View Full Version : Good gear, strong faith keeps Marine in the fight
06-18-04, 08:49 AM
Good gear, strong faith keeps Marine in the fight
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20046182737
Story by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
CAMP COMBAT OUTPOST, Iraq(June 15, 2004) -- There's no question Lance Cpl. Richard C. Guillenavila earned the nickname "Bulletproof."
While he was standing guard duty at the Government Center of Ramadi June 13, the 19-year-old from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, was shot right above his bellybutton by an enemy sniper.
But not even a bullet could stop the Jacksonville, Fla., Marine. The Small Arms Protective Insert inside his protective vest stopped the 7.62 mm round before it caused any harm to Guillenavila.
The ceramic plate is capable of stopping small-arms fire and fragmentation from weapons such as improvised explosive devices and mortar rounds.
Guillenavila said the extra weight from his front and back plates never bothered him.
Little did he know they would one day save his life.
The day had started out like any other. Every three days, Guillenavila's squad assumes duty on the roof of the government center, which is an attractive location for terrorist attacks.
"I was providing overwatch looking for improvised explosive devices and things like that when the next thing I knew, I was suddenly knocked to the ground," Guillenavila explained.
It took him less than a second to realize what happened.
"It felt like someone punched me in my stomach really hard," said Guillenavila, describing the sensation of being shot.
As soon as he caught his breath, the Marine called out for help. His close friend, Lance
Cpl. Eric S. Hamilton, remembered the scene.
"I was standing watch on the northeast side of the building and Guillenavila was on the southeast side," Hamilton, of Brockport, N.Y., said. "I was talking with the corpsman and
our platoon commander when we heard the shot."
Only a few seconds elapsed between the time the shot rang out and Guillenavila, also known as Cuban B, called for medical attention.
"At first, all I could think was, 'Damn, Cuban B's been shot,'" added 18-year-old Hamilton. "But I knew somehow that he was going to be alright."
Hamilton isn't quite sure why or how he knew Guillenavila would be fine; he "just knew it would be OK."
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik O. Cordaway, a hospital corpsman with Company G, wasn't as optimistic as he checked over Guillenavila.
"I was expecting the worst," 21-year-old Cordaway said. "I thought the bullet went right through his SAPI plate, but it hit two inches from the bottom."
When the corpsman gave Guillenavila the good news, the Marine didn't hesitate to get back behind his weapon. He ignored the intense pain in his stomach to return to his post.
"I got back up and was trying to aim in on whoever shot me," explained Guillenavila, who has already seen his fair share of firefights.
Marines from the squad rushed to the area to find the shooter, but the sniper had already fled away from the scene.
"We were very disappointed not to find the guy who shot Guillenavila," Hamilton said. "There isn't anything we'd like more than to find guys who shoot at Marines."
Still, Guillenavila doesn't dwell on the events of June 13, but he is glad to be alive. He suffered no injuries from the impact, and the pain ceased shortly after he was shot.
He credits the SAPI plate for saving his life, but believes also that he was not supposed to die that day.
"God was definitely looking out for me," said Guillenavila, who hopes to one day become the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. "It wasn't my time to go. I need to be here continuing the fight."
When he returned to the camp here, Guillenavila and some of the Marines from his squad dug the bullet out of the plate. They found it in three pieces inside the plate's layers.
All three pieces are now in a plastic bag inside Guillenavila's pocket.
"It's my newest lucky charm," he said.
Lance Cpls. Richard C. Guillenavila (left), Eric S. Hamilton (center), and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik O. Cordaway talk about the Small Arms Protective Insert plate that saved Guillenavila's life June 13. The three are with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and were on guard at the Government Center of Ramadi when Guillenavila was shot by an enemy sniper. The plate stopped the bullet from injuring the Jacksonville, Fla., Marine.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald) Photo by: Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
06-18-04, 08:51 AM
Camp Pendleton-based force in Iraq could get new leader
June 16, 2004
WASHINGTON – President Bush has nominated Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, who has considerable experience in the battle against terrorism, for promotion to lieutenant general and command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the Pentagon announced yesterday.
The Camp Pendleton-based force has about 25,000 troops in Iraq and 5,000 more on the way. The command has suffered nearly 80 combat deaths and hundreds of wounded since returning to Iraq early this year.
Sattler is based in Qatar as chief of staff for the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Persian Gulf region and northeastern Africa. In 2002 and 2003, he commanded a multiservice force combating terrorism in the Horn of Africa, and previously he served for two years as counterterrorism director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Sattler also has commanded the 2nd Marine Regiment and the 2nd Marine Division and served for a year as director of public affairs at Marine Corps headquarters.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in 1971 and completion of basic school, Sattler was a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, and later served with the same battalion as operations officer and executive officer. The battalion is in Iraq as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
If confirmed by the Senate, Sattler will relieve Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who commanded more than 60,000 troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom last year and is back in Iraq for the expeditionary force's second tour. In 1991, he commanded a battalion in the liberation of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
Before taking over the force in November 2002, Conway commanded the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.
No new assignment for Conway has been announced, and he may retire after 34 years of service.
06-18-04, 08:51 AM
Exercise Desert Talon trains units for Iraq deployments
Submitted by: MCAS Yuma
Story Identification #: 20046171680
Story by Sgt. David Bryant
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz.(June 17, 2004) -- Academic classes for Exercise Desert Talon 2-04 began on station Tuesday and practical application exercises will begin Saturday prompting an increase in use of tactical aviation and ground equipment throughout Yuma County.
The exercise is conducted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 and is designed to prepare aviation and ground unit personnel for situations they may run into in Iraq, said Capt. Stephen Acosta, F/A-18D Hornet pilot and forward air controller instructor, MAWTS-1.
"The public will see some convoys of military vehicles maneuvering throughout the county and there will be some helicopters flying around and landing in designated areas as well," Acosta said. "There will be fixed-wing aircraft participating as well, but they will be flying at a medium altitude. The public may hear them, but won't be seeing them flying at low altitudes."
Approximately 2,500 Marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and 1st Force Service Support Group will attend the training, which is scheduled for completion June 28, said Maj. Thomas A. Welborn, ground combat department head, MAWTS-1. The training is done with cooperation between the station and Yuma County and city officials.
"We will be blocking some of the roads at designated times during convoy training due to the fact there will be pyrotechnics involved," Welborn said. "People should keep an eye out for signs letting them know that a military convoy is in process so they can take another route."
Area residents should not notice any other intrusions, although a casualty evacuation exercise is scheduled to be held at Somerton Middle School, Welborn said. The reason for holding some of the training in town is to create scenarios based on information from units already in Iraq concerning situations they are commonly coming across.
Bringing in a variety of units meakes the exercise comparable to putting together a basketball team for the summer Olympic games, Welborn said. "You have a lot of players who aren't used to working together, so this gets them used to doing just that."
While primarily a 3rd MAW exercise, Desert Talon offers an excellent opportunity for convoy training for 1st FSSG personnel as well, said Maj. Robert D. Dasch, commanding officer, Combat Service Support Detachment-16.
"It's a 3rd MAW exercise, but they need us to make it realistic, which gives our convoy commanders the chance to train with real air assets as well," Dasch said. "We have people from all over the FSSG, whether convoy commanders or potential convoy commanders, coming out to get as much exposure as possible."
Convoy operations training is the main priority for the I Marine Expeditionary Force, the parent command of both 3rd MAW and 1st FSSG, Dasch said. Convoys offer enemy personnel the greatest window of opportunity for attacks, an ongoing problem since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We'll have enough vehicles out here to keep the convoys big enough to be realistic, but not so large they become uncontrollable," Dasch said. "The point is to be able to fully integrate with the air assets, and we will use as much of the Yuma area as possible to do this because it is so much like the areas you find in Iraq."
