Poppa Fox

I have written on several occasions about the Purple Foxes. It is a Marine Corps helicopter squadron formerly known as HMM-364, now redesignated VMM-364 to reflect transition to the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The squadron’s first aircraft was the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter, and its first designation was HML-364, which stands for Light Marine Helicopter. The Purple Foxes were deployed several times to South Vietnam, remaining there until 1966 when the squadron was ordered back to MCAS El Toro to transition from the H-34 to the CH-46 Sea Knight. In October 1967, HMM-364 returned to Vietnam and participated in combat operations at Phu Bai and Marble Mountain. Toward the end of the Vietnam War, the Purple Foxes participated in the evacuation of Saigon. During the war, HMM-364 flew 70,000 hours in combat and combat support missions. HMM-364 was decommissioned on March 22, 1971.

The Purple Foxes were reactivated on September 28, 1984. Between then and now, HMM/VMM-364 has participated in numerous non-combat and combat missions, from Desert Shield and Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom.

Poppa Fox is how the Marines of HMM-364 referred to their commanding officer. In 1969, the squadron commander was Eugene Brady who served in the Marine Corps from 1946 to 1980. While commanding HMM-364, Colonel Brady was awarded the Navy Cross:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to

Lieutenant Colonel Eugene R. Brady, United States Marine Corps

for extraordinary heroism and intrepidity in action while serving as Commanding Officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) — 364, Marine Aircraft Group SIXTEEN (MAG-16), First Marine Aircraft Wing, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 15 May 1969, Lieutenant Colonel Brady launched as Aircraft Commander of a transport helicopter assigned the mission of medically evacuating several seriously wounded Marines from an area northwest of An Hoa in Quang Nam Province. Arriving over the designated location, he was advised by the ground commander that the vastly outnumbered unit was surrounded by the enemy, some as close as thirty meters to the Marines’ positions. Fully aware of the dangers involved, and despite rapidly approaching darkness and deteriorating weather conditions, Lieutenant Colonel Brady elected to complete his mission. As he commenced a high-speed, low-altitude approach to the confined zone, he came under a heavy volume of hostile automatic weapons fire which damaged his aircraft but did not deter him from landing. During the considerable period of time required to embark the casualties, the landing zone was subjected to intense enemy mortar fire, several rounds of which landed perilously close to the transport, rendering additional damage to the helicopter. However, Lieutenant Colonel Brady displayed exceptional composure as he calmly relayed hostile firing positions to fixed-wing aircraft overhead and steadfastly remained in his dangerously exposed position until all the wounded men were safely aboard. Demonstrating superb airmanship, he then executed a series of evasive maneuvers as he lifted from the fire-swept zone, and subsequently delivered the casualties to the nearest medical facility. His heroic and determined actions inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in saving the lives of eight fellow Marines. By his courage, superior aeronautical ability, and unfaltering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, Lieutenant Colonel Brady upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

When Colonel Brady passed away in 2011, his squadron mates penned the following poem and dedicated it to him. I am reprinting it here with the greatest respect for its authors and the Marines of VMM-364.

Flying West
Dedicated to Colonel Eugene “Papa Fox” Brady

Colonel Eugene R. Brady, USMC (Deceased)
Colonel Eugene R. Brady, USMC (Deceased)

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go when they have to die –
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer,
For a friend and a comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can treat,
Nor a management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go,
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before …
And they’d call out your name as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad.”

And then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy.
You had not seen for years, though he taught you to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.”
“For this is the place where true flyers come,
When the journey is over, and the war has been won.
They’ve come here to at last be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management lone,
Politicians and lawyers, the feds and the noise,
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol’ boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest,
This is Heaven my son—you’ve passed your last test.”

Wings of Honor

Hospitalman Gary Norman Young, USN
Hospitalman Gary Norman Young, USN

This story begins with a young Hospital Man by the name of Gary Norman Young. Gary was attached for duty with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 364 (The Purple Foxes), one of the most decorated units in the Vietnam War. Gary was Navy Corpsman volunteer for medical evacuation missions. He knowingly put himself in harm’s way to help save the lives of seriously wounded combat Marines.

He was killed on February 7, 1969 while performing his hallowed life saving duty.

Years later, his daughter realized that her father had never received his combat aircrew wings and she wanted to correct that. She tracked down and contacted the men who served with The Purple Foxes with her father. In 2000, The Purple Foxes held a reunion in San Diego and Stephanie Hanson was invited to be their keynote speaker. During the reunion, Stephanie met the man who survived her father’s fatal crash. She also met the man who pulled his body from the wreckage.  She reminded these brave aviators that her father was still awaiting his aircrew insignia. What was needed, however, was proof that Gary Norman Young had flown the required five combat missions before his death.

In October 2002, Stephanie Hanson’s efforts on behalf of her father came to fruition; the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps (Aviation) personally awarded her her father’s Combat Aircrew Wings. She also met the flight surgeon whose duty it was to pronounce her father’s death. He told her that her father’s death was instantaneous —he never suffered in his final moments of life. There was another positive aspect to Stephanie’s efforts: former Marines were able to connect with one another after 33 years.

