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06-04-07, 12:21 PM
6 Navy Crosses for Darkhorse
Legendary heroics, and one dark point, figure into 3/5’s storied past
By Gidget Fuentes - gfuentes@militarytimes.com
Posted : June 11, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Two displays in the quarterdeck of the headquarters of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, greet visitors and new joins alike.

In a large glass case, the images of two dozen Marines etched in wood and crystal glance from several shelves. Each piece represents the battalion’s fallen warriors, many young infantrymen who died in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, where they fought insurgents, patrolled neighborhoods and helped steady the fledging Iraqi government and security forces during three combat tours.

On a nearby podium lie three binders, two bulging with pages of award citations detailing the actions of 3/5’s men in the intensity and stress of combat. The citations represent bravery, determination and courage — of fighting up stairwells, assaulting trenches, dodging wounds and gunfire to evacuate wounded buddies — and include nearly every level of commendation and decoration leathernecks can earn for their actions in war.

“It’s incredible to hear these stories,” said Lt. Col. James McArthur, the battalion commander. “It’s different names and faces, but the events are just reoccurring. There are Marines in this battalion that could rise to the occasion.

“It’s not about the award at all. It’s about the sacrifice,” McArthur said. “That’s the ultimate. I don’t know how more honorable you can be than to give your life for somebody else.”

Among the citations are five that stand out for their rarity: the Navy Cross.

Of 16 Navy Crosses awarded so far to Marines who’ve fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, five men with 3/5 have received the medal — the most service crosses by any military unit since the wars began, giving “Darkhorse Battalion” a unique standing among the Corps’ fighting units.

But 3/5, which is gearing up for its fourth combat tour in Iraq, is taking its accolades a step further. This month, officials will bestow the Navy Cross posthumously to another Darkhorse member for the Fallujah battle, the battalion’s sixth.

To put that in perspective, the battalion’s tally of six matches the entire Army’s total number of Distinguished Service Crosses — the Navy Cross equivalent — awarded since both wars began.

It’s a jaw-dropping statistic, but it’s also virtually unknown, since the battalion’s heroism has been overshadowed by shocking allegations and charges that eight members of a Kilo Company squad killed an Iraqi civilian in Hamdaniya last year.

Families and friends decried the allegations against the seven Marines and one Navy corpsman, known locally as “the Pendleton 8,” but five of the men later pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against three Marines in exchange for lesser sentences. Prosecutors are pressing ahead with trials this summer for the remaining three, including the squad leader.

The Hamdaniya case arose just as word surfaced of alleged war crimes by several members of another Camp Pendleton-based infantry battalion, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Hadithah in late 2005. In the ensuing months, both cases were often mentioned together.

The cases generated headlines and a firestorm of international attention and political posturing. Last year, then-commandant Gen. Mike Hagee went to Iraq to impress on Marines the importance of core values on the battlefield.

“Those particular incidents were the direct opposite of what we believed in, but he didn’t want to damper all the good the Marine Corps has done because of those couple of incidents,” said Sgt. Maj. Melvin Roundtree, the sergeant major for 5th Marines. “That was a good message to tell. This is not who we are and these are not the things that Marines do.”

Marine veterans say Hamdaniya is an anomaly for 3/5, one of the Corps’ most decorated infantry units, and a rare blemish on an honorable history stretching from Belleau Wood to Guadalcanal to Da Nang.

“One of the first things you hear is Marines who have been here talking about the division and the history,” said McArthur, who took command last fall. “This is a great battalion. We’ve got to continue on with that history. We’ve got a burden on our shoulder. We’ve got to take the pack from those that have left us ... to continue the march.”
‘I’m awestruck’

The quarterdeck displays are meant to reflect 3/5’s strength: Its men.

“It carries on that legacy,” said Maj. Richard Rice, the battalion’s executive officer. “The only difference between the guy in that folder and a brand-new PFC who joins right now is the opportunity to go forward. If the guys read this, it sets the expectations of what we expect out of you. What makes the Marine Corps special is that idea that you never want to let your buddies down or let those before you down.”

