Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Blue Bongo Battle

Camp Fallujah, Anbar Province, Iraq - During February 9th and 10th elements of the 2nd Battalion of the 136th Infantry Battalion of the 34th Brigade Combat Team of the Minnesota Army National Guard conducted a mission in the area around Camp Fallujah in Anbar Province to prevent insurgents from launching indirect fire attacks into Camp Fallujah while a large number of VIP's visited the base.

On the morning of February 10th the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force under Major General Zilmer officially transfered control of Anbar province to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force under Major General Gaskin. The ceremony was attended by numerous general officers of US and Iraqi Armies from all over Iraq, as well as the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Also in attendance were numerous civilian VIP's including the Iraqi governor of Anbar province, and the US Ambassador to Iraq.

The ceremony was held in a large auditorium that has not had it's roof retrofitted to withstand rocket and mortar attacks. There was significant concern that if word of the event leaked out in advance that insurgents would be motivated to launch a coordinated indirect fire attack against the base.

Bravo Company 2/136 was tasked with the mission of preventing this potential attack. After assessing the mission Bravo Company commander Captain Chip Rankin, a highschool teacher and wrestling coach from Lichfield Minnesota, requested additional troops from battalion to be able to effectively conduct the mission.

While this mission was going on, Twin Cities television stations were covering a special ceremony being held in Captain Rankin's honor at the sectional wrestling tournament at Lichfield High School.

Lieutenant Colonel Parks, the 2/136 battalion commander is also a high school teacher from Walker Minnesota. Lieutenant Colonel Parks and elements of Alpha Company 2/136 drove 2 hours from their home base on the other side of Fallujah to reinforce Bravo Company on the mission. "Don't tell my wife I drove.", quipped Lieutenant Colonel Parks. Elements of an Army Engineer Company stationed on Camp Fallujah with specialized IED clearing capabilities also joined the mission.

Several UAV's were tasked to support the mission. UAV's are small quiet unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras that can be used to spy on enemy activity. The UAV's provided an "eye in the sky" that allowed the team to covertly observe locations that insurgents were known to have previously used to fire rockets and mortars into Camp Fallujah.

This observation paid off, and a UAV spotted 6 men in a blue Bongo truck digging holes for IED's next to a road. The Bravo Company mortar section ran a fire mission on the target which is believed to have killed or wounded two of the insurgents. A Bongo is the ubiquitous flat bed truck of Iraq. It is prefered by insurgents, because the bed lifts like a dump truck, and it can be used as an improvised rocket launcher.

The other insurgents loaded their casualties onto the blue Bongo, and fled the area, unaware that a silent predator was stalking their every move from the air. For the next 5 hours the UAVs followed the Blue Bongo around Anbar Province while the team's soldiers followed at a distance in Bradley fighting vehicles, and tried to coordinate an attack. The team's progress was slowed by numerous IED's along the road, and on several occasions they were engaged by small arms fire from other insurgents.

The team identified about 10 IED's during the day, two IED's detonated, and the rest were disarmed before they could explode. In one case the wire from the IED led 300 meters through a village to a cemetery. Apparently the insurgents believe that the Americans are less likely to attach them in a cemetery.

One soldier who did not want to identified, because he did not want his family to know what had almost happened, told me how he had looked over the side of his Bradley, and realized that they had parked on top of an IED. The Bradley quickly pulled forward out of the kill zone, and stopped. They started to dismount the vehicle, and discovered they had parked next to another IED!

Later in the day and significantly outside the normal Bravo Company battle space, the blue Bongo parked at a known insurgent house, next to multiple other vehicles. The location was outside the range of the Marine Corps 155 mm howitzer battery at Camp Fallujah, and so the team attempted to call an airstrike on the house, but there were no air assets immediately available.

As the team planned an attack on the house, 4 insurgents re-loaded the truck, and inexplicably headed back the way they had come, toward Camp Fallujah and the advancing US soldiers. The result of this was a hasty and one sided meeting engagement as the blue Bongo encountered the lead Bradley in a village. The Bradley engaged the Bongo with it's main gun. The result was two injured insurgents, and a damaged Bongo, but the other two insurgents were able to escape temporarily.

But now the insurgents had driven back within range of the 155 mm howitzers on Camp Fallujah. Using the UAV to observe, the team called an artillery fire mission that killed the remaining two insurgents. The return to Camp Fallujah involved several more hours of clearing IED's, and the team finally arrived back on base after 10:00 pm, with no American casualties. This was just another day at the office for the men of Bravo Company.

While many of them were pursuing the blue Bongo, Colonel Bristol the Marine commander that Bravo Company reports to, was delivering the following remarks about Bravo at the transfer of authority ceremony where he turned over his responsibilities to the new incoming Marine commander:

" my sons from the heartland of America. The brilliant men of Bravo Company 2nd of the 136th. I have commanded three times in combat, and they are the finest group of Americans that I have ever had the privilege to command."

High praise by any standard, but particularly coming from a senior Marine Corps officer.


Anonymous said...

Good article. To the Soldier that didn't want his name known fact is it doesn't matter if we don't know your name. Every family member is going to worry more now. And I guess if the family members didn't realize what their loved ones were doing in Iraq they will now. Way to be aggressie and take the fight to the bad guys.

Lets all pray for the Soliders in B Company.

Brother to one of the B Company Soliders.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for leaving your family, the comfort of your home, and the security of a paycheck to tell the story of Company B. It is very frightening knowing more about the danger our son constantly faces, but I know your words and photos will reach some who have been oblivious to the sacrifices these men and women are making.

It was great to see his face in one of your photos!

Anonymous said...

Well wishes to you Eric!! We think that you are a hero in yourself, since you have volunteered to be in a very unsafe place. Well wishes are being sent to ALL the soldiers of 2-136. We are all proud of you and the jobs that you are risking your lives for. We will worry about you till your return to safe soil. Eric, PLEASE keep yourself safe. A special wish goes out to our son(Dave), a nickname of course!! It was great to see your smile!! :) :)

Company B 2-136 you are the BEST!!!

Anonymous said...

Amen to the other comment, I think most of us are aware that what these men do every day is very dangerous. Thanks for your coverage and also for the pictures.
Keep praying for a safe return
Bravo Co wife

Anonymous said...

I just again have to thank you for your coverage of B Co. 2-136. I have often read articles of media being imbedded with Marines and such and it is nice to finally see some attention being paid to our hero's of the Minnesota National Guard. It was also great to see some pictures of my brother-in-law, expecially with a big smile on his face. Actually I have two brother-in-laws in B Co. 2-136. Maybe the other will show up in one of your pictures soon. Please let them all know we love them very much and we support everything they do!

Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: