Talking Proud --- Military

Cpl Nick Ziolkowski: "The Angel on my Shoulder"

By Ed Marek, editor

January 21, 2018


"Operation Phantom Fury" was among the fiercest urban warfare battles in American history, fought in Fallujah, Anbar Province, Iraq. Fallujah was the stronghold for insurgents in Iraq at the time the operation was launched. The battle of November - December 2004 was non-stop.

Cpl. Nickolas Lee Ziolkowski, USMC, shown here, a Marine scout-sniper was one of the Fallen. He was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF), B/1-8 Marines for short.

This report is in his honor. It is dedicated to him and to all those who fought in this hellish battle. It addresses Ziolkowski's background and importance to those with whom he fought, the character of the men who fought there with a focus on snipers and their mission, and will look briefly at the challenges of urban combat.

The point at issue for me in this report was said well by Sgt. Monty Devenport: Devenport said, "Fallujah wasn’t hell, but it’s in the same area code."

Christoper Thomas wrote, "Sgt. Monty Devenport, 1-8 Marines, said the anger he had while serving in Fallujah is still with him, though he said it’s mostly due to a nation that doesn’t seem to know or care about what he and his 'brothers in arms' did during that month in late 2004. He hopes Americans come to understand and appreciate what coalition troops did while serving in Fallujah." Thomas quoted Devenport, "I hope they understand what we gave up for that land and why we feel the way we do. This was no insignificant event and it seems like the American people don’t care. They don’t even know where Fallujah is … But, I gained the kind of perspective the average person will never get."

What does "Fallujah" mean to you?

Bing West, in his book No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, wrote:

"The men who died in Fallujah were not victims. They were 'aggressive warriors.' Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation … A cottage industry has sprung up in academia to study counterinsurgency as if it were a branch of sociology. In (my) book, a narrative of war, you meet the troops. War is the act of killing. As a nation we have become so refined and so removed from danger that we don't utter the word 'kill.' The troops in this book aren't victims. They are hunters."

David Morris wrote for Foreign Policy responded:

"On the average American … what is a Marine battalion other than a gang of unfortunates and semi-literate savages, all of them hailing no doubt, from the unwashed, Jesus-addled, gun-loving middle of the country, colliding head-on into the hard facts of life for the non-college-bound? Sacrifice is for saps, so the thinking goes, God knows why people go into the service these days and to take anything more than a passing interest in the whole awful show is to somehow be complicit in it … (Yet), a greater depth of life is possible … sacrifice can have meaning."

Morris mainly talked about Sangin, Afghanistan, and the 3-5 Marines fighting there. But he saw Sangin as the Fallujah of Afghanistan. And he made this comment:

"There is something immutable, almost Homeric, happening in Sangin. It’s the story of a unit filled with boys far, far from home, consumed by ideals older than the Old Testament about death, honor and human destiny." The same applies to Fallujah.

Marine Major Francis Piccoli, USMC, served in Fallujah, and told Voice of America this:

"This is all going to come down to that young man, that 19, 20 year old corporal, lance corporal whether he's a soldier or a marine, leading his particular fire team or his squad through the city, house by house, block by block, room by room."

Dexter Filkins of The New York Times was embedded with B/1-8 Marines, a rifle company. He has several insightful articles on the internet from which I will draw. One is “Hard Lesson in Battle: 150 marines Meet 1 Sniper.” Another is, “In Fallujah, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War.” Filkins also wrote a book about what he saw, The Forever War. I commend them to you. Others have written about this battle as well. I’ll point them out as I refer to events about which they wrote.

This particular note grabbed my attention:

“Despite their youth, the marines seemed to tower over their peers outside the military in maturity and guts. Many of Bravo Company's best marines, its most proficient killers, were 19 and 20 years old; some directed their comrades in maneuvers and assaults. Bravo Company's three lieutenants, each responsible for the lives of about 50 men, were 23 and 24 years old.

“They are a strangely anonymous bunch. The men who fight America's wars seem invariably to come from little towns and medium-size cities far away from the nation's arteries along the coast. Line up a group of marines and ask them where they are from, and they will give you a list of places like Pearland, Tex.; Lodi, Ohio; Osawatomie, Kan.”

