Brazen Ramadi attack all in a day's work
Stars and Stripes August 5, 2006
RAMADI, Iraq — Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude.
While some soldiers prefer life on a sprawling forward operating base, where episodes of indirect fire are rare and deliveries of Baskin Robbins ice cream are frequent, Spc. Jared Hatch said he’s more than happy living in a battered combat outpost in one of Iraq’s deadliest areas of operation — downtown Ramadi.
“I love it here,” the 25-year-old tanker told a handful of fellow soldiers from the 1st Battalion “Bandits” of the 37th Armor Regiment. “Every day is like the Fourth of July.”
The positive thinker and Kuna, Idaho, native harbors little patience for those who belly-ache about the heat, long hours and stresses of battling an insurgency. Compared to moving out of his home, getting married and raising a family at the age of 16, the one-time car salesman spoke of Iraq as if it were a cakewalk.
In fact, on this particular afternoon, Hatch was remarking that things had gotten a little slow at Combat Outpost Falcon — a key stronghold in the 1st Brigade, 1st Armor Division’s campaign to neutralize insurgents in this lawless city. As he sat chatting and smoking cigarettes on a partially exposed walkway in front of a seized Iraqi home, Hatch let slip the most taboo phrase one can utter among superstitious warfighters.
“We haven’t been mortared in a while,” Hatch said. “I think it’s been something like three days.”
The words had barely left the tanker’s lips before a deafening explosion shook the men in their seats and launched a cloud of smoke and dust into the air. The soldiers, reacting on pure motor instinct, flung themselves from their chairs and stampeded toward the doorway of the house — their nearest cover.
The men hurled themselves onto a tiled kitchen floor in a knot of arms, legs and weapons as a second explosion erupted on the walkway where they had been sitting. The blast shattered the kitchen windows and showered the soldiers with glass and pulverized concrete.
Dust and curses filled the air.
For roughly the next two hours, the outpost echoed with the intermittent hammering of .50-caliber machine guns, the squeak of caterpillar treads and numerous explosions as the Company B soldiers battled what commanders called an “extremely persistent” attack on the complex by insurgents.
Several groups of insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 assault rifles and sniper rifles traded gunfire with soldiers on rooftop gun positions in blistering heat. At least six of the insurgents used two cars to circle the outpost, popping out from behind cover to fire rounds at the complex, then disappearing into narrow back alleys.
Eventually, one of the cars was destroyed by U.S. troops while the other was believed to have been hit, commanders said.
“You have to marvel at the foolhardy attacks these guys do,” said “Bandit” commander Lt. Col. V.J. Tedesco III, who happened to be visiting the outpost during the attack. “To just drive up and start shooting is not the smartest thing to do. You hope that Darwin will catch up with them.”
In addition to the automotive assault, another group of insurgents holed up in a three-story building and started sniping at the outpost before U.S. forces blasted the building with a pair of TOW missiles and three Hellfire rockets. Two U.S. soldiers suffered mild injuries.
While commanders said they did not have an exact number of enemy dead, they described it as “many.”
Battle for Ramadi
The incident was just the latest example of the fierce and costly battle that U.S. troops are waging to regain control of Ramadi — a city where, for years, vast stretches of city blocks had been conceded to al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists, local insurgents and criminals.
Now, with the recent arrival of the Friedberg, Germany-based 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, or “Ready First Brigade” troops under the command of Col. Sean MacFarland are employing a new variation of the “clear, hold and build,” or “inkblot,” strategy against insurgents. Instead of clearing the city of all civilians and battling insurgents in an epic combat operation, the brigade has established a ring of combat outposts in areas formerly held by the enemy and has used those sites to launch daily patrols and operations in what one commander here called the city’s “heart of darkness.”
Since mid-June, U.S. troops have managed to “compress” the enemy toward the city’s center, with the aid of heavy armor, and commanders say that insurgents have become increasingly desperate as the territory they once roamed freely has shrunk.
Consequently, insurgents have grown bolder in their attacks. In the past, attacks on outposts like COP Falcon were brief. The mere fact that Thursday’s attackers stuck it out for two hours was an indication of their mind-set, Tedesco said.
“To me, it’s a good barometer of how badly we hurt the enemy,” Tedesco said. “We went into an area he doesn’t want to lose and he’s getting squeezed.”
Indeed, Thursday’s attack on COP Falcon was acknowledged to be a form of payback for a devastating attack Company B “Bulldogs” launched on insurgent strongholds one day earlier, when they killed at least a dozen and perhaps as many as 27 insurgents who had holed up in sniper perches and other bunkered positions near an area of town soldiers call the “pizza pie slice.”
Thursday’s attack began not with mortars, but with two rocket-propelled grenade rounds.
The first round struck a Humvee parked beside the outpost’s main house, rocking two communications trailers that sat beside the area where Hatch and the other soldiers were talking.
“I was talking with my home girl in Kuwait and I heard this huge explosion,” said Pfc. AnQuan Huggins, of the 141st Signal Battalion. Huggins said he hung up the phone and opened the door of the trailer to investigate.
“That’s when I saw this thing falling out of the sky and a flash of light,” said the 25-year-old Birmingham, Ala., native. The blast tossed him back into the trailer and knocked the glasses off his face.
“Two hundred and 20 pounds of Alabama man meat thrown back into a box,” Huggins said shaking his head. “That’s something.”
When the gunfire finally ended and the dust had settled, Hatch and other Company B soldiers went to inspect the impact site, which was strewn with glass, powdered concrete, cigarettes and twisted shards of aluminum shrapnel. They also found the tail section of the RPG, as well as its nose lying in the exposed walkway.
The projectile had punched a hole in the cinder block wall that lined part of the walkway and appeared to have detonated in an area below the positive thinker’s chair just seconds after he flung himself off the seat and into the outpost.
“It blew up right under my chair,” said Hatch, whose left thigh was cut by shards of flying glass during the attack. “If I had been any slower I wouldn’t have an ass right now.”
Digging through the debris, Hatch found the book he was holding at the time of the attack — “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude” by W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill. The spine of the paperback had been blown apart, so that the thick self-help guide was now two thin volumes.
Hatch started laughing to himself after he dug one of the volumes out of a pile of dust and trash. It was opened to the beginning of Chapter 2, and the title struck the specialist as hilariously appropriate.
In large bold letters the title read: “Five Mental Bombshells for Attacking Success.”