Once More Into the Breach

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I used to watch TV news and yell at the box. Now I jump up from the couch, sit at the computer and begin to type laughing maniacally saying "Wait until they read this." It's more fun than squashing tadpoles



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Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy Veteran's Day Project Hero

This is the observed Veteran's Day with tomorrow being the actual so tonight I'll use this time to bring up to date the Project hero posts I've been tracking from Q&O. Many have served with distinction and many more will for some time to come. Never must we forget that these people are volunteers and deserve our ending gratitude. Their extraordinary service is, as many of those highlighted in Project hero will say, simply showing up for work each day. So here they are the updates to Project Hero.

From September 16 at Q&O is 1LT Neil Prakash, Silver Star

Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, Prakash was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he called a very patriotic American household...

... As they advanced toward their objective, they began receiving reports of enemy activity in the city. Four-man RPG teams had been spotted on rooftops, as well as dismounted enemy infantry in alleyways. They were told to expect IED and RPG ambushes by a well-trained enemy who meant to stand and fight.

"This was the first time I even got a little bit nervous. I mean, ever, since I got here," said Prakash. "I just got this weird feeling. Everything was silent, there was no movement. And then all of the sudden something blew up behind me."

It took the crew about one hour to fight their way through the next one kilometer stretch of road. Official battle reports count 23 IEDs and 20-25 RPG teams in that short distance, as well as multiple machine-gun nests, and enemy dismounts armed with small arms and hand grenades.

Because enemy dismounts were attempting to throw hand grenades into the tank's open hatches, Prakash ordered the tanks to open protected mode – bringing the hatches down, leaving them open only a crack.

As the lead vehicle, Prakash's tank took the brunt of the attack, sustaining blasts from multiple IEDs and at least seven standard and armor piercing RPGs. The enemy fired mainly at the lead tanks, aiming for the few vulnerable spots. One round blew the navigation system completely off of the vehicle, while another well-aimed blast disabled his turret.

Although unable to rotate the turret, Prakash continued in the lead, navigating with a map and maneuvering his tank in order to continue engaging the enemy with the main weapon system and his .50 caliber machine-gun. He watched as men on rooftops sprayed down at his tank with machine-guns and small arms.

"I just remember thinking, 'I hope these bullets don't go in this one inch of space,'" said Prakash. "Looking out the hatch, I'm spraying guys and they're just falling. They would just drop - no blood, no nothing. We just kept rolling, getting shot at from everywhere."

The platoon was finally ordered to turn around and head back north in order to maintain contact with the enemy and to establish a defensive perimeter, allowing a recovery team to retrieve a downed vehicle.

1st Lt. Neil Prakash from Syracuse, New York, a tank platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment is presented the Silver Star Medal - one of the military's highest decorations - by 1st Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste for his actions under fire in Ba'qubah June 24. (Photo by Sgt. Kimberly Snow, 196th MPAD)
1st Lt. Neil Prakash from Syracuse, New York, a tank platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment is presented the Silver Star Medal - one of the military's highest decorations - by 1st Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste for his actions under fire in Ba'qubah June 24. (Photo by Sgt. Kimberly Snow, 196th MPAD)

Prakash took the opportunity to move his tank back to FOB Scunion for repairs and provide escort for medical evacuations. After assisting with repairs, he and his crew immediately moved back into position and requested to resume the lead.

Moving south back through the city, they encountered no resistance. Once they neared their objective, however, Prakash identified and engaged an enemy re-supply truck, destroying the vehicle and its contents.

"We blasted it with a main round from about 100 meters away. The thing just blew to shreds," he said. "You could see the tubes from the launchers go flying in the air."

The men encountered no further resistance as they moved to the objective, where they established a blocking position until they were relieved the following morning.

By battle's end, the platoon was responsible for 25 confirmed destroyed enemy and an estimated 50 to 60 additional destroyed enemy personnel. Prakash was personally credited with the destruction of eight enemy strong-points, one enemy re-supply vehicle, and multiple enemy dismounts

Then on September 23 we get SFC Gerald Wolford, Silver Star



"OUR MISSION WAS TO SECURE THE BRIDGES"

In the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, SFC Wolford led Soldiers as part of a ground attack convoy north from Kuwait to Tallil Airfield, southeast of Baghdad. From that point, the Euphrates River remained the dominant obstacle at which the enemy could block the liberation of Baghdad. Since bridge crossings operations under fire present an exceptionally challenging military mission, units of the elite 82d Airborne Division were chosen for the mission.

