« Welcome Home | Main | The UN: Raising Global Consciousness, One Video Game At A Time »

April 22, 2005

Hearts Of Fire

rubble.jpg From atop his lookout post on the Iraqi-Syria border that day, Corporal Joshua Butler must have wondered briefly if he'd been transported to Hell.

A white dump truck came careening towards him, bursting through a raft of wired-together abandoned vehicles. But that was only the beginning of what most people would call a bad day:

Butler, 21 and an Altoona, Pa., native, fired through the windshield of the first suicide bomber as he rammed a white dump truck through a barrier of abandoned vehicles the Marines had improvised. Barreling toward the camp's wall, the truck veered off at the last moment under volleys of Butler's gunfire."I shot 20 or 30 rounds before he detonated," he says. Knocked down by that blast, with bricks and sandbags collapsing on top of him, Butler struggled to his feet only to hear a large diesel engine roar amid the clatter of gunfire. It was a red fire engine, carrying a second suicide bomber and passenger. Butler says both were wearing black turbans and robes, often worn by religious martyrs.
Amid the chaos of that first bomb blast, supported by gunfire from an estimated 30 dismounted insurgents, the fire engine passed largely undetected on a small road that leads from town directly past the camp wall, according a Marine report.
"I couldn't see him at first because of the smoke. It was extremely thick from the first explosion," Butler says. When the fire engine cleared the smoke, it was much closer than the dump truck had been.
As the driver accelerated past the "Welcome to Iraq" sign inside the camp's perimeter, Butler says he fired 100 rounds into the vehicle. The Marines later discovered the vehicle was equipped with 3-inch, blast-proof glass and the passengers were wearing Kevlar vests under their robes.

Fortunately, Corporal Butler wasn't alone. Marines work best as a team. Despite the billowing smoke and confusion, training and professionalism took over and an awesome warfighting machine made of men barely into adulthood coolly took control of the situation:

Pfc. Charles Young, 21, also of Altoona, Pa., hit the fire engine with a grenade launcher, slowing its progress and giving Butler time to recover. Without breaching the camp wall, the driver detonated the fire engine, sending debris flying up to 400 yards and knocking Marines from their bunks several hundred yards away. Butler, less than 50 yards away, again was knocked down by the blast, which partially destroyed the tower in which he was perched. After he crawled for cover, a third suicide bomber detonated outside the camp. That blast caused no damage or injuries. Sporadic fighting continued for several hours.
Meanwhile, Cpl. Anthony Fink of Columbus, Ohio, 21, fired a grenade launcher that the Marine unit says killed 11 insurgents. The Marines' "React Squad" swiftly deployed against the remaining insurgents.
"We were able to get the momentum back," Diorio says. He also says that Husaybah townspeople later reported 21 insurgents dead and 15 wounded. No Marines were seriously hurt.

The WaPo gives a little background, painting a vivid picture of the attack:

About 45 seconds after the dump truck exploded, its purpose became clear: It was to serve as a battering ram to clear the base entrance for the fire engine.

The firetruck had become something of a phantom for India Company. The Marines had heard that insurgents might use one as a suicide bomb. For two months, they had been warned by commanders to be on the lookout for a firetruck, but it had never been seen and some Marines had concluded it wasn't real.

Now, the fire engine was roaring north along the West End. "When I seen it, my heart stopped," said Lance Cpl. Sebastian Lankiewicz, 20, also of Queens. "It was like I was looking at the Grim Reaper himself coming down freakin' West End."

The fire engine followed the same route the dump truck had taken, turning left at the fork, going beneath the arches and roaring toward the entrance to the base. Butler, who had staggered to his feet, could hear it before he could see it, the whining diesel engine getting louder behind a cloud of smoke.

"It was like a movie," he said. "It reminded me of 'Lethal Weapon.' The smoke was all there and then he just rolled through it, just like in the movie." Smoke "just rolled off the windows. I couldn't believe what was happening."

Even when the truck finally exploded, India Company wasn't sure the worst was over:

The sound of the explosion was "really unexplainable, just the noise and the violence about it," said Diorio, the company commander. Although the fire engine had failed to penetrate the entrance, "they were basically inside our perimeter," he said. The blast was so loud, Diorio feared the worst.

Slowly the reports began to filter in over the platoon network.

"Second platoon all accounted for."

"Third platoon all accounted for."

"Fourth platoon all accounted for."

"Thank you, Lord," Diorio whispered to himself.

