Voices of the Fallen 2004: Insurgency

As 2004 dawned, Saddam was in jail and his sons had been killed. But the initial, heady sense of victory continued to crumble. Iraq's civic and economic order had all but ceased to function—and many Iraqis blamed America. In Sunni-dominated cities and towns like Fallujah, shadowy insurgents mounted increasingly deadly attacks on U.S. forces; some were Saddam loyalists, others simply Iraqi nationalists with some military training, still others, radical Islamists from Syria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. In late March, a mob killed and burned four American civilians in Fallujah and dragged their bodies through the streets. The next month U.S. forces would engage in bloody house-to-house fighting not just in Fallujah but in Baghdad and Najaf, where supporters of the previously obscure Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rose up against the occupation.

The carnage and chaos seemed as if it couldn't possibly get worse. But with each passing month, it did.

Marine Capt. Michael D. Martino
March 22, Fallujah

These former military guys are the ones probably causing all the trouble. You can't go through the town of Fallujah without being shot at [ ... ] The people away from the Sunni Triangle will wave at you, but the Sunnis will give you the finger and throw rocks at you. These are the little kids too.

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Martino
April 2, Fallujah

The marines are taking a different approach to things here, more aggressive. Two nights ago, I was briefly attached to the Light Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles (LAR). Our northern element got ambushed. Big mistake for the enemy, because a C-130 gunship was on station and made mincemeat out of them. I think they were expecting the Marines to run away like the army had in the past, but they have been surprised to see that we stop and fight.

You may have seen on the news about the American security guys who were burned and paraded around the city. The security guys were the civilian security crew that protected the base at the small camp I was at, to the southeast. I know some of them, but I don't know which ones were killed. I saw the video on TV. I wanted so badly to shoot those bastards parading around the streets. These people are hypocrites. Islam strictly forbids its followers from desecrating the bodies of the dead, even animals. I have no respect for these people who claim Islam is the only true religion and don't even follow the rules of the Koran.

Army Second Lt. Brian Smith
April 7, Fallujah

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This first part will be nearly incoherent but I'll send it as I wrote it.

[ ... ] I do not say that I have not slept. I have. About seven hours in the last forty-eight. Three of those in the turret of my tank.

This run began when the Marines got their collective asses handed to them in Fallujah last weekend. They were hurting even before the civilians got dragged. Dragging. It amazes me that dragging a corpse could horrify or enrage a population. The corpse doesn't care. It won't turn into a freaking vampire if maltreated after death. Hell, most of the ways I am ... Screw it. I am too tired to bother with cleverness.

You all know the background better than I do.

Last Monday we picked up one of the Marine outpost missions while they headed into Fallujah. 12 hour shifts. The drive down there is through some of the most dangerously narrow, canalized terrain in sector. We had two IED spottings on the way out, both later shown not to be IEDs, and had one vehicle throw track when it had to turn around after I ran out of road. [ ... ] I got about three hours of bad sleep in the turret.

We got back, put the tanks in the barn and started to go to sleep. Then back up, down to the barn and out as Hajji started to attack everything that moved in Khalidiyah. One of Apache [Company]'s Bradleys took a very unlucky RPG hit. The initial report was that the commander had been killed. Every crew in Apache mounted up and stormed Khalidiyah. We assembled in the barn and set out sections as needed. After nightfall we were killing anything that moved.

Army Spc. Justin W. Johnson
April 8, Baghdad

A big battle broke out and we were in the middle of it. We had to escort wounded soldiers to another base and were getting shot at. My front right tire got shot out, and after our tire got fixed, on the way back to base, we got ambushed. They missed my truck but hit the one behind me. That night we lost 10 soldiers and 49 got wounded. [ ... ]The next night we took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of Sadr City around midnight. We had to drive through burning roadblocks, ram cars to get them out of our way and do about 60 mph to get out alive. We were informed that it is no longer a peacekeeping mission, now it is war again!

Starr
April 17, Fallujah

Holy s--t. I never thought that a week and a half ago I would have been through what I have. A few of my close friends have been hurt and one of them killed, but it hasn't really hit me yet so I am alright. The worst is over.

This s--t should be done in a few weeks so I can talk to you more then.

