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    Posts : 3719
    Join date : 2010-01-09
    Age : 32


    Post by Mercenary25 Fri Apr 04, 2014 7:34 pm

    Ten Years to the Day I was back in Iraq, in-country with Blackwater, less than 6 months after my deployment there with 2nd Force Recon. I had been recruited for the Paul Bremmer detail, which was the most high threat principle in PSD history.

    My day-to-day was with the Blackwater Air teams doing advance work, route clearing and aerial overwatch for Bremmer's motorcade, but we all wore multiple hats. Things were getting uglier. "Dead end" Saddam loyalists were no longer the only threat. IEDs quickly had become VBIEDs. EFPs were starting to show up with more frequency and unlike IEDs to that point, the EFPs could kill armored vehicles. Much of this technology was being deployed by the Jaysh al-Mahdi, courtesy of the Iranians, and everything seemed to be moving towards an open conflict.

    On March 31, the now infamous ambush and mutilation of 4 BW contractors in Fallujah rocked us all and Ambassador Bremmer shared our shock and anger at their fate. A few days later, I was on "office watch" personally guarding Ambassador Bremmer at the CPA offices in the Green Zone, when the news came in that there was an massed attack on the CPA compound in Najaf - Camp Golf. Early reports from the US Army indicated the Spanish forces there had the situation under control, but given the events in Fallujah a few days earlier, Ambassador Bremmer asked me to get the AIC, Frank Gallagher, to his office and then asked him to get comms with the BW element in Najaf. What Frank relayed completely contradicted the Army report. The report from the Najaf Team Leader was that they would be over run if not supported immediately.

    There was heated discussion between Ambassador Bremmer and General Sanchez, Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq. In the end, the Army was unwilling to dispatch a relief force to the Najaf compound. Bremmer then instructed Frank, "I am authorizing you, by any means necessary, to get our people out." With that, Frank sent me to round up the air team and to start pulling together weapons and munitions to bring on the flight. I hit the ready room and started pulling kit. My M4, magazines and a CS Rifle. The Counter Sniper Rifle was more of a moment of opportunity thing than a plan and Terry, one of our detail's Counter Snipers, quickly fished through his gear to give me his dope card as I headed down to the air strip where the Little Birds were spooling up.

    At the airstrip, the helo team lead Hacksaw was making final flight checks on the Little Birds. When everything was loaded, Gallagher and Hacksaw gathered everyone around and stated unambiguously that this was a volunteer mission and we all had the chance to opt out. Every last man boarded the birds and we took off, barely clearing the tree line thanks to all the weapons and ammunition we were carrying.

    Camp Golf is about 75 miles south of the Green Zone and we needed to both refuel and attempt to get comms with the Coalition Forces in the area before we flew into the middle of a battle, so Hacksaw put us down at the coalition FARP in Babylon. While we were refueling, an Apache pilot came to confer with our crews and we learned that they had been pulled out of the city because it was too hot for them to run any more sorties. Again, Gallagher and Hacksaw gave everyone the opportunity to stay behind. Again, everyone saddled up and the birds headed into the city.

    As we came in on Camp Golf, we were still flying in dark. We had no comms with either the ground or air elements in the battle space. We knew there was a fight, but we didn't know how hot the LZ was until an explosion from a JDAM released from an F16 Viper that was cleared hot to level an insurgent stronghold less than 600 meters from our final approach line, sent a shockwave shuddering through the aircraft (there's still a hole there if you look on Google Earth). We unloaded our ammunition and supplies one bird at a time on the roof and then set down in the compound courtyard. We unassed the birds and I was greeted by a member of the BW Ground Team, Ben aka Mookie, who saw the CS rifle and said, "A sniper rifle? Let's get that shit up on the roof!" I followed him and we got to work (note - you can hear him in my video, spotting for me as I engage JAM insurgents in the city).

    About an hour later we learned that three of the compound defenders had been hit. But one, a Marine Corporal named Lonnie Young, had suffered a potentially life threatening wound and needed immediate evacuation. The Ground Team called for a MEDIVAC, but were denied repeatedly. Hacksaw made the call to evac him on one of the BW Little Birds and as my pilot, I insisted on going with him. We got Corporal Young onto a Little Bird and strapped him into the co-pilot seat. Hacksaw hopped on the flight stick and I grabbed the left side of the chopper to keep my eyes open for anything that might threaten Hacksaw. Since we were flying with no co-pilot pilot, if Hacksaw got hit the whole bird would go down. Hacksaw took us up, under fire, and headed straight back to Baghdad. We delivered Corporal Young to a CCAS(Combat Casualty and Surgical) team then quickly flew the bird to the BW airstrip where the Pit Crew was waiting to refuel and reload us with ammunition and water. We were back in the air and en route back to Najaf in less than 10 minutes.

    When we arrived, the fight was still going. Hacksaw put us down in the courtyard of the compound and I ran back to the rooftop where the CS rifle was waiting for me. For the rest of the day, I ran through magazine after magazine, pushing back the JAM 10-15 yards at a time. People kept handing me magazines and I kept shooting JAM gunmen. There were constant attacks via machine guns, mortars, RPGs, snipers, VBIEDs and a few massed attacks including one you can see in the video where a bus load of JAM militia are trying to gain access to the camp perimeter.

    Something that strikes me today, is despite being totally surrounded and under constant fire, there was no panic. We killed them like clockwork. One after the other, until each attack broke and scattered. Time had little meaning. At one point, a FAC team from 4th ANGLICO managed to get to the camp after their position in the city had been overrun. They had good comms with the F16 Vipers, who had been flying sorties over the city, and they began coordinating JDAM strikes on concentrations of JAM who were coming in wave after wave. In a strange coincidence, I would later meet one of the pilots from that day in DC. When we figured out who each other, were he told me, "I felt bad, we had a hard deck at 10,000 feet. You guys got really lucky. There were well over one thousand bad guys out there that day."

    The next day, General Sanchez arrived via Blackhawk supported by Special Operations Forces. At that point, we shut down, hopped in the Little Birds and went back to Baghdad. Despite more than a decade of service in the Marine Corps, most of it with Force Reconnaissance, Najaf was the longest sustained gunfight of my military career. I am very proud of the actions of my team and the men at that camp. No one talked about leaving and everyone did whatever they could, no matter their job description. From Corporal Young - a Defense Messaging Systems Administrator who ran ammo to shooters on the roof when he wasn't running a SAW and even after being seriously wounded, did not want to leave the fight to the members of the BW Air Team who flew across the city into the middle of battle to deliver supplies, evacuate the wounded and eventually reinforce the ground forces when the Coalition Forces would not. I couldn't have asked for finer men to fight with.

    - Travis Haley


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