Wounded servicemen describe Fallujah fight

Lance Cpl. Ryan Chapman points to where a bullet went under his helmet, wounding him during the fighting in Fallujah, Iraq.


By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2004

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Getting the Purple Heart Medal for his war wounds doesn’t mean Spc. Kris Clinkscales is a hero.

“Getting the Purple Heart just means the rocket found me,” quipped the 22-year-old sniper from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Clinkscales spoke with reporters Monday while recuperating from wounds sustained a week ago in the massive offensive on the one-time insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. He took shrapnel to his right elbow and has temporarily lost some movement in the hand.

The four wounded servicemen paraded in front of the throngs of media representatives at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center were in good spirits and up to cracking periodic jokes between renditions of how they sustained their wounds.

Lance Cpl. Ryan Chapman, 22, of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., took a bullet to the head from a sniper he had been hunting.

“Everyone keeps telling me I’m lucky. I’ll go with that,” said the TOW missile launcher. “It’s nothing too serious. [The bullet] cracked my skull, but it looks worse than it really is.”

Since Saturday, the U.S. Army hospital has received 223 battle-injury patients from Iraq, of whom 16 are in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and 196 already have been medivaced to stateside hospitals for further treatment, spokeswoman Marie Shaw said.

The four troops described the fierce battles they faced and the wounds that put them on operating tables, most for multiple surgeries.

The insurgents were well prepared for the offensive, the troops said. They effectively set up organized fighting positions throughout the city, strategically hid snipers, and blanketed the city with makeshift bombs.

And the huge stockpile of AK-47s, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars available to the insurgents “shocked” U.S. and Iraqi forces as they launched their massive attack on the city, said Lance Cpl. Jeffery Owens, a supply clerk and machine gunner with Headquarters & Support Company, also with the 3-1. Owens received shrapnel wounds to his left calf.

Clinkscales, who had been in Iraq since March and participated in major offenses in Najaf in August, said the battle for Fallujah was far worse.

In Najaf, insurgents were not as well-equipped, and would launch ill-planned attacks on U.S. forces before retreating to the Imam Ali Mosque, one of the holiest of Islamic mosques, because they “knew it was off limits to us, and [one] the U.S. would not touch,” he said.

Eventually, Iraqi forces drew out insurgents or forced them to flee the southern city.

“It was like playing tag as kids, and they’d come out and then run back to their safe base,” Clinkscales said of the Najaf offensive.

For months, Fallujah had been a “no-go” zone, a designation that kept forces on the brim of the city and allowed insurgents to build their arsenal.

The one soldier and three Marines said they saw only dead insurgents in the streets of Fallujah, no civilian casualties.

It was easy for the troops to distinguish between the two, Clinkscales said. Aside from the obvious clue of armed men traveling in packs, the insurgents typically are young men, ages 18 to 23, who made it a point to cover their faces often with dark-colored scarves and did not wear the typical long, light-colored robes that the men wear.

Despite it all, the four said they’d return if they could. None sustained wounds that will require them to leave the military.

“If I could get a helmet on,” Chapman said, pointing to the huge knot on the left side of his head, “I’d go back. Now. My brothers are still there.”

Spc. Kris Clinkscales explains how insurgents in Fallujah wore masks over their faces, easily separating them from the general population of the Iraqi city.

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