Posts tagged ‘Navy Cross’

Everybody Should Read General John Kelly’s Speech About Two Marines In The Path Of A Truck Bomb

Marines Ramadi Truck

Five years ago, two Marines from two different walks of life who had literally  just met were told to stand guard in front of their outpost’s entry control  point. Minutes later, they were staring down a big  blue truck packed with explosives. With this particular shred of hell  bearing down on them, they stood their ground.

Heck, they even leaned in.

I had heard the story many times, personally. But until today I had never  heard Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly’s telling  of it to a packed house in 2010. Just four days following the death of  his own son in combat, Kelly eulogized two other sons in an unforgettable  manner.

From Kelly’s speech:

Two years ago when I was the Commander of all  U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry  battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One  battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the  other just starting its seven-month combat tour.

Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and  Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from  each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an  outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.

The same broken down ramshackle building was also  home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the  terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and  owned by Al Qaeda. Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife  and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as  well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other  hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.

They were from two completely different worlds.  Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or  understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race,  education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they  were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training,  and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they  were born of the same woman.

The mission orders they received from the  sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns,  stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You  clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in  unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the  point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re  doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at  the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section  of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later a large blue truck turned  down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through  the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where  the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically.  Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards  away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking  most of a house down before it stopped.

Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made  of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen  didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi  and American brothers-in-arms.

When I read the situation report about the  incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for  details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or  being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless  of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the  process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.

The regimental commander had just returned from  the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to  the event—just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out  what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their  bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and  we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements.  If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general  officer.

I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke  individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story.  The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its  way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going  on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that  some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the  explosion.

All survived. Many were injured … some seriously.  One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run  like any normal man would to save his life.”

What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what  he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the  emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and  done what they did.”

“No sane man.”

“They saved us all.”

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned  a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and  Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras,  damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened  exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when  the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

You can watch the last six seconds of their young  lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for  the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going  on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no  time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only  enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them  to do only a few minutes before: “… let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles  pass.”

The two Marines had about five seconds left to  live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons,  take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers  and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi  police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and  rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three  seconds left to live.

For about two seconds more, the recording shows  the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into  shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the  son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American  and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their  lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If  they had been aware, they would have know they were safe…because two Marines  stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.

The recording shows the truck careening to a stop  immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence  Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they  never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even  shifted their weight. With their feet spread should width apart, they leaned  into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only  one second left to live.

The  truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their  God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families,  their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than  enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty…into eternity. That is  the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.

Remember to give thanks to those serving around the world, keeping us safe in these uncertain times.

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