Filkins also commented a bit more directly regarding the youth of the Marines:

"Just kids. You step into the barracks thinking big, burly, and deep-voiced. And what you get are faces and half-hearted mustaches and voices still cracking, boys hurried into uniforms and handed heavy guns."

Ashley Gilbertson, photojournalist embedded with B/1-8 and working with Filkins, in a video interview made this observation:

"I didn't shy away from photographing anything, and they (B/1-8 Marines), they, you know these guys were professionals. They did their jobs, they did exactly as they were told to do, and they acted incredibly respectful to every single Iraqi they met. I mean, they had lost, I mean, what, close to a dozen guys at this point, and they find a couple of detainees that are definitely insurgents and they treat them, they treat their wounds, they carefully put them into Amtracs, I mean they were, they were almost gentle with the guys. I mean, had somebody come and killed twelve people, twelve of my friends, and I found one of the guys, I don't know what the hell I would do with them except, I certainly wouldn't be gentle."

Gilbertson published many of his photographs in his book,
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War. This book covers early battles in Iraq, the initial occupation of Baghdad, the insurgency that erupted shortly afterward, the battle to overtake Fallujah, and ultimately, Iraq's first national elections. Holding those elections in Fallujah was one main reason for securing it in "Operation Phantom Fury."

Ralph Peters, in his book Never quit the fight, saw Fallujah this way:

"Fallujah became the new world capital of terror … The terrorists … welcomed thousands of international 'jihadis' and used the city as a base to spread terror across central Iraq … Hostage slaughterhouses, butcher shops for human cattle. Stockpiles of ammunition and explosives in mosques. And a city scarred by all the marks of an Islamic reign of terror … It all comes down to the grunt. Our military assault on Fallujah employed spectacular military technologies and innovative teamwork between services, thorough planning, and overwhelming force. But the Infantry squad still decides who wins or loses … In Fallujah, our tools are advanced, but the key remains the creativity our troops bring to the battlefield. Left to his own devices, the American soldier will figure out a way to get the job done the generals never considered."

Scott Cooper is a retired Marine officer. He wrote, "I'll never forget the Marine Memorial Ceremonies I attended in Fallujah." A few extracts follow:

"How you die matters … Whenever a Marine is killed, we pause for a moment to remember. Memorial services 'in-country' are different than most people think. First, there is no body or casket … What serves in its place are a pair of boots and a rifle stuck into the ground by its bayonet, a set of dog tags hanging from the pistol grip of the rifle and a kevlar helmet resting atop … In one service … a corpsman of a reconnaissance team … spit out his most meaningful line: 'He died a warrior's death.' Soldierly virtue above all else.


"A nation’s treasure is in its youth, and their loss is beyond measure because it is irretrievable. They were singularly trusting. They solicited no assurance on the prompt surrender of their lives. They demanded no social privileges, no distinctions, as they willingly walked into the valley.

"Oliver Wendell Holmes reflected … 'we are in the presence of the dead. … Young and gracious faces, somewhat remote and proud, but with a melancholy and sweet kindness. There is upon their faces the shadow of approaching fate, and the glory of generous acceptance of it … But grief is not the end of all. … Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.' He sees war as a part of the human condition, yet he sees nobility in living life to its top, spending youth in a worthy cause."

Colonel Michael Shupp, USMC, commander Regimental Combat Team 1(RCT-1), told his men:

"When you go into a fight, you fight for each other. You fight for your fellow Marines. Those are the things that really matter. You have the right to protect yourself … Take the fight to the enemy, but fight with firmness, dignity, and respect. You are warriors, not criminals."

