Only days after the last elements joined up with the rest of 2nd Marine Division, we moved up close enough to the Kuwaiti border to begin preliminary offensive operations. Today, the division wasted no time and issued Frag Order 007. This ordered an "artillery surface raid," intended to destroy selected targets across the border in what was known as the "agricultural area." The raid, which would be the first for 2nd Marine Division, was conducted by elements of the 5th Battalion, 10th Marines. Battery Q armed with 155-mm self-propelled howitzers (pictured here) and Battery R with its 8-inch self-propelled howitzers, were selected as the firing units. The 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion would provide screening and security. The 2nd LAI Battalion would be our main security throughout the war. I only provided an extra layer of security between them and whatever radar team was positioned the farthest north, just in case a straggler, such as a forward observer or recon unit, slipped through the cracks.
The purpose of the raid was three-fold. First, to develop an offensive spirit in the division's units. Second, to destroy the targets chosen: a logistics site and truck park. Third, and perhaps most importantly, to measure the enemy's reactions to the raid and to gauge his ability to detect and counterattack the division. The raid was structured as a Task Force, with Lieutenant Colonel Keith T. Holcomb, Commanding Officer, 2nd LAI Battalion, in charge. The commander of the raid force was the commanding officer of the 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew F. Mazarra. Counter battery protection was provided by "Romeo Two," radar team two of the Counter Battery Radar platoon of 10th Marines and Battery A, 92nd Field Artillery, a Multiple Lunch Rocket System (MLRS) battery commanded by Captain Edward L. Hughes. We would be getting zero sleep tonight so I tried to catch a nap that maybe lasted an hour, but I was really too anxious to get any real sleep.
A small convoy raced out of western Iraq toward Baghdad. Andy McNab and Dinger were shackled and blindfolded in the back seat of one of the vehicles. Both men had undergone severe beatings at the hands of their captors. They were elated to be alive and with one another for this journey into the unknown.
As Andy and Dinger were being taken to Baghdad, Lieutenant Colonel Acree was in his cell recuperating from a four day long grilling and torture at a place he labeled, "Baghdad Interrogation Center." His first five days of captivity had been filled with endless beatings and questioning. It wasn't until the 25th of February that he received medical attention for the wounds he suffered. A doctor entered his cell and during his short stay, found and removed a chunk of shrapnel from Acree's neck.
Shortly after his prison cell surgery, Acree was moved to a military prison. It was here, in his new home that the colonel lay trying to recover his strength enough to sit up on his own. He had survived his first encounter with Iraqi interrogators. For some unknown reason, they had temporarily suspended their questioning and moved him to a relatively benign environment. At the military prison, he was fed well and allowed to recover his strength. Here he met two of his neighbors; Major Jeffery Tice was in the cell next to his and on the other side of Tice was Flight Lieutenant John Peters.
Andy and Dinger followed Acree and Tice down the Iraqi assembly line of interrogators. When they reached Baghdad they were sent to the "Iraqi Interrogation Center."
More Air Combat
The Iraqi flights to Iran caused a great concern within the Allied command. Were the Iraqis preparing to launch an attack on Saudi Arabia or Naval forces in the Gulf? Was Saddam moving his Air Force to safety so that it could be used later for close air support against advancing Coalition ground forces? Had Iraq made a secret pact with Iran? Could a chemical attack be launched from Iran? All of these questions and more came up in our predawn briefing, shortly before our raid was to take place. No one could say with certainty why the planes were going to Iran. Prudence required that the Allies assign aircraft to CAP (Combat Air Patrols) along the Iraq/Iran border to intercept any additional Iraqi aircraft.
The decision turned out to be a good one as more Iraqi aircraft attempted the short flight to safety today. Four MIG-23s were intercepted by patrolling Allied aircraft and shot down. Many others, however, managed to sneak through. By this tomorrow, the number of Iraqi military aircraft that would reach Iran would increase to more than eighty.
From the Iraqi Lieutenant's diary:
"The air strikes began this morning. I learned before noon today that I have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant and that the decision reached Brigade headquarters after a delay of (unreadable) weeks. This afternoon I got back the letter I had sent to my relatives. It was returned to me because the soldier who was going to mail it didn't go on leave. I was very upset by this turn of events. My mind and heart are with my relatives, and only my body is with the army. I very much need to see my relatives. I had a dream yesterday and it was not a good omen at all."
Hit 'em, Hurt 'em, Leave 'em!
At 2100 we drove through the night to move from our assembly areas to our firing positions. A Marine mortar team was launching mortar rounds at pre-selected targets to cover our movements. A Navy Prowler swooped into the area to jam the Iraqi surveillance radar as well. I could see the mortar fire going on as I was pulling into my position. I thought the Marine recon unit positioned at the border was under mortar fire. It wasn't until much later that I learned it was our guys firing at them.
Units of the 2nd LAI Battalion conducted a screening operation between the Iraqis and our firing positions. The LAI advanced first, setting up forward observation and defensive positions. Ryder and I followed the screen and the twenty one artillery vehicles followed closely behind us until they stopped at their designated location.
At 2359 firing commenced and continued for 13 minutes. When firing ceased, Battery Q had delivered 72 155-mm rounds and Battery R had fired 36 8-inch rounds. I remember the sights and the sounds vividly. The thunderous sounds of over a hundred rounds of artillery firing directly over my head. It wasn't the first time I've had artillery fire over me. We've done this before with live fire many times. It was the coolest thing to actually hear an artillery round flying over your head and then hear it land seconds later. Only today, it was nearly continuous fire. And what was even more exciting was seeing where they were landing. You could tell when there was a direct hit. If the round landed in the open desert, there was a quick flash, followed by the loud boom seconds later. But if there was a direct hit, not only did you see the flash from the explosion of the round, but a fluttering flash of the explosion of the target. Being the Gung ho Marines that we were, every time there was a direct hit, we would yell "Ooh Rah!!" Ooh Rah is a battle cry for Marines which means "kill". It is comparable to "Hooah" in the US Army and "Hooyah" in the US Navy and US Coast Guard. It is an expression of motivation. I have to admit, I was really motivated about finally seeing some real action. After a few minutes of seeing target after target get destroyed, my thoughts turned to the Iraqi soldiers who were being pounded relentlessly over there. I could only imagine what they were going through. People were dying just a few kilometers in front me. This was war.
The two firing batteries displaced and returned to their assembly areas after firing ceased. The plan was for Batteries Q and R to draw the enemy into an artillery firefight so that our Counter Batter Radar team could detect their positions. They would "shoot and scoot", as I called it; or as another Marine put it, "Hit 'em, Hurt 'em, Leave 'em!" They would withdraw immediately to prevent being hit by return fire. Once the enemy returned fire, Counter Battery Radar would detect the grid coordinates they were firing from and deliver these targets to the eagerly awaiting MLRS battery. I was in the back of my Humvee waiting to see if the Iraqis were going to come out and play or just run away licking their wounds. They decided to play. Approximately five minutes after the firing stopped, we started receiving incoming artillery. I was standing in the back of my Humvee so I could keep a better watch on anything that might approach us as I was the last man standing between 2nd LAI and Romeo Two.
When the Iraqi artillery fired their guns at us, I felt the ground shake and the vibration shimmer through my body as round after round landed within a kilometer of us. I could see where they were landing and it was like I was living a dream. I almost felt invincible, like I could just walk out there in the open and nothing could touch me. Then one landed a little too close and brought me back to reality. Ryder had already taken cover in a nearby fox hole that we dug about an hour before the firing started. I quickly jumped from the back of the Humvee and joined him at the same time he was saying, "Corporal Lovell, take cover!" The Iraqis were firing blindly at us, but they exposed themselves to our radar capabilities, and once we sent their coordinates to our MLRS Battery, they quickly silenced them. It was exciting to see them in action for the first time. I had typically worked with artillery units in the past, but this was my first time seeing the MLRS in action up close. The Multiple Launch Rocket System is a high-mobility automatic system based on an M270 weapons platform. MLRS fires surface-to-surface rockets and the Army TACtical Missile System (ATACMS). Without leaving the cab, the crew of three (driver, gunner and section chief) can fire up to 12 MLRS rockets in fewer than 60 seconds. Now imagine a whole battery of them firing everything they have at you. It was like the fourth of July!
Battle Damage Assessment verified several targets destroyed and many artillery units destroyed or badly damaged. The raid worked to perfection. In the next few weeks, these hit and run artillery raids would continue for several weeks with the last one on the 22nd of February. We wanted to damage or destroy as much of the front line artillery as possible before the start of the ground war. I don't go into details, but I briefly mentioned my involvement in a letter I wrote to my grandmother on the 29th. I stated it was "my first time to engage enemy forces. I'm a combat veteran now." As we returned back to our assembly areas a few hours later, I learned that we lost three more marines in the raid.
"Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people
and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight."