Operation Iraqi Freedom
After completing their NTC and JRTC certification Exercises, the men of 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry were determined as deployable by the Department of Defense and the US congress. The road to deployment status was long and hard for the unit and took the better part of two years to complete. The unit started when the Stryker Program was but a vision by then Army Chief of Staff GEN Eric Shinseki and culminated in a fast-paced last year to test their training and effectiveness at both national training centers.
At the conclusion of the final certification exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the battalion redeployed back to Fort Lewis. The battalion changed commanders in June and changed all four Company Commanders throughout the remainder of the month. The battalion continued training to keep their edge sharp and deployed to Yakima Training Center in August to conduct platoon level live fire exercises in a desert environment that would replicate the terrain of Iraq. The final report concerning the readiness for deployment of the first Stryker Brigade went before congress in August, and the unit was deemed deployable shortly thereafter.
During the early part of August, the Brigade received official notification that they would deploy to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Initial preparations for deployment started for the men of the Sykes’ Regulars immediately following notification of their impending deployment and the Brigade planed one final field training exercise to train the new staff and men that recently reported to the unit and to place a razor-sharp edge on the unit’s fighting capabilities. The Brigade FTX lasted for two weeks in the Fort Lewis training area and included situational training exercises for the companies, as well as stressing the staff by forcing them to track two simultaneous exercises at once.
On 15 September, The Regulars began loading their vehicles and equipment on rail cars bound for the Port of Tacoma. Concurrently, the battalion underwent Soldier Readiness Processing to finalize the important documents and powers of attorney for their families before their departure for a yearlong deployment. The vehicles and equipment were loaded onto super cargo ships and embarked on their way to Kuwait for download.
The men of the Sykes’ Regulars manifested and deployed over a 20-day period to the sands of Kuwait to download the ships and make final preparations for the push into Iraq.
The final elements of 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment landed in the arid desert of Kuwait on November 20th, 2003. 683 personnel deployed from Fort Lewis to Kuwait City Airport over the course of a 20-day period and moved to Camp Udairi in the Kuwaiti desert to stage equipment and conduct final training in preparation for Iraq. 149 prime movers, 49 trailers, 13 generators, and 5 MILVANs were moved from the port in Kuwait City to Camp Udari to be staged for final preparations for the push into Iraq. While in Kuwait, Task Force 5-20 Infantry conducted small arms training, convoy live fire training, and Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) training. “They’ve put us through every training situation imaginable,” said Sgt. First Class Max McLaughlin, 39, a platoon sergeant from Olympia, Wash.
The battalion’s 74 Strykers went through the final phases of preparation, to include the installation of slat armor, a birdcage looking armament that surrounded the Stryker vehicle and protected it from rocket-propelled grenades. The Battalion staff conducted MDMP for operations along the Jamal Hamrin Ridge and later conducted MDMP for operations in and around Samarra, Iraq. At the conclusion of their stay in Kuwait, the 683 men and 149 vehicles of the Regulars were trained, motivated, ready, and eager to begin the task at which they had trained so hard to prepare for during the last two years, combat operations.
On 3 December 2003, the advance party of 5-20 Infantry departed Camp Udari Kuwait for the three-day journey through Iraq to their final destination, FOB Pacesetter. On 5 December, the remainder of the Battalion conducted a tactical road march across the border of Kuwait into Iraq. By the end of the first day of movement through Iraq, the weather turned foul and made the primary route impassible for the battalion. Heavy rain washed out the primary route of travel through the underdeveloped southern portion of Iraq. The battalion was forced to take the longer and more heavily populated alternate route to reach their final destination. It took the battalion four days to travel from the Kuwaiti border to their Forward Operating Base southeast of Samarra, Iraq. On 9 December 2003, the final march unit for the Regulars closed on FOB Pacesetter Iraq and the Regulars started preparing for combat operations in their assigned sector. From 9 December until 14 December, the battalion conducted reconnaissance and limited raids in the area surrounding Samarra. The battalion also planned and prepared for a coordinated division size attack on the city of Samarra set to begin at 0100 on 15 December 2003.
Operation Ivy Blizzard would include 1-23 Infantry, the 2d Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, and 5-20 Infantry and would be commanded and controlled by the 4th Infantry Division. The insurgency had grown strong in Samarra since the ground war concluded in May and needed extra attention.
The 4th Infantry Division was spread thin covering a large sector and was heavily engaged combating a growing insurgency in the Sunni Triangle, a large area north of Baghdad where support for Saddam was most influential.
The 4th Infantry Division asked the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC) for additional assets to combat the intensifying insurgency inside of Samarra. The solution to the problem was resolved with the attachment of the Stryker Brigade to the 4th Infantry Division for the conduct of offensive operations in Samarra.
On the evening of December 14th, the Regulars learned of the news that Saddam Hussein was captured in his Tikrit hideout by elements of TF 121. After the news of Saddam’s capture was broadcast to the world, 5-20 was ordered to postpone preparations for the coordinated attack on Samarra. The impending attack was postponed indefinitely to gauge public reaction of the Saddam capture news. In the interim, the battalion decided to conduct a reconnaissance in force of the outer perimeter of Samarra to commence on the morning of 15 December to obtain a first hand reaction of the public concerning Saddam. Would they fight or was the war over for them? “Things could go either way,” said Spc. Michael Findell, Company A, 5th Bn., 20th Inf. Reg. from San Diego, referring to the capture of Hussein.
“[Insurgents] could retaliate or think the terror is over.”During the conduct of the reconnaissance in force, members of B Company were engaged with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire as they entered the city. It became immediately evident that the capture of SaddamHussein had little to no effect on the insurgent forces inside of Samarra. The enemy attempted to lure B Company into a coordinated kill zone, but failed. The firefight lasted 45 minutes and was joined by elements of A Company. “We moved in on their right flank to allow them to continue to fight,” said Beck.
“We had a couple of small contacts and firefights but Company B had the bulk of the engagement.” B Company and A Company engaged and killed 11 enemy fighters, and sustained no friendly casualties during the fight. Obviously, Saddam’s capture news had done little to quell the growing insurgency inside of Samarra as evidenced by the intensity of the action with A and B Companies. SGT Randell Davis, a sniper from B Company, had the following to say about a one on one engagement he encountered with an enemy sniper. “It was just getting dark. I saw a guy step in front of the light,” said the 25-year-old sniper. “He silhouetted his rifle from the waist up, trying to look over at the guys in the courtyard,” Davis said. “We had been engaged by snipers in here before, so I was hoping it was the same guy,” the Nashville, Tenn., native said. “It’s kind of a professional insult to get shot at by another sniper.”
On December 17th 2003, the battalion was ordered to go ahead with the delayed coordinated attack and commenced offensive operations at 0100. To begin the attack, C Company conducted a search of a Brigade high value target’s home. During the search they found several pieces of Army gear, explosives charges, and American publications, but did not detain the HVT. He had already left the premises. B Co conducted cordon and searches of several targets during the evening of 17 December as well. From 17 December until 21 December B Company and C Company conducted raids on enemy targets and collected numerous detainees and caches of equipment inside of Samarra. A Company acted as the Quick Reaction Company during this time.
Additionally, two rocket-propelled grenades along with four rockets were confiscated. Blasting caps, four AK47 rifles, 1 Tabuk sniper rifle, and one PM-12s SMG were also confiscated.
On the evening of 21 December, Forward Operating Base Pacesetter was rocketed by enemy forces. “Let’s go!
Let’s go! Get in your hole!” shouted Sgt. 1st Class James Green, fire-support NCO for the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. Soldiers in various states of dress dashed to nearby sand-bagged bunkers. The enemy fired a total of 11 rockets that all impacted within the confines of the FOB. The closest shell landed 100 meters from the BN rear TOC but the rear elements of the battalion suffered no casualties. “They [insurgents] were firing from two different points,” said Capt. Curt Rowland, who was acting as the 5-20’s battle captain inside the unit’s tactical operations center.”
On the 23rd of December, members of C Company conducted a cordon and search of a gas station suspected of housing non-compliant forces. During that search they discovered and captured 50 anti-aircraft rounds. On 24 December, operations slowed down considerably, and Christmas day was spent conducting presence patrols in Samarra and rotating companies through a hearty Christmas dinner.