Doug Sterner, a decorated Vietnam veteran who maintains a highly regarded database of military combat awards, called 3/5’s tally of combat honors “an impressive example of leadership, training and dedication to mission.”

The Navy Cross citations for all five 3/5 Marines cite each man for “extraordinary heroism.” For them, though, it’s a matter of getting out of a hellish situation alive, with one’s buddies safe and sound.

Former Sgt. Jarrett Kraft was a squad leader with Weapons Company in December 2004. He received the Navy Cross for organizing and leading three counterassaults over two hours in Fallujah, despite being wounded by enemy grenades.

Kraft, who’s since left the Corps, described the scene in that Fallujah house that morning as one of “live or die.” Together with fellow Navy Cross recipient Cpl. Jeremiah Workman, another squad leader, they fought in close-quarters battle in heavy fighting with as many as 40 insurgents. Kraft recalled it as “the most intense, insane, freaking firefight ever.” Three of their 3/5 buddies died fighting that day.

Such stories of bravery and mettle in the face of danger and death are repeated in the accounts behind scores of other combat medals — from six Silver Stars and three dozen Bronze Stars with combat “V” device to several hundred Navy and Marine Corps Commendation and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals for valor — awarded to 3/5’s men.

“It’s incredulous that anybody reacts that way,” said retired Lt. Col. Thomas Richards, who as a corporal earned a Navy Cross for leading his platoon through a heavy firefight in Vietnam in 1969. “I’m awestruck every time.”

Recipients often say they never sought out an award but acted to help their brothers-in-arms. “I was just doing my job. I did the same thing every other Marine would have done. It was just a passion and love for my Marines,” Capt. Brian R. Chontosh told Marine Corps News when he received the award in 2004.

Thoughts of the award often stir intense sadness and suppressed memories and grief. Many, like Kraft, wish their fallen friends had survived the day.
Lessons from a PFC

Commanders and leaders say those medals serve to stir others with real stories of valor and leadership.

A combat award “is about inspiring other people to follow their example,” said Richards, national commander of the Legion of Valor, an organization whose members are Medal of Honor and service cross recipients. “You don’t go looking for a Navy Cross or a Medal of Honor. You don’t go to combat trying to get decorated.”

Col. Larry Nicholson, 5th Marines regimental commander, led 3/5 and other units with Regimental Combat Team 5 during a 13-month Iraq tour. The brigadier general-select credits individual actions and decisions for the successes in places such as Fallujah, once an insurgent stronghold.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s individual actions that inspire that fire team and that squad to go through those buildings,” Nicholson said. “There’s nobody that can tell them what to do at that point.”

He’s amazed at the actions of Lance Cpl. Christopher Adlesperger, who fought in Fallujah in 2004 and died in December, one month after the actions that earned him the Navy Cross.

“There’s four guys going into a courtyard. The first guy that goes in, he’s killed. The second guy is wounded. The third guy, he’s wounded. The fourth guy is Adlesperger,” Nicholson said. “Adlesperger takes charge. By the time he’s done, he’s killed 11 insurgents. He’s safe. He’s saved the lives of the two wounded ... by dragging them upstairs onto a roof and defending it.”

“Adlesperger moves in three different positions, making the enemy think there’s a lot more than one guy on the roof — and he’s doing this without direction,” he added. “He’s doing this with no NCO getting on him. How was he able to orchestrate that? It’s exceptional. It’s phenomenal.”

More amazing, he noted, “is this is a PFC.” Adlesperger was later promoted to lance corporal.

Nicholson, who was wounded in a Sept. 14, 2004, rocket attack that killed one of his staff officers with 1st Marines, sees men like Adlesperger as a great motivator and example that young Marines will step up in the crucible of combat. “There are more Adlespergers out there,” he said. “I’ll bet when you look at his chain of command and you look at the leadership that he had ... he probably had a very positive environment that he grew up in as a young PFC.”

When McArthur took 3/5’s command, stories of heroism in combat reinvigorated his beliefs about what Marines will do in a pinch in combat. Years earlier, he’d seen graphic scenes in the war drama “Saving Private Ryan” with wonder. “You have to ask yourself, men just kept pouring themselves into that fire, what made them do that,” he said. He thought: “Could we do that today?”