There is more to the story.

Captain J. J. Harris, USMC
Captain J. J. Harris, USMC

Stephanie Hanson remembered a young helicopter pilot she met as part of her quest to obtain her father’s aircrew wings. The pilot’s name was Jennifer J. Harris, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Class of 1996.

On 7 February 2006, Captain Jennifer J. Harris was a pilot with HMM-364. She was accustomed to flying her Sea Knight (CH-46) helicopter into the battlefield to pick up and evacuate wounded Marines. Many of these missions were performed at night. Her final flight was a daylight mission. She volunteered to transport a much-needed supply of blood to a forward location.

Captain Harris didn’t have to fly that mission. She was at the end of her third combat tour of duty,  and Captain Harris was getting ready to rotate back home. But Captain Harris was a Marine and Marines always accept challenges. Marines always run toward the sound of guns —always. Harris argued, “I want to fly one more mission in Iraq … in the daylight.” Captain Harris’ superiors agreed to let her fly.

Her bird was carrying more than blood supplies, however. It was also flying a United States flag in honor of Hospital man Gary Norman Young, United States Navy.

During her final mission, Captain Harris’ helicopter was shot out of the sky by an enemy rocket. Radio communication reflects that Harris maintained her professional demeanor throughout the emergency, but the aircrew was unable to put out the on-board fire, and Captain Harris was unable to prevent the helicopter from crashing into the ground. All six aircrew were killed upon impact … 38 years to the day that Gary Norman Young lost his life as a member of The Purple Foxes.

Winning Battles While Losing Wars

Bing WestAn essay by Bing West

This essay addresses why America is performing poorly in 21st Century warfare. War is the act of destroying and killing until the enemy is broken morally, and no longer resists our policy objectives. But President Obama eschews the war he claims to be fighting. Our generals have imposed rules of engagement that lengthen war and increase civilian casualties. Our enemies do not fear us, and our friends do not trust us. America is fighting a war without direction or leadership.

Policy Planning

We invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq with inchoate plans and inadequate forces to establish post-war security and governance. After winning the first battle in both countries, President George W. Bush offhandedly decided to build democratic nations, a task for which our State Department and USAID had no competence or interest. By default, the mission fell to our military, also without competence but with unflagging devotion and determination.

In both countries, our true enemies were rabid warriors determined to win or die. For us, the wars were limited —fought with few forces and many restraints. When the Islamists proved dedicated to an unlimited struggle, we reversed course and withdrew. True, President Bush did increase US forces in Iraq in 2007 and that stabilized the country. However, in 2008 he agreed with the sectarian, serpentine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw all American troops by 2011. He threw away his success.

When 2011 arrived, President Barack Obama went against the recommendations of the intelligence community, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Instead of politically maneuvering to keep a residual force to check al-Maliki’s dark instincts, Obama pulled out all our troops. He fulfilled Bush’s foolish promise. Al-Maliki then proceeded to oppress the Sunnis, leading to the reemergence of the extremists now called the Islamic State. Obama quit, but Bush made it easy for him to do so.

Mr. Obama claimed Afghanistan was the war that had to be won. But as in Iraq, he headed for the exit. To avoid a humiliating collapse before he departs the White House, he will keep perhaps eight thousand US troops there in 2016.

On balance, the results in Iraq or Afghanistan were not worth the costs in American casualties, money, and global influence. Several policy lessons may be drawn.

First, the Pentagon should project for the president the length of time to achieve a desired post-war end state. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that meant staying for twenty or more years. From the start, Bush failed to explain this to the public. He did not even try to set the conditions in Congress and in the press for a long-term presence, as in South Korea.

Second, if our troops are killing and dying because the indigenous troops are not capable enough to stand on their own, then our commanders have the right and the obligation to select the leaders of those local forces. American diplomats chose Karzai and Maliki behind the scenes. Both choices were disasters. Yet due to unthinking allegiance to the word “democracy,” we allowed those solecistic, incompetent “elected” leaders to promote whom they chose within the ranks of the police, military, and other government agencies. Like Great Britain before us, we were a colonial power. Unlike the Brits, we did not select the commanders of the indigenous armies we were training, equipping, and paying.

Third, we granted sanctuaries to the enemy. Our military after Vietnam had vowed never again to fight such a war. But we forgot that vow. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy al-Qaeda. In December of 2001, the core of that organization and its top leaders were trapped in a mountainous region called Tora Bora. Rather than employ a nearby Marine brigade and special operations forces, the American commander, General Tommy Franks, relied upon Afghan warlords whose motley troops allowed the al-Qaeda force to move across the border into Pakistan. That was a grave, unforced military error. Then, in a triumph of legalism over common sense, Bush decided not to cross the border in hot pursuit to destroy the fleeing terrorists.