The training conducted during Desert Talon is highly effective, as the first exercise conducted in January proved to be approximately 85 percent "on the mark" with what units are currently encountering in Iraq, Welborn said. Between feedback from the first exercise and real-time information, the current exercise should prove invaluable to units getting ready to deploy.
06-18-04, 08:53 AM
VMU-2 patrols Iraqi skies
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200461755734
Story by Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Rainey
AL Taqqadum, Iraq (June 17, 2004) -- Just as an owl uses its keen sight to search a landscape for prey, the "Night Owls" have used advanced technology in the air to aid allies on the ground to complete mission after mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Likewise as the owl has been traditionally known as a wise bird, it is a fitting name for the Marines of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, who have used their unique RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle to provide aerial intelligence.
The squadron can provide many different kinds of intelligence, said Staff Sgt. R. Brian Ward, internal and external UAV pilot, VMU-2.
"Our main focus right now is aerial reconnaissance. We also do battle damage reports, artillery adjustments and search and rescue," said the 33-year-old Anderson, S.C., native. "We try to be the eyes for the guys on the ground. Even if we find out that there's nothing on the ground, that's good (intelligence)."
The UAVs have daytime lenses and forward-looking infrared lenses so they can obtain detailed footage in any lighting condition, said Staff Sgt. Thomas B. Kush, imagery chief, VMU-2.
"With a lot of the things we do, we can tell exactly what is going on. We can watch all four sides of a house so we can track anybody going in or out of the house," said the 35-year-old Weirton, W.Va., native. "We can tell guys on the ground to go in the blue door or the red door if we need to."
The squadron has also been tasked with monitoring the Iraqi roadways for various threats to coalition forces.
"We've found (improvised explosive devices) on the sides of roads. We've found checkpoints for ambushes on our convoys," said Kush.
After flying 1,200 hours in eight months during their last deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, VMU-2 is within 200 hours of surpassing that number on their current deployment in Iraq.
"We broke a thousand hours in three months. We are allotted 300 hours a year. So in three months, we've flown almost four years worth of flight hours," said Ward.
According to Kush, part of the reason for the increase in flight hours is due to many people discovering the value behind the Pioneer's capabilities.
"People didn't know what we could do in the past. Now people request the services we can provide," he added. "We get requests for targets to check and we divide them up between upcoming flights. We (check) roughly 15-20 targets daily."
Regular wear and tear from flying increased hours in desert conditions would be a problem without the maintenance Marines, said Cpl. Jeff Witherspoon, internal UAV pilot, VMU-2.
"Maintenance has been doing an exceptional job. We've been flying for three months straight and that takes a toll on the aircraft," said the 27-year-old from Burkburnett, Texas.
The maintenance Marines have made a few changes due to the operational tempo, said Sgt. Jamie D. Shepler, UAV plane captain, VMU-2.
"Each aircraft has assigned mechanics. But with 24-hour (operations), you work on what needs to be worked on," admitted Shepler. "It takes eight maintenance hours (for) every one (hour of flight)."
The method that VMU-2 uses to approach flight separates it from other flying squadrons in the Marine Corps, said Lt. Col. Douglas M. Hardison, commanding officer, VMU-2.
"With this airplane, it's not so complex, so the Marine Corps can push the responsibility on to the enlisted Marine," said the 42-year-old Dallas native.
While an officer still signs for the aircraft and becomes the mission commander, he gives control of the aircraft to an enlisted pilot.
"Mission commanders are aviators that watch over the mission. He signs for the aircraft and allows us to fly it," said Ward. "This is about the closest an enlisted Marine can come to flying an aircraft."
Flying a UAV is less like piloting a manned aircraft and more like flying a remote controlled airplane, said Ward.
"Where other pilots can be inside the cockpit and feel shudders and hear noises, I have to do everything visually," he said. "It's a pretty stable bird with autopilot. It's like a (remote control) aircraft, but on a bigger, heavier scale."
The UAV pilots take pride in their enlisted heritage in a field now dominated by commissioned officers, said Ward.
