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Author: Jesse Odom
Original Title from Bella Rosa Books
raw, boots-on-the-ground account of the Devil Dogs of Alpha Company's
march into Baghdad and the capture of Saddam's palace. The first blood,
the first lives lost, and each Marine's haunting aftermath.
Excerpt . . .
Pumping Station Fallen Brother
21, 2003 Southern Iraq
I watched the sun
rise from the commander's seat of the track, the same place I'd watched
it set. Daylight, such as it was, came as a relief but offered no promise
of rest. Our objective was in sight. The pumping station lay ahead. Artillery
support bombarded the compound, fired by artillery canons back in Kuwait.
Captain Sokol gave the order to shift
artillery fire to the outskirts of the pumping station compound as we
got close. This was to assure our safety and to clear a wider area. He
called for the bombardment to cease entirely before we entered the compound.
We positioned ourselves as planned.
The tracks fanned out and faced a large cluster of buildings. We saw massive
oil tanks, machinery, abandoned artillery pieces with stacks of shells,
other military equipment, and what seemed to be an abandoned town. Alpha
Marine infantrymen dismounted from the tracks and assumed a tactical offensive
position. An old Iraqi flag flew high in the center of the buildings.
We didn't see a soul.
The various units in Alpha had segmented
the town. In order to assure that the buildings and other terrain were
free from enemy threats; each unit had a specific area or lane to clear.
Captain Sokol gave the word to secure the compound. Each platoon cleared
their lane, then broke their section into smaller sections.
First Squad, my men, would clear the
middle portion of Second Platoon's section. Our first obstacle was a small
building. I could see men from my platoon and adjacent platoons clearing
the town; looking for the enemy in every building, hole, car or whatever
else they found. I sent my first fire team to enter a small dusty concrete
building. My other fire teams and attachments covered every square inch
of Mejia's team's movement. Corporal (Cpl.) Kowalski, Corporal Mejia,
and Lance Corporal (LCpl.) Wetzel really made my job easy. They were damn
fine fire team leaders.
joined Mejia's team and proceeded to clear the building. Mejia was a subordinate,
a peer, and a friend. He was the leader of my first fire team, a sub-unit
of a squad usually made up of four Marines. I had three three fire teams
in my squad, which is typical. We kicked in the door and successfully
cleared the building. It was full of abandoned military equipment, guns,
rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and other miscellaneous items.
As we cleared our section, I heard
machinegun fire to our left flank. Members of Alpha Company, not Second
Platoon, fired at an Iraqi soldier carrying an AK-47. The Iraqi soldier
was fleeing via motorcycle. Excited and trigger-happy Marines fired at
the man until he fell off of the motorcycle. Why in the hell had the guy
tried to escape? Why had he kept his weapon on his person? His stupidity
caused him a lot of pain. The Iraqi man threw his hands up and made his
way to Alpha Company's position. He had been shot through the face and
was wounded in various parts of his body. He was our enemy prisoner first
and then a patient. We treated every injured Iraqi that we encountered.
While we worked, we ignored the sporadic
bursts of machinegun fire. First Squad, and every other Marine in Alpha,
including attachments, heard explosions all around. At the time, I did
not know what was going on because I heard most of them from two or three
hundred meters away. Later I found out that some members of Alpha were
throwing grenades around every corner, into every hole, and every building
before other Marines in those squads would clear that particular area.
It was not from fear or recklessness; it was a judgment call made by individual
As Second Platoon continued to clear
the right flank of the town, we heard more explosions. I realized that
Marines were using grenades to clear dead space. I didn't feel threatened
enough to order frags out. Our situation did not lend itself to needlessly
endanger my men with deadly fragmentation grenades. My strategy was to
hold onto our grenades in case we encountered a greater threat as we traveled
to Baghdad. Our squad cleared each building with textbook tactics. Nobody
was shooting at us so our job was easy. Our segment ended when we reached
a paved road.
