By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
May 25, 2007 – Two Navy SEALs who recently returned from Iraq shared some of their combat experiences and described the progress they witnessed in Anbar province, during a panel discussion yesterday at the Naval Heritage Center here. Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian, a heavy weapons operator and breacher, and Lt. Chris, SEAL Team Five Bravo Platoon's commander, are identified only by their first names for security reasons. They spent seven months in Anbar province training Iraqi security forces to operate independently.
The SEALs painted an unfiltered picture of their experience on Camp Corregidor in the city of Ramadi, which was mortared an average of three times a day when they first arrived.
"No matter where we went, whether it was a PortoJon, the chow hall, wherever, if you left 25, 50 meters outside of your base or outside your barracks, you had to have full kit on," Brian said.
As platoon commander leading a foreign internal defense mission, Chris held the reins in "developing Iraqi security force capability to fight insurgents or terrorists, in order to create a self-sustaining and capable Iraqi security force," the lieutenant said.
During SEAL operations the platoon brought six to 10 Iraqis who either led or followed, depending on operational and tactical requirements.
"We would go in at night under the cover of darkness and get positioned to overwatch or basically provide support for an operation during the daytime," Chris said. "We're in there shaping the operation for decisive action.
"So we get setup and we're checking the environment out, looking at the battle space," Chris said. "And as the Army's coming through and we're kind of covering them, we get attacked pretty heavily."
Brian, who was closer to the enemy than Chris, recalled the ensuing ambush.
"(The platoon) was in three different operating positions. Our operating position started taking fire," Brain said. "It was ineffective - shots against the wall, stuff like that - we took a couple grenades against the side of the building.
"Shortly after, our two buddies who were down the street about 100 meters from me, they took heavy fire - rocket-propelled grenade attacks," he said. "One of my buddies got fragged pretty good.
"So when they called in a Quick Reaction Force to come pick him up, we had two Iraqis open the door and go out in the street. Well sometime during the night there was an IED left out there for him. It was either command-detonated or pressure-plate," Brian said. "It was detonated; the Iraqi lost both of his legs at the waist.
"Two other guys were hurt really bad - my buddy Joe and my buddy Elliott - took it pretty bad," Brian said. "Everybody bagged out of our operational positions. Once we heard guys were down we bagged out of there - we took off running down the street; running and gunning."
Brian, Chris and the other SEALs consolidated near their "wounded brothers."
"We grabbed both guys and brought them in a house and started taking care of the wounded to getting those guys ready for transport," Brian said.
Elliott, one of the two wounded, was the biggest corpsman on their team - weighing 250 lbs. without gear, Chris recalled.
"He was laying there bleeding out, and he was telling us how to fix Joe, with no concern for himself," Chris said. "That pretty much sums up Navy SEAL corpsmen."
Meanwhile, aerial surveillance showed "bad guys jumping roof to roof coming after us," Brian said.
"So Chris had a great idea," Brian explained. "He said, 'Everybody (get beneath) a door jamb, get down low, and I'm going to have these Bradley (infantry fighting vehicles) come through here and take off the second decks of all these houses."
In a bold decision, Chris ordered enough ordnance to destroy the second-story of the building in which they were taking cover, and where the enemy fighters were positioned.
"It worked great!" Chris said in a Texas twang and with a wide smile.
The tank artillery campaign crippled the insurgency, what Chris remembered as "two distinct 30-minute periods of intense" fire fights. After the heavy tank reinforcements arrived, Brian, equipped with a machinegun, said he "went through about 800 rounds total."
The mission the SEALs described was one of roughly 65 direct-action combat operations they engaged in during their time in Anbar province, including an operation on the following night.
To illustrate symbols of the cultural progress they witnessed, Brian and Chris projected photographs on a large screen before the audience here.
In one image, a group of Sunni and Shiite members of the Iraqi army carry the casket of a deceased Iraqi soldier as a U.S. Army Colonel looks on. The wooden coffin is draped in an Iraqi flag.
"This is the norm," Chris said. "This is what you're seeing on a daily basis; combined tribal and combined religious connection at things like funerals, mission planning out on operations. It's amazing."
In another one of Chris' slides, Iraqi police and civilians celebrate boisterously on a crowded street.
"After we were able to clear the city of (the enemy) in Eastern Ramadi, the people are able to go to the market, they're able to talk with Iraqi policemen out in the street openly, U.S. forces were able to patrol out in the street," Chris said. "It used to be very dangerous for us to even go down the road because of improvised explosive devices and sniper attacks and small-arms fire attacks."
In another picture, Chris and another SEAL flank a smiling Arab.
"Tribal engagement," Chris said. "This is us with Sheik Jossum up in Sofia, which was the genesis of the whole 'tribal awakening.'
"We trained them in foreign internal defensive and they eventually were able to bring other tribes on board and it really opened up the Anbar province," he said.
After conducting about 110 combat operations with Iraqi security forces in Anbar, the mortaring at Camp Corregidor in Ramadi stopped, Brian recalled.
"We were free to exercise on base," Brian said. "We were free to use the bathroom without having a helmet and body armor on."
Chris added, "That was about the best experience of the whole six months."
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