It was now time for the ground assault and the military strength along the border was overwhelming. We began to shift our focus from the defense of Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield) and the Air Campaign of the war (Operation Desert Storm) to an all out frontal attack against the Iraqi army in Kuwait, which not many people know, was given the code name, Operation Desert Sabre (or Sword). At Schwarzkopf’s request, Bush had authorized the additional deployments that nearly doubled the U.S. troops in the gulf in order to provide the combat power required to defeat an Iraqi force estimated at more than six hundred thousand men. The reinforcements included the U.S. Army’s VII Corps, with two divisions from Europe and two from the United States. General Boomer’s First MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) was a combined strength of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing from bases in North and South Carolina.
The 2nd Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William M. Keys, had hundreds of reservists, including B Company, Fourth Tank Battalion, from Yakima, Washington, which was the first Marine unit to get modern M1A1 Abrams tanks. In all, Bravo Company had fourteen of the powerful armored vehicles. The 2nd Division was also reinforced by the Army’s 1st Brigade, Second Armored Division — the ‘Tiger Brigade’ — with their M1A1s and Bradley fighting vehicles. When fully assembled, our division had 20,500 personnel and 257 tanks, including 185 Abrams, some 170 of which belonged to the Tiger Brigade. "It was probably the heaviest marine division, with the most combat power, ever to take the field," Keys recalled.
Needless to say, we were ready for a fight, and I was ready to deliver my wrath of vengeance for Pacman's death. The picture I included here was taken either on the 22nd or earlier on the 23rd just inside the border of Kuwait southwest of the Manaqish oil field. When I saw the camels walking by, I asked someone to snap of picture of me with the camels in the background. On a side note, we heard that Iraqi deserters were being executed just north of us. The Iraqi "cannon fodder" on the immediate frontlines knew that they were being abandoned by their own and didn't want to fight. Those who were not able to surrender right away, ended up either executed, killed in battle, or taken prisoner by the end of the day today. Getting through Iraq's second defensive belt was going to be a little tougher. Those guys were there to fight.
I read somewhere (I don't remember where) that they were expecting at least 10% casualties the first day and had reinforcements already being deployed. While we had been moving into defensive positions, fifteen thousand more Marines were sailing for the gulf aboard ships. Tens of thousands of soldiers of the U.S. Army’s XVIII Corps and hundreds of U.S. Air Force warplanes and support aircraft were pouring into Saudi Arabia and neighboring nations. I eventually learned from fellow Marines back at Camp LeJeune that they were told to get ready to replace us because we weren't coming back alive. We had serious issues with this but that would be for another time.
Oh Those Sneaky Marines!
The Ground War would start with a deception. Saddam expected and feared a Marine Amphibious Assault landing. So we used this to our advantage. They heavily defended the beaches of Kuwait and the Saudi/Kuwaiti border, leaving their western flank vulnerable to the surprise attack from the Army, and other Coalition forces. According to intel briefings, the Iraqis laid land mines and barbed wire throughout the beach, oil to be lit on fire to burn the Marines alive, and also ran electrical wires into the water to electrocute them before they could ever reach land. They must have felt confident that the beach was secured and well defended.
At 0030 Navy SEALs were ordered to start the deception by launching two speedboats toward the beach. They opened fired with .50 caliber machine guns and forty-millimeter grenades. They dropped delayed charges to clear the mines and then raced out to sea.
The USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri opened fire with their 16 inch guns, shelling the Kuwaiti coastline. The Iraqis responded by firing two Silkworm missiles at the USS Missouri. One of the missiles fell short and the other one was shot down.
The Iraqis were finally engaged in battle and no doubt knew the Marines were about to land on the heavily fortified beach. They were ready for the fight that they had prepared for during the previous months. Their focus on the beach was key to the invasion as we would approach by land behind them. And it worked like a charm. Once the 1st and 2nd Mar Div moved into Kuwait, we would sneak up behind the unsuspecting Iraqis and use the traps they thought were protecting them as a wall of defense from escaping us.