Afghanistan steadily deteriorated after that. Yet we persisted for fourteen years in fighting an enemy while giving him a 1,500-mile-long sanctuary. Similarly, we knew where the al-Qaeda safe houses were in Syria, just across the border from Iraq. But we didn’t bomb them. We granted our enemy sanctuary.

Fourth, in such countries we should influence the politics through covert means, just as we did in Europe after World War II and occasionally during the Cold War. This includes channeling money, communications channels, and ease of transportation. Politics determines who gets what, when, and why. We fight wars to shape political ends. Influencing indigenous politics during a war should be a goal, not an out-of-bounds marker.

Fifth, we decided not to capture our enemy. In the twentieth century, many more combatants were captured than killed. Today, we don’t capture anyone. The gross pictures from Abu Ghraib, the political storm over water-boarding and Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and prosecute terrorists as criminals forced our military to turn over all captured enemies to corrupt Iraqi and Afghan officials. Most of those once in prison are now free, while the wars continue. Our troops call it “catch and release.” America has no comprehensible judicial system for war in the twenty-first century.

Sixth, we remain at war rhetorically, while refusing to fight with determination. How do we fight? The administration launches one or two drone strikes each month. White House spokesmen have bragged that the president routinely reviews dossiers and selects those to be killed. A commander in chief deciding upon a war fighting tactic calls into question management priorities. It also signals incapacity to think strategically, illustrating that he views war as a set of morally wrenching discrete decisions to kill about one hundred enemies each year.

Occasionally, the White House will supplement the drone strikes with a raid by our special operations forces, especially the SEALs. This garners huge favorable press, projecting an image of American superstar invulnerability. No wonder each SEAL vies to receive the most publicity. Distributing photos of the entire National Security Council mesmerized by the video of a squad raid encapsulates a strategic instinct to focus on the capillaries.

War is the act of relentlessly destroying and killing until the enemy is broken physically and morally, and no longer resists the advancement of our policy objectives. By that definition, Obama eschews war. He has declared the Islamic State will be destroyed. But his actions belie his words.

Seventh, our feckless war fighting policies over the past seven years have gravely diminished the respect of our adversaries and the trust of our friends. We refused to provide Ukraine with weapons after the Russians invaded. After declaring a “red line” if Assad used chemical weapons, Obama asked Russia to help him out. Now Russian aircraft in Syria are bombing the rebels Obama armed in the hope of overthrowing Assad. In Iraq, Iranian troops have replaced American troops. Obama’s retort is that both Iran and Russia won’t achieve anything more than he did. At the same time, Obama signed a nuclear agreement with Iran and lifted sanctions, without submitting a treaty to the Senate. In sum, Russia and Iran have undermined American credibility and military power in the Middle East, while China steals on a gigantic scale in cyberspace and exerts control over the South China Sea.

Currently, America has ceased to be the major power-player in the Middle East. Unless confronted by an absolute disaster, Obama will finish out his presidency without applying any more force than occasional bombing against the Islamic State. Russia and Iran will remain the more dominant military actors, along with the Islamic State. Under Iranian influence, Iraq will remain at war, divided between the Shiite and Sunni areas.

Fighting the War

We have done a miserable job at policy planning. But how are we doing on the battlefield? How do we fight that is really different from the twentieth century?

The most obvious difference is our overwhelming conventional superiority. That was clear when we took back Kuwait in 1991. It was reinforced in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003. The world has never seen the likes of it. Yes, Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon … there have been numerous victorious armies and conquests. But none like this, none with such global reach and so few casualties.

What happened here, and why? In the twentieth century, the major wars were fought on an industrial scale. The combatants on opposing sides possessed the same sets of conventional weapons —machine guns, artillery, tanks, ships, vehicles, and aircraft. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, only America could quickly, and at low cost, destroy all those weapons possessed by any other country.

Why? Because for a brief period —two or three decades?— our military technology had outstripped the rest of the world. The Soviet Union had collapsed, China had not caught up, and no other hostile nation was remotely in our technological league. Most telling was our leap forward in air-to-ground surveillance, detection, and destruction. Militaries cannot move or be supplied without vehicles. Every artillery tube, every internal engine, every human face emits heat that shines like a spotlight. Use any computer or cell phone, walk outdoors, drive down a road —and someone above is watching, electronically or physically. Our air-to-ground surveillance and firepower are astonishing.

Yet we did not win the battles, much less the wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Simple: the enemy adapted. He took off his uniform and used our morality and befuddlement as jiu-jitsu to overcome our technological advantages. By hiding among the people, he was safe from our firepower. The enemy lived in the cities and villages, or hid across the border, coming together in small groups and choosing when and where to initiate contact against our patrols. The Vietnam-era tactic of fire and maneuver has gone away. Our troops wear armor and gear weighing about ninety pounds. They cannot run a hundred meters without being exhausted. So when the enemy shoots, a patrol gets down and returns a vicious volume of aimed fire. Except you rarely see a target, because the enemy isn’t stupid. He has selected a covered position before opening fire. Most firefights last less than fifteen minutes, because once a gunship or aircraft comes overhead, the enemy is doomed. So he shoots and scoots. Thus the war goes on and on, because the enemy will not commit suicide by massing or wearing uniforms.

The Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan did not fight fiercely and stand their ground against our troops. Our training, shooting skills and firepower were overwhelming. The enemy may have been a farm boy, a terrorist from Yemen, a former Iraqi soldier, a youth from a Pakistani madras, a Taliban from Kabul —whomever. They all learned to stay about four hundred meters away from American troops, because every grunt now has a telescopic sight and most are qualified as expert riflemen.

The suicide bomber was a threat to our vehicles and fixed outposts. But it never expanded into an enormous threat. The YouTube videos posted by the Islamic State from the 2015 battles in Iraq suggest an exponential growth. From anecdotal evidence, it appears the suicidal truck bomber is as much a threat as was the kamikaze during the Okinawa campaign in 1945.

There was no solution to the improvised explosive device (IED). There were hundreds of thousands of them, because mixing fuel and fertilizer and packing them into a plastic jug is too easy ever to be stopped. IEDs have to be tolerated on a battlefield just as is a rifle. It’s a simple tool and therefore commonplace. We shouldn’t forget that in Vietnam, we lost over 10,000 killed to mines and booby traps—20 percent of all our fatalities.

What was new in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was not the profusion of the IED/land mine; instead, it was the reduction in the number of American fatalities. Much has been written about “the magic hour,” meaning: get every wounded to an aid station within sixty minutes. True, the ratio of injured to killed dropped from 4-to-1 in Vietnam to 7-to-1 in Iraq. The underlying reason was better training in life-saving drilled into every squad, along with the tourniquet. Most wounded die from exsanguination. They bleed out because the tourniquet is inadequate. Not anymore. The modern tourniquet with its twist and snap is as much a breakthrough for the grunt as was the stirrup for the horse rider.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the doctrine of counterinsurgency prevailed. Practically, this meant our troops patrolled by walking about three miles a day in heavy gear in formations of fifteen to twenty men. The idea was to clear a populated area of the enemy by walking around repeatedly. Once the enemy pulled out or was killed, the friendly platoon or company would hold that area until Iraqi or Afghan forces were capable of holding it on their own. The local forces, in conjunction with local officials, were then to use American funds to build projects in order that the people would see a material reason for supporting their government.

Militarily, the goal was to win over the people. Thus, rules of engagement were designed to place severe limits upon the use of indirect firepower (mortars, artillery, rockets, or bombs). Even one civilian casualty caused bitter complaints, although the Islamists were responsible for three out of four killed or wounded.

On our side, there was a yin and yang to a war that had no endpoint. Over the last four years in Afghanistan, it became common for a platoon commander to say, “My mission is to get every one of my men back home in one piece.” Why risk your men when no one could tell you what defined victory? Why go across a field after taking some fire to check out the compound, when you could call in indirect fire? The incentive at the patrol level was to call in indirect fire.

On the yang side, the incentive of the senior commanders was not to allow indirect fire. The longer we stayed, the more frustrated the top command became with the lack of population cooperation. Every civilian casualty translated into some official complaining. So the more rigorous became the rules, especially in Afghanistan. It finally got to the point that the word of the forward air controller (FAC) on the ground was not good enough. The pilot was required to cross-examine the FAC before executing the mission, and a lawyer and/or another pilot back in an operations center miles away also had to authorize the strike.

Today, eight out of ten US attack aircraft return from missions over Islamic State territory without striking any target. To do so, the pilot needs the permission of a senior American officer in an operations center hundreds of miles away. This enormous caution —and expense— to protect the lives of every civilian is unprecedented in history. Only the richest country in the world can do it. However, it gravely slows down the pace of a war and allows the enemy to recuperate indefinitely.

These rules of engagement cannot be sustained when we again fight an enemy who can and does kill us. So far in the twenty-first century, our helicopters and aircraft have been almost invulnerable. Our losses have been very, very small. Similarly, our forces on the ground have not been under pressure. They are not attacked by doughty infantry in full battalions like the North Vietnamese, supported by heavy artillery. When we again fight heavy, sustained battles on a large scale, some commanders claim we can change these highly restrained rules of engagement at the snap of the fingers. More likely, the rules have sapped the aggressive spirit the high command must share with the warriors on the battlefield.

Lastly and regrettably, I must mention the growing trend of victimhood. Our society does not celebrate and single out the heroes. Instead, it tries to compensate those who psychologically or physically did not return home able to fully cope. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides some level of health care for less than half of our veterans. A minority of veterans use the VA. If all who had served turned to the VA for medical assistance, the VA system would collapse.

Yet the VA is now reporting that more 40 percent of all individuals getting out of the service after four years —and the wars essentially are over— apply for compensation for mental or physical injury. During the Vietnam War, the VA had five injury categories; today, it has seventeen. The more free money is available, the more will apply for that money. What does that do to the internal morale of a service when some in every squad put in claims, and others do not?

