(Note: The author would like to express his grateful appreciation to Sgt. B., who penned this entry practically in its entirety, apart from the probably unnecessary framing overlaid for continuity’s sake. Semper Fi, Sergeant.)
It was still too soon for Hammer 21, or any of the CAS package airborne that day to know it, but by the time they had safely recovered back aboard the ship, the Marines to whom they had provided support would already be back in their forward operating base. The platoon commander of the three vehicle patrol was still in with G-2 and Ops debriefing the afternoon’s work, but as he headed into the HQ hooch, he asked his one of his squad leaders to try and find out who had been in the air that day to help – and to send him a “thank you note.” In the best traditions of the Marine Corps, the NCO ran with the mission. After a short landline phone call to the DASC to track down the details of the air mission, he found an unoccupied computer terminal, put his rifle safely close to hand, removed his helmet and body armor and stared at the blank screen for several moments forming his thoughts before shrugging and starting to type:
Sir, my platoon commander wanted me to write you guys a note, thanking you for what you did today. I guess I’ll never entirely know how things looked from your point of view. But I thought maybe you’d like to hear how it looked from ours:
Things were going from bad to worse…
The AIF had been smart. They had waited until our point vehicle, an up-armored humvee with a .50 caliber heavy machinegun, had passed their homemade roadside bomb. EOD told us afterwards that the bomb was probably a 150 mm artillery shell, wired with a simple electric fuse, command detonated by a cell phone. It had probably been placed during the early morning, wired behind a roadside guardrail. The AIF were probably thinking that, inshalla, we wouldn’t be aware of it until the blast of fire and white-hot shrapnel. We think that their ambush force crept into place once the device was in place, and had been waiting for most of the morning until our patrol turned onto the road, moving along the side of the canal, into their kill zone.
The AIF had a variety of weapons, from AK-47s, AK-74s, PKM machineguns, and a few bolt-action rifles of various makes and calibers. They had hidden their motley collection of trucks and cars behind a concealing berm on the east side of the canal, ready to bug out once the ambush turned against them, as it always does eventually.
We had no rotary wing in the air, and none being prepared to fly from the local operating bases – we think the ambush leader might have known this. Don’t know how. Us having no air, he was probably confident that they would achieve victory. Anyway, our patrol was three armored hummvees, creeping up the road, and he must have watched and waited until the time was right.
The blast took the second vehicle, and then he probably gave his guys the command to fire, right then or a moment or two after. Things happened pretty quickly. I have to admit I blinked as my second vehicle, Predator Two, vanished in a giant puff of black smoke. That’s kind of when all hell broke loose. “Contact left!” one of my Marines shouted. His words were drowned out by a sudden low thud as he opened up his heavy machinegun on the berm, 100 meters away.
I got a look at Predator Two, which became visible as the smoke cleared. The hummvee was still intact, but shredded and on fire. I scrambled out of my own seat, and checked on my Marines, who had leapt from the two surviving hummvees, unlimbering their own weapons, taking what cover they could – there wasn’t much – and returning fire.
The doors of the Predator Two sprung open, and I saw the first body tumble out. I felt sick inside, fearing the worst, until I saw the Marine push himself up and throw himself back into the vehicle, hauling another Marine out of the wreckage. I counted as two others tumbled out of the truck, collapsing in a heap a little distance behind the flaming vehicle. One Marine was motionless, the other beginning to tear off his gear, while the other two crept around the truck, looking for all the world like bloody murder was in their hearts. They began to return fire. You could see they wanted to give it back.
Our Staff Sergeant shouted, “Doc!” pointing to the injured Marine. Didn’t need to though – the Corpsman was already moving with his Unit One towards him.
“Jonesy! Ammo!” one of the gunners started yelling, and Jonesy grabbed an ammo can and jumped up behind the splinter shield to link another belt of .50 ammo to the dwindling belt of rounds hanging from the side of the big M2. Momma Deuce is a wonder against bad guys, but she is a hungry beast.
As for the rest of us, we fell into our Immediate Action drills, seeking targets and bring our marksmanship skills to bear. Right about then, I started to try and focus on the Big Picture, evaluating my options and discounting those that were obviously un-doable. Let me tell you, sir – the list was shrinking rapidly. See, with the proximity of the canal behind us and the position of the bad guys limiting our ability to respond up front? We were in kind of a tight spot.
I yelled to the JTAC, “Get me some air!” but he was already generating a nine-line, speaking into his radio, huddled next to the front wheel of his hummvee, so I left him to his work.
The rest of the squad was beginning to gain fire superiority, but we couldn’t maneuver out of the kill zone. At this rate I was worried that it wouldn’t be too long before the AIF began to really hurt my Marines.
The other radioman was already in contact with the rest of the platoon, which was making its way towards the ambush site.
“Six mikes to air!” the JTAC shouted. That was you guys, sir. Six minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But it can be a long time. Six minutes can feel like forever.
The fire team leaders were maintaining control, and the fire from the Marines was settling down and making hits, but there were still a lot of bad guys. The rounds were kicking up dust, and pinging off of the stopped hummvees, but they were shooting high, and our answering fire had started to shake their aim.
At one point, I looked back over at the small group huddled behind the burning truck, and noted that Doc now had the previously fallen Marine sitting up, and was trying to wrap a bandage around him, but the Marine kept fumbling with his rifle, trying to put a few rounds downrange. The Corpsman finally took the rifle out of the wounded guy’s hands, and I later found out he spoke to him kind of sharp. I saw that sailor push him back down. I had to kind of smile at that, a Corpsman pushing a grunt around. Just as that was happening, the JTAC spoke into the radio, “Cleared hot, 21!” and then he screamed to the rest of us, “Get your heads down!”
The squad burrowed into the dirt as the other side of the berm erupted in a long cloud of dust, dirt, and fire, followed by a high frequency roar – that was you guys. A grey streak flashed overhead, and it resolved itself into a sleek Navy Hornet, pulling hard. Seemed like only a second later, your second Hornet screamed overhead, its fire ripping along the tattered figures up there on the berm, and now we felt the odds starting to shift in our favor. On your third pass, the AIF were trying to bug out off the berm, and you should have heard the shouts of the Marines filling the air. Would have made you proud.
Right about then the Marines rose up out of the dust, sharpened their sights, and squeezed off rounds, dropping the bad guys as they ran towards their getaway cars. Then we caught the specks in the sky – your returning fighters. “This is gonna be good!” some of the guys thought, and the lead Hornet ripped into the line of vehicles. That was good work, sir – some of them exploded and the others caught fire. One or two tried to get away, but they were engaged by the long reach of our fifty calibers, as well as the rest of the platoon’s heavy guns, which had finally arrived to support the squad. Right about then the platoon commander’s vehicle pulled up to where the Corpsman and our wounded guy sat.
The JTAC was standing now, speaking enthusiastically into his radio, as the Marines began to move towards the bad guys, mopping things up. The second jet, poised to strike, held fire as it roared overhead, over the heads of the advancing Marines – I guess maybe the JTAC called him off?
Anyway, I took a look at my people, formulating my next course of action as our Platoon Commander approached. The wounded Marine was being helped into a hummvee, and the Corpsman was climbing in after him. The guy that got wounded gave him a grin, and two fingers: a second Purple Heart.
Sir, only one of my Marines got wounded bad enough to be medivaced back to battalion. I appreciate that fact. I have to admit that I hated to see you guys go, but I was glad to see you when I did. Been told that CAS is the Hammer of God. Seen it for myself, now. Thanks again.