After moving west a few more streets we turned on around and started heading south. By this time we were shooting at everyone we saw, weapon or not. Next thing I know I am on the floor of the track looking up at a ball of fire. I was covered in blood and had parts of our lieutenant's leg on my face and flak. [ ... ] An armor-piercing RPG [had] penetrated the front left side of our track. [ ... ] The driver [ ... ] didn't know there was a fire and continued heading south. He was lost and the noise of the track [prevented] us from yelling to him and the fire [prevented] us from getting to him and the lieutenant.

[ ... ] I don't know exactly what time it was but late afternoon is when we dismounted the burning track. As we exited out the hatch of the track we were taking fire from the north, east, and west. That left south into the houses our only direction to egress. Most of us ran across the street to the front lawn of a house and started to return fire. The driver of the track was in shock and wouldn't leave the track. McCarver and our platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Segrado, pulled Lt. Ayers from the flames. Garcia had run back for the crew chief but he was trapped inside and unable to escape. The rest of us continued to fire at the enemy who was down every road and in every window like cockroaches. We ran into the house to clear it [ ... ] and 3 of us immediately went to the roof to keep the enemy from coming any closer.

[ ... ] I noticed the sun was getting closer to setting when RPGs and rockets started hitting the rooftop. We had to fall back inside and downstairs. All of us were in the hallway [ ... ] There we waited. It's hard to say how much time went by before we start-ed hearing them all around us. At first we hoped it was friendly, but it was definitely Arabic.

Smith
April 26, Fallujah

Try not to kill somebody at night. It is difficult to grasp the experience at night. Tank commanders have a thick layer of technology, and often other soldiers, between them and their targets at all times but after sunset, acquiring, engaging and destroying targets (i.e. people, vehicles, buildings, livestock, what have you) takes on the feel of a video game.

Hosing down person-shaped, gritty green blobs scampering around in the gunner's sight does not really allow for full appreciation of the impact of the act of ending the life of another human being. Add another layer of separation by ordering someone else to actually perform the act. In the end, I felt and feel nothing. Not a damned thing.

I was not sure what I expected to feel, much less what I wanted to feel. This is one of the questions about myself I hoped to answer by joining the Army. I am really not satisfied with the answer I found. How can I even appreciate the humanity of the person I had killed if all I ever saw was a green mass lying in the grass? I gave the fire command, the gunner lased then engaged with [the] coax[ial gun] and the target disintegrated.

For those of you professionally interested, the fire command was nothing more than, "Kill that guy."

Martino
April 28, Fallujah

I'm back at our camp for 24 hours to get some R&R and resupply myself. I haven't changed my clothes in about a month. I've been living out of a backpack the entire time. [ ... ]

Right now we are holding back because of the so-called ceasefire [...] I'm not sure how long it will be until something constructive comes from the negotiations. My personal opinion is that we should level the city with air strikes and make it into a parking lot. We are fighting mostly terrorists who don't care about the city and won't negotiate [ ... ]

I love and miss everyone. Pray for me and my fellow Marines. I look forward to seeing you in October.

Army National Guard Sgt. Frank Carvill
May 1, Baghdad

Fighting like this is a disaster for the U.S. and CPA efforts to get Iraq running again. As long as there is a guerrilla war here, then it will be impossible for Iraq to recover from the near endless wars and economic sanctions since 1980. That is the tremendous obstacle in the way of American "success" in bringing peace and prosperity to this unfortunate country. [ ... ]

Although several of my colleagues would disagree, I don't think we have "lost" the goodwill of the majority of the Iraqi people (yet). While I only have my limited exposure in Baghdad, I think it is accurate, up to a point. But if we keep getting drawn into fights in Sadr City, Fallujah, Najaf, etc., we only feed the propaganda machines of the insurgents who paint us as murderers.

Carvill
May 10, Baghdad

I am at a complete loss as to what happened with regard to the prisons. The guys I work with simply don't understand what caused this to occur. We have nothing to do with the prisons. [ ... ] We are a National Guard unit. Many of the guys are older, with families and simply want to do the tour and go home. We have been and continue to operate in dangerous and volatile areas with amazing restraint considering we are repeatedly engaged. No one in my unit would have anything to do with what those idiots did. [ ... ] FYI, one of our heavy vehicles got stuck today in soft ground. The local Iraqis came by with a bulldozer and a front-end loader and helped us. The Iraqi guy who organized the vehicle rescue refused to take money. We have not lost yet.

Smith
May 11, Fallujah

I honestly do not remember how many days I spent out there. I am doing my best to ignore the passage of time.

Eventually, we surrendered and went back to [Camp] Manhattan. It sure looked that way to us on the ground. The Marines pulled back, Iraqis showed up with old Baathist-era flags and tried to cross the bridges we were guarding. We were not allowed to shoot them. This happened about the same time the press learned that detainees were being abused in the prison east of Fallujah. Goody.

What did Hajji learn that week? First, the U.S. can be defeated. Second, if he surrenders he will be stripped naked, have electrodes attached to his testicles and [be] made to stand in a tub of water. F---ing brilliant. Where is my goddamned propeller-hat? I need to get into the spirit of things.

Smith
May 27, Anbar Province

Hot. Overworked. Temper short. Iraqis stupid. Hajji trying to blow me up. Insert new date and repeat.

Marine Lance Cpl. Kane M. Funke
June 2004, Hit

Hi Mom, sorry it's been so long since I've last called. Listen, I've got some news for you. Now don't worry I'm fine, but I got a story to tell you about today [ ... ] We left in the morning to go do a route clearing patrol on MSR [main supply route] Bronze, the main highway, and I ride in the first vehicle usually but they decided to bring along an interpreter and he took my spot in the first vehicle and they moved me back to the third vehicle. Now the thing about an IED is that it usually hits the second or third vehicle because they use the first and fourth vehicles as kind of an aiming post to know when to blow it. I told them when I first got back there I hated being in that vehicle and that I had a funny feeling about that mission. Well sure enough, on our way back from the patrol, right on Bronze we got hit [...] No one was injured just minor cuts and bruises.

[ ... ] Earlier tonight we went out on the same kind of mission just different part of the road and there was no interpreter so I got my usual vehicle. I usually sit inside behind the driver but they wanted me up in the turret on the gun today. So I'm the only one exposed to the outside. I told them I was scared and didn't want to go up there. I already had a bad headache from the first one. They wanted me up there because they didn't want me to be in shell shock and they wanted me to get back in the game.

[ ... ] On our way back to go to Bronze maybe a mile away from the last one another one hit us. This one was bigger. It was a 155 [mm] artillery shell filled with C4 [explosive]. [ ... ] The force of the blast knocked me out and slammed me against the gun, and they said I fell lifelessly down into the hummer. They shook me and turned me all over looking for blood but there was none. Lance Corporal Daniel shook me and I came to, finally, and all I remember him saying is, "FUNKE get back on the gun, damn it! Get back on the gun." I did. I got up and got back on the gun. I was ok. [ ... ] Your boy's alive mom.

Smith
June 26, Anbar Province

"There it is again."

"I see it."

"What is that?"

I shook my head to knock loose the sweat collecting at the tip of my nose. The heat was brutal and we still had another three hours to go in the shift. I was pretty sure I knew what Kimmerling was pointing at. An intermittent white flash coming from a second story window or doorway about 300-400 meters away from us. It looked like someone was flashing us with a mirror. This happened sporadically for an hour or so every few shifts when we were in this zone.

Kids. Screwing around with a mirror. I had ignored it earlier in the year. The heat had drained me of all patience now.

"Can we shoot it?" This from Sgt. Hise.

"Yeah. Traverse left. Up. More left. Little higher. That gap right there between the palm trees. No, up higher. More left. Hell with it. That will do. When you see it, engage and kill it."

We waited. Maybe whoever it was would notice that the tank's cannon was no longer looking down the road but was now pointing directly at him. Maybe he would realize that this is not a game. Maybe, just maybe, he would realize that we were hot and tired and terribly, so terribly frustrated with this place and these people that we would respond to even the slightest provocation with enthusiastic and brutal violence.