On 27 December, A Company attempted to draw the remaining enemy elements in Samarra into a kill zone for engagement, titled Fort Apache. A Company found two caches in several buildings and an individual willing to work with coalition forces when they occupied their battle positions in Fort Apache. The informant led the search of possible non-compliant forces caches throughout the city. The A Company search resulted in four Enemy Prisoners of War, three RPKs, three AK-47s, 1500 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, two 155mm round propellants, Improvised Explosive Device making materials, and a bayonet. Fort Apache was to be the “Sykes Regulars” last activity in Samarra, Iraq. The total numbers for operations in Samarra from 15 December 2003 to 27 December 2003 were 27 enemies detained, 12 enemies killed, 1 enemy wounded, and 20 caches of various munitions.
RELIEF IN PLACE/TRANSFER OF AUTHORITY WITH 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION
At the conclusion of operations in Samarra, the Brigade received new orders. The Brigade was ordered to move north to Mosul, the Tigris River valley, and Tall A’far to conduct a relief in place with the vaunted 101st Airborne Division. CFLCC determined that the Stryker Brigade was mobile and lethal enough to take over a division sized sector with a Brigade’s worth of troops. For their part in the move north, the Regulars received instructions to detach one infantry company to 1-14 CAV and attach one troop from 1-14 CAV. The Arrowhead
Brigade decided to cross level capabilities so that the cavalry squadron and infantry battalion operating in the southern and western parts of the AO, where the largest distances were covered, were aptly suited to cover the vast distances as well as provide an infantry capability to the cavalry. The Regulars detached C Company to 1-14 CAV and received C Troop. C Company was assigned the responsibility of covering Tall A’Far, a city of 250,000 inhabitants, and established a base of operations within the confines of the city titled Rock Base. The troopers of C Company conducted daily patrols, IED sweeps, raids, coordinated attacks, and engaged local leaders to bring peace and stability to a city the size of Tacoma, Washington. Their task was no small matter,but they performed superbly on their own in Tall A’Far for four months.
From the 7th to the 22nd of January 2004 the Sykes’ Regulars conducted left seat and right seat rides with 1/327, 2/327, and 3/327 Infantry Battalions from the 101st Airborne to learn as much as they could from the battle hardened troopers of the Bastogne Brigade. On the 22nd of January, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry conducted the transfer of authority ceremony with the 1st Brigade (The Bastogne Brigade) of the 101st Airborne Division and took over control of their new AO. Forward Operating Base Q-West was renamed Forward Operating Base Regulars the same day and the Regulars began a new page in their combat history. “It’s a great opportunity; we’re building a nation — a nation governed by Iraqi citizens for Iraqi citizens. My Soldiers are very excited to do this because they’re getting a chance to make a difference” said LTC Karl D. Reed, Battalion Commander for 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry.
The new AO the Regulars were responsible for contained numerous villages and towns along the Tigris River as well as in excess of 20 small hamlets. The area contained around 500,000 people and was spread out in an area the size of the Yakima Training Center. It was a large area of responsibility, but one that the Regulars would excel in.
TALL A’FAR, IRAQ – C COMPANY OPERATIONS
In late December 2003, as the Arrowhead Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division—the Army’s first Stryker
Brigade—finished operations in Samarra, it’s first combat mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom I, the Brigade began to look forward to its next mission. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team (3/2 SBCT) would be assuming authority for the area of Northern Iraq centered on Mosul from the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. In relieving the 101st, 3/2 SBCT would be reducing the footprint of Coalition soldiers in the area of operations from a force exceeding 50,000 soldiers to a 5,000-soldier contingent, and this reduction required a precise placement and distribution of soldier capabilities to maintain security in the region. One result of the Brigade’s need to distribute its combat forces evenly throughout Northern Iraq was that Charlie Company of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment (C/5-20 IN) was detached from its battalion and attached to 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment (1-14 CAV) to assume responsibility for an area of operations centered around Tall A’far, Iraq, but that extended North and West to the Syrian Border.
The new battalion-sized task force composed of two Cavalry Troops, one Reconnaissance Troop, a Headquarters Troop, and then C/5-20 IN, the Squadron’s only Infantry component, fell in on the sector formerly run by the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Key to the sector was Tall A’far, a city of a quarter million inhabitants sitting on the road leading from the Syrian border to Mosul. As 1-14 CAV’s only Infantry asset, C/5-20 IN, “The Rock,” was tasked with establishing a Company Forward Operating Base in the city of Tall A’far to use as a platform from which to conduct combat and civil-military operations throughout Tall A’far and the rest of the 60km by 40km series of satellite cities, towns, and open country that made up the company’s area of responsibility.
All told, in addition to being responsible for all operations in Tall A’far itself, Charlie Company was also responsible for thesecurity, establishment of government, and reconstruction efforts in six major towns, countless smaller villages, two major international oil pipelines and their associated processing infrastructure, the Mosul Dam (the primary source of electricity for all of Northern Iraq), the Al-Kisik Military Compound (future sight of a New Iraqi Army Division and Division Headquarters), and the miles of roadways and rolling terrain that contained all of these vital Iraqi institutions. Operations within Tall A’far itself were complex and demanding from the beginning, but “The Rock” rose to the challenge. Fundamental to all Rock operations was the establishment of a secure environment in and around Company Forward Operating Base named Rock Base. Rock Base was situated in the center of Tall A’far’s North Eastern quadrant along a major road, surrounded by residential neighborhoods and various shops and stores.
In order to assure the ability to operate from Rock Base unimpeded, Charlie Company instituted asystem of dismounted security patrols that radiated from Rock Base into the rest of Tall A’far to establish Coalition presence throughout the city and prevent anti-Coalition or anti-Iraqi Forces from massing on Rock Base. These squad and section-sized patrols ran around the clock, and in partnership with a robust Rock Base security scheme, prevented enemy forces from ever entering Rock Base or influencing Charlie Company’s ability to conduct operations from Rock Base at will. In addition to securing the city itself, C/5-20 also ensured the security of the rest of its area of responsibility and proper functioning of the institutions that it contained by another system of mounted patrols, once again originating out of Rock Base, but extending into the Northern Iraqi countryside (sometimes in excess of 60 km) designed to maintain Coalition presence and deter any noncompliant activities that would adversely affect the region’s march towards self-sufficiency and the planned transfer of authority from the Coalition back to Iraq.
Once security within the city and surrounding area was established, Charlie Company also set in motion an extensive civil-military campaign and began a highly effective intelligence gathering infrastructure, both of which were initially run by personnel organic to the Infantry Company being asked to work outside of their trained expertise and responding admirably. Charlie Company oversaw and advised city council meetings in Tall A’far, Zumar, and Avgani; managed the distribution of weapons cards throughout the entire region;supervised the administration and productivity of two major, international oil pipelines; allocated resources and advised local officials on the establishment, funding, and equipping of 8 town or city police forces; advised and supplemented police security operations at the Mosul Dam, ensuring Northern Iraq’s primary source of electricity could provide unimpeded power to the entire area; identified need, and arranged funding for, the reconstruction of several schools, hospitals, and clinics; met and liaison with non-governmental parties and groups; and all the while, Charlie Company engaged all sheiks, muktars, imams, and other local leaders in all of these activities, always fostering a cooperative relationship with the people of Iraq while emphasizing the importance of Iraqis taking the lead in their own reconstruction and moving towards democracy and sovereignty.
As with all military operations, however, force protection and security were always Charlie Company’s first priority and to that end, “The Rock” stayed incredibly busy conducting raids, cordon and searches, ambushes, and reacting to attacks throughout the entire area of responsibility. Despite the goodwill of the majority of the residents of Tall A’far and the surrounding area, Charlie Company always operated in a semi-permissive or non-permissive environment as anti-Coalition and anti-Iraqi forces worked to impose their own vision of a lawless and undemocratic Iraq onto the region. Rock Base received relatively frequent attacks by indirect fire mortars, and mounted and dismounted patrols were always at risk from attack by improvised explosive devices, direct fire assaults by small arms and rocket propelled grenades, or ambushes by anti-personnel or anti-armor grenades. Enemy forces even unsuccessfully assaulted rock Base itself on two occasions. In all instances,Charlie Company responded forcefully, but also intelligently, always seeking to minimize the possibility of collateral damage and never forgetting that although its mission required Charlie Company to always be ready to fight with overwhelming combat power, “The Rock’s” ultimate mission was to help Iraq rebuild and be able to direct its own course to future prosperity.