Cpl. Gross, a weapons platoon Marine,
had stepped on a landmine causing one of the explosions I heard. I was
told it tore his boot to shreds, broke some bones, and ripped some flesh
from his lower extremities, he was lucky to have survived. One of the
leaders of Alpha Company called in a medical evacuation (medevac) for
Cpl. Gross. He was the first ground troop injured by the enemy in the
war. The news left us sobered. This wasn't going to be as easy as we thought.
Within minutes, every member of Alpha
Company made it to the paved road. Lieutenant (Lt.) Childers gave Second
Platoon the order to remain in a tactical defensive position. My subordinate
leadersfire team leadersaccomplished this task while Childers
gave the squad leaders information. Staff Sergeant (SSgt.) Nerad, the
platoon sergeant, Sergeant (Sgt.) Mercer, Second Squad's leader, Cpl.
Wilson, Third Squad's leader, and I, Corporal Jesse Odom, conveyed to
Lt. Childers the facts pertaining to the sections cleared by our teams.
We reported on the intelligence we
had gleaned concerning the amount and type of Iraqi military equipment
encountered in our segments. Lt. Childers gave us a pat on the back for
accomplishing our first real task. After the chat with our platoon commander,
we passed his new information to our squad members and inspected their
defensive positions. Sometime during this inspection I heard a crack.
LCpl. Tedder of Third Squad shot a round into an approaching hostile vehicle.
I got behind a nearby track and assessed the situation.
An Iraqi vehicle barreled down the
road that lay perpendicular to our defense. We began to receive small-arms
fire from the small pick-up truck carrying several armed men. Dust flew
up from the impacts of the AK-47 fire. Second Platoon Marines unleashed
a wall of lead into the speeding truck. Hundreds of bullets pierced the
truck. Amazingly it stayed on course traveling down the road at a reckless
Several Marines positioned themselves
to fire at the truck. I got extremely pissed because some Marines did
not stand their defensive grounds. They took an uncoordinated offensive
posture, which put a gap in the defense we had established. I kneeled
beside the armored track.
I didn't want a bullet in my back
put there by a bunch of trigger happy Devil Dogs. Every Marine wanted
a piece of the action and some were reckless, endangering themselves and
fellow Marines. I wanted to be in the middle of the action too, but I
was not going to violate the principles of common sense and standard protocol.
Our job was to kill the enemy and we wanted to do our job. Some men got
caught up in their excitement and fearlessness and forgot that deaths
could be caused by friendly fire.
Most of these Marines were new Devil
Dogs, or boots, a nickname for new Marines. They were all warriors
to me, a little crazy at times, but warriors. The bloody, shredded, truck
passed my position and veered to the right side of the road. From a safe
and practical position, I placed carefully aimed shots into the side of
the truck. It came to a dead stop. Marines still fired from every angle.
Many didn't realize that it was only the first official day of the ground
war. It appeared that they thought this would be their only chance to
justifiably shoot another person. It was the job we'd come to do. We wanted
to put our training to the test and complete our mission.
Once the truck stopped, I noticed
a Marine slowly lowering himself to the ground just a few feet from me.
I couldn't tell who it was. The Marine curled into the fetal position.
He grasped his stomach with both hands as he lay on his side. I ran to
him and, with shock, saw that it was Lt. Childers. Even then he spoke
in a mild, unruffled voice, "I'm shot. In the gut." I gently
rolled him to his back and began to tear at his gear and clothing. He
spit his Copenhagen tobacco out on his chin. Then, he moaned and gave
me a look of pain and disillusionment, like he couldn't believe this had
Shane's groans of agony sent a chill
up my spine. Seconds later, the groans stopped. I thought he was dead.
He didn't seem to be breathing. I brushed the tobacco off of his lips
and chin and took a breath of air. I tilted his head back and pushed a
breath of my air into his lungs. He made a loud gasping sound and began
to breathe again. I had hopes that we could still save him. I called several
times for a corpsman. It only took about a minute for "Doc"
Calzado to arrive but it seemed much longer.
