Thursday, March 24, 2005

Operation Gator Bait

Before deploying for Iraq the marines of the 1/7 were told of their final destination; for Alpha, Charlie, H and S, and most of Weapons companies......Al Qaim, for Baker company and part of Weapons........Husaybah. Al Qaim is known as the "wild west" of the Al Anbar Province, a place where smugglers rule and Baathists hid after the fall of Bagdad. The British were routed there in the early days of OIF1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom One), then the U.S. Army took a beating there before the marines of the 3/7 came and started getting the place in line. It seems the Iraqis believe that to become a U.S. Marine you must "kill and eat your mother", or so a fine bunch of young marines have heard. Husaybah is a few miles north of Al Qaim, and is the actual location of the Border Check Point on the Syrian border. The marines of Baker 1/7 had surely heard of how the 3/7 marines were ambushed and suffered large losses there a few months back. Husaybah loomed ominously before them as they rode in the helicopters from Al Asad to Al Qaim.

They arrived in Al Qaim over the first few days of September 2004. On their second day there three of their own were killed by an IED. Lcpl Wilt, 1st Lt. Winchester, and Captain Rowe, along with ( ) from 3/7, who was just two days from returning home, were killed while searching bridges for explosives. They had not yet developed the skills nor the senses necessary to detect and avoid IEDs. That particular terrorist devise was a fairly new development in the war, but was being used at a rapidly accelerating pace. The 1/7's deployment was off to a very rough start.

By the end of the first week in September all of Baker 1/7 had arrived by convoy in Husaybah. On September 15th Lcpl Uhles was killed by an IED. Two nights later Baker 1/7 launced Operation Gator Bait. All three platoons of infantryman, along with the Recon marines, were going into downtown Husaybah to "Get Some!". They loaded up into AAVs (Amphibious Assault Vehicles), also known as "Tracs", and drove through the worst parts of Husaybah hoping for a fight. The marines of 3rd fiireteam, 1st squad, 2nd platoon Baker company were in the lead Trac. Their job was simple.........upon engagement they were to carry spike strips and barricades to the rear of the firefight and deploy them in the street so no innocent civilians would drive into the fight zone. It wasn't long before a rocket shot a few feet over the top of the lead Trac as another rocket exploded against the side of another. The rear door/ramps opened and "dismount" was ordered. 1st squad ran the direction they were supposed to go, with team leader Lcpl Rodriques leading the way, followed by PFC Roe, then by Lcpl Cochran, with PFC Milke bringing up the rear. Milke had spike strips in one hand and a barricade in the other, his rifle slung across his chest, and a "dead bag" (all the stuff for taking "care" of detainees) on his back. The team moved rapidly up the road when an explosion directly in front of Milke enveloped the first three team members. Milke who had just become fast friends with Roe, was uninjured, recieving one small piece of shrapnel in his goggles, but was stunned and thought "My best friend just got blown up". As the dust cleared Milke saw a man on the ground and yelled "Man down! Corpsman up!" then went to assist Roe. Cochran had already ggotten himself up and checking assisting Roe, who was checking himself for missing body parts. Milke, Cochran, and the corpsman, Doc Wilder, helped Roe get to a protected area in a courtyard and prepared for the fight. Now free from the chore of placing spike strips they prepared to enter the fight.

It all happened so fast, instantaneously, chaotically. Dust, smoke, the sharp loud sounds of rifle fire, the dull pounding sound of the grenade launchers, explosive blasts from rockets, unintelligible loud voices shouting to be heard above the sounds or war, all battered the senses of the marines, especially the 19 year old who stood guard near his injured friend and the Doc. Doc Wilder could not find his scissors, so Milke pulled out his combat knife and sliced open Roe's blouse so Doc could look for critical wounds. Thankfully there were none evident. Milke saw "Hadjis" running across the road near the Tracs and fired a few rounds, then again saw the enemy and fired. Soon all was quiet, and the fight was over. Roe was loaded into a Trac and taken back to Camp Gannon as the marines of Baker 1/7 began a sweep of the neighborhood, rounding up every military aged male withing 3 blocks of th fight. Milke was thinking "That was the craziest 10 minutes of my life" and looked at his watch. Two hours had passed since the fight began. They rounded up numerous "suspects" and headed back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base), where the suspects would be questioned by the Human Exploitation Team, better knows as interrogation experts. Operation Gator Bait was a huge success, with no marines killed and many suspected insurgents captured.

Their first week in Husaybah was not even over and Baker One Seven had survived their first large firefight. Thus began their seven months in that extremely hostile city, which most Americans have never heard of nor the media reported on.


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