Elizabeth Kilbride, in her book Soul of American Warriors, a Writer's Journey Comes Full Circle, was on her way to the Fallujah war zone and talked about preparing for the trip. Her big brother Jack was ill, and she did not want him to know she was going. Apparently he found out, and called her on the eve of her departure, quite by surprise. Jack was a Vietnam Veteran who had seen more than his fair share of combat. Kilbride wrote:

"When (Jack) called his voice was music to my ears. His words were so encouraging and inspiring, as if something my father would have said, 'Kick ass, take names, be safe, do what you are told by the Marines, remember they are your family, they will take care of you no matter what' … Throughout my trip, whenever I would become scared or nervous, his words flooded my mind and helped carry me through, preventing me from ever flinching … Trust is a great responsibility. In a combat zone, trust among those around you helps to keep one another alive. A breach of trust often results in loss of life … To travel with such brave warriors without restriction is a gift."

Colonel Craig Tucker, USMC, commanded RCT-7, of which Ziolkowski's 1/8 Marines were a part. Tucker said:

"Arranged in those companies and those battalions are Marines whose courage and sacrifices are pretty equal to that of their forefathers. The deeds of the sons have exceeded those of the fathers. If you take the moment to consider that in that old breed of 22 or 23 year old Marines and Sailors standing out there — there is more combat experience there than the sum of combat experience of every Marine who joined the Marines Corps between 1974 and 1996. They are the leading edge that in the years to come they’re going to change the Marine Corps in ways we cannot fathom right now. They are challenged to lead because they’re smart and they’re tough and they’re not afraid to ask questions.”

Following "Operation Phantom Fury," the Second Battle of Fallujah, Lt. Colonel Gareth Brandl, USMC, commander 1/8 Marines, Ziolkowski's battalion, said:

"Battalion 1/8 … will go down in the history books for our contribution to the battle fought in Fallujah. I don't dwell on that …Uncommon valor is still a common virtue in our Corps. I said that Satan has a face and it's in Fallujah; we found torture chambers, chemical labs and terrorist training facilities. This operation had to take place … Our Marines and Sailors took part in a very noble endeavor in which they can forever take pride. They directly contributed to a safer world and carved out a piece of history in the process."

Greg Nichols was a corporal with the 1-8 in Fallujah. Melissa Block, shown here, of NPR interviewed him in 2014, ten years later. He had left the Marines. This statement by him caught my attention, because he talks about knowing he was going to die. Nicholas Ziolkowski had a premonition that an enemy sniper would kill him as well, and he was right. Nichols was wrong; he did not die, but listen to his words:

Nichols: "You know, I can't speak for anyone else, but I certainly - I planned on dying. I mean, you just do the math, and you say, well, there's 3,000 insurgents that are well-entrenched. They've, you know, lined up IED chains of 25 IEDs on a road to take out an entire platoon. You know, they've fortified compounds. You say, OK, well, that means, you know, that I'm probably going to die here. So, I just kind of accepted the fact that hey, this is probably it. So, let's do it."

Block: "Ten years after your time there in Fallujah, are those memories still very fresh? I mean, do they still come back to you?"

Nichols: I would be incorrect to say that it hasn't affected me, you know, negatively and positively. You know, I mean, I certainly have, you know, my issues with, you know, sleep. Everyone that knows me knows I can't sleep well. But things like that. You know, on the flip-side, it also humbles you. I mean, it's an incredibly humbling experience when - at least for me anyway, you know, I mean, I had accepted at 19, you know, hey, well, I'm going to die. And then, you know, I didn't die. And it's kind of like, OK, now what? But at the same time it's - these other guys did die and other people did die, and so if there's any real lesson out of it, it's to, you know, essentially try to live, you know, live in a way that those guys aren't here, you know, would be proud to do, you know."

A brief look at Fallujah, the battlefield

I had done an in-depth story back in 2005 about the Second American attack on Fallujah, known to the Iraqis as “Operation Dawn - al Fair,” to the US as “Operation Phantom Fury." It was the battle in which Cpl. Ziolkowski fought, though when I wrote it I did not know about him.

My story was entitled,
"Battle for Fallujah, our warfighters towered in maturity and guts." It provides a good idea of the overall battle and you may wish to at least browse through it before pressing ahead here. I snatched a few graphics just to acquaint you with the battlefield, the city, the urban center.


This map shows where Fallujah is located, in central Iraq. It is in Iraq’s largest province, Anbar. It lies at a crossroads. It is also located on the Euphrates River. Its population ranged from 250,000 to 300,000 at the time, some say as many as 500,000.


