Subject: Draft of TF 2-7 Actions as compiled by Art Durante/OF Iraqi Freedom History Team
This is a 25 page long AAR draft from 2/7 INF, 3d ID. Powerful reading. Lots of information in this concerning weapons systems operations and failures. All: Per previous notes, Art is on the Operation Iraqi Freedom history-writing team currently in Iraq. -Mike Sloniker
Responding to terrorist attacks against the United States in the fall of 2001 the US Military initiated Operation Enduring Freedom, with the ultimate objective of toppling what President George W. Bush referred to as the "axis of evil." Task Force 2-7 Infantry (Mechanized) deployed advance party personnel early in January 03 in support of the ongoing operation. Main body flights consumed the entire third week of January and by February 1st Camp Pennsylvania served as home for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized).
Prior to deploying, 2-7 IN held numerous Family Readiness Group meetings and ensured that all possible steps to facilitate the deployment occurred. Cars were secured in motor pools, household goods were stored for single soldiers if desired, powers of attorney were awarded, weapons qualifications updated on ranges and wills were updated. The Task Force was deploying to a possible combat zone for an undisclosed duration. During this time the press became a permanent fixture at Fort Stewart and battalion soldiers began their long association with reporter's observations and questions.
Like any ordinary National Training Center deployment manifest times were published and soldiers came into work at odd times drawing weapons and equipment from the company arms rooms. Abiding by standard wartime operational security rules soldiers only knew basic windows of time for deployment. Only three days out were they certain which day they were manifesting. Final adjustments on bags were made and they were thrown in trucks. Non Commissioned Officers led baggage details and huge shipping containers were packed. Unlike a National Training Center deployment, teary goodbyes were said at the companies and soldiers made their way to Caro Gym alone. Manifests were double-checked and buses boarded. The rainy trip to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah took the usual 40 minutes. There, soldiers filed through the doors to the ADACG. Bags too big to be carried on were checked and last cigarettes smoked.
Inside the ADACG something was different. Usually the building only housed deploying unit soldiers. This time, volunteers from the Red Cross and blue-haired ladies from Savannah Smiles stood behind a large table with goody bags to hand out. Asked why they were taking their time to do this the volunteer ladies replied, "we enjoy our way of life, and you are protecting it". Working through the night they maintained a positive attitude and were more than willing to help any soldiers with problems.
Wearing all equipment, the Task Force lined up to weigh in, one soldier at a time, to determine the flying weight. The average was 75 lbs over body weight. This is the way the soldiers would be living for months to come, 75 lbs of equipment strapped to their bodies.
Once the final preparations were completed and the plane was ready to take off, a line once again stretched through the building. Groups of 20 streamed through the doors into the rainy darkness outside. Once outside the hurried group of soldiers moved through a cordon of Red Cross personnel and Savannah Smiles ladies personnel, standing in the rain, cheering and waving American flags. These men and women reminded us the entire nation supported what we were heading out to do.
Arriving in Kuwait, soldiers were herded across the tarmac, their ID cards swiped signaling arrival into a hostile area, then buses boarded. The bus' windows were covered with paper as the terrorist threat level in Kuwait had been recently raised. The paper only lasted a few minutes as soldiers' curiosity overwhelmed them and peepholes appeared everywhere. The short ride ended in Camp Arifjan for most, Camp Doha for others.
Camp Arifjan housed Army Pre-positioned Stock 3, the 3rd Infantry Division's assigned vehicle and supplemental weapons cache. Here all operators performed a painfully detailed series of maintenance checks and begin fixing faults. Civilian contractors assisted and supervised the draw, facilitating the process. Working into the night, the process was completed in roughly 5 hours and by 2200 the Task Force was ready to move to Camp Pennsylvania.
Moving 150 vehicles, wheeled and tracked, from Arifjan to Camp Pennsylvania consumed the remainder of the night. First the route followed the highway north past Doha, Entertainment City, and Kuwait City. Then, the vastness of the desert crept in, surrounding the convoy and soon we left the highway for a trail, heading west. At 24 0500 April 2003 Task Force 2-7 drove through a guarded berm and life at Camp Pennsylvania officially began.
Camp Pennsylvania is the western most of the American camps, sitting less than 30 kilometers from the international border with Iraq. Designed to house a battalion size Task Force (700 soldiers), the camp's population quickly soared to more than a Brigade size element (4500 soldiers). This caused serious cramping on the camp's infrastructure. Drinking water was plentiful; however, water for showers and daily hygiene always seemed in short supply.
There were two types of showers. The more plush "shower shacks" were essentially trailers with 10 showers and 8 sinks. The beauty of these was hot water access, but always a line and not all that sanitary. The other option was plywood shower stalls with water tanks bolted to the roof. These also had sinks, clinging to the outside, beaten down by the elements. Sand filled the sinks and the water was absolutely frigid. Despite this, almost all of these sinks were used every morning, and people used the cold showers as well.
Bathroom facilities consisted of blue porta-potties. At first only 7 served the 740 men (and 2 women at the time) of Task Force 2-7. Within a few days the number jumped to 20. These remained fairly clean but could have been emptied more frequently. There was a brief time when a "mad shitter" wrecked havoc on the Task Force toilettes, showers, and even an unlucky vehicle hatch.
The Criminal Investigation Department showed up to investigate a completely unrelated event. Rumors spread, fueled by LTC Rutter's urging, that they were taking DNA samples to discover the identity of the "mad shitter." This tactic worked well, followed by several weeks of "mad shitter" free living in Camp Pennsylvania.
The chow tents were badly sagging enormous cloth tents desperately attempting to collapse at the corners. There were two on Camp Pennsylvania and a promised third that briefly appeared only to be knocked down in a storm and never resurrected. The tents were up a small hill from Task Force 2-7 and always a hub of activity during breakfast and dinner. Times for meals constantly changed, and arriving at the door a minute late equated to no food, regardless of how much time was invested waiting in line.
After filing through the door the line weaved up to the trays, flatware, and eventually the food being served. Each tent had two service sides. One side was hamburgers, hotdogs, and fries. The other, a rotating meal line. The employees in these tents were all third country nationals, over watched by army personnel. After the food line there were several options for beverages. Soda, and eventually even ice for the soda, milk, water, and some juices were all available. Folding tables and white plastic chairs provided plenty of room for people to eat.
Physical Training facilities were limited but available. A weight lifting gym was housed in a tent and had both free weights and nautilus machines. Additionally, the perimeter road of the camp was about 4 miles long and provided a great route to run. There was no mandated physical training guidance from the Task Force but most platoons took advantage of any down time to conduct physical training.
Besides the weight room tent other Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facilities existed. There was a phone and Internet center that never worked until we were left Camp Pennsylvania. There was a morale tent with a large television and books. There was also a chapel tent for religious services. A makeshift Post Exchange occupied a trailer and always had a 4 hour line and nothing you wanted or needed.
Mail began to show up after about a week and a half. While in camp mail would arrive in about 10 days from the states and would make its way back to the states in about 3 weeks. Letters could be sent home with "Free" scribbled on the envelope to save the soldiers the heartache of finding stamps.
Gate training kept the Task Force busy the majority of the time. All combat vehicles (M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle) required test firing, boresighting, and ultimately zeroing. The companies rotated through an outstanding Military Operations in Urban Terrain training site which culminated in a company level Live Fire Exercise. Most gate training requirements were individual level tasks like Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical training.
Civilian personnel called MPRI supervised the urban training site. These guys were all retired military personnel with an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject. They presented classes in a manner that allowed the Non Commissioned Officers of the training unit to be in charge and incorporate their established tactics and standard operating procedures into the training. This was ideal because the MPRI personnel were not pushy and the company leaders were still very much in charge.
On 12 February 2003 the Task Force suffered an accident resulting in an injury. Specialist Kantola of Bushmaster was shot during the squad portion of the live fire exercise. The squad conducted both dry and blank runs on the site without incident. During the actual live fire, the Kantola's buddy team deviated from the trained method of assaulting the compound, resulting in the accidental shooting of Specialist Kantola. Injuries to his hand required immediate surgery. The soldier was evacuated to Germany and ultimately to the United States to receive the necessary medical attention.
Day to day business at Camp Pennsylvania was very regimented, chow hall operating hours dictated wake up and close of business. Daily meetings were held at company levels and at 1900 the entire leadership and key personnel of the Task Force met at the Tactical Operations Center for a "daily dump" meeting. The planning process at this point for possible combat operations was still ongoing and nothing concrete had been established. These meetings discussed administrative details, the conduct of training, and the daily operation of Camp Pennsylvania.
Some combat operation planning was conducted while still in Camp Pennsylvania. The overall plan to attack Iraq for the Task Force consisted of 7 events. Event 1, the berm crossing into Iraq, was studied, analyzed, and planned to painstaking levels of detail. Attacking Objective Hannah (Al Musayyib) where satellite imagery placed the 14th Infantry Brigade (M) of the Medina Division (Republican Guard) was called Event 6 and also heavily planned. At this time, attacking Objective Hannah was believed to be the largest battle of the campaign for the Task Force. According to Major Rod Coffey, the Task Force Operations Officer, time not spent planning was wasted time. All movements were planned and all possible enemy contact plotted by the Battalion Intelligence Officer, Captain Derrick Smits.
Elements of the 101st Infantry Division began arriving at Camp Pennsylvania and the little camp's population noticeably overwhelmed its already limited infrastructure. It was time for the Task Force to move out. On 2 March 2003 the Task Force moved to Assembly Area Able and left behind the soon to be greener grass of Camp Pennsylvania.
Limited phone access turned into none, showers evolved into wet wipes, and tents protecting us from the stinging sand storms were all left behind. Lights of neighboring Camp New York off to our west at night were the only reminder of civilization in the desert for Task Force 2-7 at this point. Plywood bathroom stalls showed up and a fully operational Tactical Operations Center assembled. The Task Force participated in Corps level rehearsals mostly focused on the initial attack across the berm complex at the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. But all good things must come to an end and word of moving closer to the border soon reached the Task Force.