"We are the last of the flying sergeants," he added in reference to the days of World War II when enlisted noncommissioned officers were chosen to be pilots based on their potential to fly.
Using enlisted Marines to pilot UAVs instead of higher-paid officers, maintains a high level of skill at the position while cutting down the cost, said Hardison.
"I give the guys a lot of latitude to fly the airplane. Nine times out of 10 he does a great job -- just like any aviator would," he explained. "For the Marine Corps, we are a great bang for their buck."
With cost and safety in mind, UAVs are the future of Marine Corps aviation, said Hardison.
"We have the technology now so we can do all the things we do in the air from the ground. You would need a huge airplane to do all the things we do here on the ground," he said.
Marines of VMU-2 are happy to be working with the wave of the future, said Shepler.
"They call it the next big thing in Marine Corps aviation. I'm glad to have my foot in the door," he said
An RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle speeds past its operator, Staff Sgt. R. Brian Ward, external and internal pilot, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, during a takeoff at Al Taqqadum, Iraq, June 10. Ward, from Anderson, S.C., controls the UAV from the flightline with a remote control before transferring control to an internal pilot for the remainder of the mission. Ward and the rest of VMU-2 are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Rainey
06-18-04, 08:53 AM
Local Marine replies to questions on Iraq
A few weeks ago, this column introduced you to U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Anderson, a 2001 graduate of North Boone High School who is deployed in Hit, Iraq.
Before that column ran, I asked my journalism students at Belvidere High School if they wanted to ask him any questions. I sent seven questions to Anderson, and here are his responses.
When asked how he felt about fighting for his country and seeing some of his buddies die, Anderson said, "We Marines give great sacrifice, some the ultimate sacrifice, for the freedoms that most Americans take for granted -- (for) the second part of this question, I will answer by saying that it is the ugliest thing I have ever seen, and I wish that on no one. There is nothing glorious about seeing a brother in arms die; it isn't Hollywood, kid."
Anderson said that being away from the United States "makes home soil that much more beautiful," when asked how he felt about his home in the wake of negative news reports.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST part about going overseas? "Homesickness," Anderson said, "is a new kind of pain a person goes through."
Anderson said he missed his family and friends, but noted that "it is a little of an adventure and that it's not all negative.''
However, he added this: "A quote by an unknown source -- in war, everyone finds one of two things, either religion or cover."
Asked what made him want to join the military, the Boone County Marine said that a friend was enlisting and that he liked what he heard from the recruiter. "(The recruiter) made it sound like it was the best thing that a young man could do in life," Anderson said.
One of the results of his military experience is a desire to go to college, which answered a question about his plans. His idea to study veterinary medicine has changed. "I am seriously thinking about studying world religion -- and then teaching at a Christian high school or college," he said.
What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?
"THE STRANGEST AND MOST terrible thing I have seen is my best friend in my platoon (get) wounded in an ambush. There was blood all over him, and I had to talk to him while another Marine bandaged him," he said.
All of this happened while the platoon was under enemy fire in Hit.
Asked what he missed most about being away from home, Anderson said, "My fiancee, Jacque, my family and friends are the most obvious. (Also), living in an unviolent, war-free society where you have the rights and ability to do anything within human morals and law that you wish. And not to fear for my life and the men's lives around me every day, like I do here."
Mike Doyle's column on people, places and things in Boone County runs Thursdays in the Rockford Register Star.
06-18-04, 08:54 AM
Things have remained moderately quiet or maybe now we are just used to the days of war. A few days ago two more men from my unit were killed in action along with some more wounded due to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Attempted IED attacks happen daily here, however we have been tremendously blessed to either find them first or, by the grace of God, not catching any shrapnel. The “up-armor kits,” that were added to our HUMV’s to protect us, work better than the local welding jobs we had for armor before. However, I saw the doors on a HUMV that was hit the other day and the blast went through the armor. This is amazing because the “up-armor” is supposed to stop a .50 Cal round.
Yesterday, a Company’s CO was hit, but nobody in his vehicle was injured. Sadly, after the explosion, an Iraqi driver passing the scene accidentally hit and killed a small boy that had just survived the attack. Then yesterday, some Marines that were escorting a civil affairs team from our Battalion were ambushed by IEDs, small arms fire, and RPGs. This was right next to the Sheik’s house where we have been IED’ed many time before. And all this despite the U.S. having given his people energy, a new water pump, a generator, and support for schools. The Sheik claims that he is being framed, although our intelligence people are very skeptical. To counter these IEDs we have been patrolling the roads a lot and setting up counter-IED ambushes. However, it is very rare that we catch them because there are so many miles of road and we, in my opinion, just set ourselves up for more IEDs with all the military traffic.
The other day my platoon and I went out in the desert to set up a covert observation post in order to listen to the Call for Prayer. Our translators said that the Iman was calling for the people to draw arms against the US because we are the evil infidels and murders. These people are brain-washed like crazy! Then we went to meet with the new ICDC (Iraqi Militia) Colonel in our AO (Area of Operations) in greater Fallujah. He was given 5 days to resign or the AIF (“Anti-Iraqi Forces” – the newest PC term for the enemy) was going to kill him and his family. These threats are incredibly serious. I have known at least ten mayors and police chiefs that have been murdered here in the last few months for cooperating with Coalition Forces. It was the 5th day when we visited the ICDC HQ and he was still there. This was a great sign that he is serious and has the guts to do the job.
Many of these Fallujahian ICDC soldiers were extremely anti-American and anti-Bush while extremely pro-Saddam. They say Saddam never tortured them like the Americans did in Abu Grahib, and that he left them alone. This is a crazy lie! I have met too many Iraqis whose brothers, fathers, and sisters were taken away and never seen again. And this because they might have mentioned something against the Saddam Regime. Then the Iraqi soldiers told me that the Americans break-in in the middle of the night and have killed babies. Again lies! We have done Cordon Searches, where we bust into homes of the enemy hierarchy, but we never fire unless we are getting shot at and the burden of proof required for us to search a house is so great that there is never a question that the suspect we are hitting is an extremely bad hombre.
However, my platoon has stumbled across abandon homes with families that have been executed by AK-47 fire and left to rot, usually it is just the father and children dead and the mother is taken to be one of these bad guys wives. Most likely these people were punished for nothing more than simply cooperating with the Coalition.
My Battalion has spent over a million dollars improving the plumbing, and electrical problems that were ignored for all the years of Saddam’s regime. We have spent over $800,000 on schools and half a million on hospitals. We have built city buildings for their mayor’s office, police stations, and Militia Posts. We bought all of their policemen, security forces, and militia armored vests and weapons, as well as paid their salaries. We have protected their new religious freedoms as well as the many other things they previously weren’t allowed to do under Saddam, such as have Satellite TV. Too many have either died or been wounded trying to keep these freedoms alive. Yet we are not allowed to fly or display American Flags in order to be sensitive to Iraqi feelings. Nine men in my new platoon have Purple Hearts, some of them have two Purple Hearts.
My Platoon is amazing. I am now a rifle Platoon Leader, and these guys are studs. They are all tremendously mature and bright men that constantly humble me when I think about how lucky I am to lead them. They are all the type of guys I would have wanted to be friends with in college and high school and have a tremendously positive and humorous attitude. This is mainly due to our Platoon Sergeant. He is hysterical and reminds me of a Hawaiian Mark Snyder. Also our company commander is the best one could anyone could ever have. He is a true leader that cares about his men and he leads from the front.
I know this letter is far to long so I will end it with a new list of people to pray for since clearly prayer and the good Lord are what has kept us safe.
A YOUNG LT IN IRAQ
06-18-04, 11:12 AM
Insurgent ambush stage for valiant displays in Iraq
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 200461822858
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere
CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq(June 18, 2004) -- Four Marines and one sailor were honored here June 10, 2004, for displaying valor during an hour-long firefight that killed 14 insurgents.
