AFGHANISTAN - Chaplain Ric Brown has the most remarkable set of photos on his Facebook page. In several, he is holding hands with Soldiers perched in their armored vehicles, praying.
One photo shows a Soldier with his head down, whether in reverence to Almighty or fear of the scene of carnage he is about to drive into, is unclear. But Brown is there, comforting him. He says he doesn't know who took these photos, or even that anyone was taking them. Someone passed the photos along anonymously several years later.
But those boys needed the prayers.
And the fight in Fallujah had to be waged. As distant as that episode now seems, the strategic goals of the Iraq War hung in the balance in Fallujah a decade ago:
According to a report conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses, by July of 2004, Fallujah was infested with insurgents, and U.S. officials worried that Fallujah represented the coalition‘s defeat and the insurgents' victory.
The city had become a symbol of the insurgency, as well as a tactical center for information operations, training, and manufacture of improvised explosive devices. It was an exporter of terror to the entire region.
Just a few months earlier, insurgents had ambushed and killed four U.S. contractors, hanging two of their charred bodies from a bridge on the west end of the city.
“During a savage demonstration, locals cheered and one Iraqi held a sign underneath one of the lynched bodies that read: Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans.” (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
Things were spinning out of control, and people were afraid. Hundreds of Iraqis deserted when they learned they'd be going there for Phantom Fury, according to the IDA report.
Staff Sgt. David Bellavia and the men of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (2-2) were afraid, too, but they knew they had to fight.
Lt. Col. Peter Newell, 2-2's commander, spoke to his troops before they went into the fight. Bellavia recalls that he had to "raise his voice so he can be heard over the distant artillery fire exploding a few miles to our south."
"This is as pure a fight of good versus evil as we'll probably see in our lifetime," said the battalion commander.
I asked Brown if God was on his side that day.
“I'm cautious to say yes to God being on our side. There are things that are ordained of God. On one hand, God has emplaced governments... and if the government is tuned in and doing right by the people, then, yes, He is on our side.”
Whether the Americans and their Iraqi allies had God or not, they had the weaponry. The two-star general in command of the operation described the awesomeness.
“I was wandering all across the front, meeting with the units as they moved into attack positions, and it was awe-inspiring. At that moment, this was the greatest concentration of combat power on the face of the Earth, as you looked at the attack forces ready to cross and surround the city, they were a combination of Army and Marine forces with their Iraqi counterparts.” (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
The array had a confidence boosting effect on the Iraqis, too. One of the Marine officers recalled,
“You could see the Iraqis drive around in their trucks and it would be kind of quiet, until they got the sense of it. Look at all this stuff! Literally, they would cheer and wave and they knew, ‘We are on the right side.' They didn‘t really know what was going on, but once they took a look around and saw tanks and Marines and soldiers, and guns and helicopters, you could see their calmness, ‘We are actually on the winning team this time.' (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
At 7 p.m. local time on Nov. 8, 2004, heavy tanks and fighting vehicles began rolling through a breach that had been punched through the north berms of the city. Forces had been divided into two regimental combat teams. Second Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment led the main attack for Regimental Combat Team-1 in the west.
Bellavia and Brown were with their Task Force 2-2, leading RCT-7 in the east.
When Operation Phantom Fury began the day before, coalition troops secured bridges and seized the hospital, which the insurgents had used as a command center. U.S. Special Forces had worked with Iraqis to gather intelligence and prepare the information battlefield.
While Brown doesn't declare whether God was rooting for the coalition, he recognized evil, and agrees with Newell that the Americans were fighting against it.
So did Bellavia, who uttered a prayer following his chaplain's example, asking for strength to fight evil.
“I am ready, Dear Lord,” he said “And I am coming.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Richard Stowell
Provided through DVIDS
Remembering Fallujah Part 1: A Chaplain, An Infantryman and The Fallen
Remembering Fallujah Part 3: Urban Combat Is Hell
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