View Full Version : Mortar attack ends month long lull at base

12-29-05, 01:59 PM
Mortar attack ends month long lull at base
By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

RAMADI, Iraq — The mid-day calm was shattered Tuesday when enemy mortars targeted a Marine base here, the first time near-lethal fire has fallen on the camp in nearly a month.

Marines were chomping on grilled cheese sandwiches and potato chips in the Camp Hurricane Point dining hall when the computerized trill of a newly installed warning system chimed in.

“Incoming! Incoming!” the electronic voice blared, accompanied by a high-pitched siren.

Just a few seconds later: “thaRUMP!” Then another, much closer this time.

“THARUMP!” Marines stood bolt upright, looked around at each other.

“THARUMP!” another one.

The sound of shrapnel and other debris from the explosion tinkled on the tin roof of the chow hall. The Marines crouched under the long tables for cover, waiting for another impact. They remembered a similar attack several months ago that nearly pulverized a building just next door.

The barrage had ended almost as soon as it began, but not without cost. One of the rounds landed close to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines’ combat operations center — less than 100 yards away from the chow hall — wounding one officer when shrapnel tore through the front door of the building, which was at one time a palace for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.

Marines quickly began cleaning up the mess; the outer wall of the COC stood splattered with pockmarks from the mortar round, an air-conditioning unit sat on the ground, mangled from the explosion. The hole from the impact was filled in with sand within minutes, but the shock of the near miss had yet to wear off.

“If I’d come out any earlier, I would have been in a body bag right now,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Harkins, 19, of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., as he surveyed the damage just outside the COC. Harkin, a mortarman with Combined Anti-Armor Team Red, was just about to leave the COC building when the second mortar hit.

This was the second day in a row the high-pitched trill of the mortar warning system had blared over loudspeakers on a U.S. base here. On Monday, several rounds landed at Camp Blue Diamond, command post for 2nd Marine Division, which is situated just a few hundred yards across the Euphrates River. No damage or casualties were reported from that attack.

Mortar and rocket attacks were common when the Marines of 3/7 arrived here in September. In an interview earlier this month, Army Col. John Gronski, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which oversees operations here, said sustained interdiction operations and precise counter-mortar fire from Army and Marine units deployed to this insurgent hotbed have cut down markedly on the number of attacks.