UBAYDI, Iraq -- Third platoon, Company E, and other Marines with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, continued the morning push into the city here Nov. 14. Temporarily assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 for Operation Steel Curtain, the Marines, and Iraqi troops with the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, previously encountered an entrenched enemy at Ubaydi’s city gates.
Now, as the troops lunged forward across open desert terrain to the first row of houses on the edge of the city, they faced house-to-house and street fighting with insurgents.
“I’m glad to have had the combat experience that I’ve had with the guys around me,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler L. Sytsma, 19, of Fridley, Minn., and infantryman with 3rd Platoon, of the trials he faced in combat. “We’ve done house-to-house fighting and survived.”
Heavy fighting at Ubaydi
Clearing the first row of townhouse-style houses, Marines and Iraqi troops moved forward as supporting units provided cover from secure positions. Machine gun fire rattled across town and explosions were heard in a city, which was built as a planned community by the former regime. Abrams M1 tanks, just as they had done outside the main city, moved up and provided support with their main guns and their .50 caliber machine guns.
Not far from their front line, precision guided munitions were dropped by Coalition fighter jets on fortified insurgent positions. Marines took no chances as they pressed forward. Since Husaybah, insurgents in this part of the Iraq had been on the run. In Ubaydi, well-armed insurgents, reportedly equipped with body armor and heavy weapons, decided to make this their final stand.
The movement through some of the one and two-level houses in Ubaydi was without incident as the troops would find civilians caught in the crossfire trying to have a meal or even watching television. On other occasions though, fierce skirmishes broke out and tank and air support were called in.
Commanders remained assertive and supportive of the job the Marines had done since the kickoff of the operation.
“I’m very confident that we’ve pushed the vast majority of the insurgents out of the cities here,” said 2nd Lt. Erik R. Sallee, of Oklahoma City, and platoon commander for 3rd Platoon, of the progress in ‘grabbing and holding’ on to towns previously controlled by insurgents. “The bad guys had control (of the cities) and we have taken that away from them.”
An entrenched enemy
Third platoon faced one of its biggest obstacles when its squads met strong machine gun fire from the enemy in separate areas. One squad met an ambush from an insurgent with a machine gun that resulted in three non-life threatening injuries before the position was leveled by machine gun and tank fire.
The other two Marine squads and a squad of Iraqi soldiers met heavy opposition from several insurgents in a fortified building. The enemy was blasted first by machine guns and grenades, later by tanks and finally by aircraft as insurgents fought from dug in positions.
The skirmishes there during the afternoon of Nov. 14 would be the last major clash for 3rd Platoon that day.
“My experience has really been enlightening,” said Lance Cpl. Justin C. Cacace, 19, of Las Vegas, an infantryman with 3rd Platoon. “You watch movies and see war on TV expecting nothing but explosions, but what you find (here) sometimes is a house with people watching TV and sometimes you find the enemy.”
Inside a row of houses 3rd Platoon occupied, the Marines and their Iraqi counterparts ate meals and bedded down for the night as others kept vigil with night watches and patrols. The following day, 3rd Platoon successfully accomplished its objective, but the battle of Ubaydi was far from over. On the 16th, as the Marines from Company E were being moved back, Company F suffered several casualties that were not to be soon forgotten.
Their courage and sacrifice is remembered amongst the Marines of the battalion who fought in the lower Euphrates River Valley for nearly a month last November. Some Marines reminisced of their fallen and their previous exploits as others engraved their names on their helmet covers.
The combat experience during Steel Curtain contributed to the illustrious feats and finest traditions of the Corps. The Marines here have contributed to that lore.
“They have gained a lot of experience throughout Operation Steel Curtain,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew M. Thuma, 27, of Tipp City, Ohio, and platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, of his Marines and others who participated in the mission. “I am very proud of them.”
The Marines who fought there in the small towns on the lower Euphrates River Valley and their courageous efforts are not forgotten.