At some point during the night, I heard a sound. It was a familiar sound that I had heard before. It sounded like footsteps. It was definitely someone walking in the sand. You don't forget that sound once you've heard it enough.
At first I just thought to myself, "It's probably a marine going to take a leak." So I closed my eyes again. But it suddenly dawned on me that the sound of these footsteps weren't walking away from me, they were walking toward me, getting louder and louder and louder. I decided to look up and I saw a very dark figure straight ahead of me. I didn't have my NVGs but I was sure it was an Iraqi soldier. I looked to my right and to my left and wondered why no one else was seeing this. Who's on fire watch?
I couldn't unzip my sleeping bag. The zipper always seemed to jam on you at the worst times. This was a problem because I slept with my rifle in my sleeping bag. I never wanted to take a chance on it being taken from me. I decided to forget about unzipping it and just get my arms out. With the sleeping bag now just underneath my armpits, I was able to pull my rifle out, flip the safety switch to semi, and took aim. After pulling the trigger, the gun didn't go off. I pulled the charging handle back to eject the unspent round from the chamber and reload a fresh one. I took aim again, but still it didn't go off. By this time, the Iraqi soldier that was walking toward me noticed I was aware of him and started sprinting my direction. I scrambled to find a grenade but then remembered they were in my Humvee. I tried once more to cycle a new round through the chamber but never got a shot fired. I remembered one of Murphy's Law of Combat: "Always keep in mind that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder." The only other thing I could do was grab my combat knife that doubled as a bayonet, the famous U.S.M.C. issued Ka-Bar Combat Knife. The enemy was now upon me and I prepared myself for a fight to the death. Still on my knees and my sleeping bag covering me from the armpits down, I didn't stand much of a chance. He fired one shot and hit me in the forehead. Another of Murphy's law of Combat is, "The law of the bayonet says the man with the bullet wins."
Fortunately this was all a bad dream. I woke up feeling my heart beating wildly. Needless to say I couldn't go back to sleep after that. There was just too much on my mind to sleep. Plus, it was Christmas Eve. Tomorrow would be Christmas and I was going to spend much of the day making phone calls and writing letters. Then, I was packing everything I intended to take with me to the Gulf as we were leaving late Wednesday night, early Thursday morning. My mind raced with things I might have forgotten. Batteries? Check. Film for my camera? Check. Stamps and stationary? Check. Snacks? Double check!
Know Your Enemy
As I laid there in my nice warm bed, unable to go back to sleep, I thought more and more about what it would be like facing the enemy for the first time. We were well trained and well informed of the Iraqi army and their tactics. The 2nd Mar Div staff and commanders sought information on the enemy situation since the earliest days of August. Even before the division had received a mission, and while its deployment to the Persian Gulf was little more than speculation, they were assembling as much information as they could about the Iraqi Army and its capabilities.
The Iraqi Army in 1990 was the world's fourth largest and one of the best equipped and combat-experienced in the world. It could conduct multi-corps operations spread over 100 km or more and was capable of coordinating air and artillery, timing of movements and operations coordinating complicated logistics requirements, and getting supplies, equipment, and troops to the right place at the designated time. The Iraqi Army was distinguished by its flexibility, unity of command, and high level of mobility. The Army was highly qualified in planning, C2, logistics and maintenance, but limitations placed upon the commanders' initiative, especially in exploiting success, reduced these advantages. Concern over the political impact of excessive losses, military leaders' fear of punishment for failure, and lack of inter-service cooperation also hindered initiative during the Iran-Iraq War.
The Iraqis were known to have large amounts of artillery and they had shown that they could use it properly; although not as proficient as U.S. forces, when they fired massed artillery they could assume that they had killed the target in their fire sack. Their engineers were rated as "very good." They were said to be intelligent, highly motivated, and innovative. They could operate quickly and efficiently under fire, and could create defensive sectors rapidly, even building higher terrain as necessary to take advantage of tactical situations. Their tactical air was "very poor," and their logistics were very vulnerable, especially with the numerous types and calibers of weapons which they had to supply.
2nd Mar Div commanders would continue intelligence gathering up to and throughout the ground war and would be disseminating intelligence about the specific enemy units to the front. Their work in identifying the enemy units facing the division was highly accurate; prior to the attack it was known that the 2nd Marine Division's area of operations was occupied by the 7th and 14th Iraqi Divisions, both part of the Iraqi III Corps. These divisions were composed, respectively, of the 19th, 38th, 39th, and 116th Infantry Brigades; and the 14th, 18th, 56th, and 426th Infantry Brigades. The brigades were arrayed in depth along the defensive lines; beyond them were part of the III Iraqi Corps' operational reserves, the 3rd Armored Division, composed of the 6th and 12th Armored Brigades and the 8th Mechanized Brigade. Also in the zone was the 20th Mechanized Brigade, which belonged to another III Corps operational reserve division, the 5th Mechanized Division. The picture I've included here is a re-creation based on a captured map that showed Iraqi army positions in the 1st and 2nd Mar Div zones located in the southeastern area of Kuwait, just north of Khafji. You'll hear me talk more about the "Battle of Khafji" that took place prior to the official ground war in late January.
"Ignorance is the curse of God;
knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven."