HIT, Iraq -- “Incoming, SVBIED!” is the last thing Marines remember hearing before a huge explosion rocked the building.
The Marines suddenly found themselves picking themselves up off the floor and scrambling for gear as the world around them became engulfed in dust, debris and machine gun fire.
Company I, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment reacted to the unprovoked attack without hesitation and quickly laid down fire that sent their attackers fleeing.
“I was on rooftop security when a rocket flew over the top of our position,” said Lance Cpl. Eric A. Hults, a native of Potsdam, N.Y. and a fire team leader with 1st Platoon. “I looked down, saw a vehicle speeding toward us and went to an attack position to engage it when I realized the main guns were not firing,” he continued.
“The .50 cal had jammed and I did not have time to perform an immediate action check, so I grabbed my SAW (squad automatic weapon) and opened fire,” explained 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Marchewka, an Alden, N.Y., native. “It all happened so fast, it felt like something from a movie and then it exploded.”
Inside the building, two floors beneath them Marines from 2nd Platoon were getting ready to conduct a patrol when they heard the warning yell and machine gun fire. A few ran to fighting positions at the end of the hallway while others geared up and prepared for the worst.
“I saw the vehicle approaching and that our .50 cal was not firing,” said Rochester, N.Y., native, Lance Cpl. Christopher W. Simpson, an infantryman with 2nd Platoon. “I was able to get a couple of rounds off before I saw the yellow flash of the explosion.”
“The next thing I remember was looking at the ceiling and wondering if everyone was alright,” said Cpl. Joseph J. Dougherty, 26, a fireteam leader with 2nd platoon and Angola, N.Y. native. “We were all knocked unconscious for a minute, and when we woke up, all we heard was gunfire so we got up and got back in the fight.”
Marines took fighting positions behind sandbags and engaged the numerous enemies that had taken up positions in the surrounding buildings. Some insurgents were on rooftops were they could observe the battle through binoculars.
“I saw an observer and engaged him,” said Dougherty, a 1999 graduate of Lake Shore Central High School. “Then I realized I was barefoot in my flak and helmet. I held my position until someone else came and then I went and retrieved the rest of my gear.”
Dougherty was not alone in this action, as many Marines rushed to fighting positions with minimum gear knowing that every minute they were not firing could mean their defeat or the death of another Marine.
“I woke up on my back with debris all around me and saw that more than two dozen Marines had rushed to our aid and had taken fighting positions,” said Hults, a 2000 Alden High School graduate. “It felt really good to see them up there.”
“It was like a long blink in time, I don’t remember hearing the explosion, but I remember the heat on my face,” said Marchewka, a 2001 Chittenango High School graduate. “One minute there’s a truck, the next there is just a crater. It was like a nightmare.”
Combat lifesavers and corpsmen began a casualty collection point and other Marines were dispensing ammunition.
As others rushed from floor to floor checking on their Marines to see if they needed ammunition, Dougherty and others had begun to bring out their explosive ammunition.
“I grabbed some high explosive rounds for my M-203 and returned to a previous fighting position,” said Dougherty, a sophomore at Eerie Community College.
Remaining vigilant, the Marines began to assess the situation taking in account the damage and their wounded. A temporary aid station was set up in an adjacent room to the heavily damaged field aid station.
Engineers arrived within the hour and began refortifying the base, while the corpsmen treated numerous casualties even with all their equipment destroyed.
Marines, even those who were injured, began to help clean up and fix things that were broken. By day’s end the main defenses were repaired, all the injured were medevaced and the Marines were still in a fighting mood.
“All of our training paid off and everyone clicked. The corpsmen, the ISF soldiers, the Army Soldiers and the Marines,” said Simpson, a 1997 Pittsford Mendon High School and 2002 West Virginia University graduate said. “No one rested and everyone did more than their part during and after the attack. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”