4/29: When Casualties Came Home from War

When the casualty incident described in this piece occurred, it fell to me to tend to the unit’s “family.” Beyond those directly affected, the rest experienced these events through my messages. They chronicle a small piece of what happens on the home-front when casualties come home. [1] These events unfold regularly in our midst, but most in the general public have no experience of this aspect of war; they should.

 

Reflecting upon the decade of conflict that has been unleashed in Iraq at the instigation of the military operations to end the regime of Saddam Hussein, there are so many issues. Most fundamentally for me I never believed it was a good idea. Breaking states should only be a strategy choice of last possible resort, and even then it is probably best avoided.

But my professional and intellectual opposition was challenged by personal obligations. In 2004, when I attended their Summer Seminar in Military History, I remember watching the veterans among the West Point faculty experiencing both cognitive dissonance as well as resonance as they confronted their intellectual material. I could tell that they were comparing their experiences with their scholarship, but I did not understand what that meant at the time. Humbled by my own small experience, I have a sense of how they must have felt and thought. My hope is that this glimpse into the wider experience of war and conflict will offer a similar bit of enlightenment for others.

My former husband was a Marine. In 2007, as a Major, he deployed to Iraq in command of a Military Training Team (MTT). I was the unit Key Volunteer, which made me the point of contact between the unit/Marine Corps and the families of the serving Marines and Sailor. For the most part my job was to provide official and correct information to the families on a timely basis. Secondarily, as possible, I tried to offer some measure of additional information and support, as well as to coordinate any assistance the unit or the families might require. [2] It is the sort of responsibility that anyone not afflicted with terrific arrogance will feel that they have done inadequately.

By way of background on the deployment, Fallujah in the first half of 2007 was roiling. At the time of these events the Marines and the Iraqi Army battalion they were training had already seen significant and regular combat action. Their AOR, an area known as the “Pizza Slice,” was particularly dangerous, with regular and daily insurgent activity. The commanding officer of the Iraqi battalion was a professional officer who had served during the Hussein regime. [3] Pragmatic and hopeful, he was a willing and able partner in the rebuilding of Iraq. The battalion and its training team would endure several months of sustained attacks until the insurgency broke – of its own stupidity and the civilian population’s shifted allegiance – early in the summer.

Before that break, on 29 April, in the afternoon, towards the end of a day’s activity a sniper ambush which led to the casualties occurred. An element of the battalion and its trainers had been conducting a dismounted patrol of Marines and Iraqi soldiers with vehicles in support. As the last task of the patrol, they had stopped to conduct a search. With the units’ vehicles deployed along narrow and twisted streets, the dismounted elements cleared a building which had been identified as a potential insurgent base. Finding nothing in the building, as the Marines made their way to their vehicles the attack opened with precision sniper and general supporting fire.

Within short order, no more than five minutes of fighting, the three casualties had been taken. The remaining 15 to 20 of minutes combat was fought as the dismounted Marines struggled to safely remove the fallen to the vehicles and those in the vehicles provided cover for them. Fighting to hold the ground, the timely arrival of the QRF (quick reaction force) ended the engagement. It was a close run thing, as the Marines engaged on the ground were running out of ammunition to continue their fight.

I think I was munching bagels and driving with my son and dog from NY to Newport, RI, while these events were occurring. (Yes, you do stop to note the surreal aspects of such moments.) I remember this period clearly. I had just returned from the annual Society for Military History conference and was energized for my research. [4]

It was later that night when the Major sent me the following email:

Do NOT say anything/tell anyone.  The worst happened.  Notifications are being made.  I’m still alive.

 

 [Continues on page 2]

 

 

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5 thoughts on “4/29: When Casualties Came Home from War

  1. Jill says:

    I will accept the kind words and gratitude, and protest, with every bit of sincerity, that I really do not deserve it.

    Rusty, thank you for the link. I knew what it meant when it happened, but like a good historian I wanted to find an explanation for why that term. Its origins seem to be one of those great mysteries of military history.

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