These people all lived in about a nine mile square area, depending on how you measure it, arguably 3 x 3 miles (some say 3 x 4 miles or 12 square miles, while others say 5 square miles, the latter estimate looking too small to me.) Whichever figure you use, the city was small, and it was a dense urban center. An average city block is about 330 ft x 660 ft. There are about 1,000 of these city blocks. The density posed a most significant challenge to the forces fighting through it, often house to house, door to door, rooftop to rooftop.


This photo gives you a better sense of the density of the city. Bing West described the city this way: "(Fallujah was) comprised of two thousand blocks of courtyard walls, tenements, two-story concrete houses, and squalid alleyways. Half-completed houses, garbage heaps, and wrecks of old cars cluttered every neighborhood." James Warren wrote "The Vicious Battle to Capture Fallujah in 2004 Was a Close Fought Nightmare," and he noted, "The jihadists had spent the better part of half a year constructing bunkers, strong points, and laying out avenues of retreat, and ambush sites. Hundreds of rooms and entire houses had been expertly booby trapped, and IEDs had been liberally planted in the streets and alleys. Road blocks of Jersey barriers and junk cars designed to funnel the attackers down lethal avenues of approach seemed to be around every other corner."



These two graphics reflect the battle plan. The top graphic shows how six battalions, four Marine two Army, were lined up on the north side of the city. Their objective was to go all the way to the southern end of the city. I have shown a red line for how the 1-8 Marines were to go straight through the city center to the Shuhada neighborhood in the southeast sector. Ziolkowski's company,

Captain Read Omohundro, USMC, commanded B/1-8. He said:

"Bravo was the first in and led the Battalion all the way through the city. We were the first to encounter the enemy at each juncture as we pushed through each phase line."

The Shuhada neighborhood is where Ziolkowski was killed on November 14, 2004.


This graphic shows the track of the 1-8 Marines through Fallujah. While the distance might have only been about three miles, like the other forces, they traveled through highly dense neighborhoods. You can see Highway 10 running east-west through the middle. Depending on your driving skills, it was a four-six lane highway; wide, very difficult to get across safely on foot. Filkins described it this way:

"The 150 marines with whom I traveled, Company B of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had it as tough as any unit in the fight. They moved through the city almost entirely on foot, into the heart of the resistance, rarely protected by tanks or troop carriers, working their way through Fallujah's narrow streets with 75-pound packs on their backs."

Omohundro commented on Bravo Company's casualties:

"Seven Marines were killed in action during the push through the city. Six more were killed afterward during sweeping operations. Bravo did what they were tasked to do. When you face the enemy first, your chances are very high that casualties will result. My Marines fought hard and viciously. They will never be forgotten."

To put this in context, Omohundro said the 1-8 lost 17 Marines during "Operation Phantom Fury;" thirteen were Bravo Company's.

The plan was for multiple battalions to fight their way to the southern end of the city and force the enemy to the south, while other battalions remained behind to fight house-to-house and hold important tactical locations. Allied forces were waiting to the south for them. In effect, the enemy was trapped. That's what the Allies wanted: destroy the insurgency in Fallujah.


At the risk of beating this horse to death, I wanted to show this graphic because it reflects how three battalions, one Marine, the 1-8 Marines, and two Army converged on the Shuhada neighborhood. To repeat, Ziolkowski was killed in this neighborhood.


This is a look at the Shuhada neighborhood during the fight of June 2016 to evict ISIS.

General Sattler, USMC, the overall commander, declared the city seized and liberated on November 15, 2004. Cpl. Ziolkowski was killed one day earlier, on November 14, 2004.

However, "mopping up" operations continued into December in highly volatile pockets of resistance that had to be fully cleared. As Omohundro said, he lost seven Marines on the company's drive through the city, six more during these "mopping up" operations, were are always extremely dangerous.

