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Thundering Third - Part 7

Things are tough in Iraq, right now. The terrorists are exploiting every opportunity before the November Presidential elections in hopes of affecting the outcome. While times are tough for our military in Iraq, they fight on.

Below is the latest letter from LtCol Willy Buhl, Commander of the Thundering Third, in Iraq. Please read the whole post as LtCol Buhl describes the heroism of his Marines and Sailors AND the Iraqis fighting alongside our forces. It's worth your time.

Dear Families and Friends of the Thundering Third,

Greetings again from Camp Abu Ghurayb. This is my fifth letter to you as we prepare to begin the month of October, and the fourth month of our deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

I am pleased to report that our great Battalion has continued to perform its duties in Iraq with a high degree of combat efficiency in accordance with the legacy of valor and professionalism we inherited from our Veteran forebears of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, and Somalia.

"Your" Battalion is maintaining the initiative, aggressively patrolling 24-hours a day across our assigned area of operations. We continue to experience success in all assigned missions and have experienced a number of firsts on the small unit tactical level since I last reported to you. Of note, we have recently caught three different IED emplacing teams, killing one terrorist when he attempted to forcibly recover a pistol taken from him by India Company Marines. This was the last move he ever made, as a well trained Marine used one round to eliminate the threat to his buddy's safety. Another man, who was also caught on scene, wisely decided to desist and was detained safely, according to our standard operating procedures. The India Marines, in the midst of a mounted combat patrol, astutely recognized suspicious roadside activity at night and caught these men in the act of burying the IEDs. India's men also interrupted the late night work of a team of six IED planters who were observed placing artillery rounds in the ground along the roadside in an area commonly targeted by IEDs. The Marines engaged immediately, killing two men. The others abandoned their shovels and ran into complex terrain beyond the road. Exploiting the site, the Marines found two buried artillery shells with wires and remote detonating systems.

A similar success occurred a couple of weeks ago when a Headquarters Company ambush patrol caught two men in the early morning hours with suspicious bags in their hands walking along the roadside. The concealed patrol uncovered and yelled in Arabic, telling the suspects to halt. They carefully approached and subsequent search revealed rolls of wire and activation devices used to detonate IEDs. We detained these men and learned through later questioning where the explosives were located that they were going to wire for detonation. Indeed, the information provided by these men led us to several buried 155mm artillery shells, which were safely destroyed by our motivated combat engineers. There have been many other tactical successes like the ones I just described, in missions ranging from but not limited to ambushes, counter IED and indirect fire patrols, locating terrorist arms and ordnance caches, renovating schools in time for the new school term, and training Iraqi Security Forces...whether in contact with the enemy or with friendly people seeking a better life, your Marines and Sailors are doing great things out here every day.

As you may have heard from your loved ones out here, daily temperatures have thankfully begun to drop. Although we continue to experience days with temperatures above 100F, it has been noticeably cooler, particularly at night and in the early mornings. After working hard all day on the move and then settling into an ambush site at night with a damp skivvy top, it can actually get a bit chilly for our Devil Dogs. No one is we put the often brutally hot weather of the past few months behind us, I don't think that any member of the Thundering Third will ever forget his "balmy" summer of 2004 in Iraq.