Adlesperger “felt that it was his responsibility to do that. Why did he feel that? If you know that somebody is in that building trying to kill you, are you going to be the first one in?” McArthur wondered.
Others ready to lead

This year, more young men will add new chapters to 3/5’s history, most well aware of the battalion’s steeped history and lineage as they prepare for their first combat deployment.

Cpl. Kelly Boster, optics chief at the battalion armory, joined 3/5 last year and noticed the tight-knit bonds among the unit’s men during a recent memorial service honoring those who died in Iraq last year. “There’s a lot of camaraderie here and there’s more of a sense of pride,” Boster, 22, said during a short break from recent urban training in San Diego.

“It’s a very distinguished and honored unit,” said Lance Cpl. Armando Espinosa, 21, a rifleman who also joined Darkhorse last year. “Most of us were really fortunate to get 3/5 because of their background and history. It was a new experience because these guys had ‘been there and done that’ while we were training to do that and want to go do.”

Adlesperger’s heroism makes for “some pretty big shoes to fill,” Espinosa said. “It’s a lot to look up to. Everybody in the battalion pretty much can be a Marine like he was. He was like a role model.”

The young men will be led by seasoned veterans like Sgt. Justin Hannah, who was inspired to enlist after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hannah, 22, a Kilo Company squad leader, extended his enlistment to complete the next deployment, his third. Hannah fought in Fallujah with Adlesperger, who kept insurgents at bay while Hannah’s squad helped get the wounded off the roof of a nearby house.

“It was pretty much just mayhem, a lot of gunfire and grenades and RPGs going off,” he recalled. They battled anger and machine- gun fire and fought back as several firefights ensued, and Adlesperger “was ****ed” because insurgents temporarily kept them from reaching their fallen friend, Lance Cpl. Erick Hodges. Insurgents tossed grenades onto the streets to stymie the Marines’ movement into the houses as they fought intense battles throughout the day.

“You’ve just got to keep your head in the fight. You’ve just got to think that, ‘If I was waxed, I would want my Marines to keep pushing,’” Hannah said. “Your friend getting killed is tough. But the mission is clear. You just have to keep doing what you’re there to do. I mean, it’s combat.”
Drawing good from the bad

As the remaining Hamdaniya cases head to court this summer, 3/5 will finish its predeployment training and head to Iraq. While veterans may wish the Hamdaniya case would disappear, McArthur, a self-professed “glass half-full guy,” sees it as a golden opportunity.

“His whole situation was a bad situation,” he said, citing Adlesperger’s example. “He saw the good in it. He saw the opportunity to contribute to the fight instead of saying we’re surrounded.”

While he wouldn’t specifically discuss the Hamdaniya case, McArthur sees the incident as a real case study. “It’s good to have those examples so we can tell the Marines this is what not to do,” he said. “You don’t have to ask what are the repercussions of making a wrong decision because you can go online and type in ‘Pendleton 8’ and you can find out.”

Unit leaders are becoming more aware of the combat stresses their men face and won’t just shrug off such cases as isolated incidents, he added.

The 1st Marine Division’s mantra — “No better friend, no worse enemy” — reflects the inherent dichotomy that leathernecks confront daily on the battlefield. They are trained to kill insurgents and other enemy forces but avoid hurting or killing innocents in the process.

In counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, Marines and other U.S. forces must operate among civilians but fight insurgents who hide among them.

“It’s very easy to cross that line,” said Col. Patrick Malay, who commanded 3/5 during the 2004-2005 Iraq deployment including Fallujah. “The leadership has to be the moral compass.”

But often in war, the difference between lawful killing and murder is a thin one.

Famed war hero Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller once described that line this way, in a comment to Medal of Honor recipient Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington: “There is only a hairline’s difference between a Navy Cross and a general court-martial.”

