With unprecedented access and previously unreported detail, here is a first hand account of the 22-day march to Baghdad that takes you behind the scenes and to the front line...
No one reporting on the war in Iraq had the unique battlefield clearance afforded the authors of this dramatic eyewitness account. Unlike embedded journalists confined to a single unit, West and Smith acquired a captured yellow SUV and joined with whatever unit was leading the assault every day of the fight. The result is a report of what really happened from the heart of the action unlike anything you'll read anywhere else.
"While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."--Major General J.N. Mattis, 1st Marine Division, Commanding
Here is the story that can be told only by those who actually witnessed the action of the famed 1st Marine Division's march on Baghdad, from the shaky beginning of U.S. operations in southern Iraq to the capture of U.S. prisoners, the misreported "fierce Iraqi resistance," and the aggressive assaults that led to a quick and decisive victory.
With over a half century of military and combat experience between them, bestselling author F. J. "Bing" West and Major General Ray L. Smith, USMC (Ret.), combine expert military analysis with dramatic battlefield reporting. They bring the reader on a march that ended in victory--but was shadowed by second-guessing, unexpected reversals, and the threat of catastrophe.
With access to three-star generals in the command centers and to privates in the field, the authors reveal how the strategic plan played out in battle, showing what went well and what failed, and detailing power struggles for military and political control never reported. The result is destined to become the definitive account of ground warfare in Iraq.
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October 11, 2004
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Excerpt from The March Up by Bing West
The Crown Jewel
With 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment
Northern Kuwait, a few kilometers south of the Iraqi border
20--21 March 2003
With gas masks on, Ray Smith and I, along with all the Marines in 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment (1/7) were sitting in shallow fighting holes, hacked out of dirt as hard as concrete, feeling a bit frustrated. For the fourth time that morning the gunnery sergeant had stood on top of the command Amtrac [Picture 1] hollering "Lightning! Lightning!"-the code word that there had been a SCUD launch-and the Marines had hopped back into their holes, the bulging eyes of their masks resembling giant bugs from the black-and-white horror films of the 1950s. Cruise missiles had struck Baghdad around dawn, after the CIA had told President Bush it knew where Saddam was hiding. Now the Iraqis were shooting back with long-range missiles, and one had narrowly missed the headquarters of Lt. Gen. James Conway, the senior Marine in the Kuwait-Iraq theater.
We were in a pre-attack "assembly area," a dust bowl a few kilometers behind the Iraqi border, assigned to one of the Amtracs in the battalion. We were hitching rides because of the unusual route we had taken to get to the battlefield. Back in December, Ray and I decided to write a book about the upcoming war in Iraq, describing the changes in tactics between the fight in Hue City in 1968 and the projected fight in Baghdad City in 2003. Although initially reluctant to have a retired general and a former assistant secretary of defense on the battlefield, Headquarters Marine Corps kindly issued us orders to serve as unpaid consultants in support of a Marine Corps public affairs film crew, at our own expense. Once we were in Kuwait, the Marine Corps allowed us to go forward with two stipulations; first, that we were on our own, and second, that we keep a low profile because, as a senior Marine said, "we want to keep the focus on the young Marines, not us old guys-so don't get yourselves killed, because then you would be a story."
So here we were, traveling with an infantry battalion as it prepared to cross the Line of Departure into Iraq. Thousands of years of relentless winds had swept the sands from Kuwait and Iraq, leaving behind an ankle-deep cover of powdery dust which swirled like fog in the slightest breeze. In this featureless, bleak landscape, the two hundred vehicles of 1/7 were aligned in three neat, long lines, appearing as a mirage to any Bedouin tribesman wandering by on his camel.
The U.S. high command was convinced that chemical warheads would strike U.S. troops sooner or later. So the gas masks and the hot, tightly woven chemical-resistant bib overalls and jackets we all wore were reasonable precautions. Still, the war wasn't supposed to open this way, with the Marines waiting behind the lines, gas masks on, gas masks off, like pebbles washed back and forth by the waves.
Like everyone else in 1st Battalion that morning, members of the first squad of 3rd Platoon of Charlie Company sat and fretted, ducking when they were told to do so by their squad leader, Cpl. Shane Ferkovich. Ray and I had joined battalion 1/7 for its attack on D-Day in order to follow Ferkovich and his squad on their multibillion-dollar mission to seize the Az Zubayr oil pumping station.
A big, rangy youth from Montana, Ferkovich had bounced from high school to high school, preferring part-time work as a lumberjack. Motivated by the challenge, he had decided to join the Marine Corps, but was turned down because he hadn't finished high school. Ferkovich went back to school for another year, then was accepted. After boot camp he volunteered for 29 Palms, a remote base along the Nevada-California border where Marines train for mechanized warfare.
As we walked over to talk with the squad, the men exchanged glances. During the long days back at the 1st Marine Division's isolated staging base, we had introduced ourselves around the regiments and battalions. Many of the troops had heard of Ray, and they called him "Sir" or "General" to his face and "E-Tool" when talking over the radio or in the chow hall.
There was another cry of "Lightning!" and another quick donning of gas masks. When the all-clear sounded, Corporal Ferkovich asked Ray the question that seemed to be bothering them all.
"Sir," Ferkovich said, "that cruise missile strike this morning-do you think we got
Saddam? We'll still go to war, won't we?"
The squad members didn't want their mission snatched away on the last day by a cruise missile. They had trained in the heat and mud, withstood mental and physical torments, endured months in an isolated camp sustained by the vision of carrying out a dangerous and valuable task. They had invested almost a year of their lives preparing for one day. They wanted Ray to reassure them.