Patrick McDonnell, reporting
"US mopping up as insurgents make last stand in Fallujah" for the Los Angeles Times described the "mopping up" like this:

"Inside the house, the fighters huddled together, chanting to God. Outside, U.S. Marines wondered how to kill them. 'These guys don't die easy,' said Lance Cpl. Marquel Curtis … The fighting continues, especially in the city's southern neighborhoods, where hard-core insurgents … remain dug in, some using crude bunkers and tunnels as cover. Young men in dark sweat pants and sneakers, what passes for an insurgent uniform, are making a desperate stand in these bunkers and abandoned homes bypassed by the Marines as they swooped south … Having seized Fallujah, Marines have begun the laborious task of backtracking, clearing buildings one by one."

Meet Cpl. Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, USMC

You might have asked why I highlighted Cpl. Ziolkowski. While browsing through some photography, by chance I focused on this photo of Cpl. Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, USMC. Frankly, it looked like he had been through the wringer, a bit ragged. If so, why was he smiling? Maybe just happy to be alive. Then I remembered I had forgotten what we looked like in the Indochina War, at times pretty ragged as well.

So I looked him up. I quickly learned he was a Marine scout-sniper with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF). The shorthand for all that is B/1-8 Marines. Then came the hammer: He was killed in action by enemy fire while fighting in Fallujah, Iraq on November 14, 2004. That being the case, he now had my full attention.

Cpl. Ziolkowski was known as "Ski" to his fellow Marines. “Ski” was 22 when he was killed.

Nick was from Towson, Maryland. He graduated in 2001 from the Boy’s Latin School of Maryland, in Baltimore. This is the oldest, independent and nonsectarian college preparatory school for boys in Maryland, founded in 1844. The school emphasizes integrity, courage and compassion for others. The school on average has about 640 students enrolled kindergarten through 12th grade.

Ziolkowski was the captain of the school’s cross-country team in his senior year. At 17 he completed the Navy Seal Odyssey program, the 24-hour version of the Navy’s “Hell Week,” finishing in the top ten among several hundred participants and the youngest man to finish.

Nick left for active duty with the Marines less than a month after graduation, on July 2, 2001. This photo shows him at his Marine barracks when his mom, Tracy Miller visited. He was said to be intensely patriotic, one who planned to join the military since ninth grade, selecting the Marine Corps in 10th grade. He began running and lifting weights daily to get himself into shape.

While in the Marines, he often returned to the school to talk to students who were taking military history classes. Butch Maisel, the military history teacher, said:

“I let him teach the whole class. The kids were spellbound ... He really seemed to love what he was doing … People respected his decision to join the Marines … When he came back, he always drew a crowd."

Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said, "He loved his country more than any person I know that age."

Ab Logan taught English when Ziolkowski was a senior. He said:

"He was just real clear -- the reason he was so envied by the other kids, he seemed so clear about what he wanted to do … They didn't want to be Marines, they just wanted to be Nick."

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger commented:

"It takes a special person to sacrifice their life for their country. We must acknowledge the contribution our young men and women are making over there.”

In the Marines, Ski, shown here at war, was a team leader and scout sniper. He also led a number of squads on several occasions.

He had originally planned to make the Marines a 20 year career, but while at Camp Lejune, he reportedly told his mother, “I feel I have this chain yanking me back when I want to do something.”

Nick had been in Iraq since June 2004. He was scheduled to leave in February 2005 and planned to attend Towson University, north of Baltimore. While planning to go to Towson University, he wanted to live in the residence halls, but his mother said, “He promised he would come home for dinner every night!” Of course he would! He was not going to leave mom's cooking behind!

Killed in Iraq on November 14, 2004, Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on November 24, 2004, ten days after being killed and one day before Thanksgiving. This photo was taken at his burial.

Dexter Filkins, embedded with the B/1-8 Maines for The New York Times, described Ziolkowski as follows:


This is a photo of Ziolkowski up front, his close buddy Dominic with the glasses behind him. This apparently was the last known photo of Nick prior to his being killed that same day.