"They were definitely close enough to cause a lot of damage," he said. "It was where they detonated it: It was a miracle. If I had to pick a place for them to detonate a firetruck full of explosives, if I had to pick one, I would have picked that place."

Only three Marines were wounded, none seriously. A piece of shrapnel pierced Butler's plastic goggles but did not penetrate the helmet they were attached to.

First Sgt. Don Brazeal, 39, of Riviera Beach, Md., was inside the company command post when the firetruck exploded. He had also feared the worst and rushed out to the base perimeter. "It's kind of a parental instinct that took over," he said. "A lot of these guys are young enough to be my sons. Right away I had a mental picture that my kids were not in a good way."

Deb Conrad posts a letter to the India Company families from their CO, Captain Frank Diorio:

Once again the good Lord looked upon us, and the Marines executed flawlessly, which were the reasons for the enemy paying dearly for their decisions. The Marines are fine. I am so unbelievably proud to be here with them. Motivation and dedication to each other, our families, and our mission couldn't be higher. As a unit, as a company, we continue to grow each day, understanding and appreciating each individual effort to protect, serve, and strengthen the company as a whole. The Marines are at times tired yet tireless in their duties, enduring hardships yet hardened against weak mindedness, and exposed to tough conditions but have toughened in mind, body, and soul.

The Marine Corps can be proud of Marines like LCpl Butler, Pfc. Charles Young, and Cpl. Anthony Fink. It amazes me to think that these three men are just a year younger than my youngest son, yet they proved capable of astounding bravery and coolheaded judgement in the circumstances that would daunt many a more seasoned soldier. Chester notes that in 1999, General Krulak observed that the "strategic Corporal" would be crucial to the future of the Marine Corps:

In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests -- the Strategic Corporal.

By foiling a major offensive, Chester suggest that Corporal Butler has proved himself just such a strategic Corporal. Good reading, and a good reflection on Marine leadership and teamwork. I've always thought the best proof of good leadership is when your people know what to do, even when officers or managers aren't standing directly over them, telling them what to do every second.

iraq-hero-inside.jpg When India Company writes their after-action report, I have a feeling this will be the money quote:

"Butler — that day, that Marine — that's the critical error the insurgents made," Capt. Frank Diorio says. "They thought they could keep the Marines' heads down. But he gets back up."

By the way, take a moment and hover your mouse over the photo of Cpl. Butler. For once, I didn't have to re-title the photo. I think the mainstream media are finally getting it.

Posted by Cassandra at April 22, 2005 05:30 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hearts Of Fire:

Cassandra at Villanous Company has a moving tribute.... [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 07:52 AM

» A bad day from JamulBlog
Corporal Joshua Butler was having a very bad day, but it came out all right in the end... [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 09:32 AM

Once again the good Lord looked upon us, and the Marines executed flawlessly, which were the reasons for the enemy paying dearly for their decisions. The Marines are fine. I am so unbelievably proud to be here with them. [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 02:04 PM

» Hearts Of Fire and Balls of Steel, thanking those from The Pink Flamingo Bar Grill
Read this terrific account and then remember to thank each and every Armed Services person you come across. They deserve it, you owe it and it will make everyone including you feel [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 05:32 PM

» Lance Cpl. Joshua Butler - American Hero from TFS Magnum
Cassandra has the best and most complete treatment. [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 05:33 PM

» Bring It On! from Nonsequiter Rantings
Clint Eastwood in the movie Heartbreak Ridge says that Marines are supposed to "adapt and overcome", Butler must have watched this movie a few times, or maybe he listened to his drill instructors in boot camp, or NCOs before he became one - or maybe ... [Read More]

Tracked on April 22, 2005 06:00 PM


Where in the hell did those @#%*&@* terroists get 3 inch bullet-proof glass? Thank the Lord that Cpl. Butler and the troops of India Company are such well trained professionals. It must have been a hell of a day.

Posted by: spd rdr [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 07:52 AM

A few weeks back I was discussing the insurgency with my husband and I said something about 'disorganized forces' and he jumped all over me (and rightly so - apparently I didn't know what I was talking about). He said that may have been true a while back, but make no mistake, they are becoming quite sophisticated and those are some very smart people we are up against.

It is frustrating - I can't milblog as much as I'd like now because of where he works. Even if I read something in the paper, I don't ever want there to be any question about where it came from if it touches on his job. There is a lot he can't tell me, and when he does tell me something I don't want to talk about it even though I know he would never pass anything on to me unless it's in the clear.

Still, it's not worth the chance of saying something I shouldn't so I just keep my mouth shut.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 08:05 AM

If the Unit can pass a message along to the troops in Iraq:

Keep giving them hell.

Posted by: Purple Raider [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 09:07 AM

You are doing fine. I know what you mean about credible open (main stream) sources. I was told that in the interest of rumor control, to knot quote anything directly, so how does that square with main stream media crediblity? Only if you get five sources saying the same thing.

Now, why do suiced bombers wear Kevlar? Isn't that along the lines of kamikaze pilots wearing helmets?

Inquiring minds

And where the helk did they get the kevlar body armor? Wouldn't there be arms dealers or something getting hell for that because it is a restricted and serial numbered item?

Don't answer. Let the media do their job for once.

I echo Purple's sentiments.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 09:31 AM

Great Job, Leathernecks!!!
Keep accommodating those that consistently wish to assume room temperature.
Semper Fi!

Posted by: Velox_Mortis_1775 [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 22, 2005 10:02 AM

Great post.

Sorry I didn't read it sooner.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 23, 2005 12:09 AM

Body armor - yes even kevlar - is available all over the place. As far as I know it is not serialized. And even if it were, do you now want to have body-armor control? You can only buy one bullet-proof vest per month! (You can buy sheets of kevlar fabric at most fiberglass supply houses.)

I list this site just because it is the first one the turned up on web search: BulletProofMe.com

As for 3 inch bulletproff "glass," it is really polycarbonate. The GE brand name is Lexan. They sell it in 4 X 8 sheets (I think). Tinted is a special order will take longer. (I only know this because I put 3/8 in Lexan in some of the ports in my boat.) Lexan starts to be bullet-proof at around a half inch. I think my bank uses 2 inch thick sheets.

If you aren't that particular, you can steal a sheet of this at any bank, and a fair number of late-night convienence stores and gas stations.

Posted by: Zendo Deb [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 23, 2005 08:23 PM

Well I'm just speculating here (common sense) but I would think maybe they had the protective gear to allow them to withstand return fire just long enough to get the truck to the impact area.

Even if they're planning on greeting Allah, they had to be able to steer the truck long enough to get it inside the compound. If Butler put 100 rounds and that other dude put a grenade launcher inside it, they'd need plenty of protection to withstand fire for the time it took to get inside the line of fire.

Of course, once the truck detonates, none of that is going to do them any good. But I'm just guessing - I don't know anything about military stuff.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 08:24 AM

These are our "secret" weapons; no secret, really...but weapons, definitely.

Posted by: camojack [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 08:00 PM

Bullet "resistant" vests is a more appropriate term. How resistant a vest is depends on the caliber size of the round. A 9 mm round fired at a specific distance from the vest, will exert certain amount of damage due to the amount of energy being transferred from the traveling projectile. The farther away the projectile travels, the less energy it will impart on its target. The impact results from a 9 mm round cannot be compared with that of a 45 caliber round. The energy transfer will be greater from the heavier round. Also, the greater the velocity of the projectile, the more energy transfer at its impact point. Firing a 9 mm round at a bank bullet "proof" window will not have the same effect as that from a 5o caliber [url=http://www.barrettrifles.com/military/images/95m.jpg]Barrett rifle[/url] That bank window is not going to uphold against the energy of a 50 caliber round. The helmets/Kevlar being worn by the insurgents/terrorists are simply being used to prolong the time the vehicle driver/observer have to close the distance to their intended targets. I believe a 50 caliber round fired into the windshield of the approaching vehicle will penetrate it without problems. Also, the 50 caliber round can disable the engine. I have a friend in the Honolulu police dept. that came face to face with a driver who happened to be under the effects of methamphetamine.......with a fully loaded AK-47 rifle. When the cop stopped the driver due to numerous moving violations, the driver pop out and leaned out the window and opened fired of the him. The cop was still at certain distance behind the vehicle, wearing a bullet "proof" vest. Several of the rounds impacted the cop's vest, easily penetrating it. The cop had to wear a colostomy bag for a while after primary surgery. The cop was able to fired his 9 mm entire clip unto the driver, one of the bullets piercing the driver's spine. The driver's upper body leaned out and hanged on the outside of the car door, while the cop reloaded another clip and emptied that one also, making sure some of those round found the driver's head. Obviously, he assumed room temperature. Vests can do only so much, but it is better to wear one since it does provide certain amount of protection.
Semper Fi!

Posted by: Velox_Mortis_1775 [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 11:55 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)