader in the Battalion I was not obligated to go out on patrol. Because I like to be near the soldiers I pick different patrols at random and I go out into zone with them. I always try to let the Platoon Leader and the Platoon Sergeant feel at ease and I promise them that I will be going along for the ride and not to worry about me trying to take charge. I was in the lead HWMVV with SGT G (Squad Leader), SPC B (Driver), and SPC S (Gunner).
We left the Entry Control Point (ECP) 7 at the southeast corner of BIAP and drove down Route Yankees. We drove about a mile and turned Northbound onto Expressway 1 aka MSR Tampa. MSR Tampa is one of the main supply routes leading into Baghdad . It is about 30 Km from Fallujah which makes it a popular road for insurgents. It is primarily rural all along MSR Tampa and it is mostly farmers living in the villages to our left and right. MSR Tampa is also the main supply route for the military and civilian convoys of semi-trucks bringing supplies to the Coalition Forces throughout Iraq . MSR Tampa runs all the way south to Kuwait .
We head north on MSR Tampa about 8 kilometers and we come across a large crater that has blown a large hole in the road. The crater is about 4 feet deep and stretches almost all the way across the right two lanes of the three lane highway. It was obvious that someone had blown an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). We were between Route Utah and Route Huskies. There was a Civilian Car that was broken down in the crater. The car was intake, so obviously when the IED blew the road, the car came along later and didn’t see the crater and drove right in it. The patrol positioned the vehicles around the area and immediately started investigating the scene. We found the firing wire and the detonating device near the weeds to the east of the crater. There was a small irrigation pipe that ran all the way under all six lanes of MSR Tampa. It was apparent that the main charge was stuffed in the pipe under the highway and detonated. Myself, SGT G, and SPC W followed the firing wire all the way back to its point of origin about 200 Meters North East of the crater. As we chased the origin of the firing wire we had to jump over a 5 foot concrete culvert that had about 3 feet of water in it. About 30 meters further the wire ended at the corner of a yard. We contacted 1LT D (Patrol Leader) on our hand-held radio and told him what we found. He had all the soldiers bring the vehicles off of MSR Tampa and moved them to the small canal dirt road to the east. Then 1LT D directed the Platoon’s Leaders to move to the culvert to discuss our next actions. SFC H (Platoon Sergeant), and the three Squad Leaders walked to our location and coordinated a cordon and search of the house where the firing wire was detonated. The platoon stayed on the far side of the culvert and since myself, SGT G and SPC W didn’t want to have to jump back over the culvert we stayed on the near side of the culvert.
At about this time a local Iraqi farmer who lived in the near-by village came up to us and said that for the last few weeks men have been showing up in the area and threatening the residents if anyone spoke of their activities. They said the men were very intimidating and basically had all of the locals scared. He told J that the men all had guns and threatened to kill anyone who told of their activities. He said the local people were scared. We thanked the man for the information and the 1LT D made the decision to search the house where we believed the IED was detonated. He told SGT G, SPC W and I to stand fast because the Platoon was going to move the vehicles into position to conduct the cordon and search. He was going to bring the vehicles around the culvert so that we wouldn’t have to jump over again. We were also going to question the residents of the houses to determine if their stories matched the neighbors. They all headed back toward the HWMMVs while we waited on the other side of the culvert. When LT D, SFC H and the Squad Leaders were about 20 yards from the HWMMVs we were ambushed from the west side of MSR Tampa with small arms fire. The approximate distance of the ambushers was four hundred meters. The Platoon went to the vehicles and started returning fire.
Myself, SGT G and SPC W were behind the culvert so we didn’t have too many options. Bullets were flying all around us and SGT G and myself moved backwards about 20 feet and took up prone fighting positions. SPC W tried to jump over the culvert again and didn’t make it across and ended up waist deep in water. 1LT D yelled for SPC W to start shooting with some M203 Rounds. Because it was deep and the walls were angled SPC W couldn’t get out of the culvert. He gave up trying to get out and started to lock and load his M203 Rounds and started firing controlled bursts about every 30 seconds while waist deep in water. He was ranging the ridgeline about 400 meters west where we believed the ambush was coming from. After about 2 minutes SGT G and myself were tired of bullets flying all around us. Bullets were hitting so close that you could hear them snap. I looked at SGT G and told him that we needed to get the *$^%# outta there. We got on our feet and jumped over the culvert. I went over to SPC W and helped pull him out. There were rounds flying all around us and we had no choice but to run for it. I just yelled to them, “Run for the vehicles”. We were completely exposed and in the open so we started running as fast as we could towards the vehicles. Because of all of our gear, we weren’t as fast as I’d like to be. It was a 150 meter sprint to the HWMMVs with no cover. I really didn’t like our chances. As we ran rounds were hitting all around us and whizzing by our heads. It was a miracle that none of us were hit. We somehow made it to the vehicles safely. SPC B told me later that when I got to the HWMMV my eyes were so big with fright that they were filling up my ESS goggles. It was so surreal, I really couldn’t believe I was standing there without a scratch. Everyone then used the vehicles for cover and fired back at the Ambush location with all of our small arms and crew served weapons. Someone notified the Battalion Command Post that we were almost Black on Ammo and to have a re-supply waiting at ECP 7. Once the attackers stop firing and we were convinced that the area was reasonably clear, the platoon had a team search the house and question the residents. The Platoon positioned themselves all around in a 360 perimeter to ensure that we were safe. As the search was being finished we started to receive Mortar Fire to our East about 300 meters away. The second round was about 200 meters away and caused a very large explosion, probably caused by it hitting a house or a car. It was obvious that the mortar fire was starting to get too close for comfort and the platoon leader gave the order to line up on MSR Tampa and get back to ECP 7 for re-supply of ammunition. At about this time Mortars started landing all around us. It was obvious that we needed to get out of the area because we were sitting ducks. 1LT D got on the radio and told everyone that we were moving back to ECP 7 where we would receive a re-supply of Ammunition.
We got back to ECP 7 and as we were pulling in we noticed a convoy leaving. It consisted of 20 Fuel Tankers and a couple of 5-Ton Gun Trucks. I directed the driver SPC B to stop the next vehicle and asked them which direction they were going to be going on MSR Tampa. The Sergeant in the lead vehicle in the convoy said that they were going to Fallujah and that they were going to go out on MSR Tampa – South. I assumed that they were taking a bypass south to avoid the problems on MSR Tampa and that they would be taking an alternate route to Fallujah since it is actually Northwest of BIAP. Everything seemed fine and the Platoon was then met at ECP 7 by 1SG Peterson who was able to completely re-supply the platoon’s ammo. It took about 10 minutes to complete re-load of our ammo.
We then headed back out towards MSR Tampa and almost immediately we saw black smoke coming from a Northwest direction. As far as we could tell the smoke was in the same general direction as MSR Tampa North. I was really hoping that the smoke wasn’t due to an ambush of the fuel convoy. As we got about 1 Kilometer away it was obvious that the same convoy we saw leaving ECP 7 was under attack. The Sergeant mistakenly told us the wrong information as to their direction on MSR Tampa.
I was in the lead HWMVV again with SGT G, SPC B, and SPC S. When we got near MSR Utah we could see the picture unfolding in front of our eyes. The convoy had been attacked within the previous ten minutes. We could see two fuelers had been completely destroyed and were blocking the three lanes on MSR Tampa North. The approximately 50 personnel in the convoy were up ahead about 400 meters and they were being attacked from both sides of the street. They were in big trouble. The only way we could get to them was to take the dirt trail from the right side of MSR Tampa. It was a textbook ambush waiting to happen and everyone knew it. We also knew that we were either going to run the gauntlet or the personnel in the convoy were probably going to get hammered.