Summary

In summary, our enemies do not fear us and our friends do not trust us. Sensible steps can turn that around, but that depends upon the next commander in chief. So far in the twenty-first century, due to our vast wealth and technologies, we have not been sorely tested. Our beloved nation does not have a martial spirit, and perhaps does not need one. It does need a military inculcated with a warrior spirit.

Our largest deficit is national will. Consider our actions over the past decade. In 2004, we destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in order to root Islamist terrorists. Then in 2011, we pulled our troops out of Iraq, despite predictions that Iraq would fall apart. In 2009, we demanded Assad leave power in Syria, but did not use military force to accomplish our demand. In the resulting civil war partially caused by our blunders, Islamist terrorists seized half of Syria and Iraq.

In November of 2015, the Islamists —now called ISIS or ISIL— massacred 130 civilians in Paris. But the American political system was unable to unite behind committing forces, as we did in Fallujah a decade ago. Why? Our commander-in-chief has rejected deploying Americans in ground combat, because he believes eternal war is the nature of the Muslim Middle East. He refuses to utter the word ‘Islamist terrorist.’ So does the Democratic contender to be our next commander-in-chief. The Republican candidates are divided. Our Congress will not even debate a resolution to authorize the use of ground forces, for fear of how the vote would affect re-election.

President Bush rashly overstepped in extending war to include nation-building. President Obama ideologically retreated by imposing restraints that encouraged our enemies. Congress proved irrelevant, lacking the cohesion to play its Constitutional role in declaring for —or against— war. As 2015 ends, a leaderless America is drifting. That should scare us all.

Bing West is a former combat Marine and an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.  He has written nine books about war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Another Good Read

The First Marine Division is the ground combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force; the same division that had fought on Guadalcanal, at Khe Sanh, and in the retaking of Kuwait. In 2003, the 1stMarDiv was assigned to participate in the invasion of Iraq and the taking of its capital city, Baghdad. The March Up (to Baghdad) would take these Marines 740 miles across a hot and dangerous desert —they would do it in record time. Speed, as one expert noted, was the division’s best tool in overwhelming the enemy. Telling the story of The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines are two contract writers who had unprecedented access to Marines and their commanders —both of whom are retired Marines: Colonel Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith.

Francis J. “Bing” West served as an infantry officer during the Vietnam War, first as the platoon leader of a mortar platoon, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, later with a Combined Action Platoon that fought for 485 days in a remote village, and also as a member of the Marine Corps reconnaissance team that initiated “Operation Stingray”: initiating small unit attacks behind enemy lines. Colonel West also served as Under Secretary of Defense (International Security) in the Reagan Administration. He has been to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times and has written nine books about his experiences as a US Marine.

General Smith also served in Vietnam, and since then commanded infantry units at all levels. He is entitled to wear the Navy Cross, Silver Star (2 awards), Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medal (3 awards). While on active duty, General Smith served as Executive Officer 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Base, Japan, and Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division.

The March Up takes the reader directly to front line action as the Marines, under the leadership of a man West describes as a werewolf on the battlefield, (then) Major General James A. Mattis, attempts to achieve their objectives before the Iraqi Army can organize a cogent defense. West and Smith use the Army command’s order to halt in place for resupply as a primary example of the cultural differences between the two services. General Mattis didn’t have time for stacking BBs; what he needed in terms of logistics support, he carried with him.

The sixty or so years of combined military experience enable authors West and Smith to understand the strategy and tactics of the Marine advance. They tell us what went right, and what went wrong. No other journalists had such unfettered access to infantry leaders; no one else had the mobility to cover the entire battle area. No other writers had as sophisticated an understanding of what was unfolding before them. Throughout the march to Baghdad, West and Smith observed eighteen separate combat units in the 1stMarDiv, and this enabled them to capture a dramatic and personal account of how the Marines fought this battle.

West Smith CoverThey also tell us of the unspeakable cruelty of war. Struggling to cross the Diyala River, the Marines find their first significant opposition. The number of bridges is limited; the Marines need pontoon crossings to help propel them forward. Searching for type equipment, the Marines encounter an Iraqi tanker truck and fire upon it, killing its operators, only to discover later that the Iraqi men were unarmed. The authors want us to understand that senseless tragedies are all too common in war; what happened there is emblematic of what is meant by the term, “fog of war.” Combat troops don’t know what they don’t know —but their lives depend on making snap decisions.

The March Up is about war, and death: the death of the enemy and the innocent. It is about death by lethal fire, and death by accident. How do our warriors deal with this day after day? How do Marines deal with the killing of carloads of civilians, who in their enthusiasm to get out of the way of clashing forces, race their family sedan toward Marines barricades, forcing the Marines to “open up” on them? Knowing what happened today, how do our Marines prepare themselves for the next day’s operations?

The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines —only $11.00 on Kindle, or free in your local library.