On 19 March 2003 the Task Force moved along Route Stars and occupied Attack Position Dawson, less than 7 miles from the border. Final preparations were completed and the Task Force was ready to conduct Event 1. Moving into the Attack Position we believed we would be there for 24-48 hours but literally as we arrived Brigade issued the order to push forward Task Force Reduction Teams. The Task Force 2-7 Reduction Team consisted of Bushmaster and Bulldog to secure and assist the Kuwaiti nationals that were breaching the border.
Bulldog supervised the Kuwaiti nationals on both lanes reducing berms. On the Iraqi side, the Kuwaitis plowed into the berms, filling the tank ditches with the dirt. Bulldog's Armored Combat Earthmovers reinforced and constructed roads across the tank ditches. The plan called for tracked vehicles crossing these, and wheeled vehicles crossing on Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges.
Once completed, a clear marked route crossing the border existed. Positioned on the border and poised for war with all inspections complete, drills rehearsed, and rounds chambered: Task Force 2-7 was ready for war.
EVENT 1 & 2
Missiles screamed from Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and over the Task Force, part of a deadly accurate "time on target" attack against border patrol stations in southern Iraq. It was 2100 20 March 2003 and war against terrorism officially reached another front. Bushmaster immediately followed the night fireworks, crossing the border and securing Holding Area Able with elements of the Task Force engineer attachment, Bulldog.
Earlier in the evening the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop reported enemy vehicles in our sector. They claimed crewed T-72 tanks were firing on their vehicles. This report reached the Task Force and everyone keyed up for contact, contrary to what the most recent intelligence reports claimed. The Brigade Reconnaissance Team reports turned out to be grossly false and inaccurate.
In the darkness thermal sights picked up hot spots, largely from fires, earlier artillery explosions, and a day's worth of sun beating down on hulks. Bushmaster fired on the "T-72s" as they crossed the border. Elements along with Captain Szymanski and Major Coffey crossed via lane 6, engaging 3 vehicles. The company Executive Officer, First Lieutenant Hoyseth, led the remainder of the company across the border via lane 8a engaging 1 vehicle. The battalion commander was forward between the two lanes. Hours later the rising sun cleared up the confusion, revealing T-55 hulks remaining on the battlefield from the 1991 conflict.
The remainder of the Task Force followed Bushmaster across the international border invading the Republic of Iraq 21 March 2003. As the Task Force moved through the lanes Bulldog soldiers stood atop the giant berm, welcoming the Task Force into Iraq, waving enormous American flags.
Waiting in Attack Position Dawson, the Task Force received 2 batteries from 1-3 Air Defense Artillery with operational control for the movement. Essentially, the Task Force was tasked with safely delivering the Air Defense Artillery unit to an Objective in Iraq.
The day of the attack, sensing the reality of the coalition attack, the Iraqi Government launched numerous missile attacks at known coalition locations and Kuwaiti cities. Each report of inbound enemy missiles sent the Air Defense Artillery unit spinning, scrambling around elevating their protective suit level.
When Q36 radar detects an inbound missile, the computer immediately calculates the impact location. With this information the Task Force Chemical Officer adds the effect of the wind and determines the possibility of any chemical contamination reaching our area. A Chemical Down Wind report is then issued. These downwind calculations showed absolutely no threat to our location. Despite this, the Air Defense Artillery unit ran around scolding soldiers for not donning their protective masks and suits.
This unit turned out to be even more trouble as the Task Force continued executing Event 1 and moved from Attack Position Dawson to Attack Position Bull. The Air Defense Artillery batteries consisted of over 90 vehicles each, and fifty-four 5,000 gallon fuel tankers. Their heavy tractor- trailers could not maneuver as well as the Task Force vehicles. Furthermore, their trucks were slow and their leadership unable to conduct recovery operations. The Task Force resorted to detaching the Air Defense Artillery Batteries under the control of the Executive Officer, Major Kevin Cooney.
The batteries detached from the Task Force column, became a Ground Assault Convoy taking an alternate route with Major Cooney as the command and control authority. A scout section stayed with them in order to assist with route reconnaissance and any necessary recovery and security. This was not exactly a fun time for the Executive Officer and immediately became a joke. Names like "Cooney's Carnival" and "Team Cooney" came over the net many times as he struggled to move them to Attack Position Bull.
The Task Force main body continued attacking north closing on Attack Position Lizard 22 0230 March 2003 without further incident. At this point "Cooney's Carnival" continued to crawl north, well behind, and out of reach of the Task Force communication equipment. Fuel trucks rushed forward and established a service station style fuel point. All vehicles cycled through, filling their fuel tanks. With security established, some personnel slept for a few hours. At 0530 "Cooney's Carnival" arrived with the Air Defense Artillery batteries, just in time to refuel and continue the attack north. Soon, the Task Force would reach Highway 1 where travel would prove to be much quicker. Traveling north through the Iraqi desert the Task Force passed small Bedouin enclaves. The families emerged from their small tents as the Task Force thundered by. Confused adults stared and excited children happily waved. These farmers were the extent of contact south of Highway 1. Day slowly faded into night and the Task Force continued to plunge north into the darkness. Moving through the desert in a modified wedge formation, the Task Force was flanked by the remainder of 1st Brigade Combat Team. With Task Force 3-69 Armor on one side, and Task Force 3-7 Infantry on the other the Brigade Combat Team continued attacking north.
Shortly after darkness swallowed the Task Force, an order came down to switch on "white light" headlights for driving. Now, moving three Task Force abreast, 1st Brigade Combat Team along with other division elements made the Iraqi desert resemble a crowded Los Angeles freeway. Even though it facilitated movement, it was hard to imagine we were attacking deep into Iraq with thousands of pairs of high beams blazing into the night.
Event 3: FIRST CONTACT AND BATTLING THROUGH AS SAMAWAH
Event 3 moved the Task Force west along Highway 8 to the city of As Samawah (pop 500,000). Leaving Attack Position Lizard the Task Force actually moved east in order to link up with Highway 8. Moving across the uneven desert was slow and painful for the wheeled vehicles.
With the first sign of civilization in sight the Task Force could see the modern highway ahead. A barely buried pipeline restricted movement to the highway, which was the Line of Departure. Bulldog moved dig assets forward to construct a hasty berm, allowing the 70 ton M1s to cross the pipeline without inflicting damage. Once on the highway, the convoy speed accelerated and the Task Force continued to march. Heading west at a high rate of speed, the Task Force conducted a forward passage of lines through 3rd Brigade Combat Team, becoming the 1st Brigade Combat Team lead element on Highway 8. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team trains, all support units, were parked along the highway. Task Force 2-7 must have been an extremely intimidating sight for these non-combat units. Signs reading "Go Get 'Em" "Let's Roll!" and "Give them Hell Boys!" were held up as our combat vehicles sped pass.
Passing Tallil Airfield, the Task Force released a heavy burden. One of the two attached units, A/2-43 ADA, split from the Task Force formation. Task Force 1-10 FA joined our convoy but did not impede our attack like the Air Defense Artillery did.
As the Task Force moved west along Highway 8 the Scout platoon screened forward to provide early detection and route reconnaissance. Led by First Lieutenant Stephen Gleason, the scouts did an incredible job of clearing the route. At one point the entire Task Force attack was halted because the Explosive Ordinance Division was blowing up enemy munitions.
Lieutenant Colonel Rutter, using the credo "Brute Force and Ignorance" ordered First Lieutenant Gleason to get on the ground and explain they were impeding the entire 3rd Infantry Division attack. First Lieutenant Gleason managed to persuade the Explosive Ordinance Division personnel to delay their deliberate blast and allow the passage of Task Force 2-7.
Almost immediately Highway 8 changed from a modern 4 lane Highway to a dilapidated two-lane road without lane markings. The road became a parade route with people lining the streets in awe watching our progress. A handful shot dirty looks but the vast majority cheered and waved. Children ran along the side of the vehicles and some soldiers, not yet aware of the prohibition not to, rewarded their effort with candy or Meal, Ready to Eat snacks.
Stuck in the vehicles for almost 72 hours quickly got old. Every time the convoy stopped people jumped out, stretched, went to the bathroom, or pulled security. The Task Force had yet to receive direct fire from the enemy. The only contact was old tanks, dead for nearly 12 years earlier.
Darkness began to fall and the mood of the Task Force was minutes from a drastic change. While stopped along Highway 8, which splits the town of Al Kindr, civilians began frantically pointing and yelling at the lead scout elements. First Lieutenant Gleason moved his section forward and at 22 1639 March 2003 reported a large caliber round, either an Armored Personnel Carrier main gun round or a Rocket Propelled Grenade, fired at his vehicle. Luckily the round missed his soft skin vehicle buzzing over, barely missing his hood. Following the signature of the shot, First Lieutenant Gleason spotted what he thought to be an armored vehicle retreating into the city on the north side of the road.
Lieutenant Colonel Rutter ordered his lead company, Rage to develop the situation. The company commander, Captain Robert Smith, maneuvered with his lead element and witnessed the Rocket Propelled Grenade nearly take out First Lieutenant Gleason's vehicle. He pushed a platoon into the urban area in an attempt to flush out the enemy.
In the rear of the column, First Sergeant Wilson Rodriguez listened to his Knight company preparing to engage enemy. He pushed forward, realizing he may have to perform casualty or enemy Prisoner of War evacuation. Passing a flipped Sport Utility Vehicle with "TV" stenciled on the doors, he noticed the wipers still scratching back and forth across the dry windshield. Immediately sensing something wrong, he and Major Coffey's security dismounts entered a nearby gas station, finding spent enemy ammo casings and a warm teapot.
Moving behind the building, they found 2 armed Iraqis hiding under aluminum roofing sheets. Once captured, the Iraqis motioned to another building, claiming more soldiers were hiding. With help, the element captured a total of 8 dismounts, all heavily armed and in uniform. These soldiers were the first prisoners the Task Force captures.