The time for rotation of forces who began their deployment in February is upon us. Accordingly, the Thundering Third recently said farewell to the finest Regimental Commander most Marines and Sailors will ever have the privilege of serving under, Colonel John Toolan, USMC. In an emotional farewell, the Battalion presented our outgoing CO with a couple of hand crafted plaques made by his Marines. Colonel Toolan, or "Inchon Six" as he is affectionately referred to in 3/1, often referred to our Battalion as "the sharpest knife in his drawer". Appropriately, we presented him a plaque with a captured SKS bayonet affixed and an Arabic quote that stated, "the knife can still cut, even when sheathed". Col Toolan Sir, we will not forget your inspiring leadership, tactical proficiency, words of wisdom and patience, great humor, caring spirit, and deep love for your Marines and Sailors. We all wish Colonel Toolan, his Lady Helen, and the rest of the Toolan Clan continued success in their next assignment, where Colonel Toolan will continue to teach, coach, and mentor LtCols and Majors from around the world as Director of Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia. Colonel Toolan passed the Regimental Colors to Colonel Larry Nicholson, who was hurt on his first day of command and had to relinquish command to Colonel Mike Shupp, who was originally slated to command our regiment but had to delay due to a family illness. Our thoughts and prayers are with Colonel Nicholson and his family for a speedy return to full duty and the command opportunity he so richly deserves. We are proud to welcome Colonel Shupp, the new "Inchon Six", his Lady, Sherrye, and their family aboard our Regimental Family.

A number of our attachments have also recently said farewell to their Brothers in the Thundering Third. Our Combat Engineer Platoon, led by 1stLt Korey Mullins, and GySgt Shawn Hannah have successfully completed a seven month tour in Iraq. Their support of 3/1 and 1/5 has been superb. SgtMajor Sax and I had the privilege of walking patrol with these incredible Marines and Sailors and you will not find any finer in our great Marine Corps.

We also said farewell to a superb Truck Platoon, led by 1stLt Mike Ligouri and GySgt Richard Hathaway, from our cannon cocker brethren in the 11th Marines. We will also miss these great Marines and Sailors - men who did everything asked of them and more for Country and Corps, logging thousands of safe road miles throughout Kuwait and Iraq over their deployment.

We also wished a fond farewell to our Civil Affairs (CA) Team, led by Major Larry Kaifesh and GySgt Mark Kline. Our CA Team has proven to be the Battalion's number one fire support asset as we continue our work to rebuild Iraq, and bring water, power, sanitation and other essentials to the people living in our area of operations. Many of these people have never had any of the aforementioned services before in their lives. The people of the City of Nasser Wa Salaam (NWS) have been particularly appreciative. These people are predominantly Shia in their Muslim preference. They were ignored by the Saddam regime and brought in from southern Iraq to work in local steel and cement factories as laborers. The Thundering Third, through the hard work of our Civil Affairs team and the Marines and Sailors of Lima Company have made great changes in NWS. The great work done by Major Kaifesh and GySgt Kline and their men, and the friendships they made here will be remembered for a long time to come (some of you may have seen the well written article on our CA Team published on the USMC Official Website and the Camp Pendleton Scout's 9 Sept issue). Congratulations to these superb Marines who performed magnificently day in and day out to make Iraq a better place, and to bring freedom to the Iraqi People. May I also offer a note of thanks on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps and our Battalion to the families of these men, who sacrificed at home over the past seven months to enable their loved ones to serve our Nation overseas in a time of war - our men couldn't accomplish the things that they have without you behind them.

With all the recent farewells came corresponding "welcome aboard" greetings. Our new Combat Engineers are led by Capt Mike Goldstein and GySgt Dewayne Walters. Our Combat Truck Platoon is led by Major George Hanlon and GySgt Mike Wittrock. All of our new Marines and Sailors hail from the fighting 14th Marines, based in the great State of Texas. Well aware of the incredible reputation held by our Brothers in the 4th Marine Division, we are honored and privileged to serve with them here in Iraq.

After a solid turn-over with their predecessors, these new members of the Thundering Third have hit the ground running and rolling, and are performing at the "3/1 Standard" in combat. Our new CA Team is led by CWO Gerald "Godfather" Reese, and SSgts Dan Mercado and Jason Mapel. These men lead a fresh, motivated crew of Marines and a Navy Corpsman, who have continued the great work of Major Kaifesh and his "Rough Riders" without missing a beat.

As promised in my last letter, I want to 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. Our success with the Iraqi National Guard (ING) has been mixed.

In the City of Al Karmah, a satellite city of Fallujah, pressure from terrorists and insurgents has been great on the local population. This pressure has translated into a significantly reduced level of effectiveness in our ING Company there. At the forefront of our efforts in Al Karmah, Lt Don Toscano and SSgt Nick Fox and their Combined Action Platoon (CAP) Marines from Weapons/George Company have performed above and beyond the call of duty and are making progress. These men have become part of an experiment created during the Vietnam War, where the CAP concept was initially formed (some might argue, however, that Marines have been performing missions like this since the days when Lt Chesty Puller and GySgt "Iron Man" Lee were marching as provisional Nicaraguan National Guard Officers through the steaming Nicaraguan jungle, chasing a terrorist bandit named Sandino and his cronies back in the early part of our last Century).

While the Al Karmah ING continues to develop, we have achieved marked success with India Company of the ING to the east in Nasser Wa Salaam. In fact, India Company is easily 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. These dignitaries have included our Commandant and Assistant Commandant, and a former Commandant, who is currently the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. These distinguished gentlemen, and many other senior officers, have continuously demonstrated support of our efforts to create a viable Iraqi Security Force, which will assume the mission of security in Iraq upon our departure. I was on the range with them today and marveled at the level of proficiency they demonstrated in dry fire and movement training. Working side by side with Marines who live with them and know all of their Iraqi names and can give them basic commands and encouragement in Arabic, these men moved with aggressive enthusiasm and all stated that they are ready to go to Fallujah if called upon. This particularly special type of duty has matured our young Marines beyond their pay grades... looking across at the men who surrounded me for a few remarks, I couldn't help but think that I was looking at a group of NCOs instead of PFCs and LCpls with just a couple of Cpls in a crowd of over 20 men.

Your Marines are doing great things out here for Country, Corps, and the people of Iraq. We are also working with the Iraqi Specialized Special Forces (ISSF), led by an incredible officer, BGen Khalis. General Khalis is the former commander of the Iraqi Special Forces, where he commanded at every level up to Brigade and was director of the Special Forces Academy and Command and Staff College. This charismatic and exceptionally patriotic officer has formed two battalions from the old Iraqi Army. He has done this by carefully vetting and selecting his leaders for the challenges at hand. BGen Khalis has selected some superlative officers and soldiers, and the ISSF we are working with in the Thundering Third are superb Soldiers. These men share every hardship with us, are out patrolling everywhere we are, and have already shed their blood at our sides. They are particularly valuable at recognizing situations and especially people that are out of the ordinary (reminiscent of the old British expression, "absence of the normal, presence of the abnormal"). Unlike their ING counterparts, the ISSF are mainly composed of career special forces soldiers who received specialized training and were part of a small, elite group during the Saddam period. These men are from over 50 separate tribes across Iraq and have no political stance other than to support the Interim Iraqi Government. I would respectfully disagree with Ms. Ozernoy in her article below regarding the term "militia" as these men are career professionals who have returned to Army service in defense of their nation.

What is perhaps most laudable about all of the Iraqi Security Forces personnel, is the fact that every one of these men faces grave and imminent danger to their families as they carry out their duties. Indeed, BGen Khalis' family was abducted some weeks back by terrorists, who set fire and placed explosives at his home after taking his family away. Efforts to recover them are ongoing and they remain in our thoughts and prayers every day. Major Awda, our India Base ING Company Commander was also attacked by terrorists with automatic weapons on his way to his command post at India Base. Major Awda keeps his son with him at all times to ensure his safety when he is not at home. The terrorists here are ruthless, savage, and do not play by any rules. It takes an extraordinary level of sacrifice, determination, and heroism that most Americans cannot imagine to serve in the Iraqi Security Forces and government. Men like BGen Khalis and Major Awda, and many others, are serving in these conditions every day to bring freedom to their fellow Iraqis (please see the attached news article below about our brothers in the Iraqi Special Forces).