Injured —he led the attack

The Marine later recounted of Fallujah, “Man … when you drove past that place, you didn’t even want to look at it. You could feel the presence of evil in there.” In November 2005, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) joined thousands of other coalition forces in an attack upon Fallujah. They called it Operation Phantom Fury and it was the largest combined assault since the invasion of Iraq. The attack was preceeded by warplanes attempting to pouund the city into submission, and then in a driving rain, the Marines moved in.

Iraq 2004At the time, Corporal Jeremiah Workman was serving as a squad leader in a mortar platoon. For 17 days, Marines hunkered in the mud at the northwest corner of the city lobing shells at the positions of enemy insurgents. There was nothing personal to this, Workman recalled. It was a fire mission; Marines carry out their assigned mission.

By mid-December, the Marines had conquered most of Fallugah and the need for mortar fire gave way to the need for security patrols. Workman’s platoon was split into two sectoins and sent our searching houses, looking for weapons. On 22 December, the other half of the platoon found themselves in a nasty firefight and Workman recalled, “When they came back in, everyone looked as though they’d been in a fire.” The next day, Workman’s section was assigned to go out; “We all had this gut feeling that the next day, we’re gonna get in some sort of fight.”

Workman was right.

The next morning, Workman was assigned to command ten Marines and they took the right side of the street, while Sergeant Jarrett Kraft commanded the Marines on the other side of the street. It didn’t take long before the Marines were finding weapons and ammunition, seized it, and placed it in a HUMVEE that followed along. When the Marines entered the third house, Workman heard the sound of machinegun fire from across the street. Sergeant Kraft had discovered a group of heavily armed insurgents. They had found the evil.

Workman remembered being scared for two long seconds. “It was a man check,” he said, “but I’m a corporal in the Marine Corps, and my Marines are looking for leadership.” So he led his Marines toward the sound of the guns.

Detailing some of his Marines to guard the entrance to the house, Workman entered the bulding where a lieutenant informed him that there were Marines trapped on the second floor. Workman and his Marines formed a stack behind the lieutenant at the foot of the stairwell, and on the count of three Workman ran up the steps to the first landing. His body was surrounded by the snap of lethal rounds, and when he arrived on the landing, he discovered that he was alone. None of the others had followed him up the stairs. It was a matter of miscommunication, so Workman had to go back down the stairs again, reform the stack, and make a second charge. He had almost reached the top when a grenade bounced off the stairs and exploded. Everyone was hit, but every Marine responded, “good to go.”

Workman and his Marines advanced up the stairs firing at the insurgents, who had baracaded themselves into one of the bedrooms. By then, two of the Marines he had come to rescue were laying dead and the Marines are nearly out of ammo … so they retreated to a patch just outside the house to reload. Just then, a Marine stumbled out of the yard to the house next door. “He was covered with blood —he looked like a zombie, and he just fell over.” said Workman. The corporal grabbed the Marine and dragged him down the street to where medical corpsmen were working on the wounded behind the cover of a couple of HUMVEEs. Meanwhile, insurgents began concentrating their fire from the second floor. Behind the vehicles, Workman found two Marines in his platoon; it looked like they needed medical help, so he called out to the corpsman, “Doc … get up here.”

The corpsman hollered back, “They’re okay.”

“No damn it,” Workman shouted, “Get your ass up here right now!”

“Those Marines are dead, Workman … now clear out,” the corpsman shouted back.

Workman later said, “It was the first time I had ever seen a dead Marine up close; it was as if someone flipped a switch and I was suddenly pissed off.”

Workman ran back to the house, which was now in total darkness and the air clogged with smoke. Leading a third charge up the stairs, Workman encountered a second grenade and the explosion knocked almost everyone down. Workman pulled out a grenade of his own and tossed it into the room where the insurgents remained barracaded and just then, the company commander grabbed Workman by the helmet and pulled him out of the house. An M-1A1 tank had arrived.

Vengence is mine, sayeth the Lord.

Navy Cross MedalFor extraordinary heroism while serving as Squad Leader, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 23 December 2004. During clearing operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Workman displayed exceptional situational awareness while organizing his squad to enter a building to retrieve isolated Marines inside. Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapons fire, and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly exposed himself and laid down a base of fire that allowed the isolated Marines to escape. Outside the house, he rallied the rescued Marines and directed fire onto insurgent positions as he aided wounded Marines in a neighboring yard. After seeing these Marines to safety, he led another assault force into the building to eliminate insurgents and extract more Marines. Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs. Corporal Workman continued to provide intense fire long enough to recover additional wounded Marines and extract them from the besieged building. Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman’s heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

 

 

About Helicopters

“The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its nature wants to fly and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly.

“A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls, working in opposition to each other; and if there is any disturbance in the delicate balance, the helicopter stops flying immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.

“This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot; and why, in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooders, introspective anticipators of trouble.

“They know if anything bad has not happened, it is about to.”