The sun was nearly set at this point and visibility rapidly decreased. Apparently unaware of our night vision capabilities, the enemy cut the power to the town, swallowing the Task Force in darkness. Low crawling slowly forward through tall wispy grass, dismounts attempted to maneuver on the scout vehicles while others attempted to occupy fortified bunkers. First Lieutenant Gleason reported this activity but could not engage. A Rage platoon had pushed forward and avoiding fratricide was all 1st Lieutenant Gleason could think about.
Lieutenant Colonel Rutter deliberately maneuvered Rage, clearing the fires, so the scout section could engage the dismounts. Growing pains were quickly overcome and the harsh realization of combat settled in. The young officers and soldiers of Task Force 2-7 were accustomed to peacekeeping operations like the Balkans and previous Kuwait rotations. Lieutenant Colonel Rutter's sure and unwavering voice ordered the scouts to engage the enemy dismounts.
Lead Knight elements and scouts engaged the dismounts ending the silence with machine gun fire. Yelling "Stop shooting, they're dead!" into his hand mike, First Lieutenant Gleason confirmed the first Task Force battlefield damage assessment, two enemy dismounts. First Lieutenant Gleason continued to develop the situation and his scouts engaged 10 more dismounts killing 6 and wounding the remainder. Frantically waving injured arms in the air the remaining dismounts desperately signaled surrender.
At the time the Task Force was operating under specific bypass guidelines. The guidelines required the Task Force to secure Highway 8, the future Main Supply Route and not bypass any enemy that could interfere with following units and supply trains.
While the Task Force engaged, reports of more enemy contact against the Brigade Reconnaissance Team (C/1CAV) 20 kilometers to the west in As Samawah began flowing in. Two injured C/1CAV soldiers, to include a platoon sergeant were evacuated back to Al Kindr. The Task Force Forward Aid Station treated the soldier and called for air medevac.
Lieutenant Colonel Rutter gave the order to press forward to Objective Chatham and a pre-planned refuel spot along the road. Required to secure the Main Supply Route, Rage and the Forward Aide Station remained in Al Kindr. While there, the medics treated several injured Iraqi soldiers in addition to the Brigade Reconnaissance Team soldier.
In the darkness, Rage established a perimeter containing the city and securing Highway 8. Throughout the night, Iraqis moved weapons from the bunkers back into the city. Strict rules of engagement at the time prevented Rage from engaging these personnel. Also, many houses in the town flew large black flags, later identified to signify militant supporters of the Baath Party, only later to be identified as a harmless Shi'ite religious symbol.
Bulldog engineers destroyed 2 large weapons caches early in the morning. Having trouble communicating to the Iraqis what they were doing, the engineers finally lit the fuse and moved out. Seeing this, the Iraqis did not need to understand English and began running too. Total battle damage assessment during the night totaled 8 enemy killed in action and over 50 enemy prisoners of war. Rage would spend the next 2 days without the support of the Task Force. Losing radio contact with the task force, they were on their own. Captain Smith called their movement the "Miracle Mile" and felt the company really come together as a team. With no communication, the company moved on its own, borrowing fuel, gallons at a time for the tanks, and stopping only once for sleep. The "Miracle Mile" began 23 0900 March and ended as they pulled into Objective Raider 1730 24 March 2003. The only contact was the tenuous one of FBCB2 email transmissions. As Rage remained behind in Al Kindr the remainder of the Task Force moved out to the refuel position. While there LTC Rutter cobbled together a plan with the proactive help of the 1-10 FA battalion commander. The 1-10 FA, traveling with us, was on the Task Force net and promptly offered its services. This would not be the last time the Cottonbalers were grateful for 1-10 FA's prompt and aggressive support. Shortly after 23 2300 March the Cottonbalers pressed on to As Samawah still hearing contact reports over the net. Approaching the overpass where the C/1CAV soldier was shot, on the outskirts of As Samawah, the Knight forward observer called for fire. The Task Force column halted long enough for 1-10 Field Artillery to execute the fire mission on a small dismount location on the overpass. Observing through sights, the Scouts saw the artillery rounds explode with deadly accuracy, destroying the equipment and killing the enemy personnel on the bridge. Initiating movement once again, Knight's infantry platoon moved forward to secure a foothold in the city. Once secured, they passed the remainder of the tank company through, leading the Task Force into downtown As Samawah, along Highway 8. The lead tank missed a very confusing dirt road turn off and continued into the heart of the city. Heavily armed Iraqis poured from buildings and flooded the streets, establishing ambushes and willing to defend their city to the death.
Icons appeared on the "Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below" screen representing friendly 3-7 Cavalry elements. They appeared to be located in the city but the Task Force X-Ray did not know their exact locations. Taking the initiative, the X-Ray dropped to the Cavalry frequency and conducted necessary adjacent unit link up. Prior to raising them however, the Task Force leadership waved off A-10 CAS support - 3-7 CAV's location was unknown. Conceivably vehicles identified by the A-10s could be Cavalry Squadron soldiers executing their mission.
The enormous M1 tanks found themselves wedged into narrow avenues and side streets. Lieutenant Colonel Rutter frantically ordered the Knight company commander, Captain Lee, to turn his unit around. Easier said than done. At this point the streets were nearing civilian foot traffic capacity, and all in uniform armed with small arms, Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, and machine guns.
Unsure of the best solution, Captain Lee described the masses of people in the streets and continued to develop the situation. Iraqi soldiers still had growing pains to go through as well. Constant small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades slammed into the sides of the Task Force armored vehicles to no avail. Rocket Propelled Grenades impacted with deafening explosions only leaving small black marks on the strong American armor. Small arms rounds rattled off the Abrams and Bradleys leaving no marks whatsoever.
Once the Task Force X-Ray plotted and determined the location of all friendly elements in the area Lieutenant Colonel Rutter confidently ordered Capatin Lee to engage the crowds, aiming as carefully as possible. The ensuing machine gun fire from the monstrous tanks slammed into the armed crowds quickly clearing much of the crowd, all scrambling and seeking out shelter from the viscous barrage of overwhelming fire. Images of Hollywood's Black Hawk Down flashed through everyone's mind as the reports flooded the net. With the armed Iraqis momentarily suppressed, and Lieutenant Colonel Rutter giving very specific directions, Captain Lee managed to maneuver his element through the narrow alleyways and streets back to the missed turn.
Moving back to the turn, First Lieutenant Gundrum identified a 14mm air defense artillery piece maneuvering to fire on the convoy. He quickly backed his tank into a position to fire on the piece and minimize civilian collateral damage. First Lieutenant Gundrum engaged the truck and gun with his main gun, destroying it, then continued back to the turn. Lieutenant Colonel Rutter identified the turn meanwhile First Lieutenant Johnson's platoon remained at the overpass where the artillery fore had been directed to prevent reseeding of the defensive position around it. Later in the evening as the main body passed through the Task Force S3 directed the platoon to secure the confusing turn - the place where the air defense gun had been destroyed. Lt Johnson's platoon manned the position all night and into the morning as the Task Force, with Patriot Battery and Artillery Battalion in tow moved through. The Task Force column, minus Team A and the Forward Aid Station slithered around the south side of the city, gladly watching the lights of Objective Chatham fade away into the night. The Task Force escaped with no casualties and no lost equipment. Enemy Killed in Action is estimated in excess of 150, with many buildings and numerous vehicles also destroyed. It was clear the Main Supply Route through As Samawah required Coalition forces to further secure it. But the Task Force had to continue the attack north, where more important missions waited.
What had been previously envisioned as a tactical road march with unlikely enemy contact had turned into two night time firefights and a hasty attack with field artillery preparation. The division would ultimately make the decision to cease movement along this section of Highway 8 until addtional forces could be committed to its security.
The Task Force pressed on, exhausted, toward the next refuel site.
Events 4 & 5: First loss and moving on
Continuing west past As Samawah the Task Force began the painfully long voyage to Objective Rams. The wrong turn and subsequent firefight in As Samawah left the Task Force with a long all night drive. Movement from Objective Chatham to Objective Rams began at 23 0230 March 2003. Slowed by rough terrain after leaving the highway, the convoy crawled north. Refueling at Objective Rams was out of the question. The tank's high rate of fuel consumption compounded by a virtual gridlock in Objective Rams caused the Task Force to stop 20 kilometers short of the objective.
Moving to the proposed refuel site, we did not know how long the layover would last. It turned out to be just long enough to refuel and switch out exhausted drivers. With topped off fuel tanks and somewhat fresher drivers the Task Force moved out, heading for An Najaf and its ominous Escarpment.
Moving west through the desert the Task Force finally reached "Highway 28". Highway 28's surface was no more than a service road flanking a buried pipeline, running north through the western Iraqi desert for several hundred kilometers. The elevated road cut through fertile farmland irrigated by nearby reservoirs.
The farms had houses and tractors, unlike the Bedouin herders of southern Iraq we passed early in the campaign. Most stood outside the humble homes, waving what looked like appreciation, as the Task Force passed. Everywhere, stray dogs ran around the vehicles, begging for food but fearful to get too close.
Passing through the Escarpment was another portion of the attack repeatedly planned and revisited whenever possible. Two Brigade Combat Teams (1st and 2nd) of the 3rd Infantry Division planned on passing through the escarpment. At the Escarpment, the desert's flat surface slowly rises to the north, abruptly split by an east-west running cliff, just north of An Najaf, roughly 150 ft tall. In an unofficial race to see who was first 1st BCT attacked through the escarpment
The single lane road climbs through a pass in the rock face at a 12% grade. A picture perfect ambush location, where the terrain dictates wheeled and tracked vehicle routes. The looming walls on both sides of the road provide ample concealment and advantageous fields of fire for enemy positions.
Task Force 3-69 AR initiated the Brigade Combat Team through the escarpment, en route to Objective Raider. While TF 2-7 IN had conducted two firefights on its way north, TF 3-69 AR had fortunately been on a route south of ours where they made no contact. Movement from Objective Rams to Objective Raider was Event 5. Planning for this event did not anticipate meeting any contact, especially considering an Armor Task Force was leading the Brigade Combat Team movement.
