Military history


On Wednesday, July 28, the insurgents would stage yet another large-scale attack, once again exactly seven days after their previous one. This time, however, they didn’t target U.S. forces; instead, they kidnapped the provincial governor’s children. Hes and third platoon responded to the attack, but they were too late. By the time the Marines arrived, the terrorists had snatched the children and set the governor’s house on fire. A few minutes before the attack, every single member of the Iraqi police force tasked to guard the governor’s family walked away from their posts. Shortly after the attack, the governor appeared on national television, sobbing and apologizing for his role in assisting the infidel occupiers. At least now we knew, without any doubt, that the governor had previously been on our side. Shortly thereafter, multiple intelligence sources confirmed what the battalion now suspected—that Anbar province’s police chief was not only corrupt (he had hundreds of nonexistent employees on the payroll) but also was actively assisting the insurgents. In a strange irony, Weapons Company arrested the man in his own police station and shipped him off to prison. As we waited for a replacement, we decided that we would abandon our OP at the Ag Center and move to another, less optimal building across the street. As it turned out, that building was the same abandoned hotel that Niles had poured several thousand rounds into not twenty days previously. Walking up the stairs for the first time, our eyes traced the path of our own bullets back and forth across the abandoned hotel’s walls. The signs of our attack were everywhere: huge chunks ripped out of every window frame, irregular blocks of mortar scattered throughout the hallways, shattered glass littering the floors of every room. It felt strange to make a home out of the same place we had earlier attacked so viciously.

The reason for our change seemed relatively straightforward to the battalion. Local sheiks had told our intelligence shop that the Ag Center was so often attacked because the Western presence in it desecrated a holy Islamic library, inflaming religious passion and provoking everyone from extremists to moderate fence-sitters to attack the unbelieving defilers. The CO argued against moving, stating that the original OP was the best building for the mission we had been assigned and that the main reason for the attacks was simply that we were there. Nevertheless, Colonel Kennedy, our battalion’s commander, overruled him. With all the political turmoil in the city, most of which its inhabitants blamed on us, a gesture of goodwill seemed in order. We moved across the street and began the hard work of fortifying all over again.

Unsurprisingly, just a few days after the move, three antitank rockets ripped their way into the Hotel OP, as it became known, filling the place with dust, partially deafening those of us inside, and signaling that no matter where we went, the enemy would follow. At least one thing in Ramadi was predictable. As the disappointing, grueling month of July came to an end, we braced ourselves for a disappointing, grueling August. It wasn’t long in coming. In response to the citywide battles of July, in August the battalion initiated a series of vast cordon-and-search operations throughout Ramadi. To preempt and disrupt the enemy’s bold, if predictable, Wednesday offensives, 2/4 decided to launch its own pushes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Each week began with a 2 AM wakeup followed by a 4 AM mission kickoff and ten to fourteen hours of hot, exhausting house searching.

Thus, August 11 found us walking across the peninsula south of the Hurricane Point base, an area just to the northwest of Ramadi’s marketplace. By noon, we had been walking for ten hours, and I was looking forward to the mission’s end. At one o’clock, it finally came, and Joker One and I stopped our searching and headed back on foot to the marketplace’s outskirts to meet vehicles that would take us back to the Outpost. Ten minutes later, we found them, and, walking between the long lines of Humvees with their mounted machine guns, I started to relax.

I should have known better. Not more than ten seconds after our last man made it to the vehicles, the double boom of an RPG split the air, and, somewhere behind me, the heavy .50-cal opened up with its methodical thumping. Leza’s voice came screaming in my ear. Carson and Williams had both been hit, and they were seriously wounded. On autopilot yet again, I turned in place and ran down a long line of crouching Marines, toward the gunfire and the horrible cries of “Doc up.” When I got to the scene of the explosion, I saw something amazing. Lance Corporal Carson had one of his sleeves cut off, one of his arms bandaged, and two Marines wrapped around his torso, trying to drag him to cover. They weren’t getting anywhere. Carson was resisting with all of his might, kicking his legs and thrashing himself forward against the restraining arms like a man possessed, which, in some sense, he was. His injured arm dangled limply at his side, but with his good one he held his M-16 with its attached grenade launcher straight out, pointed at a clump of houses two hundred meters away, across an open field. Carson was alternately shouting at his enemies to come get him and firing his weapon in the general direction of the attack. Carson, apparently, didn’t do combat shock.

Williams wasn’t nearly as animated, probably because he could no longer stand on his own. The RPG shrapnel had dug a huge chunk out of his thigh, and he had his arms thrown around two Marines as Doc Smith, having already cut off his pant leg, applied a rapidly reddening pressure bandage. Ten minutes later, the Ox medevaced both of them back to Hurricane Point, cutting an Iraqi vehicle in half in the process. Both of them came back to us two days later, but shortly thereafter we had to send Carson away for the rest of the deployment. The massive hole in the meat of his shoulder had to heal from the inside out, and our filthy living conditions wouldn’t allow that process to happen. Watching one of my best team leaders and strongest men struggle to climb into the back of the seven-ton that would take him to Hurricane Point with his crippled left arm nearly killed me. I consoled myself by telling myself that Carson, at least, would make it out of Ramadi alive, that we had managed to bring him home safe, if not entirely whole.

Williams, however, eventually recovered, and he rejoined the platoon two weeks later, just in time to be caught in the middle of a mortar barrage. This time, he escaped the shrapnel, but Sergeant Leza didn’t. As my second-squad leader ran with his men across the massive garbage dump just north of the Hotel OP, he tripped and fell into one of the many small pits that dotted the trash. His right leg, however, stayed immobile, trapped in the junk. The resulting torque snapped both his tibia and fibula, and by the time Leza’s upper body hit the ground, his lower half had stopped working.

I rode out to the site of the injury with third platoon’s medevac convoy. When I got there, I stood forlornly next to Yebra, watching Hes’s Marines load up a splinted and screaming Leza, the man who had been everything to his eleven men, the man who had become one of my pillars. As the stretcher headed for the back of the military ambulance, I walked with it, trying to calm my agitated squad leader, but I couldn’t help. Leza barely noticed me—he was in too much pain to notice much of anything, and he rolled from side to side on the stretcher, alternately groaning and screaming. Our thoughtful, cool tactician had been reduced to agony on green canvas. I turned away and headed into the Hotel OP. Leza or not, the mission still needed to continue, so I took over second squad in the absence of its leader. Sitting there in the shattered hotel, staring at the quiet street below me, I was sure that Leza was never coming back to us. We would have to come to him, and, even more heavily now, I understood that there was no guarantee that that would happen, that we would all make it out alive.

I was right about Leza. He had been medevaced to Hurricane Point while his squad manned the Hotel OP, and from there he was flown to Germany and then to the States. As August wore slowly on, it seemed that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how well we prepared, and no matter how quickly we innovated to stay ahead of the enemy, Joker One couldn’t escape the steady stream of our own casualties. Pepitone took shrapnel from a mortar through his back, an IED lacerated Noriel’s finger, Brooks collapsed from exhaustion and sickness. The missions kept getting longer, the temperatures kept getting hotter, and my men kept spilling their blood in the dirty Ramadi streets. Each day, it became more and more difficult to get out of bed and lead. Each day, it became more and more difficult to give the orders that I knew, with absolute certainty now, would result in the wounding or death of my men.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!