UBAYDI, Iraq -- At an assembly area in the Iraqi desert, Nov. 14 began with a wake up at 3 a.m. Marines with 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, (Special Operations Capable), roused up from their sleeping bags and gathered up their equipment.
The full moon was clear as the Marines, temporarily under Regimental Combat Team 2, and their Iraqi Army counterparts began their foot march towards Ubaydi, Iraq.
The troops went to sleep the night before hearing the sounds of helicopter gun ships and Coalition fighter jets strafing suspected insurgents. The airpower was another reassurance to the Marines that everything possible was being done to thwart their enemy the next day.
Marching to battle before sunrise
The march toward Ubaydi was slow and ominous. Through dusty terrain littered with trash, the Marines from 3rd Platoon and the Iraqi troops attached to them moved though the arid, rocky dunes south of town before sunrise. The early morning call to prayer emanating from a huge mosque inside the planned community of one and two-story homes could be heard through the ranks of the troops moving toward the city.
Lights and buildings within the town were visible. There was an eerie silence after the Islamic chants for prayer and the lights of the mosque went out. The Marines and Iraqi soldiers continued to move into positions set in preparation for the advance into the city, when a deafening explosion was heard.
“If you ever really want to know what kind of man you are, experience combat,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Samel, 19, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., a radio operator and infantryman with 3rd Platoon, recalling his attitude towards combat during Steel Curtain.
The cry for ‘corpsman up’ and the sound of rushing feet was heard. At the end of the day, the Marines from Company E would find out that their commanding officer had been killed from that explosion caused by an improvised explosive device planted in the desert they had all walked through. For now though, they would have to keep their focus on the task of taking Ubaydi.
Machine guns and rockets red glare
Regrouping after the IED attack, Marines and Iraqi soldiers were engaged by insurgent fire from the city.
“Get down,” yelled Marines to one another as they literally dropped for cover behind any small terrain feature underneath them. The sound of troops cursing could be heard through the crack of bullets over head.
Within 300 yards of the southwest corner of the city, 3rd Platoon took enemy machine gun fire. To their far right other, Marines from the battalion were taking fierce mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire from entrenched insurgents. The rockets had a red glare as they shot across the desert.
The Coalition Force response was quick. Marines who took cover began firing back with their rifles and machine guns. Soon MK-19 grenade launchers mounted on humvees were brought up from the rear to suppress the enemy fire. Marine M1 Abrams tanks came in from 3rd Platoon’s left side blasting its main gun at buildings housing insurgents as helicopter gun ships rattled the enemy’s position.
“Everyone that I know, regardless of how I felt about them before, (had) fought just as hard as the guy next to them,” said Samel.
Marines cheered as they and Iraqi troops moved forward into the city. Black tinfoil chaff, let loose by the supporting helicopters overhead to deflect enemy anti-aircraft missiles, descended like snow on the troops preparing to cross the open terrain.
“For a lot of Marines this was their first combat deployment,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew M. Thuma, 27, of Tipp City, Ohio, and platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, days later after the battle. “They have performed to a higher level than I could have ever expected.”
The enemy was temporarily silenced but he was not done yet.