Calzado took a knee and began to ask
questions while we finished stripping away Shane's gear and clothing.
I pressed my hand against the nearly bloodless bullet hole in his stomach
thinking it might stop the internal bleeding. I didn't know what else
to do. Calzado found the hole in Lt. Childers' back, on the opposite side
of the one in his abdomen. The bullet had passed right through his body.
Another platoon corpsman, "Doc"
Glanville, arrived. Glanville stood above us. At that moment, we heard
several machinegun bursts. Another vehicle was barreling down the same
road. We were in the enemies' kill zone. Glanville, the senior of the
two, said, "We can't work on him here." I could barely hear
Glanville's words due to the unbelievable amount of firepower the tracks
and Marines were laying upon the second vehicle. Glanville was right;
it was too dangerous. It was at that moment Lt. Childers spoke his last
words. Quietly, Lt. Childers murmured, "It hurts."
I leaned over my wounded friend, grabbed
his arms, and slung him over my shoulders. I didn't feel the weight of
his body. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. I carried him several feet
until we reached the rear of the armored track. It was like a scene from
a movie. Earsplitting machinegun bursts and small arms fire captured the
moment. But this was not a movie it was our reality, our untouchable hero
was dying. I was afraid the movement was killing him. I laid the lieutenant
on the rear ramp of the sardine can.
The firing had stopped.
The corpsmen cut away at straps and
pant legs. Lt. Childers was stripped down to his USMC physical training
shorts. I could see urine on his shorts. I held back my tears. As the
corpsmen, now three of them, worked to keep life in Childers, I kneeled
at his side.
I observed my squad's position and
the situation, which was in complete control. I trusted Cpl. Mejia and
Cpl. Kowalski, my senior team leaders, when I wasn't present. They were
experienced and mature Marines, as were most of the Marines in my squad.
Shane was down but not out. He was in good hands. And not another man
in our platoon was injured.
The second enemy vehicle had only
made it about half the distance the first truck did. The massive .50 caliber
track-mounted machineguns, along with a platoon of infantry Marines, were
ready for it. The bullets had ripped into the vehicle and its cargo-several
The noises coming from within Lt.
Childers' chest were heartbreaking. Tears slowly emerged from the corners
of his eyes. The tears ran down the side of his face leaving trails on
his dusty cheeks. He was in pain. His body was trying to reject his fate.
I knew then that he was going to die.
SSgt. Nerad hovered over us while
we cared for Childers. The corpsmen were fighting hard to save Childers'
life. Their efforts gave me a heartfelt confidence in their abilities
during the rest of the war. Nerad's eyes watered. He gave me a look of
disbelief. Childers was one of his closest friends.
The lack of blood worried us. It meant
he was bleeding internally. We tried to place a plastic medical device
in his mouth to keep his airway clear. He didn't say a word but he fought
us using his mouth and neck. We stopped. He just wanted peace. I tried
to comfort him. I stroked his face and told him that he was the greatest
platoon commander ever and that I was there for him. "Corporal Odom
is here for you, Sir." He slowly faded as I talked. I couldn't take
it anymore. I had to leave, his eyes were like glass. They looked cold
but mysteriously peaceful. His breathing had slowed to almost nothing.
Only a barely audible whimper emerged from the depths of his lungs. I
walked away only to turn back around. The designated ambulance track arrived.
I helped put Childers on a pole litter and we placed him in the rear of
the track. He perished moments later.
My friend, Lt. Shane Childers, was
the first American to die in the Iraq war.
NOTE: A portion
of the proceeds from this book will go to the Chip Wicks Fund, a fund
to support the men and women who have fought and served in Iraq or Afghanistan
and now have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
More details at the
author's website: www.iraqthroughoureyes.com
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