Cresting the escarpment prior to Task Force 2-7, Task Force 3-69 made enemy contact with vehicles and dismounts guarding a large facility. Recognizing the danger of spreading the Armor Task Force too thin in the large expanse north of the escarpment, the Brigade Commander, Colonel William Grimsely, ordered Task Force 2-7 to move through the escarpment and attack north on the western flank of Task Force 3-69.
Knight led the Task Force through the escarpment followed by the Tactical Operations Center vehicles, then Bushmaster. Bushmaster was split, with half the company securing the combat trains, when the unexpected order to attack north came down. Captain Szymanski quickly consolidated and moved his company forward, forcing other units off the road.
As the Task Force attacked forward soft skinned vehicles remained south of the escarpment. Only mission essential vehicles moved forward with the combat vehicles and the Tactical Operations Center established north of the escarpment in a great location protected by a berm.
Highway 28 served as the boundary between the two attacking Task Forces. Task Force 3-69 attacked in zone on the east with Task Force 2-7 attacking in zone west of the dirt highway. As the Task Force sped north through the escarpment the Task Force Operations officer, Major Rod Coffey delivered a remarkably thorough Fragmentary Order over the net with only minutes to prepare.
At this point Rage had not yet returned from containing Al Kindr. Working with only two companies, Major Coffey divided the Task Force sector into company lanes. Scout elements identified an enormous complex, protected by reinforced wire and cement fences. Within the fortified fence, stood over 20 buildings including large warehouses. Higher intelligence described the guarded site as an ammo depot.
Knight moved forward establishing a support by fire position. Once set, Bushmaster assaulted the compound. Captain Szymanski used a platoon to clear a command post while another platoon moved into the compound's southern section. With 2nd platoon set, 1st platoon assaulted across the compound east to west. First attempts to breach the fences with Tube Launched Optically tracked Wire Guided missiles proved ineffective. Then Bradleys barreled into the fences, tearing gaping holes through the wire.
Personnel inside the site were overwhelmed, only a handful returning fire. Dismounts, led by First Lieutenant Milsovilch, quickly quelled the resistance and cleared the site. Over 100 enemy Prisoners of War were captured and hundreds of small arms confiscated. For days to come Task Force 2-7 soldiers guarded this site while exploitation teams searched it. During this time they secured the roads into the complex and guarded the site against looters. Searching cars uncovered trunks full of weapons. Interrogating the drivers, it was discovered the weapons were going to An Najaf to be sold to militants. These weapons were confiscated and the drivers taken into custody.
Moving north of the complex an extensive bunker system was discovered in addition to two enormous brown buildings spotted to the east. First Lieutenant Mark Padien and his platoon attacked into the bunker complex clearing it. At this point Bushmaster was whittled down to 2 combat effective platoons. Guarding enemy prisoners required First Lieutenant Jones' entire platoon. Bushmaster also cleared the large brown buildings identified east of the bunkers. The defensive posture established by the Iraqis defending the complex concentrated on an enemy attack through the main entrance in the east. Knowing this, Bushmaster attacked from the southwest, sweeping through the complex unimpeded. High explosive rounds from Bradleys exploded as they punched through the backs of bunkers, which faced out to an empty road.
The direct firefight ended quickly and the combat train vehicles began to move through the escarpment. As they climbed the hill, incoming mortar rounds began exploding to their east. The initial rounds impacted more than 400m from the road but the enemy began to walk the rounds in. At this point no Q36 radar coverage was available in the area. Simply put, the speed of the attack was too great for every unit to maintain.
Q36 radar provides counter battery coverage. It is an amazing piece of equipment, when an indirect round is fired it calculates the origin and sends the information to a Multiple Launch Rocket System unit. Within two minutes of round detection, rockets are airborne en route to the enemy firing point.
Without Q36 coverage there was basically nothing the Combat Trains Command Post could do. Maneuvering on the unknown mortar location was out of the question due to the terrain. For unknown reasons, the enemy stopped firing before achieving effective fires inflicting no casualties or damage to Task Force vehicles. The Task Force remained unscathed after three firefights and attacking hundreds of kilometers into Iraq. At 23 1700 March 2003 the Tactical Operations Center packed up and began moving forward to occupy Objective Raider. Task Force scouts moved forward and conducted route reconnaissance to the Task Force's portion. Once again moving at night, the Task Force moved across the desert into Objective Raider. While moving to Objective Raider, all Task Force units reported contact with armed dismounts. Due to the experience of armed enemy easily surrenduring at places such as Al Klndr there remained a tendency to try and run down and capture enemy soldiers. Some were chased down and captured but the majority escaped the area unimpeded. This decision is one that every member of the Task Force soon regretted. Early in the morning of 24 March 2003, leading the Task Force, the Tactical Operations Center vehicles closed on Objective Raider. The companies followed, wearily creeping into their sectors. Everyone was completely drained and exhausted from the previous 72 hours of contact and movement.
Small onion plots and farms peppered the landscape. Each farm consisted of a few small adobe style buildings, a small planted plot, and a fenced area for livestock. The units hastily occupied their sectors and most bedded down for the first time in several days. During the morning all combat vehicles refueled and companies begin sending out small recon elements and patrols. Every unit had small farms in their sector and the eastern portion seemed to be the most heavily populated. The morning quietly progressed into afternoon until a shot rang out, ending the silence. Standing on his M1 adjusting the load plan, Specialist Gregory Sanders sustained a fatal gunshot wound to the head from an Iraqi sniper. He was killed instantly leaving behind his young wife. Attached to the Task Force from 3-69 Armor, Specialist Sanders belonged to Knight.
At this point the entire Task Force realized the men seen the previous night were not farmers wielding weapons for self-protection. Instead, they were Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes. Drastic measures were immediately taken to increase security in the sector. Once again LTC Rutter emphasized the rules of engagement - a man fleeing with a weapon is effectively no different than a tank attempting attempting to withdraw and fight another day - both should be engaged.
The Psychological Warfare team drove to each farm in the sector broadcasting messages urging everyone to leave the area. Unit limits and zones were double checked to ensure everyone tied together to create a secure zone. Dismount infantry cleared all buildings on a daily basis in the sector. Entering and clearing the buildings, soldiers found Iraqi regular army uniforms. This finding reinforced the belief the area was crawling with Iraqi soldiers in disguise. Lieutenant Colonel Rutter informed the Task Force the mere presence of a weapon now could be defined as hostile intent.
Knight seemed really upset by losing one of their own. When a mission to block Highway 9 and secure the Brigade Combat Team's eastern flank came down from Brigade Lieutenant Colonel Rutter tasked Knight with the mission. Giving the company the task refocused them on the mission and helped them move forward from their loss.
Returning from the "Miracle Mile," news of the sniper attack was the first communication contact Rage received entering the Task Force sector. The tired company occupied their sector and immediately emplaced security.
Signs posted along Highway 9 warned of the roadblock and instructed drivers to turn around. Despite this, many vehicles drove all the way up to the blocking position. Some were engaged as they attempted to drive around or through the roadblock. Others stopped and were searched, detained, or turned around. Not at the blocking position, Rage and Bushmaster conducted zone patrols and continued to push further out as a show of force. On 27 March 2003 Rage conducted a quick reconnaissance patrol in sector. As they moved north, Captain Smith reported his company front line trace at the 85th northing. Learning he was 5 kilometers too far north, he reported back being the closest American unit to Baghdad, jokingly renaming his 1st platoon Rage Scouts.
An alleged incoming B52 strike turned Rage around and the company began returning to sector. Shortly after turning around a tank drove into an enormous hole. Captain Smith warned the rest of the company to be careful of the farms' wells. As the company moved south, A21, First Lieutenant Mike Gruber's Bradley, drove into another well, sending the vehicle tumbling to the bottom of a 60 foot hole. The Bradley plowed nose first into the far wall, slammed back, coming to rest on its nose nearly vertical at the bottom of the well. Watching the vehicle through his night sights, the Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Dennis Wisner witnessed the accident and raced from his Bradley to the well. After descending into the well, with the help of Staff Sergeant Michael Boatman, he managed to pry open the troop door and hatch. The fire team traveling in the Bradley lay twisted in a pile against the turret shield door. The high explosive Bangalore tubes rocketed forward past the driver, into the dashboard, yet miraculously not exploding or injuring the driver.
Sergeant Roderick Solomon sustained fatal head wounds and internal bleeding. Medics desperately revived him several times waiting for the Air Medevac helicopter to arrive. The bird landed more than three hours after the initial request was made. 6 other soldiers were injured. First Lieutenant Gruber broke his arm and did not return to the platoon. Recovering the personnel was the first step, next the Bradley itself had to be recovered. Even with two massive M88 recovery vehicles the Bradley would not budge. More in depth assessments were made, determining if recovery was a feasible option or if the vehicle would be destroyed in place. The continual lack of Class IX repair parts drove the decision to recover the vehicle even if only remotely possible. Engineer assets dug down to the crashed vehicle and eventually dragged it back to the maintenance collection point where all useable parts were stripped off. Just as Task Force life began settling down in Objective Raider, the unthinkable happened. A deliberate and coordinated terrorist attack claimed the life of 4 more Task Force soldiers. 29 March 2003 Rage and Knight conducted a relief in place at the Highway 9 blocking position.
A man, waiting while the bus he was traveling in was searched claimed to have a hurt ankle and sat down on the curb. Soon after, a taxi approached, slowly passing the turn around warning signs. The driver, speaking in English, claimed to have been called by the injured man to pick him up. A fire team approached, led by the team leader to search the vehicle. The man exited the vehicle and allowed the soldiers to search him. In accordance with the standard operating procedures the soldiers made him open all doors to the car. Opening the trunk detonated explosives, causing the car to explode in a massive fireball, instantly killing all 4 soldiers, the driver, and the man sitting on the curb. The coordinated attack by the suicide bomber and his partner claimed the lives of Sergeant Eugene Williams, Specialist Michael Curtin, Private First Class Diego Rincon, and Private Michael Creighton. This unthinkable act triggered further evolution of the Rules of Engagement.