—Harry Reasoner, ABC Evening News, 16 February 1971

Hot LZ 001What Mr. Reasoner said is absolutely true. Piloting a helicopter takes a skill set few on this earth are capable of, but it takes even more than that to pilot it under harsh conditions. Equally difficult was the entire process of adapting this ungainly aircraft to sophisticated military operations, but the military’s success in achieving this seems apparent by the number of our warrior’s lives saved by skillfully flown helicopters, from resupplying them with much needed munitions in order to continue the fight, to evacuating our wounded to field hospitals. No matter what mission our helicopter pilots undertake, it is exceedingly dangerous work.

The process has always been evolutionary, beginning with the question, “How might we use these machines to enhance our combat capabilities?”

HO3S 002The Marines took possession of its first two helicopters on 9 February 1948. The Sikorsky HO3S was a fragile airframe with significantly limited performance parameters, but it was a start. When the Korean War broke out, Marines were scrambling to put together a provisional brigade to help shore up Army units in Korea pushed all the way south to the end of the peninsula —the Pusan Perimeter. Until the arrival of the Marines, led by Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, the Korean issue was in doubt. General Craig took with him a seriously understrength regiment, but also a Marine Air Group consisting of three fighter squadrons and one observation squadron, VMO-6. The observation squadron operated eight fixed-wing light aircraft and four HOS3-1 helicopters.

General Craig could not have been happier with these new airframes. As he later reported, “Marine Helicopters have proven invaluable. They have been used for every conceivable type of mission. The Brigade utilized helicopters for liaison, reconnaissance, evacuation of wounded, rescue of Marine flyers downed in enemy territory, observation, messenger service, guard mail at sea, posting and supplying out-guards on dominating terrain, and the resupply of small units by air.”

Nevertheless, the early helicopters were somewhat limited in their lift capability, an important lesson for Marines because of the battle of the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir. In the frigid conditions of North Korea, early helicopters barely achieved 5,000 feet in altitude in an area where mountains reached from between 4,600 and 6,000 feet in above sea level.

Sikorsky HOS4 001In 1948, the Marines hoped to activate two assault/transport helicopter squadrons by 1954, but the Korean War accelerated this timetable by a wide margin. The Marines settled on the HOS4, an airframe severally designated for service with the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard, and the Army-Air Force. Used by both the Army and Marine Corps in the Korean War, the Marines called their version of this helicopter the HRS-1.

With the Korean War now in full swing, the Marine Corps expanded its requirements from two helicopter squadrons to four; each of these would receive the HRS-1 helicopter pictured immediately above. When HMR-161 went to Korea, it had two primary missions: combat operations, and testing and evaluation of the concept for employing of vertical lift aircraft. By late 1953, the Marine Corps had more experience in helicopter operations, possessed more helicopters, more trained pilots and crewmen, than any other military organization in the world. There is a reason for this: the National Security Act of 1947 made the Marine Corps responsible for developing phases of amphibious operations that pertained to tactics, techniques, and equipment used by the landing forces. Their acquired expertise is what led Marine helicopter squadrons to Vietnam

Over the next ten years, US politicians shifted their attentions from Korea to a place hardly anyone had ever heard of: Vietnam. What was evolving there was quite complex. The French, badly defeated by the North Vietnamese forces in 1954, were going home—a fact that left the Republic of South Vietnam with a weak military posture. To help shore up the South Vietnamese defense establishment, the United States began to send mentors to help train, organize, and advise the South Vietnamese military leadership. A small number of Marines participated in joint staff, communications, and advisory roles—particularly those advising the emerging Vietnamese Marines (RVMC).

Piasecki_h-21As part of the military assistance mission to South Vietnam, the United States provided Army aviation companies (helicopter). In late 1961, the Army operated two companies equipped with the Piasecki[1] H-21 tandem rotor aircraft. While capable of transporting ten fully equipped assault troops and crew, the H-21 proved only marginally suited to service in a high humidity environment, and only slightly suitable for night operations.

By the end of 1961, General Paul D. Harkins (Commanding MAAG, Vietnam) realized that he needed additional helicopter assets; he requested two additional aviation companies. While the JCS approved a third aviation company, for Vietnam, the JCS indicated some reservations about continued use of the H-21. They directed the Commander in Chief, Pacific to review total requirements for helicopter operations in Vietnam. Admiral Felt made two recommendations: first, that the JCS approve a fourth aviation company for Vietnam, and second, the assignment of Marine helicopter pilots to augment Army aviation companies.

The problem with Admiral Felt’s recommendation was that Marine Corps pilots were not familiar with the operation of the H-21 tandem rotor helicopter, nor were Marine pilots sufficiently familiar with the Army’s aviation standardization procedures. In the meantime, an additional aviation company in Oklahoma received a warning order to begin preparing for deployment to South Vietnam.

General Harkins, having assigned the 93rd Aviation Company to Da Nang, requested cancellation of the fourth aviation company and instead asked for a Marine Corps helicopter squadron for operations within the Mekong Delta. “When the tempo of operations permit, the Marine Corps squadron will be relocated to I Corps and the 93rd Company to III Corps,” Harkins said.