At an early-evening ceremony, troops from 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Weapons Company were presented with medals recognizing their performance during the April 10, 2004, gun battle.
Cpl. Zachary D. Smith received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat "V," a device that signifies the medal was earned in combat. Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Cinelli, Sgt. Jason D. Woodward, Cpl. Billy B. Wallis and Lance Cpl. Cody J. Wilson were all awarded Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, also with the "V."
Insurgents attacked a squad from the reserve infantry battalion with roadside bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.
The unit, which provides security for 1st Force Service Support Group here, was patrolling the area around the camp.
The mission was not new. The Marines were familiar with the task and the road; they had traveled down it numerous times on the same kind of mission.
The routine suddenly changed when a homemade bomb exploded next to the lead vehicle, thrusting Weapons Company into its first and only firefight since it arrived here in March.
The bomb blast knocked Wallis, who was manning a grenade launcher mounted on the roof of his humvee, back inside the vehicle.
Unaware of the shrapnel lodged in his face, neck and arm, the 22-year old from Springfield, Mo., popped back up and continued firing grenades at the attackers.
When other Marines told him he was losing blood, he replied, "I ain't got time to bleed."
Wallis, who was also awarded the Purple Heart, insisted he did no more than any other Marine in the fight.
"Everybody out there reacted the same way," he said. "We just did our job."
Immediately following the explosion, the Marines darted from their vehicles, took cover behind a house and fired at a nest of insurgents inside two houses about 400 meters away.
When an enemy bullet punctured the helmet of 20-year-old Aurora, Mo., native Lance Cpl. Curtis Hensley, Cinelli, 33, a corpsman from Haverhill, Mass., braved the fusillade and put his own safety aside to bandage the injury before Hensley, with the bullet lodged in his brain, was medically evacuated.
"If it had been one inch lower, there would have been nothing I could do about it," said Cinelli.
Cinelli directed his comrades, who were distracted by Hensley's injury, to keep their focus on suppressing the enemy attack.
He and two others dragged Hensley to a vehicle and rushed him back to the base. After dropping him off at the battalion's medical station, Cinelli "turned around and went right back out there," rejoining the Marines in the fight.
Meanwhile, reinforcements arrived.
One of the company's mobile quick reaction forces was in the vicinity of the patrol and rushed over to assist the ambushed Marines.
Woodward, 25, a squad leader with the reaction force, ordered Smith to move to a position that would enable him to kill insurgents in a nearby field and also put the Marines in place to attack the house from the side.
To accomplish this, Smith, 26, dauntlessly led his four-man team across about 500 meters of farmland with very little cover from enemy fire.
The task wasn't easy, Smith said, adding that the enemy fire was uncharacteristically accurate for insurgents.
"It was getting pretty hairy there for a little while," said the Springfield, Mo., native.
The worst part was slithering on his back across a shallow ditch to reach a nearby berm for cover while enemy rounds impacted all around him and his assistant fire team leader, Lance Cpl. Buckley C. Cain, a 22-year-old also from Springfield.
The fight concluded when helicopters swooped in and pummeled the building housing the insurgents.
Smith said sharing the combat experience has brought him closer to his Marines.
"I was so proud of my guys," he said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to. It was perfect."
Wilson, 19, a rifleman in Woodward's squad, earned his medal not just for commendable actions during the firefight, but for another occasion where he spotted and reported an enemy mortar position and several roadside explosives during patrols before anyone was wounded or killed.
Two other Marines received Purple Hearts for wounds received during the firefight: Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Henderson, 24, of Kansas City, Mo., and Lance Cpl. John K. Tinsley Jr., 19, a Fayetteville, Ark. resident.
Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force's area of operations.
Editor's note: Hensley, who lost his right eye as a result of his injury, is currently recovering in Aurora. He received a Purple Heart.