A new sign was immediately posted informing drivers they would be engaged and killed if they continued. Still, some Iraqis tested the nerves of the American soldiers blocking Highway 9. Several more vehicles were engaged passing the line, and soon the area was littered with charred vehicle remains.
Objective Raider began wearing on everyone, the Task Force needed to get moving again. The collective sentiment agreed sitting still too long gave the initiative to the enemy, and moving would be much safer. On 31 March 2003 the Task Force finally moved from Objective Raider, less 6 Cottonbalers. The short move, just 20 kilometers north to another position, instantly raised the Task Force's morale. Crossing to the west side of Highway 28, the Task Force stopped 12 kilometer south of the infamous upcoming Karbala Gap.
The line companies conducted final preparations for the upcoming battle for passage through the Karbala Gap. Knowing the importance of the future operation, the battle staff meticulously went over the plan, ensuring complete precision in the moves and locations of all units. Everyone readied for the intense days to come.
Event 6: BATTLE FOR PASSAGE THROUGH THE KARBALA GAP AND DESTRUCTION OF THE 14TH
On April Fools day the commanders assembled listening to Lieutenant Colonel Rutter and Major Coffey brief the updated plan: contain the city of Karbala allowing the Brigade Combat Team to safely pass through the Karbala Gap. The Karbala Gap is a thin tract of land running between Karbala and Bahr al Milh Lake, creating a choke point and putting the Task Force in its most vulnerable position of the war. The Task Force plan called for the companies to occupy a series of Support by Fire positions. Controlled by Major Coffey the companies would occupy Support by Fire positions and leapfrog to the next open position with the Brigade Combat Team moving simultaneously through the Gap. Task Force 1-30 Infantry (Battle) would relieve the companies, moving from south to north. Planners and commanders were haunted by the notion that here, if anywhere, is where Saddam would attempt a concentrated chemical strike.
The Division timeline unexpectedly accelerated pushing the Task Force north to occupy another Assault Position. By 1700 1 April 2003 the entire Task Force sat poised outside the city of Karbala. With the skyline visible, the Task Force watched the sun retreat below the horizon and waited for the word to go. At midnight the Task Force leadership conducted a comprehensive radio rehearsal. Meanwhile, Close Air Support and artillery began enemy locations and continued to light up the sky for hours. Conditions to attack through the Gap were being set.
Finally the word came, sending the Task Force attacking north, under the cover of darkness and through the Gap into the waiting Support by Fire positions. The mission went off flawlessly. In respective order, Rage, Bushmaster, and Knight occupied their Support by Fire positions. Major Coffey timed the movement perfectly and the companies began leapfrogging each other.
Contact was minimal and Battlefield Damage Assessment amounted to several groups of armed dismounts and two apparent suicide trucks. Task Force 1-30 actually arrived earlier than anticipated and began relieving the most southern positions.
Now bringing up the rear of the Brigade Combat Team passing through the Gap, Task Force 2-7 occupied Assault Position Gannon. Originally, the base plan included a three day wait, allowing for proper condition setters to occur, facilitating the complete destruction of the Medina Division, part of the Iraqi Republican Guard. Instead, within an hour of refueling and occupying the Assault Position, Task Force 2-7 was ordered to attack, destroying remnants of the 14th Brigade on Objective Hannah.
Leading the Task Force into Objective Hannah, Bushmaster elements spotted armored vehicles in their sector. Initially, the vehicles were identified as Iraqi. Forward Observers attached to Bushmaster initiated an artillery fire mission on the vehicles. The mission was sent through the fires net and the proposed grid cleared of friendly units by Brigade.
Loaders slammed high explosive rounds into the massive 155mm cannon breaches, preparing the gunline to fire. Making one last check, First Lieutenant Tomlison attempted to positively verify the vehicle's identity. Looking through shaky binoculars, First Lieutenant Tomlison identified a friendly fueler near the blurry armored vehicles and immediately broadcasted a ceasefire over the fires net.
Reaching the guns moments before they fired, First Lieutenant Tomlison's ceasefire command saved the lives of many Task Force 3-69 soldiers. Elements from Task Force 3-69 Scouts had wandered south, out of their sector, and into the Task Force direct fire zone.
The battle with the 14th Brigade of the Medina Division had been drilled into the minds of every member of the Task Force as the fiercest resistance we would meet. Instead, the Task Force only engaged a handful of dismounts (many in bunkers) air defense systems and vehicles. Rage began by shooting every abandoned piece of artillery and air defense artillery. After engaging more than 14 abandoned pieces, Captain Smith warned his platoons to conserve ammunition so they only fired on the larger pieces. The battalion commander moved with Rage and Bushmaster in the north, the battalion S3 moved with Knight in the south.
Rage continued pushing east across Objective Hannah and established a blocking position along the 30th easting. En route, enemy dismounts near-ambushed the lead elements. Attempting to engage, both lead vehicles' main guns misfired. 2nd Lieutenant Russ Porter, the company forward observer, pulled forward in his Bradley and destroyed the enemy.
As the company continued moving forward, Captain Smith's Bradley came under Rocket Propelled Grenade fire again. Standing in his hatch, the Rocket Propelled Grenades narrowly missed him, whizzing less than 24 inches over his head. Seeing their company commander nearly shot, all vehicles in range returned fire on the Rocket Propelled Grenade team, completely leveling the berm they were hiding behind, with devastating high explosive fire from the Bradleys. Suffice to say the enemy was destroyed.
Knight moved across Objective Hannah, for the first time as a company, encountering similar targets as Rage and Bushmaster. One park of vehicles was so standardized CPT Lee described it as a "museum". It had numerous combat pieces in front of a main building. Identifying with thermal scopes, some pieces showed up glowing with heat, others barely showing up.
The only explanation is the artillery pieces were recently fired. Realizing this, Knight immediately engaged the pieces showing up hot in their thermals. The Executive Officer, First Lieutenant Carmody, engaged bunkers that proceeded to explode, indicating munitions hidden inside. Knight 1st platoon, led by First Lieutenant Gundrum, engaged a T-54 tank under camouflage netting and a large towed artillery piece with rounds stockpiled next to it.
Knight continued to be busy on all fronts, in the south First Lieutenant Johnson and his infantry platoon assigned to Knight engaged dismounts while incoming enemy artillery landed within 400m of their location.
At this point, all action seemed to be in Objective Hannah South, and all units began to converge in that direction. A large bunker complex was discovered and cleared by First Lieutenant Johnson's men. A minefield blocked the road leading through Objective Hannah South so elements moved off the road, discovering a tunnel running under the road to the bunker complex.
Three Iraqi soldiers, with weapons, raced from the mouth of the tunnel, heading for buildings, only to be gunned down by the infantrymen. Further east, more infantry were identified firing from houses. En route to the houses four more artillery pieces were engaged and destroyed.
As Knight moved east along the road they linked up with Rage who was heading south to occupy a blocking position. The plan was to contain Al Musayyib while the Task Force passed en route to crossing the Euphrates River. The tanks pushed off the hardball road, along a dirt trail through palm trees. It was fast proving impossible to establish two company-sized blocking positions near the town of Al Musayyib.
Moving from the elevated road the tanks began plowing through thick mud. Despite attempts to explain the situation the company was pushed further into the marsh to find a spot where they could effectively block the road. In hindsight only Bradleys should probably have been placed there in order to intedict movement along Highway 9 into Al Musayyib. Within minutes all 4 tanks became heavily mired, including Captain Lee's tank.
Attempting to recover the tanks, Knight's heavy M88 recovery vehicles drove into the quagmire to help recover the stuck M1s. Immediately, both M88s bogged down. A squad size element attacked the mired M1 only to be killed quickly. With the day winding down, the situation became desperate.
Captain Smith reassured Captain Lee, saying "I won't leave you buddy" and occupied hasty defensive positions along the road. Throughout the night, Rage infantrymen patrolled the wooded area, encountering dismounts throughout the night. Further off the road, where the tanks sat stuck in 4 feet of thick black Euphrates river valley mud, incoming Rocket Propelled Grenades missed their targets throughout the night. None hit, however, they were effective slowing the recovery progress.
The battalion leadership spent most of the night urgently calling for additional recovery assets from higher. The next morning the battalion commander moved north to continue the attack while the S3 remained with Knight until recovery was complete. Attached engineer assets eventually showed up in the morning, bringing powerful bulldozers capable of slowly pulling the mired vehicles from the mud. In doing so, Captain Lee's M1 threw track, but could not be replaced until the vehicle was dragged to the hardball. Finally replacing the thrown track and preparing to move, Knight had been stuck for over 12 hours.
Knight and the S3 moved forward and linked up with the Task Force as the bulk of two brigades straddled the Euphrates at Objective Peach.
Event 7: The Battle for Baghdad International Airport
Now tasked with performing the job of the Ranger Regiment and other specialty infantry units, Task Force 2-7 continued on the offensive, attacking to seize Saddam International Airport. The movement alone proved to be much more difficult than anyone had imagined. Pushing out of Objective Hannah and crossing the Euphrates River at Objective Peach, the Task Force still had to move more than 50 kilometers to the airfield. Our sister battalions would seize the airfield itself. TF 2-7 IN was tasked with establishing a blocking position to the immediate east - a position square on top of a special republic guard battalion.
An intricate series of irrigation canals creating a waffle-like pattern on maps and satellite imagery stood between the Task Force and the nearest high speed avenue of approach. Only a sliver of the moon provided light and scattered clouds blocked much of it.
In the darkness, the Task Force pushed down the small farming roads. The wide Bradleys actually hung over the elevated roads in some places. Hours earlier Task Force 3-69 rumbled along the same route. Debate about an alternate route caused a detour and the S3 moved to the head of the column. With night now descending the S3 track engaged an RPG team revealed by thermals. During this engagement Bushmaster lost contact with Major Coffey and the Task Force(-) had to halt to re-establish contact. In the darkness, a key unsupported bridge began to crumble into the canal road. Water flooded into these areas, making them all but impassable. Turning the large tracked vehicles around was not even remotely possible. Pivot steering would result in further damage to the road. Backing the vehicles down the route was the only alternative. Adding to the frustration, most Task Force Mortar and Engineer vehicles pulled trailers. Some mired vehicles further blocked the route.