"Tall, good-looking and gregarious, Corporal Ziolkowski was one of Bravo Company's most popular soldiers. Unlike most snipers, who learned to shoot growing up in the countryside, Corporal Ziolkowski grew up near Baltimore, unfamiliar with guns. Though Baltimore boasts no beach front, Corporal Ziolkowski's passion was surfing; at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Bravo Company's base, he would often organize his entire day around the tides. 'All I need now is a beach with some waves,' Corporal Ziolkowski said during a break from his sniper duties at Fallujah's Grand Mosque, where he killed three men in a single day. During that same break, Corporal Ziolkowski foretold his own death. The snipers, he said, were now among the most hunted of American soldiers … Intelligence officers had warned him that this time, the snipers would be targets."

I mentioned Ashley Gilbertson earlier, a New York Times photo journalist working with Filkins and embedded with B/1-8.

Gilbertson described Ziolkowski: "Cool, (Ski) was really cool, a really nice guy. Ski said that he had been looking for a particular sniper, one that he had been, one that had been firing at him, and he had been looking for, for the whole battle."

Tom Foreman, a CNN correspondent with the B/1-8, said this about Ziolkowski's character during the Battle of Fallujah:

"Carefully selected, highly disciplined, the Marine snipers spend endless hours seeking the enemy through their scopes, keeping stealthy attackers in the tight alleys from getting too close … For Bravo, two snipers stand out. Corporal Nick Ziolkowski, or Ski, is a tall, handsome surfer from near Baltimore. Everyone seems to know and admire him, his calm professionalism and easy manner, an oasis in the turmoil."

In a conversation, Foreman asked, "How could he identify this (premonition that an enemy sniper was hunting him)?" Gilbertson responded, "I have no idea." Sgt. Aubrey McDade, B/1-8 then interjected, "He knew the sniper was trained. He didn't know if he was Chechnya or Serbian or whatever, but he knew that." Foreman then asked, "But he had a real sense that there is a guy out there that was trying to get him?" McDade responded, "Yes, sir."

Foreman then talked more about Ziolkowski:

"What no one is expecting is what comes six days in. The men had been led to believe the entire battle would be done by now. Bravo has pushed nearly to the southern edge of town. They are exhausted, edgy, in need of any kind of relief. So, as they hunker down for another sleepless night, it helps that Ski sits easily among them, talking about home, college plans, surfing. When morning comes, Ski, the sniper, climbs back to the roof with his rifle to scan the horizon."

There is then a quick exchange in the interview among several B/1-8 Marines:

Lt. Chris Wilkens, B/1-8: "And, all of a sudden, we hear one shot ring out."

LCpl Blake Benson, B/8: "I remember sitting there, and I hear, you know, one crisp shot."

Wilkens: "And then they carried him (Ziolkowski) out on the stretcher right in front of everybody."

Benson: "That totally destroyed me there. That was very hard to see."

Lt. Commander Dr. Richard Jadick: In his book On Call in Hell: A Doctor's Iraq War Story, Lt. Commander Dr. Richard Jadick talked about Ziolkowski's last moments:

"Bravo Company was still heading south. They held up momentarily at about seven thirty a.m. on the fourteenth (of November 2004), along with some members of Scout Sniper platoon, waiting for forces form the Army's 2-2 Task Force to link up for joint advance. The Marines went firm, posting security at the perimeter and along the rooftops. The sun was just coming up as Corporal Nicholas L. Ziolkowski, everybody called him Ski, one of the friendliest, most popular guys in the battalion, raised his head above his high powered scope for a moment. A skilled sniper, the twenty-two-year-old from Towson, Maryland, was scanning the surrounding area for movement; in a firm situation like that your snipers are one of the most important aspects of force protection. Maybe it was a glint from his scope, or the movement of his head, I don't know. But something attracted the attention a counter-sniper on the other side. One crack, one shot, and Corporal Ski went down.

"HM2 Kevin Markley, Bravo Company's senior company corpsman, was there on the roof with him right away, and he saw, he knew, there was no way with a head shot like that. But you do everything you can, always. First Sergeant Whittington wanted to get his wounded Marine off the roof, so Markley did what he could to stabilize the man, and they moved him down."

Foreman: "Ski is rushed to the aid station, so badly injured, only when Dr. Jadick sees the name on his uniform does he realize who this is. He quietly asks his staff to leave."