Today, Wolford recounts

Our mission was to secure bridges across the Euphrates River in As-Samawah. There was a series that we were told to secure and, because we were mounted in HMMWVs, the Battalion Commander ordered us to secure the route and do a reconnaissance of the route for the follow-on dismounted units.

Wolford's section completed its reconnaissance and covered the movement of the dismounted units. "When they were at the first of the bridges," he says, "I told them to hold up and my gunner identified an enemy vehicle."


"I CONFIRMED IT WAS THE ENEMY AND GAVE HIM THE ORDER TO FIRE"

The enemy vehicle was a pickup truck outfitted with a machine gun on the back. It was positioned on the far side of the Euphrates, about 200 meters away. Wolford recounts

I confirmed it was the enemy and gave him the order to fire ...for our battalion they were the first shots of the war.

The initial burst of gunfire took out the machine gun in the back of the pickup, and a second burst from a .50 caliber machine gun disabled the vehicle completely.

"Once the vehicle was disabled," he says, "we saw other insurgents popping out of the buildings."

The enemy were positioned in foxholes and had the buildings fortified with sandbags. "They were determined to take a stand on the far side of the river," says Wolford.

As his unit came under machinegun fire, Wolford recognized that the American rifle fire was having no impact on enemy forces in their reinforced positions. Therefore, he decided to bring heavier firepower to bear. Wolford recalls

We had AT-4s, which are 74mm anti-tank missiles that are shoulder-fired. This was a good tactical opportunity to shoot a missile. So I fired one of those into the house and the whole hut just collapsed.

The missile silenced the enemy machinegun fire, putting the heaviest weapon the enemy had on that side of the river out of action.

Almost immediately, Wolford's team came under fire from a different quarter - a reinforced foxhole that was effectively shielding the enemy within from the Americans' Mark-19 grenade launcher. According to Wolford

That gave us another chance to fire an AT-4. I readied another one to fire and then that position was silenced.

"THEY WERE PINNED DOWN"

Wolford's team then began its advance by HMMWV to the second bridge, focusing their attention to the far side of the river, from which most enemy fire was coming. As they moved forward, they came under fire from an enemy mortar position. With well placed fire, they silenced the mortar fire. Approaching the second bridge, they crossed from open rural terrain into an increasingly built-up urban area. As a result, accompanying dismounted forces had to take care to clear buildings as they went, thus ensuring the Americans didn't come under fire from by-passed hostile forces.

As his team neared the second bridge, Wolford noticed a friendly unit taking heavy enemy fire and waving for assistance. He recalls

I dismounted, moved to their position, and asked them what they wanted to do. They said they needed to move forward but they were pinned down. They identified to me the location of the enemy gunner pinning them down. They had been receiving heavy machinegun fire, and they'd been hit with rocket-propelled grenades from a building.

Wolford quickly took stock of the situation and determined that the best course of action was to move up below the second bridge and position his HMMWV between the pinned down men and the enemy. He recalls that

The road was dipping down and we were right underneath the second bridge, so they couldn't hit us with any kind of artillery.

This position was also flanked by buildings, affording good cover from direct fire, so that the only part of Wolford's vehicle that was exposed was the machine-gunner on top.

However, once in position, Wolford's team came under rocket propelled grenade fire. He recalls that

My gunner and I both saw an RPG fired at our position, and I had time to turn and yell "RPG!" so the two other men had time to get down.

The RPG hit the bridge right above the HMMWV, wounding two of Wolford's men. Wolford was knocked down by the blast, but quickly got back to his feet and checked on his men. Both were responsive, so he helped them up. In the meantime, his machine-gunner had returned fire, silencing the position from which the RPG had been launched.

Since his HMMWV had only suffered minor damage from the RPG blast, Wolford used it to shield his wounded Soldiers as he moved them to the casualty collection point and into the care of the medics.

Refusing medical care for his injuries, Wolford moved forward once again, so as to provide his men with cover.


On we learned of September 30 SGT Tommy Rieman, Silver Star

In a fight, two against one is bad odds Ten against one is a recipe for disaster. Yet those were the odds Sgt. Tommy Rieman and his squad faced and beat when they were ambushed by more than 50 anti-American insurgents near Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in December 2003.

"The thing I remember most was the sound of the explosion. It was so loud," said Rieman.
They were hit by three RPGs and a barrage of small arms fire coming from 10 dug-in enemy fighting positions. Staying in the kill zone meant certain death, so the vehicles never stopped moving. Rieman knew he had to return fire. Bullets whizzed after them as the vehicles sped away from the ambush and the soldiers found themselves caught in another ambush.