With the Task Force now divided, over half stuck behind the collapsed bridge, Lieutenant Colonel Rutter and roughly a quarter of his combat power continued along the original route to Highway 1. Still on the dirt roads, Rage engaged a Rocket Propelled Grenade team running to a house. At this point the Task Force was divided in two, a lead section with the commander and S3 and the bulk of the Task Force being turned around under the XO. The element on the far side of the bridge collapse was now lead by a scout section led the element, followed by Major Coffey, Bushmaster, Lieutenant Colonel Rutter, and the Forward Aide Station. Finally reaching Highway 1, the Task Force(-) sped north to the airfield.
Meanwhile, Task Force 3-69 waited in an Attack Position south of Saddam International Airport for Task Force 2-7 to arrive and block the Highway 8 entrance into the airport. Finally deciding to initiate the attack without Task Force 2-7, the Brigade launched Task Force 3-69's attack north across the airfield encountering very little resistance.
Attacking into the airport the Task Force(-) received scattered small arms fire and two Rocket Propelled Grenades were fired at the convoy. The first task for the element was blocking a major intersection the remainder of the Task Force would be passing through. This intersection was named Four corners. Bushmaster hastily cleared the remainder of the Task Force area of operations. It was still dark and the remainder of the Task Force was still more than 60 minutes away.
Shortly after 04 0430 April 2003 the remainder of the Task Force, led by Knight, entered the airfield from the south. Flanked by trees on the right and an enormous wall on the left, the road took on a gauntlet like appearance. Sporadic small arms fire rang out in the distance and some was fired near the convoy lead vehicle. The plan called for Knight to establish the main blocking position with Rage to the south and Bushmaster to the west and north positioned as a reserve. There was no "rear", but an awareness that the enemy could be all around.
Directed by scouts manning a traffic control point, the Tactical Operations Center vehicles moved through Four Corners and established a Tactical Operation Center adjacent to an overpass. All seemed to be quiet at first, no firing heard or reported anywhere. Exhausted soldiers quickly cleared their immediate areas. After traveling through the night and essentially in contact for the past three days without stop everyone was relieved to finally reach the airport.
With the entire Task Force now closed on the airfield Lieutenant Colonel Rutter began moving units into their proper locations. Knight moved out to the east, occupying the blocking position on the westbound lanes of Highway 8. Rage occupied the eastbound blocking position and the southern tip of the Task Force, and Bushmaster moved back from the blocking positions and occupied the northern tip.
Major Cooney occupied nearby bushes to defecate. Several minutes later, shots rang out and began impacting near him and by the Tactical Operation Center vehicles. Almost simultaneously, incoming airburst mortars began exploding above everyone. One exploded directly above Major Cooney, knocking him off his Entrenching Tool onto the ground. At this point the Executive Officer realized his situation was becoming increasingly perilous.
Half a dozen men on the road laid down a wall of suppressive fire and yelled for the Executive Office to retreat to the vehicles. So here comes Major Cooney, half dressed and hands full of gear and baby wipes, stumbling forward from the bushes. Tripping over recently plowed ground and having no hands to catch himself he went face first into the mud. He recovered surprisingly quickly and, dragging a 10 foot dried palm branch, scrambled back to the road. Not at all funny at the time, the image of his muddy smiling face running back to the road is a memory all those present will never forget.
At this point a FOX Chemical Reconnaissance vehicles drove up the overpass to locate a good position to conduct chemical reconnaissance. A hidden tank fired and the FOX sped off the overpass, reporting a near miss from a tank main gun round. The frantic report from the FOX and realizing an enemy tank was within range of the Task Force shocked everyone. It became increasingly evident that moving in at dark the task force was now virtually intermingled with enemy forces equipped with tanks.
First Lieutenant Milosovich moved a Bradley onto the bridge to scan for tanks. As soon as the Bradley reached the top of the overpass a main gun round from a T-72 slammed into the side of the unsuspecting Bradley from behind the large wall to the south. Strapped to the outside of the Bradley, the rucksacks exploded on impact, sending burning boots, t-shirts, and TA-50 into the air.
The Bradley Commander was thrown forward, out of the turret and onto the front deck of the Bradley. Acting without guidance and with no internal communication, Private First Class Gee re-aligned his Bradley on the road pulling forward, then proceeded to back down the steep incline on the overpass. His actions prevented the T-72 from firing again and saved the life of his crew.
The nearest unit with Javelin anti-tank weapons was Bushmaster, west of the overpass, protecting the Task Force northern flank. A four-man team armed with Javelins climbed onto the overpass to engage the tank. Less than 1 kilometer from the Tactical Operations Center, three T-72 tanks sat on a road, concealed by the wall to the Task Force's south. Unknown at the time, these tanks were not the ones firing at the overpass and Tactical Operations Center.
Private First Class Davis engaged the lead tank, parked within feet the second tank. The Javelin screamed off the overpass, buzzing the Tactical Operations Center, and slammed directly into the top of the clueless T-72 with deafening thunder, entirely consuming the tank in a fireball and sending the heavy turret, end over end, more than 50 feet into the air. Secondary explosions complimented the initial blast as the internal ammunition storage compartment ignited. The fire reached out from the burning tank engulfing its neighbor and causing more explosions.
To ensure complete catastrophic destruction of the second tank, Private First Class Davis fired a second Javelin, causing even more explosions on the second tank. At this point the third T-72 began frantically trying to determine the source and direction of incoming fire. Private First Class Jiminez engaged the now moving third tank. His round missed but impacted close enough to damage the tank. The tank limped away to meet its fate elsewhere.
Minutes earlier, an amazing series of events unfolded with the mortars. While conducting a hasty dismount security patrol Captain Paul and Sergeant Adorno walked down the road leading south from Four Corners. It was the road the Task Force used earlier to enter the airport. An hour earlier, the B24 M1 broke down entering the airport. Under order from the battalion XO B22 pulled back to recover the disabled tank. As they drove into the airport they encountered Captain Paul on his patrol and asked where the maintenance collection point was located. Captain Paul directed the tanks to Four Corners.
Less than 10 seconds later the ground rumbled again and Captain Paul and Sergeant Adorno turned to move out of the way, both instinctively raising their hands to wave as they turned. Shock and horror gripped the two as they realized they were waving at a pair of Iraqi T-72 tanks. Luckily, surprise and confusion also slowed the Iraqi tanker's reaction.
Captain Paul shrieked "T-72" and without another word the two split, knowing they would be shot in the back if they ran up the road. Captain Paul darted left off the road, Sergeant Adorno sprinting off to the right. Winding through the trees he was back with the platoon in minutes. Deciding between the two, the tanks chased Captain Paul off the road. Running for his life the mortar platoon leader dove behind a berm, hiding in tall grass. The tanks rumbled forward, stopping just 40m from Captain Paul, and began shooting their machine guns into the berm protecting Captain Paul. Face pressed into the dirt and lying perfectly still, all Captain Paul could do is wait. As this event transpired, an enemy tank section further east began firing on the Tactical Operations Center and the vehicles driving across the overpass. Organizing a rescue for their platoon leader, Sergeant First Class Broadwater and the mortars prepared to move. As the mortars mounted their vehicles, B22 with B24 in tow stopped and asked where the T-72s were - SFC Broadwater indicated the targets to them. The tank pulled around, quickly occupying a hasty attack by fire position.
At this point, Captain Paul could hear the frantic Arabic screams from the tank crews as they identified the M1. But it was too late and both tanks exploded, spraying burning debris in all directions and tossing the turrets in the air. Seconds later, a mortar M113 pulled up, rescuing Captain Paul and returning to the mortar platoon command post.
The attack on the Tactical Operations Center triggered a maelstrom of explosions and bullets. Everything seem to happen at once with contacts of a few minutes duration lasting seemingly hours for those involved. Four Corners served as the focal point for the entire Task Force. Positioned around the large intersection were the Task Force Mortars, the Forward Aide Station, the Psychological Team, and the Rage and Bulldog combat trains.
The Bulldog elements at Four Corners were tasked with building an enemy Prisoner of War holding cage. Also, Bulldog elements with Rage and Bushmaster began razing walls to clear fields of fire. Large buildings and trees stood protected behind the walls. As the engineer Armored Combat Earthmovers begin punching holes in the wall, armed dismounts began running through the wall. In an apparent coordinated attack, snipers and Rocket Propelled Grenade teams in windows, trees, and on rooftops began firing.
For the next two hours Four Corners continued to get attacked. The scattered sniper fire and sporadic poorly aimed Rocket Propelled Grenades began increasing in frequency. Armored Combat Earthmovers continued breaking down walls and started receiving aimed small arms fire. At this point the Armored Combat Earthmover pulled back from the wall and enemy soldiers poured from the hole. Sappers, medics, and mortarmen on the ground began engaging the incoming enemy attack. This continued for nearly forty minutes. The soldiers on the ground engaged and repelled attackers, then the Armored Combat Earthmover moved forward continuing to knock down the wall. The battle for control of Four Corners was one of the more intense of the war.
During the attack, one of the mortar soldiers caught shrapnel in the head. Charging forward through the hail of enemy gunfire, Staff Sergeant Holiday pulled the dazed soldier back to safety and administered immediate first-aid. Within twenty minutes the soldier returned to duty, hanging rounds with the mortars. The Forward Aide Station began receiving patients from every unit located at Four Corners. First Lieutenant Delgado moved the armored vehicles and created a somewhat safer area to receive and treat patients. Sniper fire from the trees and rooftops continued intensifying, and the Task Force leaders on the ground began directing fire to them. A Rocket Propelled Grenade whistled down from a rooftop, impacting next to one of the M113s. B/11 EN sappers (Bulldog) on the ground near the M113 and crew members in the vehicle were injured. Putting himself between enemy fire and injured soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith, a Bulldog platoon sergeant, pulled the injured soldiers to safety. Then, climbing into the burning vehicle, he evacuated an injured soldier from the vehicle as well.
