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Article: Battlefield Fallujah - Episode 9: The Jolan (November 12, 2004)

Battlefield Fallujah - Episode 9: The Jolan (November 12, 2004) - Image from battle

Battlefield Fallujah - Episode 9: The Jolan (November 12, 2004)

The Jolan proves to be the deadliest district, as enemy hold up in fortified houses waiting to kill Marines as they enter and clear structures. A squad from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines becomes separated from their company. Alpha Company 2-63 Armor, in overwatch of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry, gets caught in a minefield.

"Senior commanders here say the enemy is taking a serious toll. Commanders say they have found units of enemy fighters with flak jackets, helmets, even night vision goggles... very sophisticated, in small units that are being dealt with by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Bret Bair, Fox News."

Clearing houses was a dangerous task. The enemy would quietly hold up in a house, patiently waiting to take out Marines and soldiers as they breached the doors. Insurgents would often shoot up liquid adrenaline or other drugs, which allowed them to continue fighting even after they were severely injured. Their fanatical beliefs contributed to their die-hard commitment, even in the face of imminent death.

An example of this comes from 1st Lt. John Flanagan who was attached to RCT-7, 1/8, Alpha Company:  "Within 50 meters of the house we'd been firm in for over 24 hours... 50 meters away, there was four enemy hold up in the house. And, they'd been there for 24 hours, just waiting, just bidding their time. We approached the house, breaching the door, going in... [the] first Marine in the stack entered the house and to his surprise there were these four individuals. He engaged one... reporting that he had hit him in the chest. He pulled back from the building when other individuals threw some frag grenades at him. They [the Marines] exited the house. We cordoned off the house. Instead of risking any more KIA, we used SMAWs to kill the enemy in the house.

After two SMAW shots they were still alive. They hadn't even been phased by this. Myself and my interpreter moved up to the corner of the house and in Arabic we told them 'Come out of the house, you're surrounded, come out with your hands up'. In response, they started chanting 'Allahu Akbar' over and over again, which translates as 'God is great'. Studying Middle Eastern cultures, that signifies that they're prepared to die and they're just not giving up. It also can signify that they're willing to kill themselves in order to kill us as well... if they were possibly rigged for explosives. So, we backed off from the house again, engaged the house with 50 caliber and that ended up killing the four individuals. It's a very significant point, in my mind, it's just the eeriness of hearing them chant that, 'Allahu Akbar' over and over again. Their willingness to die for what they believe in. It was just an eerie feeling."

Lieutenant Colonel Willard Buhl, commanding officer, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines: "The enemy in there was determined. He was cunning. In some cases, not so well trained, but it doesn’t take a highly trained man, who’s just willing to die, to wait for you inside a house until you come in, and unload a burst of AK fire or throw a grenade at you. And, there was no shortage of weapons."

Staff Sergeant Mark Detrick, 2nd Force Recon mentioned some of the challenges of urban fighting: "It's, like, basically, not knowing. But you know the enemy's out there, you know they're firing at you, but there's so many buildings, so many different places that they can hide, you don't know where they're exactly coming from. It's difficult. Your job is to take them out and you can't find them, but you're getting rained with artillery, RPGs, small-arms fire, and machine-gun fire. And, you've just got to go ahead, and suck it up and stick your head up, and try to find out where that fire is coming from so you can go ahead and cease it."

He went on to compare battling the enemy to fighting cockroaches: "Fighting in the city like this, it's almost like fighting cockroaches. It's everywhere. You walk in the room, turn the lights on and they scurry away. That's just like the enemy. You come into that area, they scurry away, but then they slowly start working their way back. And, then you let your presence [be] known and they scurry away. It's like fucking cockroaches with guns! That's basically it. And, they scurry away but then they work their way back in, you gotta engage 'em, destroy 'em, push forward. They spread out but then they conjugate back together. And, that's the best way I can explain this kind of fighting: It's kinda like fighting cockroaches. I guess you could say, the ground troops on the ground are the pesticide, and the arty and the close air support is the foot stomping them out."

Lieutenant Colonel Buhl noted that many of the structures were heavily fortified: "There were some insurgents, or terrorists, who were very, very good. They had expertly fortified their houses. They used things like stacks of mattresses to mitigate blast effects from grenades scraps, and tank main gun rounds. A lot of our tank rounds would go through a structure. We might put five rounds into a structure. The Marines would prepare it with hand grenades, go in, and there would still be people alive in there, and they’d still be resisting." 

