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Marines demonstrate the strength of esprit de corps

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2004112451942
Story by Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook

FALLUJAH, Iraq (Nov. 24, 2004) -- During urban operations in Fallujah, a senior enlisted Marine commented on the acts of his company saying that no matter how much technology or manpower is on the battlefield, the Corps will always be able to take care of business because of strength and determination, inherent with all Marines.

“The only thing that can drive a man to accomplish the task at hand and keep going day in and day out is espirit de corps,” said 1st Sgt. Michael Farrell, first sergeant for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “Today it’s as strong as it was on Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa; the list goes on and on,” said the 43-year-old Stratford, Conn., native. “As long as we have our espirit de corps we’ll always win the tough battles.”

On Nov. 8 the 1st Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment entered Fallujah for Operation Al Fajr to oust all insurgents who were intent on disrupting the reconstruction of Iraq.

Charlie Company had three objectives. The first was Objective Alpha: establish a foothold in the city of Fallujah; the second was Objective Bravo: clear the Al Tawfiq mosque that was a suspected insurgent stronghold; and the third was Objective Charlie: clear the Muhajareen mosque, which was another suspected stronghold for insurgents. I Marine Expeditionary Force’s intelligence assessments believed it would take 96 hours in a worst case scenario, according to Staff Sgt Luis Lopez, 3rd platoon sergeant. Marines of Charlie Company accomplished their mission in only 12 hours.

Third platoon was the first element with Charlie Company to hit the ground. With the aid of night vision goggles they ran toward their entry point, which they identified on an aerial map of Fallujah taken hours before their departure.

“Once we found the breach, first squad went to the right one street over and second and third squad went to the left, clearing a building on each side of that street to secure a foothold,” said 1st Lt. Travis Fuller, 3rd platoon commander and a 26-year-old Granville, Mass., native.

Minutes later, the streets erupted in gunfire from insurgents positioned in houses on each city block. Tracer rounds and explosions lit up the moonless sky. For six hours 3rd platoon fought house by house and street by street toward their second objective. Though the battle was fierce, the Marines kept their minds on accomplishing the mission.

“Everywhere I looked I saw barrel flashes from AK-47s,” said Lance Cpl. Kaleb Welch, a 3rd platoon squad automatic weapon gunner. “It all seemed unreal. I was scared, but I had a job to do,” said the 22-year-old Houston, native.

When 3rd platoon came to the first intersection in the city, their second objective lay a few hundred meters ahead of them.

“We came to a clearing between my squad and the Al Tawfiq mosque then started taking small arms fire from the roof,” said Cpl. Dave Willis, 3rd platoon 3rd squad leader. “I radioed in that we were taking fire and requested permission to engage. After I was asked to confirm a rocket propelled grenade flew over my head and I said ‘yes I’m sure.’ We opened up with machinegun and small arms fire said the 21-year-old Springfield, Ore., native. The insurgents started coming off the rooftop and firing from the courtyard so I took one of our AT-4s and fired a shot in the middle. After that we didn’t receive any fire from the mosque.”

Once the mosque was neutralized, tanks were called up to support their advance. The Iraqi Army’s 3rd Company, 5th Battalion, 3rd Brigade then ran up to enter the mosque and clear it of any remaining insurgents. Once secured, 3rd platoon moved up from their defensive position to charge toward their next objective. Once the platoon reached the courtyard, Soldiers with psychological supported the efforts to draw out the enemy.

“All hell broke loose after that,” said Fuller. “Thankfully no one was inside the mosque at the time because two RPG (rocket propelled grenades) rounds flew over the wall surrounding the courtyard and exploded inside.”

As soon as the gunfire slowed, third platoon took off down the street toward their third objective, the Muhajareen mosque, which was located 800 meters south of their current position. It was an area still held by insurgents.

“The first left we made I saw four insurgents fire at us with their AK-47s before running into one of the buildings on the street,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Starr, a breachman with 3rd platoon. “The next road we had to cross had a large opening that spanned a few hundred feet. I was the first one to run across and I could hear and feel rounds whizzing by said the 21-year-old Baltimore native. All I was thinking about was to take cover once I got across. That was the biggest adrenaline rush I ever had in my life.”

When they reached a skeleton frame of a house still under construction, a block from their third objective, one squad of Marines cleared a building that overlooked the area surrounding the mosque.

“Once the building was clear I ran to one of the corners on the roof and started scanning left and right crouching low only when a round ricocheted off the building, but still maintaining contact with my sector of fire,” said Lance Cpl. Jorge Jerez, a 3rd platoon squad automatic weapon gunner. “Mortars and RPGs were landing around our block and flying over our position,” said the 23-year-old New York native.

Following 3rd platoon, the remaining elements of Charlie Company each cleared a building around the Muhajareen mosque constructing linear “L” shape, which they would operate out of for the next five days. An hour later, Iraqi soldiers came and cleared their third objective. During the past 12 hours several Marines with 3rd platoon received shrapnel wounds, but only three Marine had to be medevaced.

“We’re proud of our Marines’ performance,” said Capt. Tom Tennant, Charlie Company’s commanding officer. “Their bravery was on par with the bravery of those who fought in every historic Marine Corps battle,” said the 32-year-old Bethpage, N.Y., native.

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