With absolutely no regard for his own safety, Sergeant First Class Smith heroically climbed back on the M113, manning the machine gun. Flames continued to spread through the M113 but Sergeant First Class Smith did not abandon the machine gun, spraying accurate fires from the machine gun, he continued to kill enemy as they attacked through the wall. Minutes later, an incoming Rocket Propelled Grenade round impacted on the vehicle, showering Sergeant First Class Smith with deadly shrapnel.
Medics frantically worked to save Sergeant First Class Smith only to lose him once, revive him, then lose him again 30 minutes later. As the Forward Aide Station reached maximum capacity, First Lieutenant Delgado ordered Sergeant Chapman and Specialist Tudela to rotate between treating patients and manning their weapons. These men continued to treat patients and defend the Forward Aide Station until the enemy attack was defeated. Air medevac arrived 90 minutes later and medics loaded injured soldiers and Sergeant First Class Smith on the Black Hawk helicopter. In the middle of all the fighting at the mortar location, the Rage forward observer began calling for mortar support. Spread even thinner, the mortars attempted to provide the much needed mortar support to Rage. With the gun tubes already laid in, the mission was fired and repeated. Shortly after the missions were fired, Captain Paul had his platoon secured the tubes to protect them. At the same time, 200m further west, a guided missile screamed through the sky, over the Tactical Operations Center, and impacted against the wall 100m away. The huge explosion rocked the ground but was lost in the fog of battle. Mortars also began impacting near the Tactical Operations Center. Captain Sam Donnelly, the Task Force assistant operations officer, identified the firing location and directed Major Coffey who engaged the bunker with high explosive 25mm rounds from his Bradley.
With the enemy attack at Four Corners momentarily suppressed, Captain Szyamnski moved a platoon forward who entered and cleared the fortified compound. His 2nd platoon leader, First Lieutenant Milosivich, fired 25mm at the wall then smashed into the broken wall with his Bradley, tearing a large hole in the once sturdy wall.
Dismounts led by Staff Sergeant Trent and Sergeant Stephenson poured from the backs of Bradleys and began clearing the compound. Within minutes, Bushmaster captured 12 enemy prisoners and First Lieutenant Colin Hoyseth, the company Executive Officer, moved out to identify a prisoner collection point. Simultaneous to the action at four corners Rage with LTC Rutter attacked an SRG compound to the east. As the elements moved forward, Captain Smith began taking Rocket Propelled Grenade rounds and various small arms fire. Enemy fire from windows in the buildings and dismounts on the ground erupted and forced Rage to break contact.
Pulling back out of the compound indirect fire was called in on the compound. High explosive artillery, Close Air Support from A-10s, more artillery, and lastly 2 missions of 120mm Mortars exploded on the compound. Rage followed the last mortar back into the compound. The buildings were reduced to ruble and Rage met very little resistance when they re-entered the compound.
In the rear of the compound, one building remained somewhat intact and the Rage elements began receiving small arms fire from its second floor windows. Pulling back just far enough to break contact, Rage called Task Force mortars on the position again. This time, danger close, the building was just 400m away.
Without any adjusting fire, the rounds impacted on the roof of the building. Half of the rounds were fitted with a time delay fuse, allowing the round to enter the building before detonating. This caused a catastrophic effect, collapsing the building one floor at a time onto itself.
As the dismounts continued clearing the compound, an incoming main gun round from a T-72 impacted so close the entire squad was knocked off their feet. Staff Sergeant Robinson, with a hunting scope from home taped to his assault rifle, sniped the tank commander in the turret, dropping him back into the turret with deadly aim. The turret was traversing on Captain Smith's Bradley when Staff Sergeant Robinson's round found its target.
1st platoon from Rage moved forward and engaged the T-72 with Tube launched Optically Tracked Wire Guided missiles, falling short with the first but catastrophically destroying it with the second missile. With the tank threat eliminated, Rage completed clearing the area and continued east after capturing seven more enemy prisoners of war.
Just to the southeast, they discovered a tunnel large enough for a Bradley to pass through. Entering and clearing the tunnel, Rage killed 3 dismounts and prepared the tunnel for demolition. Minutes later, when the demolitions exploded the tunnel collapsed.
With the remainder of his company in contact and engaging enemy, Bushmaster First Sergeant, First Sergeant Wilson continued to pull the company trains north and onto the airfield. Coming through the cordon the Task Force drove through hours earlier, they came under direct fire from organized ambushes four times.
As the scattered resistance was destroyed the day calmed down. All companies pushed out and cleared facilities for the duration of the morning and into the early afternoon. Supplies at this point began posing a problem to the Task Force. Units were basically out of drinking water and running low on meals. Knight actually found a house with a water source, tested it, and began using it for drinking water.
A scout section relieved the Bushmaster observers manning the observation point on the overpass. To the southeast large construction cranes stood next to a partly completed palace. To the northeast a hill, named "Spiral Hill" after how it looks on maps, climbed above the city. Because it was the only high ground in the Task Force zone observers watched these constantly. Late in the afternoon scout observers identified a T-72 tank on Spiral Hill. Minutes later, a Javelin screamed from the overpass slamming in through the top of the tank, destroying it instantly.
Shortly after the T-72 was destroyed, a deadly artillery fight ensued. First, a tall building on Spiral Hill was leveled with indirect fire. 155mm artillery destroyed the building, no longer allowing enemy snipers and spotters to use the tower.
Next, Rage identified a bunker north of the large palace under construction. Rage identified armed dismounts in the bunker complex. Calling for indirect fire, Rage destroyed the bunker and 12 dismounts occupying it.
On the evening of April 4/5 the Task Force found itself in the unenviable position of being routinely shelled by enemy mortar and occasional artillery fire - with no functioning counterfire radar. As the rounds continued to ply in throughout the night the S3 and battalion targeting officer, CPT Tim Swart played a guessing-game of firing on suspected observer locations. Additionally, firing a linear DPCIM on top of a road-location where a T-72 had just been destroyed by javelin the task force was rewarded with two secondary explosions. Captain Swart repeated the mission, ensuring the complete destruction of the T-72s.
The next day, 5 April 2003, numerous patrols reported receiving sniper shots from the construction cranes at the Presidential Palace. Inserting a countersniper team proved impractical so A-10 jets and artillery engaged the cranes and snipers. No more sniper fire was observed from the mangled cranes. On this day, the Task Force mortar platoon fired eight missions, supporting all three companies with fire. Scout platoon observers continued to report any enemy movement. The Task Force was planning to seize both spiral hill and the northern bunker complex above the presidential palace when instead Brigade issued orders to conduct a relief in place with 2-187 AIR from the 101st Air Assault Division. The intent was to give TF 2-7 IN at least a 24 hour rest and refit period.
A Special Republican Guard training compound on the airfield was located and cleared. Amenities included running water, a weight room, and most importantly no enemy contact. Units began to move in and occupy their designated locations along what the Task Force called "Able Avenue."
But duty called, and mere hours later, the Task Force received a mission to secure 2nd Brigade Combat Team's lines of communication. Within 4 hours of notification, the Task Force left the safety and comfort of Able Avenue behind having spent only one night at rest.
Convoying around the southwest corner of Baghdad, the Task Force halted at Objective Saint, the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 8, directly south of Baghdad. Hours earlier, what was apparently an Iraqi missile somehow found the 2nd Brigade Combat Team Tactical Operation Center, destroying more than a dozen vehicles, killing 5 and wounding dozens more. Smoke still rose behind the newly established Tactical Operation Center where the missile impacted against a building.
Further north on Highway 8, other problems plagued 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Approaching Task Force 3-15's Tactical Operation Center to conduct necessary adjacent unit coordination, Major Coffey realized they were taking small arms fire. An overpass protected the Tactical Operations Center from the north but scattered fire seemed to come in from all other directions.
Quickly assessing the situation, Major Coffey continued moving up to make the proper coordinations for the relief in place. As soon as he dismounted his Bradley the situation changed for the worse.
Fire became heavier, and Rocket Propelled Grenades began sizzling in from both sides of the highway. Shocked, he looked around and realized no one was returning fire. Instead, the soldiers cowered behind anything providing cover leaving their weapons unmanned. He tried to communicate with his Bradley crew and get them back in the Bradley.
"Move forward and engage the enemy!" he yelled. Two minutes later, the Bradley thundered forward, dropping the 2 man dismount security team who began suppressing the enemy, killing several with well aimed M-16 shots.
His gunner began firing the Bradley 25mm chain gun, suppressing and destroying the enemy. A Special Forces soldier at the Tactical Operations Center manned one of the .50 cal machine guns and returned fire. During the incident Major Coffey sustained severe injuries to his foot, breaking bones and getting hit with nearly 12 pieces of shrapnel. He refused medical evacuation at the time.
Major Coffey was injured while climbing through a Humvee for cover, which actually exploded as he scrambled through it. Near the burning Humvee, two fuel tankers began taking heavy fire as well, soon exploding, sending flames and debris high into the air.
With the report of the S3 injuried LTC Rutter began rapidly moving with Team Rage to stabilize the situation. Rage and LTc Rutter's track engaged the enemy to include HQ 66 destroying a suicide truck unobserved by the Commanding General's vehicle who also happened to be observing the fight. LTC Rutter working with the FSO and the ETAC destroyed the building the enemy had been using as a base of fire ensuring the security of that portion of 2nd BCT's LOC.
After the enemy attack was squelched, the Special Forces operator approached Sergeant Stephens, Major Coffey's Bradley gunner, asking what unit he was with. With a dirty face and a burning cigarette hanging from his lips, Sergeant Stephens proudly responded with, "I am with 2-7 Infantry, from 1st Brigade Combat Team."