One of Lieutenant Colonel Buhl's Marines elaborated: "Sometimes the enemy would wall himself under the staircases, with a false facade, in there, and just wait, in a tiny little gap, he’s got his AK-47, and so, he’s making a false hide under the stairway."

Lieutenant Colonel Buhl: "You get a man hurt and it becomes an extremist operation. And, you play right into the enemy's hands because the more people that have to come in -- and several of these houses were textbook fortified: mouse holes, fields of fire, sumps to roll grenades through, drop them through holes in the ceiling. I mean, they really thought out their defense schemes inside these little -- and these homes are built along the lines of fortresses, you know, with a wall around them. We learned how to take the gates off faster, breeching, etcetera."

Captain Jeff McCormack, 3/1's intelligence officer: "As we crossed Elizabeth, into what’s called the Martyr’s Cemetery, the big large cemetery in the middle of Fallujah, as we pushed south of that, that’s when the fighting really intensified. They really started using some good tactics and good fire discipline, waiting inside the houses, waiting for us to enter the house and then leading off short bursts to incapacitate the Marine that was the first one through. And then from there, fighting from defended positions inside the house, and fighting to the death really. You know, you could pump a couple TOW missiles, pump a couple of Javelins into the house, and they would still be in there ready to fight because they’re that fortified inside the house. It was going to take a Marine with a grenade or a 5.56 to kill them before they would be done."

Lieutenant Colonel Buhl: "Every Marine, he's at the top of his game. And, he’s getting rest at night, for the most part, and he knows that he has tanks, and aircraft, and whatever else he needs nearby. He’s got the offensive mindset, he’s got the high ground, in terms of the moral, physical. But he goes into a structure and he runs into a guy, sitting quietly in a corner with his finger on the trigger, waiting, and just looses a burst. And, most cases, where a man gets wounded, or two, in that initial contact, and then it becomes a rescue operation, where we have to get him out. We’re just trying to get our guys out so we can drop the house. Creative use of bundled Bangalore’s, the keyhole shot, where you fire a HE-SMAW and then you put a thermobaric through that keyhole and drop the house. Tremendous resistance to just everything but a GBU, or something like I’m describing, like a thermobaric, a robust satchel charge."

The companies began employing D9s more often to take down houses when they encountered enemy fighters held up inside.

Lieutenant Colonel Buhl: "What we would do, the battalion SOP, if you encounter resistance at a house, you backed away, you cordoned it, you brought up the necessary weapons to reduce the structure. Bulldozers, they were a hot item. We didn’t have enough of them. They were breaking down. Parts were short. Hells Hounds, Blitzkrieg, Earth Pig. Ray Charles. Critter. I know all the names of the division’s bulldozers. What do I know? I know the name of every bulldozer in the 1st Marine Division in Iraq."

Gunnery Sergeant Duanne Walters was an engineer attached to 3/1 and often worked with the huge armored bulldozers: "We escorted the D9s with AAVs whenever company called for us. They just kind of cleared rubble out of the way. But once they realized that the D-9 could basically go in and -- without the driver getting hurt, without putting the Marines in danger -- they could just go in with the blade and push the place over. It started -- once the word got out, ‘Hey, that’s a good way to use it.’ -- that became, basically, the SOP, bring the D-9 up and knock the house over." 

In one case, an insurgent tried to shoot it out with one of the monsters. As he emptied his AK-47 into the cab at point blank range, the driver dropped the several-thousand-pound blade on him, pinning him to the ground.

Gunnery Sergeant Walters: "The D9 took like eight shots right in the window. And, it was funny because you could tell the drivers were, like, pause, like, 'Uh-oh.' But they realized that nothing was happening, so they just kept on driving. The guy ran from one room to the next, and they knocked down that part of the house, so they started knocking down the next part, he ran to another part. And, of course, this whole time the Marines are shooting at him. Once the D-9 drivers realized that they weren’t going to get hurt, they were just like, ‘Okay, fine. You want to shoot at me? Here comes your house.’ They'd surround it with the grunts, and then the D-9 would come up and he would just start pushing stuff over. And if they ran out, they got shot. If they stayed inside, that house drops on ‘em.

