View Full Version : In Harm's Way

03-22-08, 05:39 AM
Mar. 21, 2008

Beginning 'a long war'


Former Marine Jim Scott recalled how his infantry company went through a number of drills at their post on the Kuwaiti side of the Iraqi border five years ago, getting into their gas suits, then being told by their commanders to go back into their tents.

Scott recalled an occasional missile coming their way.

The Marines got into their gas suits because at the time they feared chemical attacks, such as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had used in the past.

They saw planes flying overhead and an amber glow in the distance, an indication that Iraqi positions were being bombed, clearing the way for their upcoming attack.

But on the night of March 19, 2003, five years ago this week, Scott, a 2000 Pahrump Valley High School graduate and a corporal in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, knew the invasion of Iraq was for real.

"Even the day they said we were going in, in the morning, because of the way it was going down, we said, 'Yeah, right. Let's go ahead and throw our packs on,' and the next thing, we actually drove out in the desert, and we hadn't done that yet," Scott, now a Nye County deputy sheriff, said. "Next thing it was dark and you see all these planes going by and you look at your buddies and think this is no joke, we're going."

Scott's company went all the way to just south of Baghdad. He served only seven months in Iraq before rotating out to another assignment.

"We were supposed to go in, take care of the Iraqi Republican Guard, the basic military thing. You do what Marines do -- you go in, take care of business, then go home," Scott said.

While the invasion went pretty quickly and Saddam Hussein was soon toppled from power, it's been more difficult to keep the peace. Scott said his company wasn't instructed to stop the looting that followed soon after Americans invaded Iraq.

"We were told, don't go in and stop people. But if they were shooting people, that's a different story. They didn't expect it to happen all of a sudden, all this looting that took place," Scott said.

That was one of the steps taken in the Iraq invasion that could've been done differently, he said in hindsight.

"The initial border crossing, the Iraqi-Kuwait border crossing, was kind of a somber experience because they had leveled it so much, all you saw was burnt vehicles," Scott said. "As we started going in deeper, we found out Saddam had a group called the Fedayeen. Apparently they were his special forces."

The Fedayeen, dressed in black, were Saddam's initial suicide bombers, who would attack until they were dead, Scott said. Marines also found some fighters disguised in traditional women's clothing, dressed from top to bottom in a traditional black robe, he said.

The Marines faced mostly scattered mortar shots until they arrived in the town of an-Nasiriyah. Nye County residents got a personal feel for the war, when U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Pokorney Jr., a 1989 Tonopah High School graduate, was one of nine Marines killed in a March 23 ambush.

"That was a pretty big experience because that was one of the first big fights that we had, a lot of Shiite Muslims," Scott said. "That's where they hit us the most. We hadn't experienced nothing yet, like those guys with the mortar rounds, that wasn't even that big of a deal because there were so many of us."

Scott said members of the Iraqi Republican Guard who wanted to surrender walked out naked to show they didn't have any weapons. The Iraqis gave the Marines good intelligence information about terrorists wearing vest bombs, weapons caches and soldiers dressed like civilians with AK-47s.

Scott said when Marines crossed the Diyala River, a lieutenant, who swam across and cleared the area at great personal risk to his own safety, received the Bronze Star.

"Once we got on the other side we were able to establish a good foothold and do pretty good, and after that we ended up located at al-Hillah. That was basically where we lived for the next couple months,' Scott said. "They had the Medina Division of the Republican Guard in that area. It was a really nice area, a lot of really nice people too."

The initial invasion was quick. Scott said they were so busy it was 40 days before they showered.

"The invasion was fast paced. That was because, in my opinion, they had an excellent entering strategy. Because I tell you what, our force was huge. We were spread all across the border. They had a really good entrance strategy. We went in obviously a lot better equipped than they were.

"The initial go-through was a breeze for us, but then when we started getting into Iraq, past the towns, it started to not become so. You had people like the Fedayeen coming at you, people like the Republican Guard, who had guns and wanted to fight. You still had to go into buildings and fight."

"We went so fast that even the supply unit had a hard time keeping up, because we were pushing so fast. In my opinion that's why I'm here, because I had hundreds of other brothers in front of me and behind me and to my left and right," he said.

Things began to change though, as American troops settled into Iraq and terrorists began attacking.

"What started to happen, we started getting those IED bombs. We didn't experience that in the initial push. Then all of a sudden, if you ran into a Coke can on the highway it might explode," Scott said. "We didn't have a briefing on IEDs, didn't know what they were."

Scott said his Marine company found a mass grave site in al-Hillah, which gave evidence of Saddam's massacres that led to his execution.

"It was kind of tense because we were there on a war thing. There were a lot of kids that wanted to shake our hands while we were on patrol," Scott said. "It was consistent patrol because you didn't know what was going to happen. All of a sudden something would blow up. Now your senses are heightened again."

Scott said the 372nd Military Police Company arrived, the company that moved detainees over to the later infamous Abu Ghraib prison, Scott said.

"Come to find out, these guys were in the National Guard. We were just floored," Scott said. "We were shocked. Don't you mean you're supposed to be at home helping with disasters, or if someone attacks America, you're there?"

Scott said he looked at his Marine Corps buddy and remarked, "This is going to be a long war."