Tribute - Marine Corporal Erik Silva
The Question for Veterans for Kerry

Thundering Third - Part 5 - Attack from the Sky!

Here's another update from LtCol Willy Buhl of the Thundering Third Marines.

August 4, 2004 2:09PM
Dear Family and Friends of the Thundering Third,

Greetings from Camp Abu Ghurayb. This is my third letter to you as we progress into the second month of our deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.

The big news that has already reached many back home was the electrical fire in our Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) tent, which burned to the ground some days ago. Our camp is powered by a variety of generators and wiring not vetted in accordance with OSHA or Underwriter's Laboratories that the folks back home are used to. Despite our best fire prevention efforts, fires do occur out here and all hands are on alert for that possibility. In this case, quick action by nearby Marines to get fire extinguishers and alert the Guard Force, limited the fire to one tent. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the only real loss was the contents of our MWR tent, which included TVs, DVD players and DVDs, X-Boxes, games, books, etc. Thanks to the great efforts of our Thundering Third Key Volunteers, we have already been promised replacements by a number of generous donors back home. The largest group of donors are some great Americans from the San Diego Chapter of the national organization, Operation Homefront. The folks at Operation Homefront immediately volunteered to provide us with a variety of items that will be well received by our Marines and Sailors who rotate in from the field to relax and rest for a day, once each week. Of course, there is far more to this story than generosity on behalf of patriotic citizens. The compassion and support of our families and friends back home is of the greatest comfort to all of us here. We are in the process of reconstructing our MWR tent, and it will be even better than it was.

As you might imagine, every day in the life of an infantry battalion is quite full out here in Iraq. Mounted and dismounted security patrols run 24 hours a day over a large area characterized by small cities and towns, major highways, agricultural fields, canals and rivers, palm groves, military camps and stretches of desert. Logistics resupply convoys, civil affairs projects, generator maintenance, post standing, maintenance and repair of weapons, vehicles, and equipment, training Iraqi security forces, orders briefs, searching for buried arms and ordnance caches, sweeping roads clear of IEDs, local city council meetings, chow time, planning future operations, writing patrol reports, upgrading armor on vehicles, detaining and killing terrorists, and the list goes on. It takes a tremendous team effort to harness and focus the energies of over a thousand Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers that make up the 3d Bn., 1st Marines. I am pleased to report that an already well organized and efficient battalion has only improved over our first six weeks in Iraq. This is due in no small measure to the men attached to the Thundering Third from our Combat Engineer Platoon "Pioneer 3", our Truck Platoon "Wild Card", our Artillery Liaison Team, "Cannon Cockers" and other attachments that, for security reasons I am not permitted to describe here. These attachments to our magnificent Battalion represent continuity from our Brother Marines of 1st Bn., 5th Marines, who are now home with their families, enjoying their well deserved post deployment leave after a job very well done.

I am proud to report that the Thundering Third recently executed the first I MEF air-surface raid of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, air landing a cordon on a group of farm houses suspected of harboring terrorist activities. The Marines and Sailors of Tim Jent's Kilo Company descended from the sky at dawn to completely surprise a group of suspected terrorists. They were followed by the hard hitting men of Brett Clark's India Company and our HMMWV mounted heavy machine gunners from Rob Belknap's Weapons/George Company. A cordon and search operation was efficiently conducted with all members of the households searched, secured, segregated, and tagged, while follow-up exploitation teams conducted detailed searches of the property. During the search we identified and detained a known terrorist on our watch list, and discovered a large buried cache of IED materials. The operation was executed precisely on its planned timeline and netted a big find of materials that will not be used against multi-national forces or nnocent Iraqis. I was very pleased with the planning and execution of the raid. I was also proud of our men's great professionalism, and compassion for Iraqi families on the scene, and discipline when handling suspected terrorists. Job extremely well done to H&S, Kilo, India, and Weapons Companies, with special mention to Captain Patrick "PUC" Gallogly, our Battalion Air Officer, Call Sign "Brahma Air". We intend to build on the success we enjoyed in our first air-ground assault, and will continue to leverage the Marine Corps' "Air-Ground Team" with its many unique and lethal capabilities.

The men of Lima Company continue to patrol the most cooperative area in our Battalion's battle space. Their work with the Iraqi National Guard, the Nasser Wa Salaam Police and our brothers in the US Army has been superb and has advanced relations with the host nation. The Commanding Officer of prison continually praises Capt Alex Echeverria, 1stSgt Wayne Hertz and the Marines and Sailors of Lima Company on their professionalism and dedication to duty. Lima's own "mafia connection", Gunnery Sergeant David Wilson, through hard work, intuition, and savvy found a great Army supply depot at the Baghdad International Airport. His charismatic personality and USMC professionalism persuaded the soldiers there to provide some additional support to their brother "soldiers of the sea". What was originally a small morale booster for Lima Company has become a great Battalion asset. Gunny Wilson's diligent efforts have resulted in huge amounts of Gatorade, muffins, cereal, and food supplements for the Thundering Third. Another bright note from Lima Company is Thundering Third's first meritorious promotion in Iraq, PFC Ryan Easton, a rifleman in Lima Company who has consistently performed at a level of maturity and proficiency expected from Marines well senior to him in grade and experience. Congratulations to PFC Ryan Easton, and Lima Company. I am sure that his family back home will be enormously proud to hear the good news about their Marine.

