I received bits and pieces of the Battles on Haifa Street, enough to know that our Troopers are the best in the World! And reading the following article, I am further convinced that the United States Military is second to none.
Our Troops Rock!
Hugs out!1st Cavalry News
Cav Soldiers receive valor awards for courage under fire
By Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim
2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
FORWARD OPERATING BASE PROSPERITY, Iraq – It was during the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s last deployment to Iraq in 2004, that the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment had the distinction of earning the most combat-related awards during heavy fighting in and around Haifa Street.
The unit would end their time there with more Purple Hearts than any other unit since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Terry Prater earned a Silver Start for shielding one of his Soldiers from a grenade blast – not once, but twice.
Their efforts seemed to clean up the Sunni-gang infested area. Yet, after their redeployment, the area repopulated with insurgents.
Haifa Street became 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment “Dark Horse’s” main area of operations during this deployment, and what they would encounter six months ago would be an eerie case of déjà vu.
The 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division was in the process of establishing its unit, and the small group of men out of 4-9 Cav., who formed the brigade’s internal Military Transition Team, took their years of training experience in hopes of cleaning up the mess that was Haifa Street when they returned to the Iraqi capital.
According to the 3-5-6th MiTT chief, Maj. Christopher Norrie, a native of Barton, Vt., Haifa Street was infested with enemy activity. It had, once again, become a gang-ridden haven.
Inside the 3-5-6th MiTT ’s “war room,” their map was littered with push-pins that represented the corpses found in and around that area. Week after week, the “determined” enemy had become all-together cocky about its all-out control, Norrie would later admit.
It was during the new Iraqi Army’s birthday celebration, Jan. 6 that Norrie and his team accompanied two IA units into the Sheik Marouf traffic circle. What they found was a macabre display of the enemy forces’ evident lack of concern for its opposition.
“Sir, they have strung up 27 dead bodies … like scarecrows,” he reported to Lt. Col. Steven Duke, 5-6th IA MiTT chief soon after 11 a.m. “Their wrists and feet were bound and have died of gunshot wounds to the head.”
Around 1 p.m., the 3-5-6th MiTT started their first engagement with the enemy when it spotted eight enemy forces with weapons.
Sgt. Daniel Williams, who served as a gunner, was shot in the right forearm as he was returning fire. The team quickly evacuated him to the International Zone’s Combat Support Hospital. While there, Duke and his team met with Norrie’s and “Crazy Horse” Soldiers from Troop C, 4-9 Cav.
“Crazy Horse” staged its fighting force soon after to come to their aid.
Until that point, the enemy’s “shock and awe” strategy seemed to do exactly that to the young and inexperienced IA Soldiers.
“We walked in to a complex ambush,” Norrie recounted.
As he and his team evacuated Williams to the CSH, Norrie admitted that the IA had lost its will to fight and with thoughts of his family back home, he reluctantly admitted to his own.
With Crazy Horse and 5/6 MiTT there to provide extra security, Norrie’s team went back into Haifa Street to find the perpetrators. They dismounted from their vehicles with IA soldiers, but they again started to receive small-arms and grenade contact from some of the high-rise apartment buildings near Taleel Square. Norrie, 1st Lt. John Forehand, and Sgt. 1st Class Carl Lay were trapped in an alley as enemy gunfire surrounded them. Later reports estimated approximately 30-40 insurgents.
During the next few minutes of chaos, Norrie’s team moved and used their vehicles to provide cover from the endless barrage.
The MiTT never lost sight of their responsibility of helping their IA counterparts.
“Get out there and fight! It’s your country!” witnesses said Norrie yelled at the Iraqi troops.
“I’ll remember 1st Sgt. [Joseph] McFarlane screaming around the battlefield – seemingly everywhere – going from fight to fight – seeing I don’t know how many rounds hitting his vehicle and hearing a grenade explode,” Norrie said. “Sgt. [Jay] Mayhle (was) screaming from the turret, staying up, despite fire from numerous directions –focused on saving his buddies – killing the enemy – all with absolutely no regard for his personal safety.”
Staff Sgt. Buakai Tamu, the gunner who took over for the injured Williams, laid down enough suppressive fire to subdue the machine gunner who kept Norrie, Lay and Forehand trapped in an alley.
“Tamu enabled us to get out of there,” Norrie said.
Tamu, a native of Sierra Leone, admitted that although he is grateful for receiving the medal, the events of that day are memories he said he’d rather forget.
“We could have ended up dead,” he said. “It was a rough and tough day – one day that will forever remain imprinted in my mind. I just tried to keep my guys alive on the ground.
“It was a very complex attack that took a lot to plan from a determined enemy, as the major would say. The scale of which we were attacked was unexpected,” he said. “The response was a result of our training and battle drills.”
Yet, it would be Forehand’s ability to lead from the front that would give them the courage that would prove to change the tide of the battle for their IA brethren.
“I’ll never forget your calm resolve … picking them up, the IA, and getting them to the fight – making them believe in themselves: leading from the front,” Norrie said to Forehand during the ceremony.
Earlier that day, the IA troops received such a beating from the enemy that Tamu said he felt that they must have felt like they had lost already. But as they left to reset their vehicles and came back with a larger, Coalition Force behind them, they started to take over the fight.
“They were low in numbers — low in equipment then,” he said. “They used the story of that battle on January 6th to define their future. The ones who were there that day are the heart and soul – the core of the unit. We built a special relationship with them that day – one you can only build during those times when you put your safety and life aside for one another because on that day, there was only one army – one army the enemy saw and wanted to destroy.’
The fighting started heading into his eighth hour, and nightfall would turn the fight to a luminescent green, the view through the Soldier’s night optical devices. The sound of constant gunfire, followed with sparks shimmering off the humvees, drowned out the constant radio traffic from Norrie to Duke.
Darkhorse’s quick reaction force called for close-air support. That proved deadly for the enemy and it almost stopped all fighting.
The fighting left one IA soldier dead, wounded one U.S. Soldier and led to the capture of more than 20 insurgents. Most of the vehicles came back with shattered glass, blown out tires, and their chassis Swiss-cheesed by small arms fire.
Between the MiTT gunners, at least four enemy fighters laid dead from their guns. “Crazy Horse” Soldiers took out at least seven more.
The events of that day earned Norrie a Bronze Star with a “V” Device for Valor. Forehand, McFarlane, Tamu, Staff Sgts. Colin Davis and Jay Mayhle also received the award. Lay received an Army Commendation Award with a “V” Device for Valor for his actions during the battle.
Tamu described Davis’ actions on that day as the mounted commander as nothing short of heroic.
“Through all the fire, he remained calm,” Tamu said about the Baltimore, Md. native. “He maintained his composure and even in the heat of battle. He constantly kept calling for SITREP (situational reports) and the whole time taking fire and firing back. He maintained complete command and control so the dismounts could continue controlling the guys on the ground – virtues only a very few portray, especially when needed like on that day.”
In front of a small crowd July 30, the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Matlock awarded the Soldiers their respective awards and spoke about the battle and how it was the “gateway” to they current state of Baghdad’s Karkh District.
Each earned the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for their outstanding leadership, dedication to mission accomplishment, and bravery under fire, which facilitated a clear victory for the Iraqi Army, saved numerous friendly forces, and resulted in at least 11 insurgents killed in action.
Williams, who received a Purple Heart, said he had mixed feelings about recovering from being wounded and said there are few words he could use to describe how honored he felt by receiving the award.
“There are very few things in this world that can describe how one person can risk life and limb for the greater good,” Williams said. “I feel very humbled to have received the Purple Heart for the simple fact that others before me have received the same award for a greater sacrifice. I am thankful for the support and the care my comrades provided during and after my recovery.”
McFarlane, who hails from Traverse City, Mich., not only said receiving the award was an honor, but reminded the attendees that everyone who has served in the military for this cause are his real heroes.
In a separate ceremony, on July 23, Staff Sgt. Wesley Gilmore and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Williams of Troop C, also received a Bronze Star with a Valor device for their actions during that day. Sgts. Nicholas Skelton, Joshua Brown, Donald Belzer; and Pfc. Jason Boykin received Army Commendation Medals with a Valor device for their actions Jan. 6, as well.
In the weeks following Jan. 6, Troop C, went out to “clean up” what was left of the insurgent activity. From Jan. 24 – 26, Troop C’s Staff Sgt. Damian Crawford received a Bronze Star Medal with a Valor device. First Lt. Jonathan Sammon, Williams, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Brown, Sgts. Cesar Ortiz and Ahmad Mohamad, Cpl. Charles Warren, Spc. Michael Stephens, and Pfcs. Gregory Gouse, Alexander Stelly III, and Christopher Dennis received the Army Commendation Medal with a Valor device.
On Feb. 3, back again on Haifa Street, Spc. Stephen Battisto, a radio operator, protected Capt. John Gilliam, Troop C’s commander, from what could have been a fatal grenade blast. His complete disregard for his own personal safety earned him the Bronze Star with a Valor device. Gilliam received a Purple Heart for his wounds.
The award ceremonies, six months in the making, brings the events of the fight for Haifa Street, Jan. 6, 2007, to light – shining on a band of heroes. Yet, it’s not the war stories that will be told in bars back home for years to come that are important, but rather the lineage established in that fight by the Iraqi Army troops from the 3-5-6th IA, according to Norrie.
“It was the euphoria of watching the Iraqi Army start bumping chests, hugging each other, screaming in the middle of the street and getting on their vehicles to ride back into the fight with Charlie Troop – turning four, broken vehicles around and limping them back into the fight – pissed off, cursing, and praying all at once – counting the bodies of those who wanted to kill you under illumination and marching with the Iraqi Army soldiers who started to believe in themselves that night – that is what I’ll remember,” he said. “I’ve had the good fortune to observe what it means to be an American; how we don’t quit and harbor an optimism that requires success; how we’ll sacrifice ourselves without a thought in a cause and for a people who may never thank us for it.
“We are the good guys, and I’ve had the honor of serving with the very best,” Norrie said. “It’s an honor, I can assure you, that exceeds any I deserve.”
Maj. Christopher Norrie gives Lt. Col. Steven Duke a battle update outside the International Zone’s Combat Support Hospital Jan. 6. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Troop C, the Quick Reaction Force stages their vehicles outside the International Zone’s Combat Support Hospital Jan. 6. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
1st Lt. John Forehand (right) gives a briefing to Lt. Col. Stephen Duke on where they will go into Haifa Street Jan. 6. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
As night closes in, the 3-5-6th IA and their MiTT gets ready to set up their positions on Sheik Marouf Traffic Circle Jan. 6. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Spc. Stephen Battisto (left), Staff Sgts. Damien Crawford and Wesley Gilmore and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Williams receive the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor for their actions on Haifa Street during their award ceremony on Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad July 30. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kate Huff2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Maj. Christopher Norrie (left), 1st Sgt. Joseph McFarlane, 1st Lt. John Forehand, and Staff Sgts. Baukai Tamu and Jay Mayhle receive Bronze Star Medals with “V” Device for Valor during their award ceremony on Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad July 30. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Maj. Christopher Norrie (left) and 1st Sgt. Joseph McFarlane receive Bronze Star Medals with “V” Device for Valor during their award ceremony on Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad July 30. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)