Marine Lance Cpl. Richard Chad Clifton
Sept. 5, Ramadi

I've been in Iraq since like last week (it's Sunday now) and it's hot as balls, bro. I'm in Ar Ramadi, in the Al Anbar province. Ghetto s--t hole from hell. We had a convoy the other day through town and there was only serious hate going on there. No smiling children, no waving dumb asses like on TV ... just a bunch of mean-looking young Iraqi males capable of causing me to have a bad day.

Marine Cpl. Bradley T. Arms
Oct. 31, Camp Fallujah

Over this last ops I was really thinking about why I am out here fighting this war and feel it is becoming more clear now. When driving or walking through the small villages the kids run out and cheer us on [ ... ] but as we get to the marketplaces we only get cold stares from the men over 20. [ ... ] It's extremely hard to change hearts that have hated for so long. But as long as we can keep the younger generations openminded then we will win this war, even though the fruits of my labor will not be realized [until] the children of this country rule [ ... ]

Army Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz
Nov. 3, Abu Ghraib

Subject: not a good day

Hi Mom, I just wanted to email you to tell you what happened yesterday [ ... ] Here is the story. At 0900 hours we had a convoy of vehicles passing in front of the prison get hit with a bomb that was planted on the side of the road. Its purpose was to stop the convoy, and then a car loaded with explosives, in our parking lot in front, was suppose to come and hit the convoy. They had people lying in the grass all around the prison and started shooting at the towers. The towers saw what happened and started shooting at the car and the people. They killed the driver of the car bomb and everyone in the convoy was ok.

At 1230 hours we had a firefight that lasted 45 minutes. All the towers were shooting at the same grass points as in the morning. Well a guy I work with from another office (a civilian) thought someone was knocking on his door. He didn't realize that we had rounds coming into the compound from all around. He opened his door and got shot in the stomach. This morning I found out that he died from his wounds. They stopped the bleeding, but it started up again and they couldn't stop it.

It has been absolutely crazy here, we got like 400 new soldiers in and they are sleeping all over the place. It has gotten nasty, muddy and wet here too. It has been raining for the past 3 days. [ ... ] Miss and love you guys,

Marine Cpl. Ian Stewart
Nov. 6, Fallujah (journal entry)

The battalion commander came to talk to us. He told us it will be a tough fight. Some of these buildings are rigged to blow. Suicide bombers will be out and IEDs will be on the street.

I am not so much scared as I am VERY AFRAID of the unknown. [ ... ]If I don't get to write again, I would say I died too early. I haven't done enough in my life. I haven't gotten to experience enough. Though I hope I haven't gone in vain.

For seven full days we have been moving through the city doing door-to-door searches and clearing the buildings [ ... ] We find weapons, AK47s and RPGs and knives.

At night we stay in houses belonging to the people. The first night our interpreter cooked for us food left in the house. It is a good thing the Iraqi people have big families so there is plenty of room to sleep. They have these really soft blankets. [ ... ]

We are the only ones in the city so the stores are open to us to get candy, soda, and cigarettes. Sometimes I feel bad for the people, but also am mad at them for not fighting for their own freedom.

Stewart
Nov. 23 Entry:

They say the city is not fully cleared now and so we need to press on. That means leaving a comfortable house. [ ... ] After sixteen days we still have yet to shower, eat hot chow, or more importantly use the internet. Supposedly we will be going back for Thanksgiving dinner. That means for sure we will be back for Christmas dinner! Smile.

Marine Lance Cpl. Trevor D. Aston
January 2005, Haditha Dam

We're still hitting it hard and working 16-18 hours a day, everyday. [ ... ]The talk about what we're going to do when we get back home is nonstop. A good steak is high on my list.

We've taken a lot of casualties—three from our company. Good Marines, all of them. It's really hard to say goodbye. I won't kid you, it's taken its toll on us. I'm sure I'll have a few sleepless nights when I get home.

Thanks for all the care packages, and the car info. Those brochures are dog eared. I think I'm just going to look for a good used truck. After we get back to Austin, I'm going to head your way for a few days and eat all your food, and use up all your hot water!!

Well, I've got to go now and get back in the fight. I love you, and I'll see you soon.

Semper Fi,

Trev

Voices of the Fallen 2004: Insurgency | U.S.