“Aggressiveness and heroism,” Sterner said, “are terms applied to an action based often upon the perception of the witnesses. What one man sees as excessive and just cause for reprimand, another man sees as the aggressive and necessary actions of a true hero.

“In peacetime, we need ‘Mr. Clean Jeans,’ but when the bullets start flying, I want ‘Dirty Harry’ sharing my foxhole,” he said.

Success in combat, Malay noted, comes from self-discipline and leadership. A Marine’s “got to have faith in himself, in his weapon, in his weapon system ... and they have to have the trust and confidence in their leadership,” he said.

Capt. Brian R. Chontosh

Lance Cpl. Joseph B. Perez

Lance Cpl. Christopher S. Adlesperger

Sgt. Jarrett A. Kraft

Cpl. Jeremiah W. Workman

Cpl. Jason Clairday
Navy Cross recipients

Five members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, have received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for heroics in combat — one of them posthumously — for their individual actions in Iraq:

•Capt. Brian R. Chontosh, combined anti-armor platoon commander with Weapons Company, for his actions after his platoon came under a coordinated ambush south of Dawaniyah on March 25, 2003. After leading an assault on a machine gun, Chontosh, then a first lieutenant, cleared a trench of Iraqi fighters with his weapons and used Iraqi weapons and an Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade launcher against enemy fighters — single-handedly clearing more than 200 meters of trenches of enemy fighters.

•Lance Cpl. Joseph B. Perez, a rifleman with India Company, for clearing and leading his squad in a fight to take an enemy trench south of Baghdad on April 4, 2003. At one point, Perez continued to lead and direct his squad despite being shot in the shoulder and torso by Iraqi fighters, and he silenced a machine-gun bunker by firing an AT-4 rocket into it, killing four enemy fighters.

•Lance Cpl. Christopher S. Adlesperger forced his way into a building with his Kilo Company fire team during the battalion’s push through Fallujah on Nov. 10, 2004. After witnessing his best friend fall by an insurgent’s bullet and two other team members hit by enemy fire, Adlesperger single-handedly cleared a stairway and secured an evacuation site for the wounded, moved the wounded to safety and even knocked out an enemy machine gun as he fought insurgent fighters. It was “the last strongpoint in the Jolan District” held by insurgents, according to the citation. Adlesperger, just 20, died a month later during operations in Fallujah.

•Sgt. Jarrett A. Kraft, a squad leader with Weapons Company’s mortar platoon, for his actions organizing and leading three counterassaults over two hours during operations in Fallujah on Dec. 23, 2004. Several times, Kraft was knocked down by the blast of a U.S. Abrams battle tank’s main gun and enemy grenades, wounding him, but continued to lead his men and help the wounded.

•Cpl. Jeremiah W. Workman, a squad leader with Weapons Company’s mortar platoon, for his actions in Fallujah on Dec. 23, 2004, as he provided covering fire in a heavy firefight that allowed Marines isolated in a building to move to safety. Twice, Workman led assaults into the building to battle insurgent fighters and rescue wounded Marines. As he provided additional covering fire, a grenade exploded near Workman, sending shrapnel into his arms and legs, but the corporal continued to fire. Despite his wounds, he led a third assault into the building to help the Marines before reinforcements arrived. He’s credited with killing 24 insurgents during that battle.

A sixth member of 3/5 was due to receive the medal posthumously June 4:

•Cpl. Jason Clairday, a fire team leader with Kilo Company, for his actions when his squad came under attack during a security sweep. Clairday repositioned his men and “jumped a four-foot gap three stories up onto the roof of the enemy stronghold where a mortally wounded Marine lay, isolated by the enemy,” according to his citation. He threw several fragmentation grenades to lead the attack into the house, but was hit with AK47 rifle fire in both legs and fell into the kill zone. Despite his injuries, he continued to engage the enemy and rejoined his squad, taking control of the stack and suppressing enemy fire with fragmentation grenades and his rifle. He led his Marines into the house, where he single-handedly attacked the insurgents and was mortally wounded.


06-04-07, 12:22 PM
Darkhorse’s bright past
By Gidget Fuentes - gfuentes@militarytimes.com
Posted : June 11, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Talk about a lineage.