Sikorsky UH-34D 001Rapid deployment is what Marines do for a living, so it was no surprise to learn that there were two squadrons available to General Harkins within a very short time. The first was HMM 362[2] (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362). HMM-362 had been part of the Special Landing Force (SLF) aboard the USS Princeton (LPH-5) patrolling the South China Sea. HMM-261 was also available, but ordered to an emergency deployment in Thailand.

HMM-362 became the lead element of OPERATION SHUFLY, arriving at Soc Trang, south of the city of Saigon, for operations in the Mekong Delta on 15 April 1962. The squadron lifted their first troops into battle on 22 April 1962 —the first Marine Corps combat unit to serve in Vietnam. Before their re-designation in 1969, HMM-362 participated in operations at Ky Ha, Marble Mountain, Hue, and Phu Bai. They also supported operations from the sea while serving aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2), USS Okinawa (LPH-3), and USS Princeton (CV-37/LPH-5).

V22-OspreyIf Mr. Reasoner thought helicopters were different sixty-six years ago, then they have become more so since 2005 when the Marine Corps accepted their first V-22 Osprey. The first two squadrons of this type of aircraft were designated Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Squadron (VMM)-263 and VMM-266.

 

 

Notes:

[1] Frank Piasecki (1918-2008) was an aeronautical engineer and the man that pioneered tandem rotor helicopter designs and developed the concept of vectored thrust through the use of a ducted propeller.

[2] HMM-362 would later receive the CH 53 helicopter and the new designation HMH. They called themselves the Ugly Angels.

The Lion of Fallujah

“Be a man of principle. Fight for what you believe in. Keep your word. Live with integrity. Be brave. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Serve your country. Teach. Mentor. Give something back to society. Lead from the front. Conquer your fears. Be a good friend. Be humble and self-confident. Appreciate your friends and family. Be a leader and not a follower. Be valorous on the field of battle. Take responsibility for your actions.”

—Major Douglas Alexander Zembiec, USMC

Major Zembiac 001These are noteworthy sentiments. We would expect to receive such advice from our father or grandfather, particularly if either had served in the military during time of war. But these are the thoughts of a 30-something officer who became known throughout the Marine Corps as the Lion of Fallujah. He was speaking to his Marines while in command of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines.

Fallujah was a troubling location from the outset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The community was a beneficiary of the economic policies of Saddam Hussein, there was hardly any unemployment in the city, but none of the people living in Fallujah seemed to be particularly loyal to Hussein, either. It was a traditional and very religious community.

US Army units entered the city in April 2003 and almost immediately, things started going downhill insofar as good relations with the inhabitants was concerned. Between 23 April and 28 April, 17 Iraqis were killed and 70 more injured when shooting erupted between US soldiers and protesting locals. Each side claimed that the other started the shooting. Three more deaths resulted from an incident near the Ba’ath Party headquarters. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment replaced the 82nd Airborne troops in June and they too came under attack. Insurant activity steadily increased through the end of March 2004, culminating on the murder of four Blackwater civilian contractors whose mutilated bodies were hung from a bridge. Marines were dispatched to Fallujah on 3 April 2004.

Then captain Zembiec and Echo Company was assigned to the Jolan District of Fallujah. His Marines were situated on a rooftop and they were taking fire from AK-47 semi-automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades. The Marines severally attempted to radio for support from an Abrams tank (below them) to fire on the enemy position, but they were unable to make contact. Suddenly, Zembiec leaped up and rand down the stairs, out into the street under a hail of enemy gunfire. From the rooftop above, Gunnery Sergeant Pedro Marrufo observed the captain leap upon the tank and was able to get the tank commander’s attention from inside. While under intense enemy fire, Zembiec directed the tank fire into the enemy position. Leading from the front is how Zembiec’s men remembered him.

In May 2007, Zembiec was serving with the CIA Special Activities Division in Iraq. He was leading a force of Iraqi soldiers, who he had helped train, and they were carrying out a raid in the dark of night. Moving into an alley, Zembiec saw something, or heard something, or sensed something … he quickly warned his troops to “get down.” And then a shot rang out from the darkness, and Doug Zembiec fell, mortally wounded. A firefight ensued, and when it was over, a radio report went out, “five wounded, one martyr.” Leading from the front —the hallmark of a true American hero; in keeping with his own advice: be valorous on the field of battle.

Major Zembiec was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates later remembered him with these words. “The crowd of more than 1,000 [at the funeral] included many enlisted Marines from his beloved Echo Company. An officer there told a reporter, ‘Your men have to follow your orders; they don’t have to attend your funeral.’ Every evening I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec. For you, and for me, they are not names on a press release, or numbers updated on a web page. They are our country’s sons and daughters. They are in a tradition of service that includes our forebears going back to the earliest days of the republic.”

Major Zembiec believed in something bigger than himself; it is how he lived his life; it is how he died. May God bless and keep him.