View Full Version : Marines recount POW rescue operation

04-15-03, 11:20 AM
Marines recount POW rescue operation
Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification Number: 200341565546
Story by Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Central Iraq (April 15, 2003) -- On a tip from an Iraqi official, Marine with D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, dashed through sniper fire on the streets of Samarra, Iraq.

The pushed on in the early morning of April 12 even as they felt the situation was eerily resembling the beginning of an infamous battle in Somalia which they had studied during training.

The streets and rooftops in the town square quickly began to fill as the Marines searched house-to-house for America's seven prisoners of war.

"I could see maybe 30 people just on one roof. They were everywhere," said Lance Cpl. Curney Russell Jr., am 18-year-old scout with 3rd Platoon. "I wondered if the tip was a setup."

"We didn't want another 'Blackhawk Down' scene having to fight our way out of a town," said Cpl. Christopher Castro, referring to a deadly clash in Somalia where American soldiers were attacked in a densely populated area.

Marines received the intelligence while in a blocking position outside Samarra. A local police officer advised the Marines to "look in Building 13 if you want to find the Americans."

The Marines were directed to go in "weapons tight," according to Castro, who is 3rd Platoon's chief scout. The team's leaders made everyone aware that friendly forces possibly were inside and deadly force should be used with extreme caution.

"We went in knowing they'd be armed," he said. "If they had their weapons holstered or even just not aimed at us, we wouldn't shoot. We didn't want any firing. We didn't want to hit the POWs."

Some Marines were on foot and others were in light armored vehicles. Foot-mobile teams spread out through the alleys and streets looking for Building 13.

After the locals began amassing, the Marines were preparing to pull out when Russell heard a voice coming from a window.

"'We're Americans. My name is Chief Warrant Officer Williams,'" Russell recalled hearing. It was Building 13. He immediately notified his commander of the discovery.

The team of Marines raced through the streets to his position. After pounding the door three times, the Marine's officer gave the nod. Two powerful kicks later, the wooden door splintered and Marines rushed into the dimly lit room Army CWO David Williams and the six other prisoners of war were being held.

"Speed, speed, speed," Russell said. "It's all about getting 'em and getting out as fast as possible."

With rifles pointing every direction and Marines screaming for everyone to get down, the Marines took control of the situation instantly. Three unarmed guards were laying facedown among the POWs.

Russell loudly announced, "If you're an American, stand up now!" The seven stood and were quickly ushered outside to a secure rally point.

As the American soldiers were being separated from their captors, they implored the Marines to be temperate with the Iraqi guards.

"'Don't hurt them,'" Russell recalls CWO Williams shouting. "'They're our friends. They helped us out.'"

The Iraqis got rid of their weapons as they awaited the rescue siege. The freed soldiers later said these guards had pooled their own money together to buy medicine and food for the POWs. They had only been in this location a few days.

The Iraqis were cooperative and "did everything they were told to do," Castro said. They were taken as enemy prisoners of war and turned over to intelligence officers.

The Marines could hear sniper fire again while exiting the house, so the rescuees were moved in a tactical formation. Marines marched shoulder-to-shoulder forming a 180-degree wall in front of the soldiers. Castro and Russell helped the wounded along while armored vehicles rolled closely behind them. Other vehicles blocked intersections and watched further ahead.

"There was no way the guys we just rescued were going to get shot now," Castro said. "That was the last thing we were going to let happen. They'd have to take us down first."

Within moments the Marines had the soldiers out of town. The whole operation took less than 30 minutes, according to Castro. An hour and half later they were airborne in CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters.

"They were shaken up. They kept hugging us and thanking us," Russell said. "They went from being real uptight and shaky at first to very excited and even relaxed."

The helicopters flew the ex-POWs, Castro and Russell to an airfield about 65 miles south of Baghdad. The two Marines were instructed by their commanding officer to accompany the soldiers out of Iraq to ensure their comfort.

"We were the first Americans they'd seen since they were captured," Castro said. "They kind of clung to us from the start, so our CO figured they needed some familiar faces traveling with them."

