View Full Version : 1 year ago, scare for Valley Marines

11-10-05, 07:10 AM
1 year ago, scare for Valley Marines
Chris Sheppard
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 9, 2005 02:55 PM

The convoy crept through Camp Taqaddum's front gate one year ago. Marines stood at the ready. Adrenaline pumped though their veins. They adjusted goggles, said prayers, and locked and loaded.

"Lube up your weapons guys, my Spidey-senses tell me we are going to get hit," said Sgt. David Blecman, the convoy security officer, as his vehicle turned right onto the highway and into the thick of the Battle of Fallujah.

Two Valley Marines celebrated last year's Marine Corps birthday fighting for their lives on a highway outside of Fallujah, Iraq.

Today, they are back in the Valley. Sgt. Daniel Hernandez of Tempe is working as a firefighter with the Tempe Fire Department. Blecman is on active duty at the Navy Marine Corps Reserve Center, recovering from a foot injury incurred in Iraq.

But the two remember their experience celebrating the Marine Corps birthday with vivid detail.

"All of our planning, training, and experience was used to make it through that convoy," Blecman said recounting the experience. "We got really lucky too."

Their mission was to re-supply 1st Marine Division's Task Force Wolf Pack with desperately needed food, water, tank ammunition, and an M-88 tank retriever, which is a tow truck for tanks.

Up to 15,000 Coalition troops participated in the Battle of Fallujah. The assault aimed to pacify the insurgent stronghold before the Iraqi elections in January 2005. It was the largest US military action in urban terrain since the Tet Offensive in Hue City, Vietnam, in 1968.

Both sergeants were at the end of the 12-vehicle convoy. Hernandez, the convoy's assistant commander, was in the second to last vehicle, an armored-up Humvee. Blecman, the convoy's security officer, was in the last vehicle - a poorly armored Humvee the Marines derisively called a "hobo truck."

The convoy crawled down the dangerous highway, slowed by the lumbering tank retriever. Iraqi civilians stared in disbelief. The highway, normally off limits due to insurgent activity, had been temporarily reopened because insurgents mined the primary re-supply route with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Two little girls, wearing bright maroon and blue dresses, stood in the doorway of a roadside shack. As the convoy passed, the girls scowled and gave the thumbs down.

One hundred yards from a bridge over a railroad trestle, an orange fireball shot into the air 10 yards behind the convoy's lead Humvee. The concussion tossed a Marine, like a rag doll, across the truck's bed. Shrapnel embedded into the right rear fender and tires. The vehicle kept moving.

Hernandez marked the grid coordinate on his global positioning system and relayed it over the radio. Half a dozen voices, all talking at once, frantically issued commands and asked questions.

"Push ahead! Push!" Lt Miguel Valle, the convoy commander, yelled over the radio.

Boom! Then a second improvised explosive device exploded between the first and second vehicle. A third detonated, then a fourth. In a matter of seconds, Blecman saw seven plumes of smoke and dust rising from the roadside into the clear afternoon sky.

Blecman calmly told Cpl Stephen Reyna, commander of the convoy's lead vehicle, "Reyna just push. Get the convoy out. If something happens, I will pick you up."

Reyna replied, "Roger that."

The convoy rolled past the bridge and through the village of Qaryat Albu Hatim. Small arms fire began to pelt the convoy from buildings on both sides of the road. They were later followed by attacks from insurgents.

Hernandez continued to relay grid coordinates and status reports to the convoy commander over the radio. The Humvee's turret gunner returned fire. A steady stream of hot brass shells cascaded onto the Humvee's crew.

Blecman spotted a man in black clothing run from the front of a two-story building and around the corner as insurgents began attacking them.

"Betterley, bring your gun to 11-o-clock," Blecman said.

Cpl Benjamin Betterley, Blecman's M240G machine gunner, complied.

Insurgents inside the building opened fire. Betterley stood exposed, behind his gun, and coolly fired back. He swiveled the gun and kept firing until the building was at his 7-o-clock.

Blecman spotted several muzzle flashes from a palm grove to the right.

"Betterley, two-o-clock," Blecman said.

As Betterley swung around, fighting became so intense that Blecman fired his M-16 left handed out the Humvee window while he worked the radio's receiver with his right and gave firing directions to Hernandez's Humvee.

Bullets slammed into both vehicles. Several rounds went in between Betterley's legs as he fired over 150 rounds into the palm grove. He hit several insurgents.

Hernandez's turret gunner swung his weapon around and began firing into the palm grove.

Betterley reloaded. He saw a muzzle flash from a building to the right. He swiveled his gun around and fired into it.

A few moments later Blecman could now see the checkpoint into friendly lines about 75 yards away.

"Cease fire. Go cold," Blecman said over the radio and the firing stopped.

Hernandez called for a status report. None of the Marines had been killed or injured. A collective sigh of relief went through the convoy as it slipped through the checkpoint.

Blecman said over the radio, "Happy birthday Marines!"



11-10-05, 07:35 AM
I was at TQ this same day. We were told to get ready. I remember seeing a convoy roll out then we got CASVAC calls. We celebrated teh Marine Corps Birthday by our SgtMaj getting together for a Cake with EGA. We were standing by our ReadyRoom tent. It wasn't a really hot day from what I recall. All during the celebration we could hear the explosions adn gun fire in the distance. The SgtMaj said we should celebrate for those Marines that couldn't because of Fallujah. you could cut the tenseness in the air. We were all surprised that during the ceremony not one morat or missle came in. Once it was over though...
That was the second Marine Corps Birthday I had to celebrate in Iraq in 3 three years. So happy birthday marines and never forget.