Wake Up Call
We woke up at "zero dark thirty," as we like to say. I honestly don't remember what time it was. All I knew was it was time to advance into Kuwait and do what we came here to do. I really didn't sleep last night. I dozed off a few times but then kept looking at my watch wishing it was time to move out already. I knew I needed to sleep, but my mind was racing with thoughts and I just couldn't sleep. Although the death of Pacman was still fresh on my mind, it was time to put on our game face and go to war. Having lead the prayer meeting the day before, I felt confident that God was with us and would grant us a quick victory.
It was cold and raining, but not very hard. There had been hope that weather would improve which caused the delay in the start of the Ground War. The weather, however, did not improve, and in a situation similar to what General Dwight D. Eisenhower had faced on the eve of D-Day in 1944, Schwarzkopf decided to attack despite the poor conditions. “We fought the ground campaign over the worst four flying days of the whole war,” Moore, the marine air commander, later complained. “General Schwarzkopf and every weather guy in Southwest Asia promised 72 hours of good weather, but we probably didn’t get 72 minutes.”
Once the firing order was given, our artillery shattered the predawn quiet like an alarm clock at 0430. There were 1,430 rounds fired at nearly 40 Iraqi artillery targets in just over ten minutes. Can you imagine waking up to that! That's two rounds fired every second. Someone was going to wake up on the wrong side of the bed today.
1st Mar Div's tanks were advancing forward when they started taking incoming artillery, and they were landing too close. They popped smoke for cover, back tracked a little, and called in air support. Soon after, Marine aircraft dove in and pummeled the area while Tiger Brigade's MLRS battery fired on four deep targets acquired by Romeo One.
The Ground War was well on its way, and at 0530 my division (2nd Mar Div) was moving through Iraq's first defensive line. We had six breach lanes labeled with a color and a number. From left to right they were Red 1, Red 2, Blue 3, Blue 4, Green 5, and Green 6. The far west flank of the 2nd Mar Div's breaching area was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (the 1/6). Company B of the 1/6 breached through the western-most lane, Red 1, while Company C breached directly to the right via lane Red 2. 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines (2/2) passed through on lanes Blue 3 and Blue 4. On the right flank, Bravo Company went through lane Green 5 while Alpha Company went through Green 6. We had two return lanes, one lane to the left and one to the right of the six assault lanes, after initial breaching operations to enable equipment and personnel to evacuate to the rear if needed without interfering with the advance of other units.
Assault Amphibian Vehicles (AAVs) of the AAV battalion’s 1st Platoon, Company B, transported Company B of the 1/6 through the minefields and into battle through breaching lane Red 1. The 1st Platoon’s AAVs were each tightly packed with an infantry squad (15 Marines), an infantry commander, three crewmen, and all of their gear. I’ve included a picture of the inside of one.
Gas! Gas! Gas!
As we continued to push forward, we were getting incoming artillery all around us. Some vehicles were also hitting land mines. I was back in the driver's seat because Ryder didn't trust doc's vision to steer us clear of the mines. We got word over the radio that there was a possible chemical attack underway. Marines were finding chemical mines and it was believed that rockets filled with sarin and cyclosporine mixes were used and we were ordered to don our gas masks. I donned my mask and then cleared it by blowing out any gas that might have been trapped inside of the mask. Then I sucked in air to get a tight seal around my face. Once that was done, I stepped out of my Humvee to give the signal to the convoy behind me. The signal is stretching out your arms to the sides then motioning with your fists toward your head to symbolize putting the mask on and repeating three times, "Gas!, Gas!, Gas!" I saw the occupants in the trucks behind me scramble to get their masks on and then signal the others behind them. In order for everyone behind me to see my signal, I had to take several steps out of the cleared path we were on and into dangerous mined territory. I remember looking down all around me and seeing three anti-personnel mines within a few feet. If I had stepped on one, I would have either been killed or at the very least would have lost my legs. In the picture I've included, you can see some of the mies that have been exposed by either the wind or rain. Other mines are still hidden somewhere beneath the sand. As I stepped back in to my hummer, I kept thinking, "What if I don't have a good enough seal?" "What if there is still gas trapped inside my mask and I'm breathing it right now?" It was an uneasy feeling. I prayed for God's protection.