As stated at the beginning of my letter, all of our companies are doing great work here. Sgt Major Ed Sax and I want to take a moment to recognize a few standouts from each:

    Kilo Company, the "Spartans", celebrated the combat meritorious promotions of Cpl's James A. Flattery and Jose F. Sanchez. Sergeant John M. Doyle also earned his Sergeant's stripes meritoriously in combat. SSgt Select Travis M. Fields, was selected on the most recent promotion board at Headquarters Marine Corps. Sergeant Jonathon C. Scarfe has been selected to attend university and earn his 2d Lieutenant's bars at OCS. The men of Kilo are proven adept at all tactical tasks assigned and have maintained an aggressive and persistent focus despite a high operational tempo. Among the many caches and IEDs they've discovered, they recently detained several high value targeted individuals working against Iraqi and Coalition Forces in targeted raids.

    India Company the "Raiders" have combat meritorious Cpl Sammie D. Jackson, and LCpl's Cody M. Kyle and Alejandro Rodriguez. LCpl Justin M. Thompson was selected as the Bn's Marine of the Quarter. We also had two outstanding Sgts, Lawrence T. Love and Michael A. Vaz, selected for promotion to Staff Sergeant. India Company, continues to set a standard for sturdy Marines and Sailors focused on mission accomplishment. As described in the opening lines of this letter, they have identified IEDs, discovered weapons and explosives caches, and have captured a number of dangerous terrorists with incriminating materials, in addition to the many other combat tasks associated with the duties of a rifle company in Iraq.

    Lima Company combat meritorious promotions include Cpl William J. Higgins, LCpl Mathew S. Sandy, and Private First Class Ryan O. Easton. Recently they conducted operations in our southern area of operations is support of US Special Forces, which resulted in numerous enemy killed, weapons captured and a bomb making factory destroyed. The "Warriors" of Lima Company continue to execute all assigned missions with esprit and professionalism.

    Wpns/George combat promotions include Sgt John P. Monahan, Cpl Steven C. Gillespie, and LCpl's Jay G. Phillips and Cameran J. Urias. Cpl Mathew C. Bassett was selected as the Battalion NCO of the quarter. Sgt Christopher P Lopez was selected for promotion to Staff Sergeant. He has also done incredible work as a Combined Anti-Armor Section Leader in Combat. Our Weapons/George Marines continue to train Iraqi Security Forces, patrol the roads of our sector, fire mortars, heavy machine guns, TOW and Javelin missiles in support of combat operations, and a host of other mission profiles related to our duties here. Also, Corporal Dylan R. Collins, of Cap Delta / 81's Plt, has been selected to attend university and earn his 2d Lieutenant's bars at OCS.

    Headquarters Company continues to superbly support the entire Battalion and is involved in every operation we conduct in some regard. Some of the Company standouts over the past month have been Chief Richard Tomlinson, who pinned on his new Anchors in a classy promotion ceremony, HM1's (FMF) Brian Dike and Rick Good who earned their Fleet Marine Force Warfare Pins, Cpl's Curtus Hartsell, from our Communications Plt and Cpl Anthony R. Roberts from our Supply Section earned combat meritorious promotions to Corporal, LCpl's Amado H. Sosa from our Combat Administration Section, and Marshall C. Lewis from our Communications Plt earned a combat meritorious promotions to Lance Corporal, Sgt Nathan Osowski who earned the opportunity to attend university and earn a commission as a 2d Lt in the Marine Enlisted Commissioning and Education Program, and Sgt Cayleu Wojcik, who was selected for Staff Sergeant. Meanwhile, Headquarters Company continues to do all the things required to keep our rifle and weapons companies in the attack, as well as our attachments.

The men described above are standouts in a reinforced infantry battalion full of standouts. It is one of my great privileges and pleasures in life to see these men earn combat promotions, NCO and Marine of the Quarter honors, and earn additional qualifications while participating in combat operations. I can well imagine the pride felt by the families of the above listed superlative Marines, who are serving their country most honorably in a time of war.

