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Old 05-01-2003, 09:34 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2002
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Cool "Blood and Grunts"

'Heck of a day. Good kills'
Blood and grunts: To take Baghdad, marines of the Third Battalion fought the old-fashioned way, just as they'd been trained -- by shooting as many of the enemy as they could. Not all their victims were soldiers

Peter Maass
New York Times Magazine

As the war in Iraq is debated and turned into history, the emphasis will be on the role of technology -- precision bombing, cruise missiles, decapitation strikes. That was what was new.

But there was another side to the war, and it was the one that most of the fighting men and women in Iraq experienced, even if it wasn't what North Americans watching at home saw: raw military might, humans killing humans.

The Third Battalion, Fourth Marines was one of the rawest expressions of that might. It specializes in desert warfare, and its forces number about 1,500 troops, equipped during the war in Iraq with about 30 Abrams tanks and 60 armoured assault vehicles, backed up with whatever artillery and aircraft were required for its missions.

The battalion made the ground shake, quite literally, as it rumbled north from Kuwait through Iraq, beginning its march by seizing the Basra airport, continuing on past Nasiriyah, into the desert and through a sandstorm that turned the sky red and became, at its worst moments, a hurricane of sand that rocked armoured vehicles like toys nudged by a child's finger. On the way to Baghdad, the battalion also fought fierce but limited battles in Afaq and Diwaniya, 190 kilometres south of Baghdad, and in Al Kut, 160 kilometres from the Iraqi capital.

On April 6, three days before the fall of Baghdad, the battalion arrived at the Diyala bridge, a major gateway into the city's southeastern sector. The bridge crosses the Diyala River, which flows into the Tigris. Once across its 150-metre span, the Third Battalion would be just 14 kilometres from the centre of Baghdad. The bridge was heavily defended on the north side by Republican Guard and irregular forces, and the battle to seize and cross it took two days.

It was, in retrospect, a signal event in the war, a vivid example of the kind of brutal, up-close fighting that didn't get shown on cable TV.

The Third Battalion had a consistent strategy as it moved toward Baghdad: kill every fighter who refused to surrender. It was extremely effective. It allowed the battalion to move quickly. It minimized American casualties. But it was a strategy that came with a price, and that price was paid in blood on the far side of the Diyala bridge.

- - -

The unit's commander, Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy, had a calm bearing that never seemed to waver as he and his troops made their way through Iraq. His mood stayed the same, whether he was in battle or drinking his morning coffee or smoking a cigar; neither the tone nor the pace of his voice strayed from its steady-as-she-goes manner.

Perhaps his calm came from experience. His father was an Army officer in Vietnam. McCoy was born into the military and has lived in it for his entire life. This wasn't the first time he fought against Iraqi soldiers; he was a company commander during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

When I spoke to him on the southern side of the Diyala bridge soon after the battalion arrived there on the morning of April 6, he was in a serene mood. "Things are going well," he said. "Really well."

When Col. McCoy told you things were going well, it meant his marines were killing Iraqi fighters. That's what was happening as we exchanged pleasantries at the bridge. His armoured Humvee was parked 30 metres from the bridge. If one of the Republican Guard soldiers on the other side of the bridge had wanted to shout an insult across the river, he would have been heard -- were it not for the fact that Col. McCoy's battalion was lobbing so many bullets and mortars and artillery shells across the waterway that a shout could never have been heard, and in any event the Iraqis had no time for insults before dying. The only sound was the roar of death.

"Lordy," McCoy said. "Heck of a day. Good kills."

McCoy's objective was to kill or drive away enough of the forces on the north side of the river to let him move his men and equipment across. He had no doubt he would succeed.

He was sitting in the front seat of his Humvee, with an encrypted radio phone to his left ear. He had the sort of done-it-again pride in his voice that you hear from a business executive kicking back at the clubhouse as he tells you he beat par again. Two 67-tonne Abrams tanks lumbered past us and the earth shook, though not as much as it was shaking on the other side of the river, where American mortars were exploding, 150 metres away. The dark plumes of smoke that created a twilight effect at noon, the crumpled metal on the road, the flak-jacketed marines crouching and firing their weapons -- it was a day for connoisseurs of close combat, like the colonel.
"We're moving those tanks back a bit to take care of them over there," he explained, nodding to his right, where hit-and-run Iraqi fighters were shooting rocket-propelled grenades at his men, without success. Col. McCoy's assessment was Marine blunt: "We're killing 'em."

He turned his attention to the radio phone, updating his regiment commander. His voice remained calm. "Dark Side Six, Ripper Six," he said, using his call sign and his commander's. "We're killing them like it's going out of style. They keep reinforcing, these Republican Guards, and we're killing them as they show up. We're running out of ammo."

McCoy was not succumbing, in his plain talk of slaughter, to the military equivalent of exuberance, irrational or otherwise. For him, as for other officers who won the prize of front-line commands, this war was not about hearts and minds or even liberation. Those are amorphous concepts.

For Col. McCoy and the other officers who inflicted heavy casualties on Iraqis and suffered few of their own, this war was about one thing: killing anyone who wished to take up a weapon in defence of Saddam Hussein's regime, even if they were running away. Col. McCoy refers to it as establishing "violent supremacy."

"We're here until Saddam and his henchmen are dead," he told me at one point during his march on Baghdad. "It's over for us when the last guy who wants to fight for Saddam has flies crawling across his eyeballs. Then we go home.

"It's smashmouth tactics. Sherman said that war is cruelty. There's no sense in trying to refine it. The crueller it is, the sooner it's over."

When I suggested to Col. McCoy one morning that Iraqi civilians might not appreciate the manner in which his marines tended to say hello with the barrels of their guns raised, he did not make any excuses.

"They don't have to like us," he said. "Liking has nothing to do with it. You'll never make them like you. ... All we can do is make them respect us and then make sure that they know we're here on their behalf. Making them like us -- Yanks always want to be liked, but it doesn't always work out that way."

- - -

Though the fighting was lopsided, the marines did not get to the Diyala bridge unscathed. On April 3, three days before the battle for the bridge, the Third Battalion entered the town of Al Kut. The incursion was intended to convey the point that, as Col. McCoy described it, there were new "alpha males" in the country.

The attack began at dawn with an artillery barrage that had excited marines next to my vehicle. They yelled "Bam! Bam!" as each shell was fired into the air. Tanks led the way into town, and as I stayed a kilometre behind at a medic station, the sounds of battle commenced, mortars and machine-gun fire that were accompanied, as ever, by the visuals of war -- smoke plumes that were an arsonist's dream.

A half-hour into the battle, a Humvee raced out of the city and stopped at the medic station. A marine, whose body was rag-doll floppy, was put on a stretcher. A marine doctor and medics surrounded him. His clothes were stripped off, needles and monitors placed on and into his body, and the dialogue of battlefield medicine began among the team, all of whom had slung their M-16's over their backs as they tried to save their comrade's life.

"Left lower abdomen."

"He's in urgent surgical."

"Wriggle your toes for me."

"Ow, ow."

"He needs medevac, now."


"My arms are numb."

"Keep talking, Evnin."

His name was Mark Evnin. He was a corporal, a sniper who was in one of the lead vehicles going into Al Kut. Iraqi fighters were waiting in ambush and had fired the first shots; one of them got him.
"Keep talking to us. Where are you from?"

"Remon," he mumbled.

"Where? Where are you from?"


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SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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