The Department of Defense concluded that Gulf War Veterans could have been exposed to low-levels of the nerve agent Sarin. With all of the chemical weapons that Saddam had on standby, we could have suffered extreme heavy casualties. I'll be discussing in a later post the reason I believe that they were not used. I thanked God for protecting me, from the artillery, the mines, and the chemical warfare.
It Just Got Real!
With 1st Mar Div on our right and the Tiger Brigade's 2nd Armored Division on our left, we punched a hole through the mine field and booby traps they had waiting for us while entering through. And we Marines know how to start a fight with style. Our Psychological Operations loudspeaker team (pictured here) blasted the Marine Corps. Hymn all the way into the enemy's front lines. We wanted to make sure they knew who they were up against.
At first, we were getting hit even harder than 1st Mar Div as we were positioned further north than they were initially. Iraqi artillery fire was concentrating on us as we entered the center of the minefield in single column formations, trying not to stray off the paths that our combat engineer teams made as they plowed through the minefield. Our radar teams, Counter Battery Radar (CBR), went to work on locating these enemy artillery targets and relaying their coordinates to our fighter jets in an attempt to silence them. Marine artillery pounded the Iraqi positions as the mine clearing teams cut lanes through the minefield.
While the counter assault was going on, Task Force Breach Alpha, a combat engineer unit, went to work on laying Mine Clearing Line Charges (MCLC) to clear lanes for us. It literally took everyone doing their individual jobs to be successful. That's what you call teamwork, and we were on the winning team!
We had three artillery battalions inside the Saudi berm from the previous night. 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, and 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, as well as an MLRS battery were in firing positions. Romeo Four had been taken out the day before so they were out of commission. The team members, minus Corporal Collins who was the injured Marine in the explosion, was divided up among the remaining five radar teams. Romeo One moved up taking Romeo Four's position. That left Romeo Two, Three and Five back behind the berm. They were following me, Ryder, and Doc in a small convoy as we breached the minefields and lead them into their next firing positions. The teams would then leap frog each other as Marine units continued to move forward so that we had a radar team providing target acquisition on a continuous basis.
Iraqis opened fire on us from their fortified positions in bunkers and trenches as we advanced through the breaching lanes. We could barely see where they were firing from because of how they were dug in. I included a picture of one of their trenches. The armored units were told not to focus on dug in infantry but the heavier armored vehicles and artillery. In a quote from Colonel John B. Sylvester, Commanding Officer of the Tiger Brigade, he said, "My intent is to have a continuous flow of combat power through the breach, moving in a flexible formation that will enable the Battle Team to rapidly engage and destroy all Iraqi forces encountered. I want a tight wedge formation that maximizes speed until we have passed through the 6th Marines...we have to gain momentum for the attack as rapidly as possible, killing all mobile forces in zone. I do not intend to get bogged down attempting to clear out all the dug-in infantry forces, kill armor mobile forces and continue to press the attack."
Ryder was on the radio calling in for support. He was told he wouldn't get air support for anything other than artillery and armor. He then called in for artillery support. It would come within the next four to six minutes. We didn't feel like we could wait that long so Ryder told Doc to "light 'em up" on the M-60. Doc wears glasses and because of the cold wind, fog, and the rain, his glasses were fogging up and he was unable to see where they were shooting at us from. He was hesitating with the gun even though we were both yelling at him where to shoot. I jumped out of the Humvee and took over on the M-60. I knew exactly where they were firing from and I let into them.