Jadick: "(Ski) had some significant, massive trauma to his head, and he wasn't going to make it. And I didn't want the memories to -- to hurt the corpsmen."

Foreman: "Every death reverberates throughout Bravo, and this one, so close to what they think is the end, is especially hard."

Wilkens: "It was like, I didn't have that angel on my shoulder anymore, you know, because Ski wasn't there."

Dr. Jadick at the time was a Naval surgeon. He was awarded the Bronze Star with “Combat V” device for heroic valor. He was credited with saving the lives of 30 Marines and sailors during this, the Second Battle of Fallujah. Jadick located his aid station as close to the fighting as he could to provide the most rapid treatment to those who were wounded. Newsweek did a very eye-opening story on Dr. Jadick, "On Call in Hell." I strongly commend it to you. You might wish to take a stiff shot of bourbon before you dial it up.

At the time Ziolkowski was killed, he was after an enemy sniper. He took his helmet off to get a better look, the enemy sniper fired, and shot Ziolkowski in the head, killing him instantly. Filkins wrote:

"The bullet knocked Corporal Ziolkowski backward and onto the roof. He had been sitting there on the outskirts of the Shuhada neighborhood, an area controlled by insurgents, peering through his wide scope. He had taken his helmet off to get a better view. The bullet hit him in the head."

An officer would later comment that it did not matter if he had his helmet on or off, the enemy bullet would still have killed him.

Recall my mentioning Ziolkowski felt enemy snipers were after him. He was right.

The enemy

The deadly accuracy of the enemy shooter raises a profound point about this battle.
Marines said they encountered two kinds of enemy, both of whom were committed to killing as many Marines as possible.

The first were classic guerrillas, engaging at a time and place of their choosing, and then evading out of sight of the Marines using pre-planned evasion routes, including tunnels, that seldom exposed them in the streets. Most of these were Iraqis who saw the US as an invasion force.


The second were martyrs, who died at the hands of Marines, but only after a tough fight where time was of no significance to the martyr. Most of them were foreigners, from Chechnya, Yemen, Sudan, North Africa (mainly Libya and Algeria), Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen and many others including former Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers. There was also a mix of terrorist, tribal, extremist and criminal networks.


Most of them came by means of what's known as the "Rat Line" from Syria and Jordan into Iraq, essentially along the Euphrates River. Syrian President Assad allowed foreign fighters to use this means through Syria to get to Iraq. Leigh Neville, in his book Special Forces in the War on Terror, commented, "The city of Al Qaim sat on what Coalition Forces termed the Western Euphrates Ratline, which facilitated the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq from the border with Syria." Many stopped in Fallujah to drop off or pick-up weapons. The Sunni Triangle is a densely populated region of Iraq to the northwest of Baghdad that is inhabited mostly by Sunni Muslim Arabs. After the US invasion of 2003, the area became the center for Sunni opposition to the US and its Coalition. You may remember Saddam Hussein was Sunni, and during his reign Sunnis kind of ruled the roost, even though they were a minority Not so after the US invasion. The majority Sh'ia took over.

But Fallujah was a Sunni city, and Americans fighting there were not well liked. But neither were the insurgents. So the residents were caught between a rock and a hard place.

John Pettegrew, in his book Light it up: The Marine Eye for Battle in the War for Iraq, quoted First Lieutenant Jesse Grapes, USMC, K/3-1 Marines, shown here, describing these enemy forces:

"Most of these guys were experts in their profession. They were true warriors. From Chechnya, from Yemen, Tunis, and Iraqi former Republican Guard guys. They knew what they were doing, they knew how to use weapons, they understood the principles of ambush, really good fighters."

This second group was usually barricaded and dug into its fortification, whether it be a home, a shop or a factory, and its members fought until they were dead. They stayed in their houses. They knew the Marines' body armor was good, so they waited for the perfect face shot. On many occasions, our troops tried to negotiate with this latter group, but found these kinds of enemy simply would not give up until they were dead.

My guess is the man who killed Ziolkowski was from among this second group, a professional who knew what he was doing, knew how to stalk, knew how to use his weapon, and knew when to fire, with precision accuracy.