The D-9 drivers had everything shot at ‘em. They had an RPG shot at ‘em and it hit the blade and bounced off. One of my D-9 drivers said he was in his vehicle and he saw a guy shoot a bow and arrow at him. So, I don’t know if it was just out of frustration or it’s all they had? The enemy, I think, started to realize when they heard that thing coming, I mean, they had plenty of time. You could hear it because it’s really loud and it only moves 10 miles an hour. So, you could hear it coming. And, you know it’s coming. So, they cordon off the house, they’d surround it. So, if you were in the house and you're an insurgent, you hear this thing coming. We were joking for a while it was like in Austin Powers, where the guy gets run over by the steamroller, and they’re like, ‘No, no.’ And it’s kind of like that, because he had nowhere to go, and here comes this thing moving at 10 miles an hour."

Lieutenant Colonel Buhl: "I got up close and personal on some of these. And in one case, I watched a building with a combatant in it who, from the first window, he fired a burst of AK-47 fire at the bulldozer and threw a grenade at it. The bulldozer began pushing the structure down. Got the first room. And, this man withdrew into the house, reloaded, got a new grenade out, went out and did the same thing again [makes a machine gun noise]. Threw a grenade at it [makes an explosion noise]. And, the bulldozer continued to push. This went on four times before it finally flattened the house on the man. One, I got a little too close, and I caught a piece of grenade frag on my Wiley X glass that knocked my head back, knocked the eyepiece out of my glasses. Thankfully, saved my eye. I was fine. But it was up close and personal. And, these people in these homes, they were fighting to the death, ‘til they were buried." 


The regimental frag order stipulated that Task Force 3/1 and 2-7 Cavalry would continue to attack south, while the 1st Battalion, IIF, and 3/5 continued clearing operations in zone. The 4th Battalion, IIF, remained along Phase Line Henry to keep insurgents from infiltrating into and out of the area. Task Force Wolfpack maintained control of the bridges.

3rd Battalion, 1st Marines

The battalion launched a penetration attack into the southernmost limits of the city, known as “Queens.” The battalion after-action report noted that “the most capable and equipped insurgents, most of whom were foreign terrorists occupied the area.” A series of artillery and air strikes peppered suspected insurgent positions. Artillery had eyes on the ground to process the strikes.

Captain Michael Burgoyne, Battery A Commander, 3-82 FA: "There's guys out on the ground with lasers that gets very accurate grid, very accurate location for us to process the targets and we've been hitting about first-round fire-for-effect, Sir. We haven't had to adjust too much out here. The guns are very accurate, and observers on the ground are very, very good. And, we've had great success with the guys on the [artillery fire] ground."

Major Griffin published a frag order on how the companies were going to move from their current positions into an attack formation for the next day’s attack. That became the daily battle rhythm over the next five days. His intent was to have two companies lead the attack, with one company following in trace, rearming, refueling, etc.

Lima and Kilo Companies led off the attack. “Lima got into a real heavy engagement and lost several Marines,” Major Griffin remembered. “The weapons platoon commander was shot in the back. It went under his SAPI [small-arms protection inserts] plate from the side, through the arm hole, across his back, and out the other arm hole. It was a tracer round that peeled the skin off and burned the cut wide open... a pretty nasty wound, but not life threatening.” Griffin was actually on the radio with him. “You could hear a crack... the round going by... and all of a sudden he went quiet. I kept calling him until I was notified that call sign Warrior 4 was wounded.” Lima Company lost several more Marines before being ordered to halt for the day and hold the intersection of Phase Lines Henry and Fran. By 0900, Kilo Company was moving east on Phase Line Fran.

1st Lieutenant John Jacobs, Platoon Commander, Kilo Company, 2nd Platoon: "The morning of the 12th was the day that we moved on Phase Line Henry. We got on Fran from the wheat factory and started to move east along Fran. 1st Platoon was in front of us, our platoon was in the middle, 3rd was behind us."

The column was spread out over 800-meters because the densely packed buildings and narrow alleys forced the attached tanks to stay on the hard-surface road.

Lance Corporal Justin Boswood, Kilo Company: "Come up on November 12th, and we started down Phase Line Henry, which ran, pretty much, right through the heart of the Jolan, and went up to MSR Michigan, which is probably one of the biggest MSRs in the Sunni triangle. It runs all the way up to Baghdad, Ramadi, everywhere. Everything’s connected by this road. It just looked empty. By the time we swung around and got up there, we’d already taken indirect fire at the head of the convoy. Well aimed, small arms, RPG rounds, from all over, both sides of the road, and the road was six lanes wide. It was just a massive expanse of asphalt between the sides of the houses. And, when we moved down the road, we tried to use the houses as, pretty much, cover, on either your left or your right, whatever side you were walking up against. There’s one place that you didn’t really have to have your eyes on the whole time, you could just hug the wall and check out the windows and doors. Felt a little bit safer when you only had to look in two other directions.

The whole company spread out, punched way out to the sides of the road, and just started pushing, and it was nothing but a gun battle the whole way down. It was intense firing coming from everybody in the company, all the way down the road; from machine gunners mowing down 12 to 15 guys in one alleyway, to that lone rifleman up front, just popping ‘em off one at a time, it went all the way down the road, all day long. It was pretty wild. There's IEDs strung up all over the road, 155 rounds, 105s, M120 millimeter rockets fired up with flechette rounds. And, just really nasty stuff. We didn’t have time to call in for EOD or to blow it ourselves ‘cause we were trying to push.

We had a timeline that none of us really did understand, at the time, why we were just pushing, and not taking the time to blow these IEDs or going in and properly clear every single building that we were taking contact from. That was on a larger scale that nobody could really comprehend, at least on our level. And, so we just marked these IEDs with spray paint, and I remember we were stopped in the middle of the street, and we brought it in on the HMMWVs, and my squad leader, Sergeant <unknown name> was standing next to a 155 round and he was trying to light a cigarette and it was raining. ‘Hey, sergeant, you know, you’re standing on a damn IED?’ And, he just kind of looked down, and he was like, ‘Well, let’s move this HMMWV up a little bit.’ It was pretty funny. But they were everywhere. So, what we had to do was just spray paint ‘IED’ and point arrow into the general direction of it and hope that nobody else come up on it and set it off."

As the 1st Platoon turned south on Phase Line Henry, the point spotted a daisy chain of IEDs -“rockets and artillery shells with wires hanging off them”- lying in the center of the road. As engineers came forward to deal with them, the platoon was taken under heavy mortar, small-arms, and RPG fire in a deadly ambush. Three Marines and four navy SEALs were immediately wounded. One of the casualties lost a leg and another had a sucking chest wound. Captain Timothy Jent ordered Jacobs to bring his platoon up on the left flank of 1st Platoon, pass through, and continue the attack.

1st Lieutenant Jacobs moved his men forward: "1st platoon was the first platoon to turn onto Henry south. They immediately came under mortar fire. They’d moved into what was, pretty obviously, a pre-registered mortar target. They took some casualties. They also started taking a lot of small arms machine gun fire from the mosque on the side of the road on the western side of Henry. They got bogged down. Captain Jent told me to come up on the left side of 1st Platoon and pass by ‘em [and] continue the company’s assault to the south. We came up. We got pretty much on line with 1st Platoon and we started to take fire from the south and from the eastern side of the road.

The Marines moved off the road up against some buildings that were on the eastern side of the road. As soon as we got up against the buildings, there was insurgents on top of the buildings who were throwing hand grenades down on top of us. First volley of grenades, I think, we took five casualties, roughly. Nothing serious at that point. Broken nose, some minor shrapnel wounds, things like that. Nothing too dramatic. But we got into a bit of a fight there when we were online with 1st Platoon. Pushed the enemy back off the roofs and then we continued our assault to the south. Pushed down as far as this complex here [refers to a map]. And two of the squads broke off and came into clear this building while Sergeant <unknown name> squad was still out in the street. They ended up getting into a pretty good fight out there in the street. The enemy came at the back of the convoy that they were still with.

Some of the Marines from the squad broke off. Pursued the enemy down some alleys, into some houses. Had a pretty good shoot out with them. A lot of RPGs, a lot of grenades. The Marines did a good job, returned a lot of fire. Some of Sergeant <unknown name> Marines worked their way up on top of a building firing down on some enemy in a courtyard. That’s when one of Sergeant <unknown name> fire team leaders, Sergeant Morgan Strader, was hit by enemy fire through the head."

Amid a hail of gunfire, Lance Corporal Chris Marquez crawled forward and dragged the mortally wounded NCO out of the line of fire.

