I’m a few days late, but I wanted to share my sentiments on how proud I am that so many Marines gathered recently to honor each other and our fallen Marines that served in the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. The Marine Times has a wonderful article about this reunion.
I served at Camp Blue Diamond, outside of Ramadi, during that time in 2004. Our command sent some of our Marines over to Camp Fallujah to stand up a Command Operations Center over there and I was not one of the ones to go. Originally, the operation was called Operation Phantom Fury, which I found awesome, and it was disappointing to me when the name was changed over to Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). However, it was still an exciting and busy time at Blue Diamond to do our respective jobs and as a group, present PowerPoint presentations for the Commanding General. When I started work in the Command Operations Center in August, Major General James Mattis was in charge and later, this responsibility shifted over to Major General Richard Natonski. As a Lance Corporal (E-3) at the time, I was far too shy to ask Mattis for a photograph, but he was just as spectacular in person as he is portrayed in the media. Towards the end of my deployment, a couple of us got our pictures taken with Natonski but I never received a copy.
There was so much activity going on in November, I can hardly recall a thing, but I remember when we saw the image of First Sergeant Kasal being led out of a house known as the Hell House with the assistance of two junior Marines. He was severely injured but he still kept his finger straight and off the trigger of his pistol. It’s such an iconic image. As Marines, this image motivated us greatly.
After I started work at ASU, I was honored to meet one of the Marines,RJ Mitchell, who fought in Fallujah in 2004. I never knew I’d have the honor to meet a stranger who served in Iraq at the same time I did. We discussed recently that November 13th was the anniversary of the Hell House in Fallujah. I was told by another friend of ours that RJ was still in the house when First Sergeant Kasal was leaving the building.
One of the things that made me pretty nervous in Iraq was constantly seeing the numbers of friendly injured or KIA (killed in action) in our activity reports. Some of my friends’ jobs required they leave the wire and go to different areas around Iraq; it was hard to not know who would make it back and I took goodbyes seriously each time they left. I also felt a sigh of relief when they returned to base safely.
I know not everyone was going to make it home, but it is a true blessing to meet someone like RJ. He survived some of the most serious fighting in Fallujah and his actions helped others to make it home.