There were maybe 50 enemy attackers blasting away at him with small arms fire from a grove of palm trees nearby. Injuries to his men were beginning to pile up. Out of his squad, Sgt. Bruce Robinson had lost his right leg in the RPG attack and Spc. Robert Macallister had been shot in the buttocks. Rieman himself had been shot in the right arm and chest, and had shrapnel wounds to his chest, stomach and ear. Worst of all, they were almost out of ammo.

He began firing away with his M203 grenade launcher, raining round after round down on the attackers. After being battered by 15 of Rieman's 40mm grenades, the enemy's guns were silent.

Wow, and then on October 07 we get SSG Matthew Zedwick, Silver Star

A member of B Co., 2nd Bn., 162nd Inf. Regt., 41st Brigade Combat Team (Oregon National Guard), Zedwick was attached to the 2nd Bn., 7th Cav, 1st Cavalry Div., on June 13, 2004, when he was hit during a convoy operation.

Driving the third vehicle among four north of Camp Taji, Zedwick had his vehicle destroyed by a car bomb. In the process, the gunner was killed and commander severely wounded. Despite taking 13 pieces of shrapnel, Zedwick managed to save the commander.

Running back to the burning Humvee to rescue the gunner, Zedwick could only retrieve weapons and a radio before it exploded. He defended his position against enemy fire until relieved.

Which brings us to October 14 and LCPL Christopher Adlesperger, nominee Medal of Honor

On Nov. 10, 2004, in 30 minutes of close combat, Marine Pfc. Christopher Adlesperger, a soft-spoken, religious young man who loved poetry and art, attacked an enemy stronghold in Fallouja, Iraq, and killed at least 11 insurgents.

He killed insurgents who were heavily armed and probably high on drugs — and who had just killed his close friend, Lance Cpl. Erick Hodges.

He protected two wounded squad members from attack and saved innumerable Marines.

When it was over, Adlesperger's face had been bloodied by shrapnel and he had bullet holes in the sleeve and collar of his uniform. He refused to be evacuated until Hodges' body was recovered.

Semper Fi is serious business

On toOctober 21 with SGT Joshua Szott, Silver Star

In heavy fighting during an enemy ambush. Szott helped carry four wounded comrades to safety even though he was shot in the left leg and took shrapnel in his right leg during the fight. He also forced the retreat of more than 20 enemy guerillas from their dug-in positions, which ultimately led to the defeat and capture of those responsible for the attack

"This Soldier exemplifies the Warrior Ethos." added Thurman. "He refused to be evacuated out of the country after he was injured. He represents what our Army is all about."

Even though Szott was offered convalescent leave to heal from his injuries, the dedicated Soldier turned down the rest time and went back to his unit to help with patrols. "Battles are not won by machines, but by Soldiers." said Col. James Hickey, commander of the 1st BCT. "Sgt. Szott is one of them. He is one of our gallant Soldiers. and I believe he epitomizes what we all aspire to be."


Just get a load of SPC Richard Ghent, Silver Star from October 28

A New Hampshire Army National Guard soldier is winning the Silver Star for bravery in battle in Iraq. Richard Ghent of Rochester charged enemy insurgents after being blown out of his Humvee in an attack that killed one guardsman and seriously wounded another.

Ghent says he was just doing what he was taught to do.

It happened in March when a grenade landed in the Humvee carrying Ghent, Vermont guardsman Christopher Merchant and New Hampshire guardsman Jose Pequeno. Merchant was killed and Pequeno
seriously wounded.

Ghent charged the insurgents, armed only with a pistol, and drove them back before more soldiers arrived. He was shot in the back and suffered shrapnel wounds.

Another just doing his job from November 04 is CPL Mark Camp, Silver Star

Camp was wounded in early May during an intense campaign with Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. The company, fighting insurgents in western Iraq as part of Operation Matador, lost 23 soldiers.

The former Maine resident and son of a Westbrook car dealer told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper that he was positioned at the top hatch of an amphibious assault vehicle while on patrol when a roadside bomb launched the vehicle into the air and sent shrapnel flying.

The explosion burned Camp's hands and face, but he still attempted to rescue one of his comrades trapped inside the vehicle after the blast, the newspaper reported. He continued his rescue effort despite another explosion that knocked him out of the vehicle and set his hands on fire again.

Camp was taken from the battlefield in a helicopter and flown to a hospital in Germany with shrapnel in his legs and abdomen, according to his family. He was later transferred to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio and has since returned to Ohio.

Camp, who went back into the vehicle in an effort to rescue another Marine who died in the attack, told the Dispatch that the blast scorched his hands.

Take inspiration from these men and give thanks for their willingness to serve.
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