The following is the latest letter from LtCol Willy Buhl, Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, in Iraq. Again, LtCol Buhl gives you the straight info on what his Marines are accomplishing every day in Iraq.
Dear Families and Friends of the Thundering Third, Greetings again from Camp Abu Ghurayb. This is my fourth letter to you as we prepare to begin the month of September, and the third month of our deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.
The big news that has already reached many back home, and is included as an attachment to my letter, was our recent tactical deployment to positions south of Fallujah. Responding to emerging threats from Fallujah, the Thundering Third was assigned two traffic control points south of the restive city. Immediately upon occupation of these positions, enemy forces from within Fallujah began to attack us. We responded with heavy firepower ranging from aircraft to artillery, mortars, tank main guns, heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, TOW missiles, AT-4 rockets and our Marines and Sailor's personal weapons. Over a week-long period, the Battalion performed magnificently, defeating every attack the enemy could muster. This was a team effort that included Forward Air Controllers, Artillery and Mortar Forward Observers, Combat Engineers to dig us in, tank platoon attachments, a forward Battalion Aid Station (BAS), logistics sustainment, motor transport, communications, and other capabilities resonant in a reinforced Marine Infantry Battalion. Wherever attacked, your Marines and Sailors delivered precise and devastating fire on the enemy. While Kilo Company is described in the attached news article below, India Company was also in on the action, relieving Kilo after several days of combat there. India Company completed a magnificent battlefield handover with Kilo, while still in contact with the enemy. Throughout the next few days, the Marines of Company I carried on in the proudest traditions of our Battalion, engaging the enemy at every chance. Despite the heat and potential for danger, morale was high - Sergeant Major Sax and I couldn't be more proud of their performance.
Following the events described above, the Thundering Third conducted an operation to locate caches of ordnance, explosives, etc. Over a 48-hour period, the Thundering Third, reinforced with Iraqi Special Forces soldiers from the new Iraqi Army, searched a large area of agricultural land and small towns adjacent to rivers and canals in our zone. The operation was successful in a variety of ways, from locating a number of significant caches, to integration with host nation forces, to cross company coordination, and integration of civil affairs personnel who handed out over 1,000 soccer balls to parents and children. Temperatures during this operation hovered around 120F and the conditions were demanding. Again, your Marines and Sailors performed at the "3/1 Standard" and conducted a safe and successful operation maintaining initiative in our zone. In my next letter, I will highlight some key points about the new Iraqi Army and the Specialized Special Forces that have been attached to us and are doing a tremendous job alongside our Marines and Sailors.
The operations above were supported by the men of Weapons/George Company, who were busy firing in support, patrolling, screening, leading Iraqi National Guard Forces, and a host of other tasks that the Company has been doing here since arrival in Theater. Of note was the work of our CAAT Platoon, who provided very accurate TOW Missile and Heavy Machine Gun fire support south of Fallujah, and our 81mm Mortar Platoon that fired responsive, precise, and lethal indirect fires whenever the Battalion was fired upon by enemy weapons systems. Our Weapons/George Company Marines have continued to punish enemy forces whenever presented with the opportunity. Among a number of successes enjoyed by Weapons/George Company and the entire Battalion was that Sergeant Robert Hankins was meritoriously promoted to the rank of "Sergeant of Marines" after winning the 1st Marine Division Meritorious Sergeant Board. As you can imagine, competition within the Thundering Third alone was extremely keen. This outstanding young NCO's accomplishment as the number one Corporal in the entire Division is even more noteworthy because 3/1 is a relatively new arrival in Iraq. Sergeant Hankins is a native of Port Huron, Michigan and is an OIF I Veteran, having distinguished himself in action on a number of previous occasions. Hearty congratulations go out to Sgt Hankins and the Marines and Sailors of Weapons/George Company.Other Thundering Third posts can be found Part 1 (June 24th), Part 2 (July 3rd), Part 3 (July 21st), Part 4 (August 5th) and Part 5 (August 6th).
Our Lima Company Marines and Sailors have conducted multiple operations in their portion of the Battalion's zone. They recently put a stop to an illegal weapons market in a city in their area of responsibility. Security precautions preclude me from elaborating on details of the operation. Suffice it to say that Captain Alex Echeverria, 1st Sgt Wayne Hertz and their men performed a text book cordon and search using speed, surprise, and precision execution. Lima Company has been very successful in their assigned sector and the work they are doing is a model for our efforts in Iraq. Included in their area is India Company of the Iraqi National Guard (ING). India Company is also among the most successful ING Company in the Al Anbar Province. Cooperative efforts between our Combined Action Platoon (CAP), led by 1stLt Zach Iscol and his Weapons/George Marines (with support from Lima Company) have facilitated the creation of a very capable Iraqi ING Company led by very patriotic and dedicated Iraqi Officers, SNCOs, and NCOs. This unit has had a number of successes to date, including killing and capturing insurgents, locating caches and IEDs, etc. A testament to the success achieved by our Marines and Sailors at India Base is the many dignitaries have visited over the past two months to see what they are all about. Continued success to Lima Company and CAP India!