Morale and Welfare Recreation Center Update - thanks to continued generous donations from great Americans back home, GySgt Howard Payne, and his great Headquarters Company Marines have continued work on our battalion recreation center known as the "Bull Pen". Our Marines and Sailors are relaxing inside the cool movie lounge, watching satellite TV or movies on a plasma screen, with computer games and an ever increasing library, loaded with books and magazines and board games.

Large quantities of mail and packages continue to arrive and are greatly appreciated. Cpl Dick Rogge, a US Marine WWII Veteran and career G-Man, has sent us enough cans of Virginia Diner Peanuts to supply the entire Regimental Combat Team! Cpl Rogge recently fractured his leg back in Westlake Village, and the men of the Thundering Third wish him a speedy return to full duty. Col Clark Henry (a Thundering Third Veteran of Chosin Reservoir) and his Lady recently sent multiple boxes of Gatorade packs, which have been well received by our men across the Battalion's battle space. Captain Seamus Garrahy out in historic Gettysburg continues to keep the Thundering Third stocked with his "Gung Ho" Sauce - thank you Sir! Sgt and Mrs. Dan Frydrychowski, have sent half of San Clemente's Ralph's Supermarket shelves to us out here - they have a care package operation in their garage that is the envy of the Marine Corps Logistics Depot at Barstow. Indeed, we've received all kinds of great packages full of food, books, and hygiene items that all go to good use. SgtMajor Ed Sax has flash backs to his company gunnery sergeant days and never gets tired of distributing these items for delivery to our Marines, and sometimes to Iraqi children. I want to repeat that 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.

Like their forebears in the Thundering Third from WWII (15 Feb 42) 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 continue to be blessed with visits by a number of the Battalion's Distinguished Veterans. 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 or on the east coast at Bethesda, please contact Gunnery Sergeant (Select) Ray Ortiz, at the 3/1 Rear Command…It is also my sad duty to report to you that we have lost three of our brother Marines killed in action here in Iraq that were close to many men in the Thundering Third. LtCol Kevin Shea, our Regimental Communications Officer, Corporal Steven A. Rintimaki, a TOW Gunner from Weapons/George Company, and Lance Michael J. Allred from Fox Company 2/1, who was a former Thundering Third Battalion Color Sergeant and 3/1 Veteran of OIF I. All of these men 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 they would have wanted. I also want to recognize the loss Mr. Hajji Kameel, our Battalion's senior interpreter. Hajji Kameel, was a very compassionate and distinguished senior gentleman, who learned English working with British managers at the Iraqi National Oil Company in the years immediately following WWII. Our brother member of the Thundering Third was killed in Baghdad during his off duty time. We held an emotional memorial service with all available interpreters and many members of the Battalion to remember him. One of our young Corporals described how Hajji Kameel would never wear body armor or a helmet when out on the often dangerous roads of Iraq. On the road early every day with the Civil Affairs Team, the Corporal said that he used to enjoy watching Kameel "stare out the window, sniffing the cool morning dawn of freedom". This service was filmed and a copy was delivered to Kameel's family in Baghdad with condolences from the Thundering Third. Hajji Kameel is greatly missed by all of us, and his family is in our thoughts and prayers. The Koran reads, "From God we are delivered to the earth, and to God we return".

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 several 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 Stephen Rintamaki, Lance Corporal Michael Allred, and LtCol Kevin Shea, our RCT-1 Communications Officer, and Mr. Hajji Kameel, 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

Here is the link to the US News and World Report article that LtCol Buhl refers to in his letter.

Other Thundering Third posts can be found Part 1 (June 24th), Part 2 (July 3rd), Part 3 (July 21st), Part 4 (August 5th), Part 5 (August 6th), and Part 6 (Augusgt 31st).