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  • Written by Bing West
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Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines

Written by Bing WestAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bing West

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41853-1
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell
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military (7) history (6) iraq war (5) war (4)
military (7) history (6) iraq war (5) war (4)
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With unprecedented access and previously unreported detail, here is a first hand account of the 22-day march to Baghdad that takes you behind the scenes and to the front line...

No one reporting on the war in Iraq had the unique battlefield clearance afforded the authors of this dramatic eyewitness account. Unlike embedded journalists confined to a single unit, West and Smith acquired a captured yellow SUV and joined with whatever unit was leading the assault every day of the fight. The result is a report of what really happened from the heart of the action unlike anything you’ll read anywhere else.

“While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression.”—Major General J.N. Mattis, 1st Marine Division, Commanding

Here is the story that can be told only by those who actually witnessed the action of the famed 1st Marine Division’s march on Baghdad, from the shaky beginning of U.S. operations in southern Iraq to the capture of U.S. prisoners, the misreported “fierce Iraqi resistance,” and the aggressive assaults that led to a quick and decisive victory.

With over a half century of military and combat experience between them, bestselling author F. J. “Bing” West and Major General Ray L. Smith, USMC (Ret.), combine expert military analysis with dramatic battlefield reporting. They bring the reader on a march that ended in victory—but was shadowed by second-guessing, unexpected reversals, and the threat of catastrophe.


With access to three-star generals in the command centers and to privates in the field, the authors reveal how the strategic plan played out in battle, showing what went well and what failed, and detailing power struggles for military and political control never reported. The result is destined to become the definitive account of ground warfare in Iraq.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

1
The Crown Jewel
D-Day, D+1

With 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment
Northern Kuwait, a few kilometers south of the Iraqi border
20—21 March 2003

With gas masks on, Ray Smith and I, along with all the Marines in 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment (1/7) were sitting in shallow fighting holes, hacked out of dirt as hard as concrete, feeling a bit frustrated. For the fourth time that morning the gunnery sergeant had stood on top of the command Amtrac [Picture 1] hollering “Lightning! Lightning!”–the code word that there had been a SCUD launch–and the Marines had hopped back into their holes, the bulging eyes of their masks resembling giant bugs from the black-and-white horror films of the 1950s. Cruise missiles had struck Baghdad around dawn, after the CIA had told President Bush it knew where Saddam was hiding. Now the Iraqis were shooting back with long-range missiles, and one had narrowly missed the headquarters of Lt. Gen. James Conway, the senior Marine in the Kuwait-Iraq theater.

We were in a pre-attack “assembly area,” a dust bowl a few kilometers behind the Iraqi border, assigned to one of the Amtracs in the battalion. We were hitching rides because of the unusual route we had taken to get to the battlefield. Back in December, Ray and I decided to write a book about the upcoming war in Iraq, describing the changes in tactics between the fight in Hue City in 1968 and the projected fight in Baghdad City in 2003. Although initially reluctant to have a retired general and a former assistant secretary of defense on the battlefield, Headquarters Marine Corps kindly issued us orders to serve as unpaid consultants in support of a Marine Corps public affairs film crew, at our own expense. Once we were in Kuwait, the Marine Corps allowed us to go forward with two stipulations; first, that we were on our own, and second, that we keep a low profile because, as a senior Marine said, “we want to keep the focus on the young Marines, not us old guys–so don’t get yourselves killed, because then you would be a story.”

So here we were, traveling with an infantry battalion as it prepared to cross the Line of Departure into Iraq. Thousands of years of relentless winds had swept the sands from Kuwait and Iraq, leaving behind an ankle-deep cover of powdery dust which swirled like fog in the slightest breeze. In this featureless, bleak landscape, the two hundred vehicles of 1/7 were aligned in three neat, long lines, appearing as a mirage to any Bedouin tribesman wandering by on his camel.

The U.S. high command was convinced that chemical warheads would strike U.S. troops sooner or later. So the gas masks and the hot, tightly woven chemical-resistant bib overalls and jackets we all wore were reasonable precautions. Still, the war wasn’t supposed to open this way, with the Marines waiting behind the lines, gas masks on, gas masks off, like pebbles washed back and forth by the waves.
Like everyone else in 1st Battalion that morning, members of the first squad of 3rd Platoon of Charlie Company sat and fretted, ducking when they were told to do so by their squad leader, Cpl. Shane Ferkovich. Ray and I had joined battalion 1/7 for its attack on D-Day in order to follow Ferkovich and his squad on their multibillion-dollar mission to seize the Az Zubayr oil pumping station.

A big, rangy youth from Montana, Ferkovich had bounced from high school to high school, preferring part-time work as a lumberjack. Motivated by the challenge, he had decided to join the Marine Corps, but was turned down because he hadn’t finished high school. Ferkovich went back to school for another year, then was accepted. After boot camp he volunteered for 29 Palms, a remote base along the Nevada-California border where Marines train for mechanized warfare.

As we walked over to talk with the squad, the men exchanged glances. During the long days back at the 1st Marine Division’s isolated staging base, we had introduced ourselves around the regiments and battalions. Many of the troops had heard of Ray, and they called him “Sir” or “General” to his face and “E-Tool” when talking over the radio or in the chow hall.

There was another cry of “Lightning!” and another quick donning of gas masks. When the all-clear sounded, Corporal Ferkovich asked Ray the question that seemed to be bothering them all.

“Sir,” Ferkovich said, “that cruise missile strike this morning–do you think we got

Saddam? We’ll still go to war, won’t we?”

The squad members didn’t want their mission snatched away on the last day by a cruise missile. They had trained in the heat and mud, withstood mental and physical torments, endured months in an isolated camp sustained by the vision of carrying out a dangerous and valuable task. They had invested almost a year of their lives preparing for one day. They wanted Ray to reassure them.

In boot camp the squad had heard about Ray’s exploits in Vietnam with an entrenching tool, or E-tool, a small, collapsible shovel. One instructor had told them that Ray’s M-16 jammed during a night attack, and he had continued down the trench line swinging an E-tool, later remarking that a shovel doesn’t jam. A different version had it that he had assaulted a North Vietnamese machine-gun position with an E-tool. Whatever the story, he was known in the Corps as “E-Tool.”

Maybe the cruise missile had squashed Saddam, Ray said. But the campaign was to remove an entire regime, not just one man. A few missiles weren’t going to change the squad’s mission.

The eighteen-year-old infantryman goes to work each day preparing to kill other men, not an ordinary job. Shane Ferkovich could have gone to a community or four-year college, as half his classmates from high school did. Or he could have stayed in the logging camps, working outdoors in the land of the Big Sky, earning enough money for a good set of wheels and hanging out with two or three buddies. If he wanted to enlist, there were twenty or thirty military fields that would teach him a skill useful for later civilian employment, like satellite communications, the military police, or computer hardware.

Instead he chose the infantry. Each year only one out of four thousand physically qualified young men joins the ranks of the Marine infantry, yet Ferkovich’s squad still reflected a cross-section of the nation. Of the twelve Marines, one was an immigrant applying for U.S. citizenship, one was African American, and four were Hispanic. Two came from self-described upper-middle-class homes; the rest were from working-class families. Ferkovich was an orphan, raised in foster homes. As diverse as they were, they had several traits in common. All had graduated from high school. All were volunteers. They had worked together as a team for over a year and were anxious to perform.

We asked them why they had chosen to join the Marines. They said that they wanted to do what was tough. Most mentioned they needed more discipline, and everyone knew what happens in Marine recruit depots: the drill instructors either shape you up or throw you out. Lance Corporal Answitz, twenty-four, had served in the Spetnatz, the Russian special forces, before emigrating to the United States. Spetnatz had pushed the recruits harder physically, he said, making them exercise in T-shirts in subzero weather, but the Corps was mentally tougher; those Marine drill instructors got inside your head.

A corporal mentioned a popular Super Bowl TV commercial, where a young guy climbs a mountain and fights a dragon with a sword. After slashing it in two, he turns into a Marine in dress blues. The others laughed, agreeing that was cool. Ray said that the commercial was about the transformation that takes place, as he put it, “when a lowly civilian earns the title Marine.” The men laughed.

I asked if the squad members bought that, saying I thought the commercial was over the top. Did they really like it? These macho young men hesitated to answer. Finally Ferkovich spoke up. “Absolutely, I believe it,” he said softly. The others then nodded or openly agreed in a variety of ways: “I’m different,” and “Back home, everyone says I’ve changed,” and “Yeah, I guess so.” We pulled on the thread a little more. “How about being an infantryman? Why did you choose that?” A couple said they didn’t choose, the Corps chose for them, but most indicated that they wanted to be infantrymen.

Once you decided to be a Marine, they agreed, you might as well be infantry–that’s the real Marine Corps. Only 15 percent of all Marines belonged to the infantry. Not many of their high school classmates had joined the military, and practically none were in the infantry. So being a Marine rifleman meant belonging to a small, exclusive club.

There were two squads assigned to seize the oil pumping station and the other squad leader, Cpl. Alejandro Garcia, nineteen, joined his friend Ferkovich for the final review. Garcia, as tall as Ferkovich, had a looser approach to life. He was from L.A. and on weekends drove there from the base to go dancing, he said, while “Ferk stays in the barracks and studies tactics.” The squad members nodded and laughed and Ferkovich, still serious, asked if we knew Colonel Boyd and about his theory.

Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, was a fighter pilot who theorized that battalions and divisions could win battles the same way fighter pilots did: by turning inside the enemy’s OODA loop. In order to shoot down another aircraft in a dogfight, Boyd wrote, you have to Observe what is going on, then Orient yourself in the battle, then Decide what to do, and lastly Act before your opponent has completed his OODA loop. According to Boyd, a fighter pilot didn’t win by faster reflexes; he won because his reflexes were connected to a brain that thought faster than the opponent.