Headquarters Company continues to superbly support the entire Battalion and is involved in every operation we conduct in some regard. All of our staff sections are doing great work and all of our support platoons continue to keep the Battalion fed, paid, supplied, communicating, and rolling. Sergeant Major Sax and I were recent guests of our Motor Transport Platoon, where I had the great honor and pleasure of reenlisting Sergeant Jonathon Ferguson, our shop chief, who has stepped up to fill the Maintenance Chief's billet (normally filled by a senior SNCO') in absence of Staff Sergeant Alan Steer, who is unfortunately home on emergency leave. Indeed, another fine sergeant, Sergeant Jack Pierce, is holding the billet of Platoon Sergeant in absence of Staff Sergeant Spink, who is gone but never forgotten. Together, these two outstanding sergeants of Marines are keeping the Thundering Third rolling with a motor pool of nearly 200 tactical vehicles. Our motor transport platoon commander, 1st Lieutenant Ed Malinowski, beams with pride whenever his Marines are mentioned. Invariably, our motor transport Marines are the subject of compliments and appreciation. They have done incredible things since our arrival in Iraq and have a very squared away motor bay where they conduct daily maintenance. Aside from the businesslike arrangement of parts and tools, one unique item of decor inside the motor bay is a plywood table set for 12, surrounded by HMMWV bucket seats. The table is square but one immediately conjures up thoughts about King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. The HMMWV seats became available when we replaced them with Kevlar blankets to protect our Marines.
Our Logistics Marines led by Captain Mike Stehle and his very capable team of Officers, SNCOs, and NCOs have overcome every logistics challenge in fine fashion from generators, to gravel, water, fuel, rations, barriers, and even misters provided by OPERATION MIST. A kind friend of the Thundering Third, Ms. Sue McCormick, founder of "Cool Our Troops", even enlisted the aid of our Assistant Commandant, General William Nyland to deliver 900 misters to our Marines summering in Iraq. Captain Stehle and his team have kept your mail flowing, supported by our Postal NCO, Corporal Alexis Gonzalez and the rest of 1stLt Mike Beames' S-1 Staff. Indeed, we are receiving large quantities of mail and packages and many of our Battalion's Veterans are generously contributing. Among the many sending mail are familiar members of our family to include: Sgt and Mrs.Dan Frydrychowski, Major and Mrs.Tex Welch, Sgt and Mrs.Tom Enos, Major and Mrs.Bob Camarillo, LtCol and Mrs.Dan Quick, Cpl and Mrs.Paolo Demeis, Cpl Dick Rogge, Ms. Peri Mooty, Ms. Catherine Clark, John Wintersteen, Seamus Garrahy, American Legion Posts, VFW Posts, Marine Corps League Detachments, real estate firms, schools, church groups, library groups, and many others. As you might imagine, the many packages of food, books, and hygiene items that have been sent to our men have been most welcome. Sgt Major Ed Sax has established a distribution center out of his quarters at the firm base for all the company 1st Sergeants to pick up and bring items out to the field. We also take items with us wherever we go to deliver to our Marines, and sometimes to Iraqi children. I cannot tell you how good it feels to know how many people are behind us back home. These packages and the inspiring messages contained within really make a great difference to our Marines and Sailors... all are deeply, deeply appreciated. Another great event within the Battalion was the combat promotion of 1stLt Derrick Lane earlier this month. I shared the honor of pinning Derrick's silver bars on with 1stLt Terry Horton, our S-4A, who is a three-deployment Veteran with the Thundering Third, and Capt Mike Stehle's right hand man in the Logistics Section. Congrats again to 1stLt Derrick Lane, our Maintenance Management Officer and Combat Operations Center Watch Officer. A "Mustang" Officer of distinction, 1stLt Lane has been doing 1stLt's work since he joined the Thundering Third.
