Friday, November 16, 2012

Fullbore Friday

Via USAToday ... do I really need to write anything else?
In 2010, his unit headed to Afghanistan, the vanguard of a new strategy ordered by President Obama that bolstered forces in Taliban-controlled parts of the country. By then a corporal, Wooldridge was assigned to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

The Marines were sent to Helmand province, an insurgent stronghold and poppy-growing region in southern Afghanistan where coalition forces controlled only a few key towns. At the time, the Taliban moved freely through large swaths of the region.

Soon after arriving the unit was sent to Musa Qala, where the Marines were arrayed against Taliban fighters that wanted to hold the region at any cost. In June, Weapons Company was given the mission to clear a valley that held a large settlement in the Helmand River Valley.

They expected to confront the enemy but were taken aback by what they encountered.

"We ran into a hornet's nest," Calvin says.

The initial plan was to meet with villagers who lived in settlements strung along the valley, or wadi, to get a sense of the enemy situation.

"That all went out the window the moment we got into the wadi," Calvin says.

The Taliban tried to ambush the Marines at every turn. The roughly 125 Marines were facing between 150 and 250 hardened Taliban fighters who had established a sophisticated network of bunkers and trenches laced into hills in the high ground overlooking the wadi. The area had been seeded with roadside bombs.

Anticipating a clash, villagers fled the town. Families with all of their belongings, including sheep, cows and goats, streamed past the Marines. Insurgents from nearby towns flooded the area, determined to blunt the Marine offensive and hold on to the poppy-growing region that was critical to the Taliban. ... Within five minutes of leaving the secure perimeter, Wooldridge's vehicle struck a roadside bomb. No one was seriously injured, but the vehicle was wrecked. Wooldridge and his team got into another vehicle. They had barely moved before they hit another bomb and had to get into a third vehicle.

By this time in the offensive, the Marines had decided to alter tactics to get closer to an enemy that would typically fire at them from a distance and then melt away.

"Nobody had seen them," Madden says of the Taliban.

They would probe farther into the valley than ever before, drawing insurgents out and then sending teams on foot to cut off the Taliban fighters before they could melt away.

It wasn't long before the four-vehicle patrol was getting fired at from trees on the western side of the valley. (The account of his actions is based on interviews with Wooldridge and other Marines and the official citation.)

The turret gunners in the vehicles wheeled around and began firing in the direction of the gunshots. The Marines split up in an effort to cut off the Taliban militants. One team went south and another north.

Wooldridge bounded across a freshly harvested field toward the firing as a couple of his fellow Marines got down and fired at targets ahead of him. Wooldridge burst into the treeline and saw a militant emerge from a ditch and start to run.

"I shot and saw him fall," Wooldridge says.

Wooldridge's two teammates caught up with him. They moved quickly through the trees and stopped short when they came to the edge of a farming village with mud homes and walls. Looking down from a small hill, they saw 15 armed insurgents at the center of the village.

The startled insurgents saw the Marines and turned and raised their weapons. It was too late. The Americans opened fire. Most fell, but a handful escaped.

Marines watched as an insurgent carrying a rocket-propelled grenade emerged from a narrow alleyway in the village and stepped over the bodies of his fallen comrades. The Marines shot him.

This is what the Marines had been hoping for. They had flushed out the enemy and forced the Taliban into a close-quarters fight.

Wooldridge moved his team to another spot for a different view on the Taliban compound.

Just then he heard voices that sounded like men arguing behind a nearby wall. He peeked around the corner and was face to face with four insurgents armed with machine guns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Wooldridge shot two of them before they could react. He killed a third as the man was trying to escape. Out of ammunition, he tried to bluff the last insurgent by gesturing at him to drop his weapon.

The insurgent raised his gun and pointing it at Wooldridge, who was 10 feet away. Wooldridge ducked behind the mud wall to reload. Before he could put a fresh drum in his light machine gun, a barrel poked around the corner of the wall.

Wooldridge dropped his own weapon and grabbed the barrel of the machine gun. He slammed the insurgent against a wall and both men fell to the ground. Wooldridge rolled on top of the insurgent and began pummeling him.

The insurgent reached for a grenade attached to the Marine's protective vest. If he pulled the pin, both men would die.

Wooldridge broke away and got to his feet, grabbing the insurgent's machine gun at the same time. He aimed it at the insurgent and squeezed the trigger. It didn't work.

With the stock of the weapon, he beat the Taliban fighter to death.

Marines arrived to find Wooldridge covered in blood, leaning over the dead insurgent.
Of course, there's more. Read it all.

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