I've fired an M-60 before, but it had been a while. The power behind it is an adrenaline rush. I felt powerful. I got a little carried away at first. Hot brass was spilling out everywhere from the ejected casings as I fired wildly with suppressing fire at the Bunkers that were approximately 500 meters away. I was hoping to at least make them think twice before sticking their heads up again while stalling for our artillery support. I ran through a single belt of ammo pretty quick and had to stop and load another. While I was reloading, I could hear the .50 cal from one of the trucks behind going at it. I didn't know who it was, but was glad to hear that sound coming from our side. A .50 caliber machine gun is bad news for anyone in its path. Once the second belt was loaded, I was more careful to control my fire and use shorter bursts as I improved my aim. That's when the artillery fire rained down on whatever was out there. Iraqis then started throwing their hands up. For them, the war was over.
Oorah Devil Dogs!
Alpha Company was given an order to clear a lone building in the division's path. 3rd Platoon, an infantry platoon traveling in Armored Amphibian Vehicles (AAVs), was given the mission of attacking the building. When they approached to within 300 hundred meters, the defending Iraqis began launching Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) at 3rd Platoon. In a classic Marine attack, the Marines swarmed out of the rear of their vehicles and, under covering fire from the AAV .50 caliber machine guns, charged forward on foot. Oorah Devil Dogs!
If you are wondering where the nickname Devil Dog came from, it is said to be based on the use of the German term "Teufel Hunden" by German soldiers to describe U.S. Marines who fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Marines fought with such ferocity that they were likened to "Dogs from Hell."
As these courageous Devil Dogs reached within 100 meters, they found themselves pinned down from Iraqi machine gun fire. 3rd Squad was ordered to charge the remaining 100 meters while the rest of the platoon laid down covering fire. In open view of the Iraqis and under enemy fire, the 3rd Squad Leader, Sgt. Warren, jumped to his feet and led his squad's charge against the enemy. As they reached the building, the remaining Iraqis fled out of the rear of the building and into the desert.
Don't Mine Me!
Once we were on the move again, I remember going over a hill and looking down on the battlefield. Smoke was slowly drifting across it like an old civil war movie. I saw incoming and outgoing missiles and artillery. It was an awesome sight. We were still moving through mine fields and I could see several of them sticking out of the ground. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the least bit nervous. To make matters worse, we were still taking Iraqi artillery. They were giving us all they had. After taking it from us for so long, they were eager to dish it back. If we can just make it through the first and second defensive belts, then we can spread out and fight back. Marines that are in the lead vehicles and the tanks to our right and left flank are already fighting.
As you can see from the picture I included, a M1 tank from Bravo Company was destroyed on day 1 of the ground war when it struck an anti-tank mine while breaching the minefield in lane Green 5. We also lost a howitzer, one truck, and one Humvee that day. The tank is the one pictured here. Not knowing initially that it was a mine it hit, I thought it took a direct hit from the incoming artillery. From the driver's seat of my Humvee, I saw the ball of fire which quickly turned into a pillar of smoke. Just seconds later I felt the percussion of the blast. I thought they were zeroing in on us and I put my head down expecting shrapnel to hit me. I was actually feeling the effects of the anti-tank mine, but the powerful feeling of the blast had me fearing the worst. I felt the vibration throughout my entire body.
The tank that was destroyed was the lead tank. Therefore, it was blocking the path for the others. The Marines inside the tank were unharmed and exited the vehicle. I watched as they filed around behind the remaining three tanks in their platoon, which had backed up to go around the disabled one, and then continued behind them on foot. At 0834 a Marine Staff Sergeant walked down the lane in Green 5, picked up the remaining mines in his bare hands and cleared the lanes. Once the lane was cleared, the rest of Bravo Company moved through the minefield and took up over-watch positions while the rest of the battalion rushed through the breach.
I didn't take many action photos over there, but I did take a moment to grab my camera and take this shot. Sitting in my passenger's seat is Warrant Officer Ryder. You should have seen his reaction when I said, "Whoa!" He looked at me and then turned to see what I was looking at. He said "holy [explicit]," then in one quick motion, he fastened his flack jacket, buttoned his chin strap, cocked his pistol, and lit up a cigarette. It's actually hilarious as I think back on it. But that was the way he was. He was paranoid to the max, and he had caused anxiety in me throughout the entire ground war.
"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."