Folks, this letter would not be complete without an update on Lance Corporal Jonathon Ashley's latest upgrade from the improvised donkey cart he began operations with in June. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Lance Corporal Ashley has moved up in life to a sporty KIA "J2 Bongo." This racy machine has twin sets of 12" wheels in the rear, reminiscent of your lawn tractor back home, and a 14" get up and go set in the front. Two bullet strikes in the windshield add great character to his utility truck, which was impounded when its occupants were discovered to be smuggling a large quantity of 82mm mortar rounds hidden in sacks of grain at one of our vehicle check points. Being the innovative Marine that he is, Lance Corporal Ashley uses an eyewash machine loaded with a solvent solution that he has invented himself using a combination of industrial salt and cleansers, in order to prepare generators for a final wash conducted with a locally purchased pressure washer. His innovations in the use of available transportation and equipment have been Instrumental in keeping the camp's generators running. Among the many things young Ashley carries on his craft are an industrial fire extinguisher (very important!!) known as the "Mother Of All Fire Extinguishers" or "MOAFE", welding tanks, a tool set, and all the items required to keep our generators serviced and perform maintenance projects around our firm base. Lance Corporal Ashley has an indomitable spirit, a keen wit, and plenty of good old American G-2, using all the tools at hand to get the job done. As he described his utility truck to me, he proudly included the fact that he was able to get the stereo working and inserted a tape entitled, "Old Country". Sure enough, C.W. McCall's song, "Convoy" came piping through the loudspeakers. I wish you could have shared Lance Corporal Ashley's ear to ear grin with me.
For those wondering how our injured Iraqi National Guard Soldier Ali is doing, Lieutenant Matt Shepherd and our BAS has superbly supervised his sustainment care. Ali continues to make great improvements and is better every time I see him. On a related note, Mr.Shepherd was recently joined by a welcome addition to the Thundering Third, Lieutenant Robert Sobehart, our Assistant Battalion Surgeon. Mr. Sobehart hitched rides on a variety of government aircraft to reach us here in Iraq in record time upon completion of his hospital residency. Mr.Soberhart is a very welcome addition to the Battalion Staff and has hit the ground running here, making an immediate difference by his leadership presence and technical expertise. Additional great news for the Thundering Third's BAS was HM1 Richard Tomlinson's selection to Chief Petty Officer. Serving as an Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC), "Doc" Tomlinson has been a stalwart member of our BAS in the Thundering Third. IDC's are capable of rendering advanced medical skills just short of those of a Battalion Surgeon. Congratulations to Chief "Select" Tomlinson and the motivated and dedicated "Devil Docs" in our BAS - best in the 1st Marine Division. Our BAS and indeed the whole Battalion are also following the progress of HN William Embessi, and HM3 Jose Ramos, who were wounded in action and are recovering at home with their families. They are missed by their brothers out here and our prayers go out to them daily for speedy return to full duty.
Like their forebears in the Thundering Third from WWII to present, our Marines and Sailors have continued to serve with fortitude in the face of adversity. As you must know, we continue to sustain casualties here in Iraq. Due to great combat leadership and training, a high percentage of our wounded are returning to duty. Unfortunately, as noted in previous letters home and the comments above, we have had a few men hurt enough to be medevaced back to the USA. On this note, our Marines and Sailors have been blessed to be visited by a number of the Battalion's Distinguished Veterans. From Weapons/George Company, several of our Chosin Reservoir Veterans, Col Clark Henry, Maj Bob Camarillo, and Cpl Jim Byrne recently visited our men at Balboa and Camp Pendleton Naval Hospitals. We have also had 3-1 Veterans from Vietnam, Col's Dan Quick, Larry Moran, and John Regal, visit and contact our wounded men and their families. These visits mean the world to our men and their families, and mean the world to the rest of us in Iraq, knowing that our lads are being well cared for in the rear. 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 [Blackfive note: email me if you want Gunny Oritz's contact info].
It is also my sad duty to report to you that we have lost three of our brothers killed in action here in Iraq. Corporal Nicanor Alvarez from our Combat Engineer Platoon, and PFCs Geoffrey Perez and Fernando Hannon from India Company, gave their lives for their brother Marines and Sailors here, and for all Americans in defense of the freedoms we are all privileged to enjoy. America owes these Marines and their families an endless debt of gratitude. They are greatly missed by their brothers here and by their families back home. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their Families. We continue the mission we began here together, as Corporal Alvarez, and PFCs Perez and Hannon would have wanted.
I will conclude this letter with all of our best wishes to you at home, especially to the great Ladies who continue to do great things in our Thundering Third Key Volunteer Network. A number of family related events have occurred over the past two months back in the USA, and our Key Volunteers have been there for our Battalion Families in EVERY circumstance. I do not have the words to express how important the compassionate work our Ladies are doing is for all of our Marines and Sailors and their families. Ladies, THANK YOU from all of us forward deployed for the continued superlative support - we all cannot wait to be home with you again soon.
As time permits, I will write again. I hope that this update has provided you with an insight into the Battalion's recent 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 Corporal Alvarez, and PFCs Hannon and Perez, who are 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
PS. Please check out the USMC Official Website to view a recent article on the Thundering Third's Civil Affairs Detachment. Our Marines and Sailors are working hard every day to make Iraq a better place.