Lt. Col. Milt Wick, 42, presents Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Cinelli, 33, a corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment’s Weapons Company, with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a combat “V,” a device that signifies the medal was earned in combat, June 10, 2004, at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. One Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and four Purple Hearts were presented at the early-evening ceremony. Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s area of operations. Wick is a native of Winfield, Kan., and Cinelli is from Haverhill, Mass. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere
06-18-04, 04:07 PM
The Baghdad Follies
Hunkered down with the press corps in Iraq
By JANET REITMAN
No one wants to go to Iraq -- it's not a fun war. Afghanistan was fun. It had colorful resistance fighters on horseback. It had Al Qaeda bases. There were moonscape mountains and green river valleys. You could get in your car and head off to the Hindu Kush. "You felt as if you were in the back of beyond," says Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times. "I'd probably move to Afghanistan in a heartbeat."
Iraq, by contrast, is a place reporters can't wait to leave. Baghdad has choking dust storms, two-hour traffic jams and rubble. Even buildings not devastated by last year's "shock and awe" look as if they were. Most nights, military helicopters fly deafening, unlit missions over the city, like huge whirring bats. The "resistance" -- which seem to comprise a good portion of Iraqi society -- drive pickups, wrap their faces in kaffiyehs and see Americans as occupiers whom they have a duty to kill. There are lots of dry, scrubby bushes. There are allegedly some luscious date-palm groves south and west of Baghdad, but given the danger on the roads -- kidnappings; ambushes; and the poor man's land mine, the "improvised explosive device," or IED -- people aren't exactly spending a lot of time there.
"Iraq is like a prison," says Melinda Liu, acting bureau chief of Newsweek. One of the most seasoned war correspondents in Baghdad -- she's got a bullet-wound scar on one leg -- Liu serves as a sort of den mother to the other reporters, reminding them to take their flak jackets when they go on the road. "When things are manageable, you think, 'Hey, maybe it isn't so dangerous after all.' Then when things are rock-bottom terrifying, you think, 'I'll ****ing die on the way to the airport.' You can wake up and not know if, by the end of the day, you'll be eating dinner by the pool or dealing with a kidnapping. It's stressful -- even if you're hunkered down in a hotel room."
When I arrive in Baghdad in April, most American journalists are holed up in their rooms, reporting the war by remote: scanning the wires, working their cell phones, watching broadcasts of Al Jazeera. In many cases, they've been reduced to relying on sources available to anyone with an Internet connection. Editorial writers might like to compare Iraq to Vietnam, but reporters on the ground say there's no comparison. In Vietnam, journalists rode Hondas to the front. In Iraq, they rarely venture into the streets. When they do, they hide behind the smoked windows of their armored vehicles, called "hard cars." At least nine Western journalists have been killed since the occupation began, not because they are reporters but simply because they are Westerners. Fear has become an accepted part of life in Baghdad, as inevitable as military roadblocks. While Arabic and European media such as The Guardian and Le Monde manage to cover the war on the ground, American reporters seldom interview actual Iraqis. Instead, they talk to U.S. officials who are every bit as isolated as they are, or rely on local stringers and fixers, several of whom have been killed while working for Americans. "We live in a bubble," grumbles one AP reporter. "If we know one percent of what's going on in Iraq, we're lucky."
Most of the journalism coming out of Baghdad is produced within the fortified compound that contains the Sheraton Ishtar and the Palestine Hotel. Together, the two buildings house the bureaus of Fox, CNN, several major newspapers and wire services, as well as a rotating crew of photographers and independent journalists of all stripes. Towering side by side over the Tigris River, the hotels are a virtual fortress, ringed by coils of razor wire and surrounded by fifteen-foot-high cement barriers known as "blast walls." To enter the compound, one must endure body searches at two checkpoints, navigate a corridor that runs alongside a fortified lane for armored vehicles and answer questions posed by the U.S. troops that patrol the compound day and night. The Sheraton -- the tallest building in Baghdad -- has been struck so often, some journalists call it the Missile Magnet. "More rockets have hit this place than any other building in the city," says Paul Roubicek, an Australian cameraman who has done segments for Fox News.
Roubicek is sitting in his room on the third floor of the Sheraton, drinking red wine and getting high on Afghan hash. You can buy excellent hash in Iraq. It's one of the perks of reconstruction. Before the war, getting high was punishable by a long stint in one of Saddam Hussein's jails. Now you can send an e-mail order and have hash delivered right to your hotel room. Roubicek's dealer is a cigarette salesman in the compound.
Roubicek is having a really bad day. Like everyone else in Baghdad, he wants to get embedded. It's not the military's perspective he's after -- it's the protection. Given the violence raging outside the hotel, embeds are often the only way to cover the fighting. Roubicek listens as his producer, Doug Luzader, speaks to a Marine Corps major on his cell phone, trying to talk his way into Fallujah. Since four private military contractors were killed and mutilated there by an angry mob a few weeks earlier, the city has been the scene of the fiercest fighting since the war began. Roubicek and Luzader, who are producing documentaries for a small outfit called HDNet, want in -- but the only way to get there is with the troops.
"I think there's been some kind of mix-up," Luzader says into the phone. "We wanted the embed for this weekend." He listens. "Look, Major, we were told yesterday . . . Yes. Right. But. . . ."
Roubicek, dressed in running shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, launches into a rant: "There's a list. We've gone from number thirty to number sixty, no explanation. We're getting shafted. I mean, ****, what's the deal?"
Luzader paces, his face getting red. "What do you mean there's nothing you can do? Fine." He hangs up.
"What," Roubicek says morosely.
"Basically," Luzader says, pouring himself a drink, "until the mujahedin start their own embed program, we're **** out of luck."
The Sheraton is the spookiest hotel in Baghdad. When I arrive in Iraq, a rocket has turned the lobby into a construction zone. A quick-fix reconstruction soon restores the hotel's marble floors, and the lobby features a wide-screen TV, a cushy bar and a large white, goddesslike sculpture. Nevertheless, the place always seems deserted. The elevators work when they feel like it. "I'd rather commit suicide than live at the Sheraton," says Melinda Liu.
The alternative is the Al Hamra Hotel, across town and a world away. It's smaller and quieter, with far fewer blast walls and no U.S. troops. Instead, the Hamra is home to a small army of private military contractors, hired guns who have come to Iraq to get in on the action. The men are walking arsenals, brandishing assault rifles and packing flash grenades. The cowboy aesthetic of the contractors is so offensive, most journalists refuse to sit, or even stand, anywhere near them. "These guys freak me out," says a British journalist who scurries inside whenever he spots one. "We are living with trained killers. You might as well walk around with a big red target on your head."
Perhaps another reason journalists resent the contractors is because they are so nerdish themselves. Josh Hammer, Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek, is not exactly the image of a war jock. He frets over every line of his stories, angsts over his career path and spends entire afternoons shopping for Persian carpets. In May, he returns from an interview with Maj. Gen. David Petraeus feeling dejected. "I could tell Petraeus thought I was a wimp," Hammer says mournfully.
For protection, virtually every major newspaper and network employs its own battalion of contractors. Some accompany reporters to interviews, openly packing. Some hide inside the vehicles with an arsenal. All wear flak vests and are built like Humvees. In a sense, journalists have become prisoners of their own bodyguards. "You're unable to walk on the streets," says Kevin Sites, a freelance reporter for NBC and MSNBC. "We don't go out trolling for news anymore -- not here. You have to plan your route with your security, you bring along your security, do your interviews and come right back. It sucks. I remember this bombing that happened a few months ago, and we had to wait for our security before we could go cover it. By the time they arrived, the entire area had already been cordoned off."
Reporters at NBC, who use the Hamra as their bunker, are so put off by the military contractors that they hardly ever come downstairs to socialize. The network has even set up a gym for staff next to its makeshift broadcast studio. The bureau is sealed behind a white metal gate, guarded by Iraqi security with metal detectors. There is no in or out without passing the gauntlet.
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