1st Lieutenant Jacobs: "The Marines did a great job trying to resuscitate him, but it was just... his wounds were too severe. So, they ended up putting him on a HMMWV and tried to get him back to medical, but he didn’t make it." 

The remaining insurgents slipped away.

As they continued toward their firm base, Lance Corporal Boswood's squad became separated from 2nd Platoon: "Our company was going firm, and it was kind of like a complex. It had three mansions in it. It had six houses all together, but there’s three mansions. Somebody said it used to belong to some general in the Ba'ath Party. No doubt, the nicest facilities in Fallujah, at the time, that was pretty much untouched, except for a couple well placed tank rounds when the company took it. The company was pushing up there. Ended up getting cut off from the company. We got in a pretty good scrap with some guys down an alleyway. They told us not to get tunnel vision and drug into any little fights on the alleyways, but it was bound to happen.

And, one of the team leaders in our team seen a couple insurgents run across the road and enter into a house. He was all about going and getting the bad guys. So, he grabbed a couple guys and run over there, down the alleyway, towards ‘em. So, we held up, and the rest of the company, they kept pushing 'cause of the timeline. And, we were trying to call ‘em back, and he just was out of ear shot and didn’t have no Comm. Never had Comm. So, we run over there, and he’d ended up going in and clearing a building. They set up on the roof and he ended up keeping his head up above the bricks a little too long and caught one in the face and it killed him. So, that was a whole ‘nother problem on our hands. We all went over there.

Probably about eight [or] nine of us pulled over there, and we had one HMMWV on the road at that time. Another one pulled up and all we had for up-guns was a Mark 19, and shady looking armor on our HMMWVs. So, we were pretty much just stuck out there waiting for 3rd Platoon to come up the rear to reinforce, while the rest of the company had pulled out. Got in pretty good crossfire on top of the roof of the house. The AK rounds would just slice through the bricks, the little small bricks with about eight to ten holes in ‘em. They were probably about eight inches long and four or five inches wide, with some shoddy looking mortar in between them. They just let them AK rounds come right through. So, we got ourselves pinned down on the roof and we were trying to take our sergeant out of there, and we finally managed to bring him out to the little hut on top, and started trying to do some first aid on him, and RPGs and grenades just everywhere.

I had probably five guys trying to hold this house from an undetermined amount of insurgents that just seemed to have everything in their arsenal to throw at us. We finally pulled out of the house, got everybody out of the house, and pulled back over to Henry and we loaded him into the vehicle. It was a Mark 19 truck and we sent it back as a CASEVAC vehicle with two other Marines ‘cause that was all we had, and we couldn’t send anymore. So, that left us with one high back HMMWV with no up-guns. Probably about nine of us standing out in the middle of the road, and the company was probably half a mile down the road from us, and just gun fighting everywhere. It was a freaky feeling.

About that time, the battalion XO he’d come up, he was riding back with 3rd Platoon, bringing up the rear. When we went down Henry, Captain Jent, he had two platoons up and one back for support, so 3rd was bringing up the rear, and they were a ways back there. The battalion XO come up and he had an up-armored HMMWV with a 50-cal on top and his driver just started cutting loose. He’s like, ‘What all you all waiting for, let’s push on down this road.’ This Major Watts, and he was good to go. And he’s like, ‘I got a supply of AT4s and grenades here gents, just feel free to use ‘em. And, he picked up the squad leader and just started taking AT4 shots like it was cool. Rocking every house and window, little nook and cranny, where there was an insurgent, or where he thought there was one. He must’ve fired four or five of them things in a row.

We ended up picking up some momentum. Started moving down the road. Everybody held it up on the right side of the HMMWV, ‘cause a majority of the gunfire was coming from the left, and we were just taking turns letting go with one magazine at the rear and at the front of the HMMWV, as it was moving real slow and we were all trying to not trip over each other and walk. As soon as we would empty out a mag, we’d just kind of move off to the side and let somebody else take up our position and they’d cycle through a mag. Hell, we did that all the way back down to the company’s new firm base that they took, that house with the mansions and got there. We were out there probably about a good two, two and a half hours, with just about nine, ten guys, on the road, it was a pretty wild experience. It was raining too, and it seemed like every time it rained it was just a really shitty day that somebody got hurt real bad." 

Kilo Company went firm for the night in the mansion complex.