Charlie Company maintained this demanding course from Rock Base from 11 January 2004 until 10 May 2004 when, in anticipation of the scheduled transfer of authority from the Coalition to the Iraqi people, Charlie Company closed Rock Base and returned to FOB Warhorse, a forward operating base 10 km South of Tall A’far. From this new focal point, “The Rock” continued it’s mission for another month until operational and strategic shifts in-theater caused 3/2 SBCT to realign its force distribution and “The Rock” was reunited with it’s Regular brethren as 5-20 IN returned from a mission in Central Iraq and assumed responsibility for the area of operations from 1-14 CAV. For five months, Charlie Rock vigorously sought mission accomplishment as the area’s only Infantry unit and conducted missions across the full spectrum of military operations ranging from school rehabilitation to help rebuild Iraq to ground maneuver warfare to destroy enemy forces. All of Charlie Company’s successes, however, were not without cost. Several Rock Soldiers spilled their own blood in their relentless drive for mission accomplishment. While attached to 1-14 CAV and operating in and around Tall A’far, Iraq, 36 members of “The Rock” received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat due to enemy action, and one soldier, SGT Jake Herring, gave his life for his mission and his brothers. Despite profound sacrifice, however, Charlie Company never lost sight of its purpose or values and stayed true to its motto to “Do the Right Thing, Always.”
QAYARRAH WEST, IRAQ
Just one day after the Regulars received full control of their new area of operations, 3/17 Cavalry reported that one of their OH-58D “Kiowa Warriors” had crashed on its way from a mission in Mosul. B Company was given the order to secure the crash site. B Company responded quickly and provided security for the downed aircraft until it could be recovered. A Company was originally given the responsibility of occupying the Agricultural College in a town called Hammam Al Alil. Hammam was home to the worst enemy activity in the new AO, but A Company was aptly suited to handle their new threat.
On 26 January 2004, A Company conducted a raid to detain a former Republican Guard Officer and was successful in detaining him. During the search of his home, A Company found a ministry of defense ID card for the suspect, and a Special Republican Guard ID. A Company also found an ID that granted special privileges to the detainee and his family, allowed one visit per year with Saddam, and free school for all his children. Hammam Al Alil quickly became the hottest spot in area of operations Regulars in regards to enemy activity.
On 9 February, B Company and the Reconnaissance Platoon conducted a coordinated cross boundary operation with elements of Task Force 121 in order to detain anti-coalition forces. TF 121 took two detainees in conjunction with the operation. The joint operation was the first of many successful joint operations conducted with elements of The Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta throughout our year in Iraq. With the many offensive operations that the Sykes’ Regulars were undertaking, there were very few casualties. The first casualty of a soldier in AO Regulars occurred on the 28 February when a grenade was thrown at one of B Company’s soldiers while conducting a cordon and search. SPC Tribble was injured in the blast and evacuated to the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Mosul. “A kid from across the road threw what looked like a rock at me.” I bent down to pick it up and it blew up. I was just glad that I was able to take the shrapnel so that others in my platoon were unhurt” said SPC Tribble in the 67th CASH a day after he sustained his injuries.
SPC Tribble recovered completely fully from his wounds and was back in action a week later.By March of 2004, the Regulars were working with the local nationals in order to attempt to bring peace and stability to northern Iraq. The Regulars worked hard to implement the first classes of the Northern Iraqi Regional Training Center, a center that trained raw Iraqi youth recruits to perform as soldiers in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. The course graduated Platoon Leaders and soldiers after a basic instruction in military skills and tactics at the Hammam Al Alil former agricultural college. After graduating several classes, the Regulars conducted joint patrols with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in order to provide on the job training to the fledgling Iraqi troops.
In early March, the men of B Company received the moniker of Ghost soldiers from an article written by the Public Affairs Office in Mosul because of their efficiency at taking targets by surprise. On the 15th through the 17th of March 2004, the Regulars were presented their Combat Patches, Combat Infantrymen’s Badges, and Combat Medical Badges for their combat operations in Samarra. The presentation ceremony was presided over by Colonel Rounds, the Commander of 3rd Brigade. All of the Sykes’ Regulars that were in country at the time received their Combat Patch, and all Infantry Soldiers or Medics that conducted operations in Sammara received their Combat Infantrymen’s Badges and Combat Medical Badges.
On the 22 March, Operation Mayfield began. A Company, B Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, C Company 52nd Infantry, and B Company 1-23 Infantry conducted a simultaneous operation to sweep enemy forces from Qabr Abd. The operation was a complete success and was well executed. The Battalion and attached units sustained no friendly casualties during the operation and were able to detain 12 suspected non-compliant forces personnel. The Regulars were quickly figuring out the complexities of tribal alliances and rivalries in the area and were making great strides in combating enemy insurgent forces.
Operation Mayfield was to be the last offensive operation conducted by the Regulars in the AO as they soon had different marching orders. The Regulars were wildly successful in the Tigris River Valley south of Mosul during their 4-month stay. All told, the Regulars were responsible for killing or seriously wounding 27 enemy combatants, capturing 195 detainees, finding and reducing 73 caches of various equipment and munitions,opening seven schools for the local children, standing up the 102nd ICDC Battalion, opening an oil refinery in Qayarrah that had been out of operation since 1982, as well as opening 4 new police stations during the four month period where they operated south of Mosul.
Shortly after Operation Mayfield, the Battalion received notification that yet again they had another mission. This mission would take them into the middle of the fiercest fighting in Iraq, An Najaf and south central Iraq.The battalion split in two. Half of the battalion consisting of elements of HHC and A Company stayed in the old AO and continued operations there. The other half of the battalion went south to conduct offensive operations in south-central Iraq to quell the growing Shi’ite rebellion.
TASK FORCE SYKES: AL QAYARRAH, IRAQ
Simultaneously, while Task Force Arrow was in southern Iraq, a contingent force remained in Area of Operations Regulars in order to train and employ the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) and maintain pressure on the enemy in the Tigris River Valley south of Mosul. Part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company as well as one Platoon from C Company were in charge of the training, equipping, and employment of two Battalions of ICDC. Task Force Sykes worked diligently to train the ICDC and prepare them for eventual acceptance of security activities in the Tigris River Valley region. From early April 2004 until mid June 2004,the Regulars vigorously trained the ICDC for combat operations in northern Iraq and made the ICDC a more lethal and effective fighting force.
TASK FORCE ARROW: AN NAJAF, IRAQ
During the early days of April, the renegade Shi’ite cleric, Muqtada Al Sadr began a countrywide uprising of his young and disenfranchised Shi’ite followers in southern Iraq. The intensity of the insurgency was such that he was able to mount a large scale offensive from Baghdad to Basra and cripple logistics flow into theatre from Kuwait. Sadr’s militia forces, the Mahdi Army, attacked logistics convoys along key main supply routes in south central Iraq, destroyed key bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and took control of the cities of An Najaf, Basra, Al Kut, and Karballa. The uprising was large scale and took place all over the Shi’ite controlled areas of Iraq. From Baghdad to Basra, coalition forces engaged thousands of Sadr’s forces and the fighting that ensued made April the bloodiest month of the whole war.
To send a reaction force to help combat the insurrection, Coalition Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC) called on the Stryker Brigade. CFLCC knew that the Stryker Brigade was lethal enough to pull forces from northern Iraq and continue maintain pressure against the insurgency there. The Brigade decided to shift forces throughout the northern AO and detach three infantry companies, one from each infantry battalion, placed under the command and control of 5-20 Infantry. On April 8th 2004, Task Force Arrow was created and detached form 3rd Brigade, 2ID for their four-month foray into south central Iraq. TF Arrow was comprised of Headquarters and Headquarters Company 5-20 Infantry, Apache Company 1-23 Infantry, Black horse Company 2-3 Infantry, Battle Company 5-20 Infantry, and a 296th logistics support team.
Upon notification of the contingency deployment, all separate elements disengaged from their current locations in Mosul and closed on FOB Regulars quickly. Upon their arrival they were formed into march unit serials for the move south at FOB Regulars. It was a chaotic time, but the staff and companies worked perfectly together to form an effective fighting force despite not being familiar with each other’s operating styles. TF Arrow was ordered to move south to Baqubah, Iraq and attach to the 2nd Brigade (the Warhorse Brigade) of the 1st Infantry Division for the conduct of operations in south central Iraq. The Warhorse Brigade was a fighting formation styled much like the German kampfgruppen (American translation – fighting groups) developed during WWII on the eastern front. It was formed with a battalion from the Stryker Brigade, a light infantry battalion from the 25th Infantry Division, and rounded out by a mechanized infantry battalion from the1st Infantry Division to provide unique capabilities in combating Sadr’s forces.
The forging of an “American Kampfgruppe” Brigade was the quick solution needed to place pressure on Sadr’s forces headquartered in AnNajaf. Once link up was affected in An Najaf, the Brigade would go into the heart of An Najaf and Al Kut tokill or capture Mahdi Army members and conclude the insurrection by cutting off the head of the snake.
TF Arrow departed FOB Regulars on 11 April and arrived at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baquaba, Iraq late that evening after traveling 300 miles. Details were still being worked out at the CFLCC level about where the “composite” Brigade was to go, but the decision was finally made to send the Brigade to An Najaf, the center of the insurrection. As the Task Force arrived at FOB Warhorse, the 2d Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division was in the middle of their move south. Bridges and lines of communications were cut all throughout south central Iraq making planned routes impassable almost as fast as they were decided on in the TOC. After several discussions and map reconnaissance were conducted, a route was found to move the remainder of the 2nd Brigade to An Najaf that had not been significantly damaged yet. However, that would change as route traffic ability changed almost hourly. The final march unit of Task Force Arrow closed on FOB Warhorse, received one hour of sleep, and then departed for An Najaf. The first element of TF Arrow to make enemy contact along the route was the battalion scouts at a key bridge over the Euphrates River. The bridge over the Euphrates had been damaged previously and the scouts were sent forward of the main body to determine the traffic ability of the bridge.
The scouts engaged enemy forces in a coordinated enemy ambush position where enemy forces engaged them with small arms and RPG fire for a sustained amount of time. The bridge was determined impassable, which forced the elements of TF Arrow to find an alternate route to their destination. TF Arrow wound their way all over south central Iraq in order to find a passable route to FOB Duke in the outskirts of An Najaf. The Task Force finally closed on FOB Duke after three continuous days of fighting and maneuvering across passable bridges. The soldiers were exhausted, but they had to immediately begin planning for operations in Najaf because time was of the essence. If the go was given, TF Arrow had the task of capturing or killing Muqtada Al Sadr so they had to make ample preparations quickly. A day after their arrival, TF Arrow conducted reconnaissance operations outside of the city to determine attack routes and gauge local support for Sadr’s forces. During the reconnaissance, Battle Company captured a militiaman who attempted to discard his clothing and flee from the fast Strykers. Reconnaissance operations around An Najaf continued for several days as high-level negotiations prevented coalition activities within the city limits. On one occasion a reconnaissance element from 1-14 Infantry became compromised and forced into the city center. The soldiers of 1-14 fought bravely and were in a pitched battle with Sadr’s forces for over three hours.
TF Arrow was placed on QRF status to go in and reinforce the elements from 1-14 heavily engaged in the city. However, 1-14 was able to break contact with the enemy so that they could regroup and repair their damaged vehicles at the soccer stadium in Al Kut so TF Arrow was not required.
Due to the rapid mobility of TF Arrow from northern Iraq all the way to An Najaf and their ability to arrive as a capable fighting force without the need of heavy equipment trailers for movement, CFLCC determined another use for TF Arrow. Ongoing negotiations with Muqtada Al Sadr prevented American led offensive operations in An Najaf because of the importance of the Ali Imam Shrine to Shi’ite Muslims around the world. At this time, there were certainly other requirements that needed to be fulfilled to defeat the still growing insurgency in the rest of the southern half of Iraq. Due to other requirements, TF Arrow received another change of mission.
This time they were ordered to move to LSA Anaconda to secure key logistics lines of communication and to secure key supplies through the main logistics artery in Iraq, Route Tampa. On the morning of 17 April, TF Arrow began their movement from their base of operations near An Najaf to LSA Anaconda, 60 miles north of Baghdad. All along the route, the soldiers of TF Arrow could see the burned out hulks of trucks and spent shell casings giving the obvious indication that things were certainly hot along route Tampa for anything on the move. TF Arrow got their first taste of what was to be normal daily enemy contact for the next two months as they entered Baghdad along route Tampa. As the convoy entered Baghdad, they were engaged with RPG, small arms, and an IED from a building in a slum area just on the outskirts of the city proper.
Two tanks from the 1st Cavalry Division joined the fight and together with the scouts laid waste to the enemy strongpoint. The enemy fought bravely and at one point one of the fighters exposed himself to the coordinated fire of Coalition forces to hit one of the tanks with an RPG. The RPG exploded directly on the tank, but the behemoth was undamaged and kept launching main gun rounds at the enemy strongpoint. “
The fight lasted for around 15 minutes and was the most awesome display of American firepower I have ever witnessed”said SFC Jimmy Thornton of HHC/5-20 Infantry.” Following their eventful journey, TF Arrow closed all march units on LSA Anaconda and learned the details of their new mission. They were attached to the 13th COSCOM and tasked with escorting supply trucks from Logistical Supply Area Anaconda to Convoy Service Center Scania to the south of Baghdad to counter the enemy threat to logistics lines of communication. The recent attacks against logistics convoys moving from Kuwait to LSA Anaconda had been hit hard during the early part of April bringing logistics support in Iraq to a standstill. A total of 88 trucks had been destroyed, 33 American soldiers killed, and one civilian and one American soldier had been captured during a 10 day window along Route Tampa before the arrival of TF Arrow. It was the new task of TF Arrow to reopen those logistics lines of communication and get the supplies through to key logistics bases for the rest of the theatre to be able to continue with operations against the enemy. “When we first got to Scania, the yard was packed. Ever since then, you can see convoys pulling day and night,” said Staff Sgt. Nevin Gamble of B Company. The task was no short order because the enemy knew coalition logistics vulnerabilities and hit them hard every chance they got.
For two months, TF Arrow secured Kellogg Brown and Root trucks, Host Nation trucks, and military convoy trucks from LSA Anaconda to CSC Scania and back. Enemy contact was constant and every convoy was hit at least once a day during their runs between CSC Scania and LSA Anaconda. However, the aggressive fighting spirit of TF Arrow soldiers won the day and with time enemy contacts diminished. “The Stryker is an armored personnel carrier that boasts a large arsenal of weaponry as well as an infantry squad that can effectively engage an enemy,” said Staff Sgt. Nevin Gamble of the 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. “It’s basically a fear factor. If they see a bigger vehicle, an armored vehicle, the less they tend to attack,” he said. “When we first started doing this, there was a lot of heat that the trucks were taking. There were people getting captured, a lot of people dying, they were also dropping mortar rounds.
As soon as we started running with the convoys, there hasn’t been too much action. We’ve come across some small arms fire but nothing serious. If we weren’t there I’m sure it could have been worse,” said Sgt. Gaylord Hillary Reese of the 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. In all, TF Arrow executed a total of 26,550 mission miles and secured over 8,025 Kellog Brown and Root trucks, Army supply trucks, and other logistics trucks over the course of the next two months. Even though they made contact daily with the enemy, their aggressiveness and ability to fight resulted in only four TCN trucks lost during the two-month period. The TF Arrow mission continued until June, when the Regulars again received change of mission orders. The northwestern town of Tall A’far had become increasingly hostile to coalition forces and it was determined that a solution to the problem was needed. Tall A’far needed more infantry.
TALL A’FAR, IRAQ
On 17 June 2004, the Sykes’ Regulars completed their movement from LSA Anaconda and closed on their new home, Tall A’far Airfield. The airfield was later renamed Forward Operating Base Sykes. The city of Tall A’far was the known waypoint between Syria and Mosul for weapons smuggling and as a hub of insurgent activity. For months, C Company, 5-20 had been solely responsible for the security of the city of a quarter of a million people. Almost daily, enemy attacks dwindled the ranks of the C Company soldiers forcing the Arrowhead command to order C Company to pull out of their base of operations and essentially pull back from the city. Since their departure from the city, the security situation worsened, not because they were no longer there, but because the insurgency had grown stronger in northern Iraq since TF Arrow departed. Convoys were getting hit with improvised explosive devices, small arms, and rocket-propelled grenades every time they left the front gate of Tall A’Far airfield and traveled through the 250,000 population city. In June, the Brigade command decided to place a direct action Infantry Battalion near the confines of Tall A’far to crush the growing insurgency. Upon arrival at their new base of operations, the Regulars began an in depth planning process in order to crush enemy insurgents operating within the city of Tall A’Far. From July until October, 5-20 infantry would be conducting many operations to kill or capture enemy insurgents and their leadership cells in the city.
The Regulars began offensive operations in Tall A’far on July 1st with the first cordon and search of a target within the city conducted by the battalion. On that day, C Company conducted a raid to kill or capture a high value target in order to interdict weapons trafficking lines and seize contraband. The first operation by the battalion was a success as they successfully detained the target. Additionally, they seized a large amount of enemy contraband that could be used in making remote detonated IEDs. On 9 July, B Company and C Company conducted near simultaneous raids that resulted in the capture of 18 detainees and several boxes of improvised explosive device making material. The aforementioned operations were but the first of many successful raids in the city of Tall A’far and the enemy knew immediately that a more lethal force was present in his backyard that would aggressively pursue him. The remainder of July was extremely busy for the Regulars as they conducted operations for black list individuals within Tall A’Far as well as ran forays into Avgani, a town to the north of Tall A’far but significant contributor to enemy activity in the AO. The enemy focused on the only viable route through the city and hit almost every element that traveled along Route Santa Fe all throughout July.