Among the many human interest stories that have already transpired in our first six weeks in Iraq is the story of Ali, an Iraqi National Guard Soldier, from Nasser Wa Salaam, who was severely injured in a truck crash while on patrol shortly after our Battalion arrived in Iraq. Ali was medevaced by the Marines and flown to the hospital in Baghdad, where he was treated by Army Surgeons. Since his discharge, LT Matt Shepherd, our Battalion Surgeon, has been monitoring his progress and coordinating further treatment for Ali. Ali represents the many patriotic Iraqis who are sacrificing all to realize a better future. Be on the look out for a future published story about Matt and Ali.

On the subject of news stories, there are also a number of press releases about the Thundering Third on the Marine Corps official website. There you can find articles on Company K, and Weapons/George Company. Of note is a great piece on our Combined Anti-Armor Platoon, led by Lt Ryan Sparks and GySgt Christian Wade. Our "CAAT" Platoon has the call sign "Carnivore" and has been involved in a number of highly successful actions to date. The "Highway Patrol" of the Battalion, CAAT's intrepid Marines and Sailors drive all over the highways and byways in our area of operations and have proven themselves to be the most lethal unit in the Thundering Third so far. I encourage you to look them up on the USMC official website.

Marines always find innovative ways to accomplish the mission. I recently discovered that LCpl Jonathon Ashley, of our Motor Transport Platoon, has put an Iraqi scrapper's donkey cart into operation in our Battalion Camp Abu Ghurayb. This motivated young NCO placed a water tank and sprayer on an impounded donkey cart, and tows it behind a four wheel drive all terrain vehicle, the "Gator", as he goes around spraying generators to keep them cool during the heat of the day. The donkey cart was impounded when its owners ignored repeated warnings to stay away from our base, which is out in the desert on an old military camp, away from any homes. I wish you all could see the big grin on LCpl Ashley's face as he rides around our camp towing his Iraqi donkey cart with its American water tank.

Although there are many friendly people here in the Al Anbar Province, there are also plenty of bad people who are doing their best to impede progress in Iraq. We are also very active in our zone, and are rooting out enemy that are operating in our area. This has translated into a lot of local enemy activity in recent days. Indeed, our Marines and Sailors have been in contact with the enemy recently to include one attempt by the enemy to attack one of our company firm bases. Kilo Company recently repelled an attack on their firm base, punishing their attackers with a little help from SSgt Mortimer and his nearby CAAT Section. The situation unfolded as Lt John Jacob's 2d Platoon, from Kilo Company, counterattacked and pushed the enemy attackers away from Kilo's base into an area approached unexpectedly by SSgt Mortimer's CAAT Section, which engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding six others, who were all captured. These contacts have not come without friendly cost, however. We have had a number of men wounded, with most fortunately returning to duty. Unfortunately, we have had a few men hurt enough to be medevaced back to the USA. As I stated in my last letter home to you, if any of our Battalion Families or Friends would like to visit wounded men in the Camp Pendleton area, please contact Gunnery Sergeant (Select) Ray Ortiz, at the 3/1 Rear Command Post at (760) 763-0554 (Cell)(760) 212-1847. He can also be reached by email at: [email protected].

It is also my sad duty to report to you that we have lost another one of our brothers killed in action here in Iraq. Sergeant Juan Calderone, Jr. was killed by an IED attack some days ago. Sergeant Calderone joined the Thundering Third earlier this year and was considered one of the best squad leaders in our Battalion. A standout Sergeant among a group of outstanding Sergeants in Lima Company, he is greatly missed by his brothers here and by his family back home. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his Lady, Ana Maria, and the rest of the Calderone Family. We continue the mission we began here together, as Sergeant Calderone would have wanted.

I will conclude this letter with all of our best wishes to you at home, especially to the great Ladies who are doing great things in our Thundering Third Key Volunteer Network. As time permits, I will write again soon and I hope that this update has provided you with an insight into the Battalion's accomplishments and progress. In addition to your support for your Marines and Sailors over here, I also respectfully ask that you keep the families of our lost and wounded Marines and
Sailors in your thoughts and prayers. The 3d Bn, 1st Marines honors the sacrifice of Sergeant Juan Calderone, Jr., who is gone but never forgotten. John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

God Bless and Semper Fidelis,
LtCol Willy Buhl
CO, 3d Bn, 1st Marines

Other Thundering Third posts can be found here (June 24th), here (July 3rd), here (July 21st), and here (August 5th) .