September 23, 2010
Fortier hits the dusty streets of Baghdad with the 3/7th Cav.
On June 31st 2007 I began a long trek that took me from Bangor, Maine, to Camp Taji in Iraq. Once there, I embedded with Bonecrusher Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 7th US Cavalry Regiment. Six hours after arriving with the unit I became part of their 2nd Platoon. For the next month I lived, ate, slept, patrolled, laughed and cursed with the men of Bonecrusher.
Why would a middle-aged writer endure months of Army paperwork and red tape just for the chance to travel to the most dangerous place in the world for journalists? Simply to give you, the reader, an unbiased look and small taste of what the men and women serving our great country are accomplishing and enduring in Iraq. It seems the only thing the mainstream media wishes to cover is the body count. They say nothing of the positive accomplishments the sons and daughters of America are making in this distant land, nor telling their stories.
Call me an idealist, but long ago I became fed up with their propaganda and so began the long process of embedding in 2006. At the invitation of Lt. Col. Jeffery Broadwater, commanding officer of the 3/7th US Cav, I decided to go to Iraq and see for myself what was going on.
The 7th US Cavalry Regiment is perhaps the most famous of all the units in the United States Army. Constituted on July 28, 1866, and posted to Fort Riley, Kansas, the 7th Cavalry rode, to the Irish drinking tune Garryowen, into history under the command of none other than Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
But Little Bighorn is just one of many battle streamers that hang from their guidon. The regiment survived Little Bighorn and served until the end of the Indian Wars, did two tours in the Philippines and was part of the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916-17. During World War II the unit fought in both theaters, finally giving up its horses in 1943. It went on to fight with distinction in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.
Perhaps their greatest glory though came during the liberation of Iraq in 2003. During the invasion, the 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry undertook what has been called the longest cavalry charge in history. Acting as the spearhead for the 3rd Infantry Division, the 3rd Squadron punched through everything the Iraqis could throw at them, including the Republican Guard and Fedayeen.
In doing so, the 3rd Squadron was engaged with enemy forces earlier, more often and over a longer distance than any other unit. Seven Silver Stars were earned by men of the 3/7th on their way to Baghdad. In 2005 the 3/7th Cav returned to Iraq and again showed its mettle during combat operations against the insurgents.
After a year's rest and training, the 3/7th Cav once again headed to Iraq in the spring of 2007. Made up of 19-Delta Cavalry Scouts, the unit normally performs reconnaissance missions--acting as the eyes of a larger unit--or performs screening operations.
On this trip to Iraq, though, they were taken from their normal home, the 3rd Infantry Division, and assigned to the 82nd Airborne. With their Humvee gun trucks, M3A3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, M1A2 Abrams tanks and recent combat experience, the 3/7th Cav is a small yet formidable fighting force. Due to this the 82nd AB sent them in to the Adhamiya district of Baghdad to replace a hard-pressed mechanized infantry unit.
Adhamiya is a walled-off section of the city home to a large Sunni population infiltrated by Al Qaeda, Baath Party holdouts, organized crime and street thugs. In addition, it's also the home to one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world, which adds some complexity to the situation. The unit's mission is to stabilize this volatile area. In order to do this it must earn the respect of area residents, gather intelligence and hunt down the insurgents.
Working mostly alone, but sometimes with the Iraqi Army they tirelessly patrol the streets, conduct cordon and search operations, gather intelligence from the average Iraqi on the street and conduct raids. Enduring extreme heat (temperatures in the Bradleys can reach more than 140), while braving constant danger with little sleep and maybe one hot meal a day, I watched as these cavalry troopers made a very real impact on this small part of Iraq. While you won't hear about it in the popular press, there are indeed good things happening in Iraq.
In the issues ahead I'll share a "boots on the ground" view of my time in Iraq. You'll get a look at the men of Bonecrusher Troop, their weapons, the Iraqi Army today and the foes they face. From some very good insurgent snipers who know how to run a rifle to an IED that hit the Humvee in front of mine on patrol, I'll share the dangers these cavalry troopers face without hesitation. From the pain of a memorial service for fallen comrades to late night raids plucking high value targets from their beds you'll read of their lows and highs.
Plus you'll gain insight on the positive impact they are having on this part of Iraq. America has a right to be proud of their men and women in uniform. They are doing a tough job in a far off land with their own media against them and little support from the home front. Yet despite all this their morale is high, and every day they are winning Iraqis over while hunting down insurgents. My time spent with the men of 2nd Platoon, Bonecrusher Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th US Cavalry Regiment was perhaps the most meaningful, and dangerous of my life. It is an honor to be able to share a small part of their story in the issues ahead.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to all the men of 3rd Squadron 7th US Cav, particularly Lt. Col. Broadwater, Capts. Dow and Marckwardt, Sgt. First Class Lugo and Sgt. Chisholm, who not only made this article possible but made sure I came back safe.