India Company also encountered stiff resistance by insurgents who were determined to fight to the death in house-to-house and room-to-room close-quarters combat. The company used tank main guns, rockets, and missiles as they fought through to the southern edge of the city. By 1730, they established a firm base at the intersection of Phase Lines Isaac and Jenna.

2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry

The battalion kicked off again in another night attack. Cougar continued down Phase Line Henry all the way down to the southern part of the city. Alpha 2-7 launched from Phase Line Fran—again picking up one or two roads per platoon—and attacked about two kilometers into the city, where they made heavy contact. Alpha Company started taking heavy mortar fire. Its commander, Captain Twaddell saw a flash between his knees, the turret filled with smoke, he realized they had been hit. According to Twaddell, "It penetrated below the right hand-gun port, sheared off Sergeant Newman’s arm, passed right through an Iraqi interpreter and penetrated the turret through the turret shield.” The RPG hit the ammunition ready box and detonated two high-explosive rounds. Twaddell was spared, but two other crewmen were slightly wounded and the interpreter killed.

Lt. Colonel James Rainey noted that Specialist Scott Cogil—Captain Twaddell’s medic—jumped out of a Bradley, ran through open fire... put a tourniquet on the sergeant with an arm blown off, and saved his life.” Several Bradleys roared up, formed a perimeter, and engaged the insurgents. Rainey’s battalion lost six tanks that had to be carted out and replaced.

3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

In the early morning hours of November 12, Bravo Company was clearing buildings when one of its squads entered a small house near Phase Line Henry to take a break. They had cleared the first floor when the lead man, Cpl. Jacob Knospler, started up the stairs. An insurgent on the second floor threw a grenade that exploded, hitting Knospler in the face, causing serious injury. Two other grenades followed, wounding six of his squad. The wounded were evacuated, and the house was blown up, killing the insurgents. The battalion continued to clear structures.

Major Marshall Bourgeois, with Kilo Company, describes the homes and environment the Marines encountered: “Normally there was probably about a six to eight-foot wall around each home, with a metal gate that you couldn’t see through. So, that was difficult for breaching purposes. Once you made it through there, there was usually a smaller courtyard there, and then on the right-hand side was the dumper, the head, I guess; without a porcelain crapper. Then you’d walk straight in, and normally the room on the right was used for a prayer room, and if you went into some of the nicer homes, they might have one or two chairs, leopard skin, or something like that, and then, a picture of Mohammed up on the wall, or something, with the Koran in there. Some of the smaller homes, they didn’t have that at all.

They just had just dirt floors, and concrete floors. There was no power so to speak, but they had stoves that they used propane. Their kitchens were normally nothing more than just like a wooden table with a couple shelves that they had some old cups and so forth on there. Some of the places they had upstairs, and there was just trash all over the place - just old bicycles, old metal pipes. And then, from there it would even go up another level to the rooftop; mostly all the buildings had rooftops. Saw a lot of farm animals, goats, chickens, bunnies, dogs, so forth. There was a market area that was absolutely a sewer. They would just like build shanties they had put up all over the place and rotting food, rotting everything. I think they were gonna take a D-7 to it, and just clear that whole area out and then rebuild it. Difficult as far as fighting, because, I mean, they can hide virtually anywhere. Some of these guys were just waiting in a room for some Marine to kick open the door, to shoot ‘em.” 

According to Major Bourgeois, he frequently saw numerous civilians, killed by insurgents, lying in the road, and stray cats, dogs and other animals wandering the streets: “I’ve gone through numerous walks, like in the morning, before the actual companies would start taking off, to kind of look at the previous day’s work, so to speak, and fresh kills that the company did, and so forth, and you would always see numerous additional individuals laying in the road, some had body parts missing and so forth. And all kinds of animals running around. Found a wounded goat that I shot in the head that I wanted to put it out of its misery.”

No matter what they encountered, the Marines often found a way to razz each other, laugh and lighten the mood.

Major Bourgeois was impressed by their camaraderie and their commitment: “I’ve seen the best of Marines. I’ve seen these guys just dogged, dog tired, and they’re still fired up and ready to go and do whatever anybody asks of them. You know, carrying all kinds of heavy ammo on their back and so forth. Even in the midst of all this craziness, the Marines were still laughing. They would see their buddies just blown away the day before, and as I’m walking around and talking to these guys, sharing dip or whatever, they still busted each other’s ass and, you know, how bad they smell, or how bad they gotta take a dump, or whatever. It’s just quite amazing seeing these guys do their thing.”