I grabbed the hand-mike to the radio and notified the platoon to expect to get hit as soon as we pull off of MSR Tampa on the dirt road. The dirt road branched Northeast about 200 meters and then turned back towards the highway. Running parallel to the dirt road was 8 foot high grass and reeds that was masking the location of the enemy. I don’t know how I knew they were in there, but by looking at the burning fuel trucks I could just envision it. With our HWMVV in the lead we pulled onto the dirt trail and just as we were expecting we got ambushed. A Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) shot out of the weeds and missed SPC S by less than a foot. Rounds were flying everywhere. They were firing at us and we were firing back. We made it around the turn and with the platoon in full throttle we moved back onto MSR Tampa and positioned ourselves all around the disabled fuelers. If the RPG had hit our vehicle it would have been a disaster. Since we were the lead vehicle if we had been hit, the entire platoon would have been trapped on the dirt trail in the middle of the kill box.
The convoy personnel had received numerous casualties and 1 soldier was critical with a head wound. Most of the soldiers suffering from gunshot wounds to their extremities. We had a PFC J (Medic) with us and he immediately started to consolidate the wounded and conducting triage. 1LT D then got on the radio and called in a Nine Line Dust off Request. He was notified that a Medivac Helicopter was on its way.
The Platoon immediately took charge of the scene and started letting loose with all of our weapons systems. On the radio, I called Battalion and asked for air and armor support. The Battalion Commander (LTC M) told me that he was sending everything he had our way.
There was small arms fire flying at us from both sides of the highway and periodically mortars were landing within about 200 meters to our front. After about 3 minutes two Apache Helicopters arrived and provided air cover for the Medivac Blackhawk who flew in and landed behind us. PFC G threw red smoke so the Medivac knew where to land. The Medivac Helicopter landed, picked up the wounded, and was gone in about 3 minutes max. Once it was gone the Apaches started flying out over the area and were using their main guns to strafe the ridgeline where the main attack was coming from. Everyone was cheering. All of a sudden the tail of one of the Apaches exploded and the Apache fell to the ground and exploded. The whole incident probably lasted about 3 seconds. It was a horrible and helpless moment for all of the soldiers on the scene. We just witnessed the death of two pilots who bravely gave their lives protecting us.
The soldiers from convoy were not very organized and most of them were not even shooting back. I started moving down the line of fuelers and was yelling and screaming at the drivers and assistant drivers to get off their butts and start getting the fuel trucks turned around so that we could get them out of there. Many of them had blown out tires so we directed them to start changing tires while we covered them. The Bradley’s arrived at about that time and started to cover us also and several of them headed out to cover the crash scene of the Apache. Then some MPs arrived and went to cover the crash scene also. After about 30 minutes the convoy personnel had changed all of the tires that they could and had gotten their vehicles turned around. Again, my HWMMV took the lead and started escorting them back to ECP 7. Another Platoon met us after about 1 Kilometer and assisted in the movement back to ECP 7.
Once we arrived at ECP 7 we got the convoy personnel staged on the west side of the HESCO Barriers. At about this time we got attacked again. There was small arms fire coming from a house about 500 meters North of ECP 7. The tower guards along the western wall were lighting up the house too. The Platoon Lined up all of their crew served weapons along the HESCO’s and lit the house up. The Bradley Linebackers at ECP 7 let loose some 25 MM too. Once the house and the personnel were destroyed, the convoy personnel got back in their vehicles and headed back towards Camp Victory . Not one of them thanked our Platoon. In my professional estimate, if not for our actions, it is very likely that all of the personnel in that convoy would have been killed or wounded.
It was now about 1400 hours and the Patrol Leader told me that I didn’t need to go back out with the Platoon. He said that I had seen enough action for one day. The Platoon still had six more hours to go on their patrol. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but I got back in the HWMMV and I completed the patrol with 2nd Platoon. It was one of the longest 12 hours of my life.
In June 2004 the members of that days patrol all received Army Commendation Medals for Valor and 1LT D received a Bronze Star for Valor.