The men of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, follow in the footsteps of leatherneck warriors who battled through some of the most notable campaigns in modern times: Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Da Nang.

And now they have etched Fallujah into new chapters in the history books with their own war experiences during three combat tours in Iraq, so far.

The battalion has borne several nicknames in recent years as commanders tap notable moments to honor their history and the actions of thousands of men who came before them. In 2003, 3/5 was known as the “Naktong Battalion,” a name that goes back to the days of the Korean War.

In late 2004, it took on the nickname “Darkhorse Battalion” to honor the call sign of the late Col. Robert Taplett, a Navy Cross recipient who led 3/5 during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

“It really is a storied battalion,” said Col. Patrick Malay, who commanded 3/5 during the 2004-2005 Iraq deployment that included the major battle in Fallujah in November-December 2004, the Corps’ most notable and intense urban war fighting since Vietnam.

In three deployments to Iraq, 3/5 was often out front in the thick of things, and its men began tallying the new generation’s first combat awards.

In March 2003, the battalion, led by then Lt. Col. Sam Mundy, joined Regimental Combat Team 5 as the first combat forces to cross into Iraq in the initial invasion, and its men later helped gain control of Baghdad. Two 3/5 men would later receive the Navy Cross for their actions then.

In late 2004, under Malay’s leadership, the men of 3/5 would earn three Navy Crosses and other valor awards as the battalion helped take and secure Fallujah.

During its deployment last year, Lt. Col. Patrick Looney led 3/5 in a seven-month deployment that included several notable mission successes that went mostly unheralded outside the Corps.

After a roadside bomb destroyed a vehicle May 19, 2006, several Lima Company members searched the vicinity and captured three insurgent cell members responsible for the kidnapping of freelance journalist Jill Carroll, who was taken hostage by insurgents earlier in the year.

A month later, on June 16, scout snipers with Kilo Company recovered the M40A1 sniper rifle belonging to a sniper team with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, killed in Ramadi in 2004. The Darkhorse snipers had spotted a driver near Habbaniyah videotaping a passing Marine patrol and noticed the rifle inside the car. They shot and killed the driver and another man who entered the vehicle. Inside they found the sniper rifle taken from four Marines of 2/4, a sister battalion with 5th Marines.

These occurred just as allegations surfaced that eight men in Kilo Company, 3/5, plotted to kill an Iraqi man in Hamdaniya as a way of sending a message to local insurgents who targeted Marines and coalition forces.

Despite that high-profile scandal, heroics are more the norm for 3/5’s men, commanders say.

“I’ve never seen anybody shirk their way from that requirement to show some valor,” Malay said of his men. “I had no idea of the depths of bravery that took place” until he heard the stories when the unit returned home.

Membership in the battalion comes with the recognition that each man must build on that deeply rooted history, a responsibility taught in training and honed in combat. “The culture, the lineage,” he noted, “now rests on their shoulders.”

Lt. Col. James McArthur is preparing to take 3/5 on its fourth deployment to Iraq this summer. It will be the first time in Iraq for nearly two out of three men, and McArthur expects the men will continue to uphold the noble “Darkhorse” lineage.

“It’s a young battalion. There’s a lot of new Marines here,” he said, noting most of the small-unit leaders are combat veterans.

But they’re getting ready, he said: “We’re going back now knowing so much more than we did before.”
A short history of 3/5

•1917-1918: France, including Belleau Wood.

•1920s: Panama Canal, Nicaragua; helped guard U.S. mail.

•1942-1945: Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Peleliu, Okinawa.

•1950-1953: Republic of Korea: Pusan, Inchon, Seoul, Chosin.

•1966-1971: Vietnam: Chu Lai, Da Nang, Que Son.

•1990-1991: Took part in the Persian Gulf War and, on its way home, helped in Operation Sea Angel in Bangladesh.

•2003: Initial invasion of Iraq, helped take Baghdad.

•2004-2005: Fought in the second battle of Fallujah.

•2006: Operated in western Anbar province.

•2007: Preparing to deploy to Iraq.