As they continued clearing, 3/5 continued to find caches and weapons in the buildings, as well as in playgrounds and mosques. There was so much ordnance and explosives that, at times, it was physically impossible to move and catalog.

Executive Officer, Major Todd Desgrossielliers: "If it was a lot, we’d blow it in place in that building. If it was a little bit, we would document where it was, the type, and number of things that we found in that building." 

During the clearing operation, the battalion ran into a few more Iraqis, whom they took into custody.

Major Bourgeois: “The rest of that day, we continued moving forward and clearing homes, and again, caches were all over the place, and blowing up buildings. We were getting numerous prisoners, detainees. A lot of these Iraqi civilians were staying in their homes, and you know, like they were being told. And when we showed up, they would come out. Us not knowing what their intentions are, we would detain them, and then the HET team would exploit them for information and then move ‘em back to the rear.”

The HET were specially trained Marines who gathered tactical intelligence.

Major Bourgeois noted that, because civilians were allowed to maintain weapons to protect their homes and families, the Marines sometimes had difficulty discerning between civilians and insurgents, which added to an already dangerous situation: “We continued the attack and each day we would get more and more civilians. If they [civilians] are allowed to have an AK-47, or a weapon in their home with them, and a Marine who just, hours earlier, kicked in the door and saw his buddy blown away, he in turn kicks in a door and he sees a gentleman or a person sitting there, standing there, with a gun in his hand, that person’s gonna get shot and/or treated accordingly. I can understand these Marines. I can understand the civilians when they were told that they could have one thing, and then another thing. I mean, they’re trying to protect their home from the Mujahideen or whoever else is here trying to take them away. So, they were caught in between a rock and a hard place, too.”

Major Bourgeois explained that the Battalion would go firm at night, resting often times in the abandoned homes and cleared buildings: “We slept in wherever the company CP was—was basically the highest point in that particular AO for the FIST leader to then on fires for the following morning and during that day for close air support. We had battalion objectives, as well as company objectives. And, as far as the sleep goes, we’d attack until we reached our objectives. One thing that the company commander did not want to do, was attack at night time. It was very difficult to move and very difficult to identify who the good guy is, who the bad guy—so he said, in order to prevent fratricide, he’d push those platoons to meet their objectives before the end of daytime. However, during—from I’d say 2100 to 0600 the next day, they worked patrols off our company AO, by each platoon, directed by the company commander, on what he wanted to them to do. And so, I would venture to say, between four to six hours, most of the Marines actually got sleep, if they slept on the concrete. Most everybody had cover. So, they were sleeping in doors, in these homes.”


1st Battalion, 8th Marines

Staff Sergeant Christopher Jewell, 2nd Force Recon, Team Leader, Team 2, had been tasked to man two large apartment complexes the night before. That morning, they set up sniper teams in the location: "The morning of the 12th, we engaged a few targets with sniper fire. Ran some supporting arms and close air support that night. There was a building located just to our west, the building next door, and we just didn't have enough assets to secure the whole area. And, I believe some Muj got up in there, and they fired about four or five RPGs rounds and small-arms fire into us. Blew the shit out of Team 1. They're okay, by the grace of God. My team in particular, I know when that came down, I got my team together and we moved down two floors. To make a long story short, everyone moved down two floors. We started maneuvering the element over there to figure out... we knew where it came from but we wanted to get eyes on 'em so we could kill 'em. And, at that time, a guy from Team 3, which was Sergeant Delgado, he ended up getting shot in the calf and in his ass, and we had to MEDEVAC him. We ended up pulling out of that building. A lot of guys got scrapes and cuts on 'em, shrap metal on 'em. I believe, you know, that normal people would get MEDEVAC'd for that, but these guys, they wouldn't. They'd stay and fight. I'd probably say we pulled about seven or eight [chuckles] Purple Hearts out of that particular incident."

1/8's two companies had advanced at a rapid pace before stopping for the night.