Attacks became more and more brazen as the month passed. Even though the Regulars conducted almost daily raids within the city, the enemy were building forces throughout the remainder of the city and choosing the time and place they wanted to fight.
In late July, the decision was made that a big operation needed to be planned and executed in order to quell the growing insurgency in Tall A’far and to keep the enemy on his heels in the western Nineveh Province. This operation would be conducted by all of 3rd Brigade 2nd Infantry Division and was the first of two such operations in Tall A’far. Operation Sykes Hammer began on 1 August and was the largest operation of its kind to date in Tall A’far. Two infantry companies from 1-23 Infantry and 2-3 Infantry along with 2 companies from 5-20 as well as six companies of Iraqi National Guard conducted a sweep through the city of Tall A’far in order to capture insurgent forces and destroy caches in the city. The operation had limited results as the enemy did not decide to come out and play against the overwhelming combat of the Stryker Brigade and ING forces. Several caches were destroyed as well as the capture of 20 insurgents during the operation. “You never know where somebody will hide an AK-47 or a mortar tube, so we search everything and everywhere,” said Spc. Charles Barnes, Company B, 5-20.” Operation Sykes Hammer was the first of three successive operations geared towards killing or capturing anti-Iraqi Forces and their command cells in the western Nineveh Province. One day after Operation Sykes Hammer, Operation Sykes Anvil began. Sykes’ Anvil took place in the city just north of Tall A’far, Avgani.
The goal of Operation Sykes’ Anvil was to locate weapons caches and capture any anti-Iraqi forces that retrograded into the woods to the east of Avgani after Sykes Hammer. Several contraband items were found in the area during the operation. “We are not searching these homes and towns just to be searching,” said Capt. Damien Mason, commander of Company B, 5-20. “We are there because insurgents continue to pose a threat in Tall Afar.” During Operation Sykes Anvil, the Regulars did not receive much resistance. There was one direct fire engagement with the enemy, and the Regulars received one casualty; SSG Gamble who was wounded by enemy fire. SSG Gamble was patrolling through the woods just east of Avgani,when an enemy soldier began to fire in his squad’s direction. SSG Gamble’s Squad reacted and laid downsuppressive fire, killing the enemy fighter. In the middle of the firefight, SSG Gamble was shot three times by the insurgent, once in the stomach, and once in each leg. Immediately the medic on the ground attended to him. SSG Gamble’s wounds were not fatal and he was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany.
Still keeping the pressure on the enemy, 5-20 Infantry conducted yet another operation to kill or capture antiIraqi forces. The next operation was conducted to disrupt communications networks in the western Nineveh province. Operation Sykes Nail began on the 4th of August in a small town to the west of Tall A’far. 20 detainees were gathered from several objective long with communications gear and various illegal products used to smuggle weapons, people, and to disrupt communications networks. After Operations Sykes Hammer, Anvil, and Nail, the Regulars would go back to conducting normal operations for a while.
The next major engagement with insurgent forces occurred on 4 August 2004. C Company’s MGS Platoon was charged with securing the regularly scheduled LOGPAC on that day. The MGS Platoon along with 23 HETs, 24 Lowboys, 15 vehicles from the 296th BSB, 6 Strykers, and several gun trucks that totaled 97 vehicles left FOB Sykes at 1000 on the 4th of August 2004 on route to FOB Marez and FOB Diamondback in Mosul.
1-14 Cavalry had completed their move onto FOB Sykes’ the day before and the HETs used to move them were all positioned on the airfield awaiting escort to Mosul airfield. The convoy commander, 2LT Ryan Nystrom and CPT Curt Rowland organized the convoy so that security was spread out evenly across the whole of the convoy. Once organized, the convoy departed FOB Sykes on its trek to Mosul. Surprisingly, no enemy contact was made in the city of Tall A’far despite an average speed of 10 MPH through the city. The convoy traveled along Route Santa Fe and turned south on route Reno. The convoy made its turn toward Mosul on Route Saab and continued movement. As the convoy entered Mosul, it passed a police checkpoint that significantly slowed vehicular movement through the city.
The convoy then passed through the marketplace on the western outskirts of town, further slowing its rate of march. As the lead vehicle turned the corner from Route Saab to head south on Route Tampa, all civilians in the area ran for cover. As it passed the first alleyway, it was hit with one RPG on the right front side. The intersection of Route Saab and Tampa erupted in small arms and RPG fire and the convoy was heavily engaged. Every vehicle was firing in all directions to eliminate threats. The vehicles in the convoy returned a high volume of fire and were engaged by Rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at each alleyway along route Tampa. 50-gallon drums and tires blocked the southbound lane on Tampa and the convoy commander, 2LT Nystrom, decided to jump the curb to allow the convoy to continue movement out of the kill zone. The convoy was now heading south in the northbound lane and under intense fire from 4 sides and from rooftops, alleyways, windows, and street level. As the lead Stryker crossed the median, either an RPG or an IED hit it on the left hand side making the second direct hit on the vehicle. Simultaneously, a large explosion occurred at the intersection of Saab and Tampa. Two HETs were hit and disabled during the explosion. 2LT Nystrom gave instructions for all Strykers in the convoy to converge on the intersection of Saab and Tampa to recover personnel and equipment from the disabled HETs and protect them from falling into insurgent hands. The lead Stryker turned around and went back into the kill zone engaging targets along the route of march until it reached their two downed HETs.
The remainder of the Strykers, which had originally been spread out through the convoy, raced to the point of action and strong pointed the intersection because it was the decisive point in the battle. The six Strykers strong pointed the intersection of Route Tampa and Saab and searched the HETs for personnel. No American personnel were seen near or inside of the HETs. We learned later that the HET crews had been rescued by their comrades as the other vehicles in the convoy passed their location. However, at the time, the security element did not know if the HET crews had been snatched by insurgents or were fighting dismounted somewhere. They were nowhere to be seen. The non Stryker remainder of the convoy continued to move through the kill zone while the six Strykers suppressed the enemy and destroyed targets as they appeared. Once the convoy passed, the Stryker elements stayed on station to secure the HETs until relieved by the Brigade quick reaction force.
The Strykers stayed on station for approximately 45 minutes, engaging targets and receiving approximately twenty rocketpropelled grenade shots. An estimated 30-40 rocket-propelled grenades were fired during the entire engagement, but miraculously none of them penetrated the hulls of the battle tested Strykers. The two HETs had been hit with RPGs, but none of the other soft skinned vehicles in the convoy were hit. The rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire from the enemy continued grow in intensity during the time the Strykers were stationary at their strong points protecting the disabled HETs but the soldiers of 5-20 stood firm and hit the enemy hard with their own weapons. The enemy tried to rally, but were beaten back with well aimed 50 caliberand small arms fire.
The Convoy commander instructed his vehicles to displace their positions to keep from becoming stationary targets. The enemy was gaining accuracy and was maneuvering closer to the covering force to attempt to destroy a Stryker and further entrench the beleaguered force.
To counter the threat the Stryker elements picked up their rates of fire and maneuvered to gain advantageous positions on the enemy. An hour had passed since the ambush was initiated when the convoy commander decided to disengage the security element Strykers as the QRF reached the site so that the security element could regain contact with the LOGPAC vehicles and to ensure all personnel were accounted for from the destroyed HETs. The convoy pushed through the ambush and fought enemy insurgents all the way to FOB Marez where they obtained accountability of all personnel from the convoy. Of the battle and 2LT Nystrom’s actions, CPT Rowland had the following to say.”After a large explosion occurred at the intersection of Saab and Tampa, a report came over the radio that two HETs were hit and disabled. 2LT Nystrom immediately gave instructions for all Strykers in the convoy to converge on the intersection of Saab and Tampa to recover personnel and equipment from the disabled HETs.