Marines like Ray were much taken with the theory. Getting inside Saddam’s OODA loop, Ray told the squad, was the key to a quick victory. Make him fight your fight; don’t get suckered into reacting and fighting his fight. For the squad, it should be the same. The mission of the squad was to seize the oil pumping station before Saddam’s men blew it up. If things seemed off kilter once the squad was inside the station, don’t wait for orders from anyone else. Secure the key elements–the manifolds, pump and power house. Every year about $15 billion in oil exports went through that station. So don’t hesitate–grab control and Colonel Boyd would be proud of them. Hell, Ray might be proud of them.

Ferkovich’s squad sat in the dirt and went over the attack plan one more time while we listened. In all his firefights, Ray said that he had developed the habit of mentally running a video through his head, picturing what he expected to see. There was the least confusion when every rifleman had imagined–had thought through–exactly what he was going to do.

Ray and I felt at home sitting in the fighting holes with these tough, eager young men. It is a mystery why some are called to be grunts, to carry a rifle and an eighty-pound pack, to chew tobacco and swear and sweat and shoot and be refused a beer because of being underage. Although we didn’t know it then, in the march up to Baghdad, the chances of becoming a casualty were one in 150 among Marines like this squad. In the U.S., the chances of a police officer becoming a casualty last year were one in 8,000. Being in the infantry was fifty times more dangerous than law enforcement. In March of 2003, it was the most dangerous job in America.

Some of this danger was due to neglect in the Pentagon budget. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was constantly talking about “transforming” the military to be more high tech and agile, apparently unaware that a dramatic transformation had taken place since Vietnam. In preparing to attack Iraq, the Department of Defense possessed more combat aircraft than infantry squads and more combat pilots than infantry squad leaders. The “smart” bombs one aircraft dropped on one strike cost more than the equipment for an entire squad. In World War II, the physical risk to a pilot and to an infantryman were almost the same. Going into Iraq sixty years later, the rifleman was vastly more at risk. Technology had done little for him. Ray and I chatted with the squad and hefted their equipment. If we had the stamina, we could have picked up any pack and rifle and trudged off with them, forty years
after Vietnam. No pilot from forty years ago would dare hop into the cockpit of a plane in 2003.

Less-than-cutting-edge equipment, though, did not faze Corporal Ferkovich and his squad. As far as they were concerned, the Marine Corps revolved around them. They believed they were the top tier of the Corps. Infantry was the billet most sought by Marine officers, and many were turned down. There were not enough spaces for the number of volunteers. The prior Commandant of the Marine Corps, General J.L. Jones, had even signed his e-mails as “Rifleman.”

Such prestige, however, did not translate into money. The average policeman in Indianapolis, for instance, earned $36,000 after two years on the force. Corporal Ferkovich was earning $20,000 after two years. But for Marines like Ferkovich, the opportunity to seize a multibillion-dollar pumping station was prestige enough, and he didn’t want any cruise missile to land on Saddam’s head and take away his squad’s mission.

Now it was mission time, which meant proving time. We asked if everyone was set to cross the Line of Departure–to cross into Iraq itself. Nods and grins all around, except for the corpsman who said that he’d rather be back at the hospital. He had been sent to the squad three days ago and would stay because the squad might need him. But he hadn’t signed up to be a rifleman and wouldn’t mind if they called the whole war off.

“Well,” Ray said, “one of us has some sense.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Bing West

About Bing West

Bing West - The March Up

Bing West’s bestselling books have won many awards. West, a Marine combat infantryman, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former assistant secretary of defense.

Praise

Praise

“Smith and West deliver a balanced and unblinking account that will certainly become one of the standard texts on the second Gulf War….As a result, this book is a sort of microscope-telescope hybrid, moving seamlessly through many levels: Here is the division commander's view of the fight, the regiment commander's view, the battalion commander's view, the company commander's view—and the corporal's view, slugging it out on the ground at the head of a fire team….The March Up should be required reading for everyone serving in the armed forces—and for anyone exercising policy influence over the institution they serve.”—Washington Post Book World

"It is one thing to know about Marines. It is another to know the sting of battle. To tell the true story of combat up close and personal, the authors must be there on the scene with the Marines in action ... That is exactly what the reader gets in The March Up.... An excellent look at Marine combat at its best in the 21st century."—Marine Corps Gazette

“This is the face of war as only those who have fought it can describe it.”—Senator John McCain

“This book will stand as the definitive account about the nature of ground combat as we enter the 21st century. A gripping and honest account of war as told by two distinguished veterans.”—James Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of Central Intelligence

“An important and unflinching chronicle of contemporary warfare. Regardless of one’s position on the war in Iraq—on any war—The March Up speaks with authority and legitimacy and cuts to the very bone to reveal the experience of the modern fighting infantryman.” —General Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (Ret.), former Commander in Chief, Central Command


From the Hardcover edition.

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