The Special Forces operator thanked Sergeant Stephens, claiming without their arrival and the Bradley getting into the fight, most of the Tactical Operations Center personnel could have been killed. Equally thankful, the Commanding General's aide thanked LTC Rutter for his crew's quick execution of the suicide truck.
That evening the Task Force began to expand off the road network to ensure security of the Lines of Communication working for 2nd Brigade Combat Team along Highway 8 in southern Baghdad. Companies moved into sector, Knight separating Rage in the north and Bushmaster in the south. Large walls surrounded every building and Bulldog began the arduous task of knocking down walls to clear sectors of fire and eliminate possible ambush sites.
As the Armored Combat Earthmovers punched holes in the wall Bradleys and M1s provided security. In Rage's sector an Armored Combat Earthmover breaching a wall opened a hole directly in front of Rocket Propelled Grenade team and an Iraqi armored vehicle. Hearing the heavy engineer vehicle pounding the wall, the enemy dismounts prepared to ambush the unsuspecting Americans.
Staff Sergeant Hollinsaid, the engineer platoon sergeant, guided the Armored Combat Earthmover through the wall and took the brunt of the first Rocket Propelled Grenade impact. Exploding at his feet, Staff Sergeant Hollinsaid sustained extensive injuries to his legs and died within minutes. His death hit the Task Force extremely hard, he had replaced Sergeant First Class Smith at the airport. In four days, this engineer platoon lost two platoon sergeants.
The Iraqi soldiers were preparing to attack Rage when Staff Sergeant Hollinsaid was killed. Had the engineers not located and killed the Iraqi soldiers, many more Task Force soldiers could have perished in the enemy attack. They could have sneaked up on Rage heavily armed with Rocket Propelled Grenades and automatic rifles. Later in the evening back around the overpass area, Rage engaged and destroyed 4 BMPs and about 20 enemy dismounts with no friendly casualties.
But more work needed to be done and combat pauses for nothing. Hours later, in the middle of the night, north of Rage in Knight's sector, engineers continued knocking down walls and clearing sectors of fire. An Armored Combat Earthmover punched through a wall and pulled forward, moving along the inside of the wall. Creeping forward, the vehicle flushed an Iraqi from his hiding place, darting across the road he hopped over the wall. Illuminated in their thermal sights, a tank positioned outside the compound identified the armed dismount scaling down the wall and fired at him. The main gun round killed the enemy soldier and punched into the wall. The explosive round blew through the wall, spraying the Armored Combat Earthmover with shrapnel and chunks of the wall.
Shrapnel ricocheted off the blade striking the driver, Private First Class Meyers, in the neck, killing him instantly. The tank crew was unaware the American vehicle was behind the wall, and would not have shot had they known.
The next day Knight was ordered to make a reconnaissance trip through the town across the Highway from their sector. First Lieutenant Johnson's "Thunder Run" through the town destroyed a T-72 tank, two fuel trucks, an armored personnel carrier, and dismounts. Driving through the town he identified the tank, under a camouflage net, with mechanics working on the engine. As he approached the mechanics scrambled into a nearby building. His Bradley was actually too close to the tank to engage with a missile. He backed up, engaged with two missiles, and destroyed the tank.
Continuing the "Thunder Run" his platoon began taking Rocket Propelled Grenade rounds from both sides of the road. Looking forward he identified 2 armored vehicles maneuvering. Using depleted uranium armor piercing rounds, one vehicle was engaged and exploded, the other escaped.
The following day, First Lieutenant Johnson and his platoon executed another "Thunder Run," destroying another T-72 and several large missile launchers.
Throughout the next two days local patrols were conducted by the entire Task Force. Looting became a huge problem for the Task Force. The Task Force remained focused on combat operations. Engineer tape around buildings discouraged some looting but nothing could stop all the looters.
Civilians began trusting the American soldiers and pointing out anything belonging to the fallen regime. Caches of SA-2 missiles were located, along with launchers and other various large missiles. Storage containers, bunkers, and buildings storing ammunition were found and collected.
Saddam really believed his people would stand up, not necessarily at his side, but in defense of their country. In preparation for this, fighting positions were dug and built nearly every 50 meters along Highway 8 leading into Baghdad. Of course, most of these positions were never occupied. Bulldog was tasked with collapsing and filling all these positions.
Another daunting task was unexploded ordinance collection. Both friendly and enemy munitions yielded a percentage of unexploded ordnance. Children would play with these and some detonated, killing and injuring the children. When found, the engineers would make an assessment, deciding to move them or blown them in place.
Stability and Support Operations
The Task Force return from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, for all intents and purposes, signaled the end of hostilities. Baghdad was broken down into sectors and each Task Force assigned several zones. Tasked with zones 6, 33, and 35, Task Force 2-7 began the difficult task of transitioning from combat operations to support and stability operations. Historically, combat units are removed from sector as soon as possible following a ceasefire. It is not easy to go from killing and destroying, to helping and defending.
Regardless, the Task Force received word to secure 3 sectors, now tasked with providing order and securing the local population. Located along Highway 10, north of the newly renamed Baghdad International Airport, Rage, Bushmaster, and Knight occupied and began patrolling.
Tasked with returning electricity, water, and basic civil services to the people, the companies began working. The looting slowly dissolved because absolutely nothing of value remained to loot. Buses began running back and forth along Highway 10, attempting to restore normal peace-time routines. Platoons on patrol began making contact with English speakers in their sector and established a good relationship with them to pass on to follow on units.
While on patrol, platoons encountered people that pointed out caches and unexploded ordinance on the ground. This method turned out to be the best way to recover ammunition, weapons, and Unexploded Ordinance in the sectors.
Another grim task was burial of enemy dead. Not many remained in the sector, most had been buried by the people before our arrival. Dead animals remained though, and Bulldog was tasked with collecting, consolidating, and burial for health reasons. As the Task Force performed these tasks, people began understanding the American soldiers were there to help now.
On about 13 April 2003 A/3-187 Infantry (Angel) of the 101st Air Assault Division was attached to Task Force 2-7. The light infantry company occupied the scarcely populated zone 6, guarded the north gate of the airfield, and relieved the Knight platoon that had been in zone 6. Two days later Angel left the Task Force, relieved at the ammunition supply point by the Mortars, and returned to their Task Force.
After 5 days the Task Force received the order to move into Baghdad and relieve Marines occupying sectors 15 and 16. For many, moving through Baghdad was the first chance to see the city. Once a beautiful skyline, smoke now rose from many buildings that had been shelled and trash smoldered in the highway medians. Most government buildings were reduced to rubble, and a surprising number of buildings still burned. Blown up vehicles slowed traffic practically every 50m and Iraqis crowded the street to watch American convoys pass.
Zones 15 and 16, along the eastern bank of the Tigris River, were more heavily populated than the previous zones the Task Force occupied. The relief in place with the Marines was conducted more hastily than necessary resulting in insufficient initial awareness of the contacts and contracts they had developed. The first few days were consumed by platoons undoing some Marines damage - problems not eveident during the one-day relief-in-place.
The Marines used hand written I-O-Us and confiscated Iraqi cash to pay their interpreters. Their procedure at curbing the lawlessness often involved arming some individuals and a technique of "shaming" street roughs. Clearly they were in the very initial stages of conducting stability and security operations, in fact, we were technically still in full combat operations.
Challenged with improving the Iraqi way of life every day the Task Force began working. Slowly, the electricity returned to some homes spreading one block at a time but never being on a full 24 hours. Educated Iraqis began stepping forward asking how they could help. Names and addresses were recorded and sent higher to compile a list for the new government. Putting the government back in the hands of the Iraqi people would give everyone a chance to apply for jobs. No longer would political party connections rule the government.
Hostilities were still encountered on patrols. Mostly, personnel with weapons acting suspiciously or looting were arrested. At night, still not fully comprehending the Task Force's ability to see through the dark, some would test their luck with weapons. These people would be engaged and killed. Mostly, people understood the Task Force was there for good reasons and began to trust the Task Force soldiers.
Occasionally, Iraqis testing their luck escaped. On 30 April 2003 a tractor-trailer on the roads after the curfew approached First Lieutenant Brian Johnson's platoon on patrol. Initially the truck slowed, then suddenly launched forward, forcing the soldiers to dive from its path. Attempting to disable the vehicle, the soldiers shot the tires but could not stop the truck. Picking up speed, the massive truck sped off, climbing a highway onramp, and disappeared into the night with several flat tires.
Any significant amounts of American and Iraqi money considered suspicious was confiscated. The money would be counted with witnesses, and the chain of custody updated every time it transferred hands. So much money was confiscated a currency collection point was established for 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Task Force 2-7 occupied zones 15 and 16 from 21 April and beyond. It continued to provide security and assist in the development of infrastructure, to include employing Iraqis for garbage collection and facility repair, emergency payment of salaries for teachers and numerous other projects. Above all however the Task Force remained aggressively engaged in combat operations, especially in the more troublesome and crowded Zone 15. The enemy was now a combination of street toughs creating instability and former regime loyalists. From the Iraqi people themselves, those who were simply trying to live a new life without the Ba'ath Party's tyranny, there continued to be expressions of gratitude that have become part of the legacy of the Cottonbalers.
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
TASK FORCE 2-7 INFANTRY (MECHANIZED)
LTC SCOTT E. RUTTER, COMMANDER
CSM FOX, COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR
MAJ KEVIN COONEY, EXECUTIVE OFFICER
MAJ ROD COFFEY, OPERATIONS OFFICER
CPT ROBERT SMITH, ALPHA TEAM COMPANY COMMANDER
CPT STEPHEN SZYMANSKI, BRAVO MECH COMPANY COMMANDER
CPT JAMES LEE, BRAVO TANK COMPANY COMMANDER
CPT MIKE NIXON, HEADQUARTER COMPANY COMMANDER
Chief, Collective Trng and ABCA/International Programs
Doctrine and Collective Training Division
Combined Arms and Tactics Directorate/Infantry School
545 (DSN 835) - 1256; Commercial 706-545-1256