As two CH-46 helicopters sand blasted an awaiting throng of Marines at the airfield, which is part of Logistical Support Area Chesty, one of the ex-POWs flashed the hand gesture "V" for victory through a porthole. The anxious crowd, which didn't know what condition the soldiers were in, responded with thankful cheers.

With the help of Castro and Russell, the soldiers debarked the helicopters one at a time. Most wore ragtag outfits fashioned from various uniform component and Iraqi garb. By military standards, they were in dire need of a shave and haircut.

After maneuvering through still photographers and a CNN crew, they climbed into military ambulances headed for a C-130 cargo plane.

Scores of Marines jumped from their vehicles as the ambulances passed by. They clapped and shouted encouragement.

Once the ambulances stopped, most of the soldiers literally bound out the ambulances' back doors and up the airplane's ramp. Those not capable of moving as fast limped up the ramp with help from their personal guards.

The inside of the plane turned into a spontaneous party. Hands were thrown in the air. Those capable jumped up and down. A few of the soldiers wrapped Marines in bear hugs. The Marines hugged right back. One shouted out, "I love you, man!"

The plane lifted off heading south.

"When the C-130 was landing, one of the soldiers asked me if we were still in Iraq," Russell said. "He seemed relieved when I told him we were in Kuwait. I could tell he was just happy to be out Iraq."

The two Marines accompanied the freed POWs all the way to Camp Doha, Kuwait. Castro said the Army personnel treated them like "someone special" there. They had a warm meal, slept in an actual bed and enjoyed a hot shower all for the first time in about a month.

Both Marines were permitted to call home. Russell, a native of Manchester, N.H., found out he was expecting a baby girl. Castro discovered his image was plastered on television, websites and newspapers everywhere. Reporters had contacted both Marines' families already.

The next morning they asked to be returned to Iraq as soon as possible.

"We have to get to our unit," said Castro, who claims to have shot at least two Iraqi soldiers in the war. "There is still fighting. We can't miss that."

They returned to Iraq the next day stopping at I Marine Exeditionary Force's command element. The IMEF commanding general, Lieutenant Gen. James T. Conway, gave Castro and Russell unit coins and told them they have "made the Corps proud."

Castro was quick to point out, "All the scouts who went in on the rescue did great. They showed great speed and aggressiveness. They knew what to do and they did it. We were just the two lucky enough to go with them."

His battalion spent 45 days at sea transiting from San Diego to Kuwait. Much of the time was spent holding classes and training sessions on tactics including moving through built up areas like the town square in Samarra.

Much of 3rd Platoon is new to the military. Russell spent just six days in the Fleet Marine Corps before deploying.

"If you train right, you can rely on it no matter what happens," Castro said. "We trained so much for situations like this, I didn't have to give any direction. Everyone knew just what needed to be done, and they did it."

The seven soldiers rescued were Army CWO Williams, CWO Ronald Young, Sgt. James Riley, Specialists Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson and Shoshana Johnson, and Pfc. Patrick Miller

The five enlisted soldiers were assigned to the Army's 507th Maintenance Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas. Their convoy was ambushed March 23. The two warrant officers were captured after their AH-64A Apache helicopter was shot down March 24.

While no reunion between the ex-POWs and their rescuers has been planned, both Castro and Russell agreed they hope to see them again.

"We gave them our phone numbers," said Castro, who calls San Antonio home. "Most of them are stationed in Texas and I'm from Texas. I'd be more than happy to drive up and see them. They told us they want us to meet their kids."

Marines were also involved in the successful rescue of another ex-POW. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was also assigned to the 507th Maintenance Bn., was brought to safety after an undisclosed team of American troops conducted an extract operation April 1 in An Nasryah.

Marines received at least one tip from an Iraqi man that led to Lynch's rescue. She has since returned to the United States.

The seven Americans rescued April 13 have been treated and released from a medical facility in Kuwait. There are no other known coalition prisoners of war as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.



Roberto T. Cast
04-15-03, 11:41 AM
Just another case of MARINES doing their stuff. What is a MARINE?
A MARINE is a brainwash well trained smart machine. MARINES don't have problems in achieving their objectives.

Semper Fi