Four insurgents were spotted in a house within 50 meters of Lt. Flanagan: “I remember getting there that evening and we still had two tanks in support of us and aircraft overhead providing ISR for us. They were using thermal imagery. They were locating bad guys in the houses. Using thermal imagery, you could actually see four individuals in the house. He relayed that down to the FAC, who was Captain Ramsey, and he continued to direct the aircraft [to] keep that spotlight on the house. So, the IR spotlight was on the house, which gave the tanks ability to move in and put rounds into that house. Surely, they killed those four individuals in that house.”

Captain Michael Stroud, Bravo Company, Forward Air Controller, ran a close air support mission about the same time: "I got Basher, [A]C-130, on station quite quickly. [I] told him we had machine-gun fire to our east maybe about 100-meters. He locked in and found it quickly. [I] cleared him hot... gaging about 100-meters out, which is danger close, and he killed at least three there. A couple others had ran to a house, and he put some rounds into that house."

Stroud also cleared Basher to fire on another group of insurgents. The AC-130 fired on them with 40mm rounds and claimed 11 of them were killed. After Basher went off station, Stroud worked with a section of F-18s. The house was destroyed.

1st Lt. Christopher Conner, Charlie Company, Executive Officer: "One of the other platoons ended up taking 10 detainees that were just kind of sitting around in a building in the dark in the middle of Fallujah. All military-aged males, so they had to be bad guys, and sure enough, our Human Exploit Team told us that they've gotten some really great information from those 10 guys."

2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry

As the sun came up on the morning of the 12th, Newell’s battalion was located on Phase Line Isabel, Alpha 2-2 on the left flank with Alpha Company, 2-63 Armor, on the right. Captain Neil Prakash’s platoon was in an overwatch position on the east side of the city behind 2-2 Infantry who were “clearing out dug-in guys... [by] going house to house, street to street.” Suddenly, two artillery rounds landed about 200-meters in front of him, and then two more split the distance. “Go back, go back!” Prakash screamed. The driver floored it in reverse. “All of a sudden, the whole left side of the tank exploded,” he recalled. “The tank went up a bit, and both my loader and I fell into the hatches.”

Prakash jumped to the ground and found that the 63-ton Abrams had been blown around by the force of the explosion, and “the whole left side of the track had been blown off.” As he looked at the wreckage, a crewman from the other tank spotted a “yellow-beige doggie dish–sized disk under the track.” The tanker kicked it. The top fell off, exposing explosives. Prakash suddenly realized what the object was and shouted, “Man, that’s a tank mine, I think we’re in a minefield!” Prakash called for a plow tank to clear the minefield. As they waited, a sniper opened fire, forcing them to take cover on one side of the tank and then the other as the plow uncovered several mines. At one point, Prakash and five others crowded into the turret, which was designed to hold three.

By now, both of Newell’s companies were in contact. “About this time, the Alpha Company 2-2 executive officer’s Bradley stopped about 15-meters in front of me,” Newell recalled. Alpha Company’s first sergeant, Peter Smith, saw the officer standing in the turret. “To his north, one of the insurgents shot an RPG from about 80-meters away. It hit Lieutenant Edward Iwan in the midsection, who later died from his wounds.

Newell pulled both companies back two Phase Lines to reorganize. He decided to sit tight until 1/8 caught up to protect his flank. “That night,” he recalled, “we used AC-130s and anything else we could get our hands on and literally pounded anything that moved in that part of the city.” Sometime during the night, Newell issued a warning order to continue the attack in the morning.

Produced and narrated by Laura Cross

Based on the book Operation Phantom Fury: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq by Colonel Dick Camp

Special thanks is given to the Department of Defense.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the U.S. Marine Corps for historical interviews.

Warriors featured in this episode:
Lance Corporal Justin Boswood, USMC
Major Marshall "Rich" Bourgeois, USMC
Lieutenant Colonel Willard Buhl, USMC
Captain Michael Burgoyne, U.S. Army
1st Lieutenant Christopher Conner, USMC
Major Todd Desgrossielliers, USMC
Staff Sergeant Mark Detrick, USMC
1st Lieutenant John Flanagan, USMC
1st Lieutenant John Jacobs, USMC
Staff Sergeant Christopher Jewell, USMC
Captain Jeff McCormack, USMC
Captain Michael Stroud, USMC
Gunnery Sergeant Duanne Walters, USMC

Interviewers: Bret Bair, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Crowley, Chief Warrant Officer William Hutson, Lieutenant Colonel John Way, Captain Joe Winslow