The lead Stryker (Nystrom’s) turned around and went back through the kill zone engaging targets along the route of march. Six Strykers strong pointed the intersection of Route Tampa and Saab and LT Nystrom and myself searched the HETs for personnel. No American personnel were seen near or inside of the HETs and we were unsure of where they had gone. We feared that insurgent forces continuing to pressure the site with fire team sized attacks had captured them. The remainder of the convoy continued to move through the kill zone while LT Nystrom’s Strykers suppressed the enemy. Once the convoy passed, LT Nystrom’s elements stayed on station to secure the HETs for recovery. LT Nystrom controlled his units in a calm and decisive manner to eliminate threats in the area and protect two downed HETs for over 45 minutes during intense contact. LT Nystrom’s Strykers stayed on station for approximately 45 minutes, engaging targets and receiving several RPG shots. I cannot remember the total number of RPG shots, but remember one exploding every few seconds for at least 30 minutes. The RPG and small arms fire from the enemy continued to grow in intensity during the time the Strykers were stationary at their strong points. However, 2LT Nystrom calmly directed his elements to eliminate threats as they appeared. We stayed on station to secure the two downed HETs until relieved by the QRF despite being engaged by a force that seemed to be gaining momentum as the battle progressed. The fight could have gone the other way had they hit less determined soldiers, but the soldiers involved that day from 1- 14 Cavalry and C Company performed brilliantly and lives were saved by all of their calm, aggressive, and decisive actions.
I was absolutely humbled to be in the company of such fierce warriors.” The engagement lasted a total of approx 60 minutes and was the most intense firefight any soldier in 5-20 had experienced to date. Two HET personnel received gunshot and shrapnel wounds during the engagement and were taken to the 67th Combat Support Hospital by their comrades. The Brigade QRF deployed to the ambush site to relieve and reinforce the original six Strykers on site and was immediately taken under fire by the remaining insurgent forces in the area. Two Stryker Infantry battalions were later deployed to the vicinity of the ambush site and fought a pitched battle for the remainder of the day. Additionally, two battalions of Iraqi National Guard were deployed to counter the enemy threat in that part of Mosul. The fight continued for around 6 hours until both HETs were recovered and all personnel consolidated back on their Forward Operating Bases.
There were approximately 12 friendly casualties during the whole battle and estimates place the enemy casualty rate at around 200 personnel killed and an undetermined number wounded. The Brigade soldiers in Mosul found bodies of enemy soldiers for days following the battle. This was to be one of the largest enemy engagements in Northern Iraq. However, the largest engagement with enemy forces was still to come. On 3 September 2004, the Regulars kicked off Operation Assyrian Drifter, an operations to clear insurgent forces from the city and to keep the enemy off guard. On day one of Assyrian Drifter, the Regulars moved into zones within the city named zone Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, and Neptune as a battalion conducting searches for enemy insurgents and their supplies along the northern part of the city. The operation was conducted in conjunction with the 102nd ING, who the battalion had earlier trained and equipped at Q-west. Day one resulted in some significant finds in regards to war materials used by the enemy. Additionally, as the Regulars has contact with the local populace it became more evident that things had changed somewhat in Tall A’far.
The locals were reporting increasing insurgents moving into the city. They were absolutely terrified and were uncooperative for the most part during the day. Day two of Operation Assyrian Drifter was to become the largest engagement in Iraq for the yearlong deployment of the Regulars. The Regulars had indications of a large insurgent network operating and building on the eastern side of the Tall A’far and decided to conduct cordon and search operations set to begin on 4 September 2004 to capture the leaders of the growing insurgent network. Battle Company, Apocalypse Company (1-14 CAV), and the scouts departed early in the morning to conduct cordon and searches for high value targets on the eastern side of Tall A’far. The Scouts departed the FOB at 0730 and experienced little traffic along their infiltration route to kill or detain their primary targets on their assigned objective. The Scouts arrived on their objective early and set their cordon at 0750. Four males (one father, three other were sons) were located in the primary target building during the Scout operation. Vapor tracer was conducted on the target house and one of the rooms tested positive for TNT. A late model GMC truck inside the compound tested positive with Vapor Tracer for explosive materials as well. All four military aged males were detained, however the primary target was not present.
Additionally, the Scouts detained two personnel fleeing from the area. The father knew the primary target and his location, and helped redirect the ING operating with the Scouts to an alternate location to find him, but the target was not found there either. At approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, one rocket propelled grenade & small arms fire was fired from southwest of the Target house at the Scouts.
The Battalion Snipers engaged one man with a rocket-propelled grenade and wounded him. Immediately following the Scouts, Battle Company departed the FOB in order to capture or kill a battalion high value target and to disrupt an insurgent meeting place called the coffee shop. Battle Company established their cordon on their objective area at approximately 0759. A search of the Battle Company target area produced no targets or contraband. The coffee shop meeting place was not identified so a search of a candy shop located in the vicinity of the target was conducted, but nothing was found there either. Battle Company took a total of eight detainees for further questioning which included one male of military age that had a cell phone in his possession. An Iraqi police officer in the area was also detained by Battle Company after his Motorola radio was found intercepting the voices from the 1st Platoon of Battle Company. A rocket-propelled grenade was fired South of Route Corvette that missed a Stryker and hit the road. The RPG wounded three ING soldiers. The ING casualties were treated by American forces and evacuated via medical evacuation helicopter out of a PZ located to the north of Tall A’Far. Following the contact that wounded three ING soldiers, the Scouts were ordered to move towards the Battalion TAC in an attempt to consolidate forces. During their move, four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at them. One rocket propelled grenade and a heavy volume of small arms was fired toward the battalion Reserve, A Troop, 1-14 Cavalry as they also moved to consolidate with the Scouts and the TAC.
While the scouts and Apocalypse moved to consolidate forces, one of the OH-58 helicopters providing close air support was shot down. The Scouts observed three rocket propelled grenades being fired at the helicopters prior to the aircraft being hit as he was flying low over the city to provide responsive support to the Scout’s and Apocalypse’s move. The right side of aircraft was on fire as it went down and the aircraft landed hard in a small open area to the south of the Scouts position. Upon seeing the helicopter shot down, the Scouts immediately pushed to secure the crash site to prevent it from being overrun by insurgent forces. The enemy was building momentum in the area and were rallying in an attempt to get to the downed aircraft before American forces could get there to rescue the American forces. Upon reaching the site of the downed aircraft, the scouts immediately set in a hasty defensive perimeter. The pilots were secured and loaded onto a Medical Evacuation Vehicle as the remainder of the scouts arrived on site. The scouts started to receive some fairly effective rocket propelled grenade fire around five minutes after they secured the downed aircraft site. The battalion Snipers killed 2 rocket propelled grenade attackers as they attempted to maneuver to a more advantageous positionagainst our forces.
Hundreds of enemy fighters were all moving through the city in an attempt to mass against the small Scout force guarding the crash site. On one occasion, a red car showed up filled with enemy reinforcements and the Battalion Snipers killed the driver and passenger. The Scouts were heavily engaged and in danger of being overrun as they secured the crash site against mounting enemy reinforcements moving into the area. The insurgents attempted to maneuver behind the Scouts and the scouts engaged and killed an RPK gunner with an M203. The enemy was certainly attempting to overrun the small force protecting the downed helicopter and the Scouts were engaging targets all around them. Concurrently, Battle Company was listening to the action of the Scouts on the radio and received orders from the Battalion Commander to move to the crash site to reinforce the beleaguered Scouts. Upon notification to move, Battle Company immediately moved from their objectives in the northeastern part of the city and took continuous RPG, grenade, and small arms fire as they moved over a 2-kilometer stretch along Route Corvette to reinforce the Scouts. The fire was so intense along their move that they experienced brown out from all of the explosions and small arms fire impacting around them.
Enemy forces shooting from buildings threw continuous grenades at Battle Company as they passed their strong pointed positions while Battle Company was moving to the crash site. Approximately 20 RPGs were fired at Battle Company as they ran the gauntlet of enemy fire and the whole eastern part of Tall A’far was abuzz with whizzing bullets, flying shrapnel, and exploding grenades and RPGs. Along the route, one of the Battle Company Strykers was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and was disabled forcing B Company to recover the vehicle under intense enemy fire. As Battle Company closed on the crash site they immediately tied in their positions with the Scouts already on the scene and made a determined defense against an enemy who was continuing to find weak spots in the positions so that they couldexploit any gaps. As the enemy pressure increased, a 2,000 lbs joint delivered air munitions bomb (JDAM) was dropped near a large gathering of insurgent forces to relieve some pressure off of the defending force around the crash site.
During the defense of the crash site, the Scouts, TAC, and B Company soldiers all poured fire onto enemy targets as they appeared. The enemy started to lob 60mm mortar rounds onto the crash site in an attempt to inflict mass casualties. The enemy indirect rounds were well placed and were bracketed in, which caused several US and ING casualties and damaged a Medical Evacuation Vehicle. The USAF Close air support made a gun run with their jets into a Wadi to the west of the crash site in an attempt to kill insurgents rallying there and to silence the enemy mortar rounds. The gun run worked and enemy indirect fire ceased for the next 15 minutes as the enemy attempted to locate another firing position. Shortly after Battle Company closed on the crash site C Company departed the FOB along with recovery assets to recover the downed aircraft and further reinforce the crash site.
As C Company moved around the southeast side of the city to reach the crash site they were heavily engaged by insurgent forces. C Company ran a gauntlet of enemy fire and arrived at the crash site two hours after the aircraft had gone down. As C Company arrived; they immediately went to work on recovering the aircraft. Their ingenuity along with the recovery element quickly recovered the helicopter onto the back of a PLS truck. Once the aircraft was safely recovered, the battalion began a phased withdrawal from the objective. “This was the first time we really saw an organized insurgency inside the city,” Reed said. “They began to outfit with all black and black masks and almost became more organized and militant. I don’t know if it’s related, but it seems like a couple days before that is when they all left Najaf.”
The entire battle lasted for approximately 4 ½ hours and was the most intense experience the Regulars had been through since their arrival in Iraq almost a year earlier. “I’ve been in Samarra, my battalion has been in Najaf, we’ve broken through barricades in Baghdad,” Lt. Col. Karl Reed, commander of the brigade’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, told the Chicago Tribune. “This was the most intense firefight I’ve ever been in (in) my career.” The enemy suffered 129 casualties during the fight that were seriously wounded or killed, and an undetermined number wounded.
The incoming Brigade Commander, COL Steve Townsend, best described the fighting in an After ActionReview he sent to COL Michael E. Rounds.”Movement to the Objectives and Cordon and Search missions went on schedule and almost without hitch. We took one to two incoming Rocket-propelled grenades during our actions on objective and sustained 3 ING wounded in action, 2 of which were evacuated. The plan was to spend no more than about 1 hour on the objectives and we were on the verge of mounting up to depart when at about H+50 minutes or so, insurgent forces downed a KW with small arms and RPG fire. No one is really sure which shot it down, but my guess is that it was probably both. I was surprised but not shocked when it happened. I had remarked to the Battle Company Commander earlier that in my opinion the KW’s airspeed was fine but they were operating at too low an altitude (less than 100 ft AGL) for an urban environment with an RPG threat. I believe 160th SOAR SOP, developed after Mogadishu, is to maintain 45-60 knots airspeed and 2-300 ft altitude over RPG shooters in an urban environment. It really turns the RPG targeting solution into sheer blind-ass luck with that bit more of airspeed and altitude.
The TF Scouts secured the crash site and pilots almost immediately, within 5 minutes I think, and used Stryker fire bottles to put out the helicopter’s burning engine. Almost immediately the Scouts began to take Rocket-propelled grenades fired in volleys. LTC Reed initiated his briefed downed-aircraft contingency, which was for all elements to rally on the crash site. B Co. had to run quite a gauntlet of fire to move from their Objectives to the crash site, including small arms fire, Multiple Rocket-propelled grenades, 10, 20, possibly more, and even hand grenades. We had several Strykers struck here, but they all kept rolling with only one knocked out of the fight. It managed to keep rolling to a slightly safer spot for recovery operations.
I found this particular movement phase to be somewhat sporty. A good call by LTC Reed was his plan to place the KW orbits on the east and north outskirts of town, thus the downed KW landed on more defensible ground and not in the center of town. His decision to employ close air support was also a good one in my view. Pressure on B Company’s movement and the besieged Scouts at the crash site was getting a bit much. The CAS immediately relieved the pressure (the streets went almost completely quiet for a while) and allowed the force to organize an effective hasty defense around the site. If LTC Reed hadn’t used the CAS when he did, the Scouts probably would have been forced to thermite or abandon the downed aircraft. As one can imagine, in-stride transition from an offensive operation to hasty defense at unplanned location, while under fire, was a challenging one but one the Regulars were more than up to it. C Company, the Battalion QRF and recovery assets arrived in timely fashion as they had stood themselves up when they heard of the turn in events. The downed aircraft recovery went pretty smoothly, under fire the entire time, with lots of initiative and ingenuity by the C Company troopers and the 296 HEMTT crew. During this process, the enemy recovered from the close air support and the pressure on the site perimeter grew steadily with most noteworthy feature being several volleys of quite accurate mortar fires that inflicted some minor casualties and several flat Stryker tires.
I was grateful they were 60s and not 82s. During this phase, the perimeter was under attack from three sides, and with mortars and RPG volleys. However, the Regulars held firm and gave the enemy far more than they took. The enemy really didn’t have a chance once the Regulars set in their hasty defense. With the helicopter secured, the force began to exfil out into the desert to the east of town and then south back to the FOB. We continued to take machinegun, RPG, and mortar fire until out of range to the south of town. The Regulars collected accurate ACE reports while rolling back to the FOB and LTC Reed made a point to confirm 100% accountability of ING soldiers with their commander. After tending to the casualties, the TF conducted a thorough review of the event and hot wash of lessons learned.”
After the fight, the battalion continued to receive reports that the enemy was building strength in the city. The battalion also received reports that the enemy was preparing defensive positions along route Santa Fe, the main logistical route through the city. The enemy was preparing earthen mounds at every intersection and was preparing to hit anything that rolled through the city along the main supply route.
OPERATION BLACK TYPHOON
The battalion took four days to develop the situation, build supplies, and array forces against the entrenching enemy in Tall A’far. Attack Company was rejoined with their brother Regulars during this time and the reunification was the first time the whole battalion had been all-together since January 2004. On 9 September 2004, 5-20 Infantry along with elements of 1-23 Infantry conducted Operation Black Typhoon. During Operation Black Typhoon, the enemy within Tall A’far was targeted in order to rid the city of insurgent forces. To start the operation, the Battalion mortars departed Forward Operating Base Sykes as first in the order of movement. They established their mortar firing point and registered their guns approximately three kilometerslsouth of Tall A’far.
Just before 0200 on 9 September, the mortars kicked off Operation Black Typhoon by firing on five pre-planned targets that had been targeted as being possible reinforced fighting positions for enemy insurgents. A, B, and C Companies departed the FOB and were in their initial set positions by 0330 to the west of the city. There were sporadic small arms and indirect fire from insurgents in the city, but nothing major during the start of the operation as A and C companies moved into position. C Company moved into position to the south of the Tall A’far granary and engaged several insurgents in the area during their move into position. On the other side of town, over in 1-23 Infantry’s sector, an AC-130 Specter Gun Ship that was supporting the Brigade Operation, identified and destroyed a group of 40 anti-Iraqi forces attempting to consolidate and maneuver on Coalition forces. Concurrently, A Company infiltrated into their positions in the heights to the west of the town and was set without having fired a round.
At approximately 0600, Battle Company moved into their subsequent position in the heights to the northwest of the city and tied in their position with Attack Company on their southern flank. As they were moving into their position, Battle Company received effective RPG and small arms fire. B Company aggressively and deliberately hunted down enemy targets and dispatched them as efficiently as only Battle Company could.
During this time, Attack Company became heavily engaged to the south of Battle Company. Attack Company tied in their fires with Battle Company and created an effective killing ground to their front that neutralized many insurgents caught in the fray. Seven individuals were seen running from two separate buildings and engaging B Company.
The seven insurgents would run up to a corner, engage American soldiers, and then run back to another house to rearm. The Air Force was used to destroy the enemy fighters and dropped a 2000lbs JDAM bomb to dispatch the seven insurgents as well as destroy the weapons cache. On the northeast side of the city, 1-23 Infantry was in contact with the enemy for most of the morning. Small arms fire and RPGs were hurled at the Tomahawks in sporadic bursts, but well aimed and placed enough to get their attention. The enemy was using a building in close proximity to the Al Huda Mosque to engage the Tomahawks of 1-23 Infantry believing that the Americans would never target a building so close with heavy ordnance. Their calculations could not have been more wrong as they realized when a 2000lbs JDAM bomb was dropped on their heads. As a result of the JDAM present from the Air Force, seven anti-Iraqi forces were confirmed dead. Fighting persisted in the northern part of Tall A’far for the duration of the battle. Later, 1-23 Infantry began receiving indirect and machine gun fire from a dug in position in the vicinity of the Al Huda Mosque proper. The Tomahawks called upon the Air Force one last time to take out the machine gun nest and the mortar firing position. The Air Force rapidly responded by dropping three 500lbs bombs on the positions thus destroying them both without damaging the Mosque.
By this point in the fight, the Regulars had a stranglehold on the southwestern portion of Tall A’Far. The Regulars were firmly entrenched in their positions and were postured to counter any further attacks. The Regulars learned on the Brigade Command net that the Police station in the middle of the city had been engaged with hell fire missiles by the OH-58D Kiowa Warriors. Personnel inside of the Police station were engaging 1-23 Infantry, so the decision was made to fire on that building. The Regulars continued to receive less and less accurate fire as they dispatched enemy positions one by one.
During the battle, the Regulars had watched a procession of civilians depart the city, some packed into cars and trucks and others walking but all waving pieces of whatever white cloth they could find. Finally by 2100 the fighting subsided in Tall A’far. With the exodus of the majority of the city’s population, all that remained in the city were the Coalition-friendly members of the police force and a small group of insurgents. The Regulars remained in position throughout the remainder of the night and set up checkpoints on the four major intersections outside the city limits the next morning. Wanting to completely rid the city of insurgent forces, the two battalions began planning for the next phase of the operation.
In the early morning hours of 12 September, the Regulars and the Tomahawks of 1-23 Infantry once again moved against the insurgents. The Regulars mounted a systematic clearing of the city from the east while the Tomahawks approached from the west. The Regulars cleared the same portion of the city where a week earlier they had fought to recover the downed OH-58D, but unit did not experience the heavy contact it expected. With enough sense to slip from the city undetected or hide, the remaining insurgents chose not to again provoke the wrath of the Regulars. Returning from the mission, the Regulars continued to restrict entrance into the city and waited for any remaining insurgents to emerge, but none did.
On September 14th 2004, the city of Tall A’far was re-opened to its residents. For the next several weeks, the Regulars conducted a series of small scale operations geared towards detaining black listed individuals that were identified in Tall A’Far. However, the remainder of September was very quiet as the enemy licked their wounds and regrouped after the whipping they received as a result of Operation Black Typhoon. During the early part of October, the Regulars began preparations for their impending replacement by 1-24 Infantry and subsequent redeployment back to Fort Lewis Washington.. Later in the month the Lancer Brigade, replacing the Arrowhead Brigade, decided to move 1-24 Infantry to Mosul and replace it with 2-14 Cavalry in Tall A’Far.
The Regulars signed over the combat equipment with 1-24 Infantry before their departure and prepared 2-14 Cavalry for the new home in Tall A’Far. During their 12-month tour of duty in Iraq, the Regulars traveled the entire length and width of Iraq several times over. They killed or severely wounded 350 enemy insurgent fighters during the year. They captured a total of 281 suspected enemy insurgents that were low level fighters, financiers, or other various echelons of enemy force structure. Additionally, they captured 39 High Value Targets and recovered, discovered, or destroyed 172 enemy caches of equipment.
The Regulars fought in many engagements during their year in Iraq. Heroic actions were displayed in each and every engagement and we learned about ourselves and forged a camaraderie that will never be matched in our teams, platoons and companies. Every Regular will hold in his heart the memory of those Soldiers who were and will always be the true heroes of this war. The true heroes of any war make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and allow others to go home in their stead through their selfless sacrifice. SGT Jacob Herring, CPL Demetrius Rice, and PFC Jesse Martinez made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of a world without the fear of terror as part of the Regular family. These three soldiers fought with honor every day and epitomize all that is true of the American fighting soldier. The Regulars will forever hold the memories of these Regulars that sacrificed everything for their countrymen and for their brothers in arms.
At the conclusion of their stay in Iraq, the Regulars could reflect on their time triumphantly. They survived the bloody days of April, survived the intensity of the Tall A’far battles of September, performed remarkably in Samarra, and forged the moniker of Ghost Soldiers to their enemy. The performance of the 1st Stryker Brigade to be funded, equipped, tested, and then battle tested was culminated in the sands of Iraq and will forever remain a gold mark on the wall of the American fighting man. Purple Heart recipients from 5th BATTALION, 20TH Infantry Regiment Over the course of the Battalion’s yearlong deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 and Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, the Regulars earned 70 Purple Heart medals for their actions in Iraq, of which 7 were two time recipients. The wounds and injuries received as a result of numerous enemy engagements were a product of enemy shrapnel, bullets, bomb fragments, and concussion related injuries as a result of enemy fire.
Here is the list of heroic Regulars that were wounded in action:
Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in combat –
(2)* SPC Jacob Herring- (8FEB04, 27APR04) injuries to torso, legs, shoulder
CPT Eric Beaty- (15AUG04) shrapnel wounds to shoulder from Rocket Propelled Grenade
1LT William Baynes- (27MAR04) shrapnel wounds to gluteus from Rocket
1LT Christopher Sheehan- (14AUG04) concussion from Improvised Explosive Device
SFC Michael Archey- (4SEP04) shrapnel wounds to right calf from Rocket Propelled Grenade
SFC Jimmy Thorton- (4JUL04) injury to ear from Improvised Explosive Device
SSG Aaron Alexander- (5JUN04) shrapnel wounds to left bicep
(2) SSG Daniel Allemani- (21MAY04, 10JUN04) multiple shrapnel wounds
SSG Eric Evans- (6FEB04) wounds to wrist and elbow
SSG Nevin Gamble- (8AUG04) gun shot wounds to legs and abdomen
SSG Randy Garcia- (12JUL04) shrapnel to forearm
SSG Benjamin Hanner- (30SEP04) shrapnel to neck/shoulder from Improvised Explosive
SSG Eric Krueger- (10JUL04) shrapnel wounds
SSG Joshua Newman- (21MAY04) injury to leg
SSG Kevin Pearson- (10APR04) injury to right arm
SSG Erik Sandstrum- (5SEP04) shrapnel to neck
SSG Brent Skinner- (10APR04) injury to ear
SSG Kurtis Wilkerson- (10JUN04) multiple shrapnel wounds to abdomen
SGT Randall Davis- (5SEP04) shrapnel to forehead
SGT Nakia Finney- (30SEP04) shrapnel to neck
SGT David Fitzgerald- (14APR04) wounds to upper thigh
SGT Christopher Galka- (30SEP04) shrapnel to leg
SGT Anthony Glover- (20FEB04) wounds to leg
SGT Jeremy Gonzales- (30SEP04) shrapnel to head and broken arm
SGT Pili Masaniai- (23JUL04) abrasion to left calf
SGT William Parker- (27APR04) injuries to neck, shoulder, and ear
SGT Richards Rochelle- (9APR04) shrapnel to left knee
SGT Daniel Swanson- (10APR04) injury to eye
SGT Felipe Tellez- (30SEP04) shrapnel to neck
SGT Richard Watson (14OCT2004) internal head trauma.
SGT Joe Collins (14OCT2004) shrapnel to left shoulder.
SGT Jesse Williams (14OCT2004) shrapnel to right hand.
CPL Steven James- (16MAR04) wounds to abdomen, legs and back
CPL Myron Mikkelson- (21MAY04) injury to face
SPC Alberto Alcala Jr.- (17AUG04) shrapnel to left arm
SPC Juan Barrera- (4SEP04) ruptured eardrum
SPC Leon Bell- (9APR04) shrapnel to face
(2) SPC Joseph Cordel- (5JUN04, 10JUN04) multiple shrapnel wounds
SPC Aaron Farley- (20APR04) punctured eardrum
SPC Shea Hawkins- (23JUL04) concussion
SPC George Hudgeons- (4SEP04) shrapnel to rear thigh
SPC Thomas Lajudice- (4SEP04) shrapnel to right calf
SPC Keith Maupin- (18JUL04) shrapnel to right hand
(2) SPC Enrique Murillo- (24MAY04, 10APR04) shrapnel wounds
SPC Jack Shaffer- (16MAR04) wounds to back
SPC Jay Thompson- (27APR04) injuries to left hand
SPC Seth Tribble- (28FEB04) injuries to legs and arms from enemy grenade
SPC Jacob Trindle- (14AUG04) shrapnel to right arm from Improvised Explosive Device
SPC Jason A Mendietta (14OCT2004) shrapnel to left arm.
SPC Zane E Shuman (14 OCT2004) Internal head trauma.
PFC Josh Bressel- (9APR04) shrapnel to elbow
(2) PFC Enrique Rosano- (10APR04) shrapnel wounds
PFC James Sene- (13APR04) wounds to upper chest, right groin, and left thigh
PV2 Edgar Castro- (19APR04) shrapnel to left hand
PV2 David Hardt- (14APR04) injuries to left elbow
PV2 Rodney Robbins- (13APR04) injuries to left buttocks
PVT Roberto Figueroa- (9JUL04) abrasion to right lateral neck
(2) PVT Oscar Ramos- (27MAY04) multiple shrapnel wounds
(2) PV2 Andrew Williams- (14FEB04, 27APR04) multiple shrapnel wounds
* Denotes posthumous award
(2) denotes second award.