Its reasonable to ask how all the weapons came into insurgent hands. Jonathan Cuney, a former Marine sergeant and combat wounded veteran of Fallujah, writing
"Insurgent Arsenal of Fallujah" for Small Arms Review, identified several sources:

  • Iraqis looted many arsenals after Saddam was deposed. They either kept them or sold them.
  • Smugglers brought them in from Syria and other Arab nations
  • The Iraqi Military and Police sold them, especially after receiving new US shipments intended for local police and the Iraqi military.
Cuney reported:

"Most of the hardware was derived from Russia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, China, East Germany, Egypt, Romania and Iraq's Tabuk Armory … Rarely encountered yet relished when they were confiscated were unlicensed Iranian copies of the MP5 submachine gun … Firearms such as the British Sterling SMG, Soviet PPSh-41 SMG or the British Bren gun were often encountered in caches … All combatants learned firsthand more about firepower than they could have ever imagined: from the capabilities, usage and nomenclature of the enemy's weapons to their strengths and weaknesses. The Battle of Fallujah was not only a tremendous battle and tactical feat for those involved it also became a university on foreign small arms."

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, writing "
Outside Iraq but Deep in the Fight" published by The Washington Post, said that Syrians and Saudis "sustained and replenished" the insurgents as they crossed into Iraq, and "supplied many of the suicide bombers."

Seymour M. Hersch, writing "The Red Line and the Rat Line" listed by the London Review of Books, said in a very controversial statement:

"The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida."

The Office of the Director for National Intelligence (DNI) responded, "The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false."

I should remark that Hersch's allegation about the rat line and other issues has been the source of great debate which to my mind has never been closed. My impression is this is a very sordid subject that carries a foul odor.


Weapons caches were found all over Fallujah. The insurgents used the mosques to hide them, but also used homes. This particular cache was found by Marines assigned to I/3-5 Marines. It included explosives, small arms, rockets, medical supplies, electronics, long-range cell phones and propaganda.

One final remark on this subject. The insurgents were quite clever with regard to handling and storing weapons. They might not carry any weapon at all, or perhaps only a rifle, machine-gun or RPG. They ran from storage area to storage area and employed whatever they felt they needed at the time, simply dipping into the cache at that location, sometimes using several weapons from the cache in the same firefight.

Introduction to the B/1-8 Marines

The 1-8 Marines are known as "The Beirut Battalion." It was the main victim of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 220 Marines and 18 Sailors. I did an article about this event in late 2008, entitled, "Largest non-nuclear explosion on record hits Beirut Marines, 25 years ago."

The 1-8 Marines deployed to Iraq in June 2004. In this Fallujah battle, the 1/8 Marines lost 17 KIA and 102 WIA.

Once again, the Bravo company commander was Captain Read Omohundro, USMC, shown here. After eight days of fighting, Dexter Filkins said B/1-8 lost six KIA, 30 WIA. Filkins remarked: The unit's men had about a one-in-four chance of being wounded or killed in little more than a week."

However, I had seen varying numbers, so I contacted Capt. (now Mr.) Omohundro. He told me:

"Bravo Company 1/8 suffered 13 KIA and 38 wounded. Wounded included Marines who were shot, mortared, and anyone who sprained an ankle diving for cover or tripped over concrete and required medical attention back at the Battalion Aid Station (BAS)."

So those are the right numbers. In a second e-mail exchange, he noted six were killed during the push through the city, seven more in the "mopping up." He underscored, and so I will again, that B/1-8 led the entire battalion all the way through the city. That made it far more vulnerable to losses.

Thus far, I have painted a picture of Marines in Fallujah as Herculean. In evaluating and comparing my own character to them, they are. Marines are tough, no one doubts that, and they are resolute. But they also are human. Lt. Andy Eckert, Third Platoon B/1-8, commented to Filkins, "Everyone was scared. If the leader can't hold, then the unit can't hold together."

As a result, Eckhert brings us to the topic of leadership, one of my favorite subjects.

Capt. Omohundro, according to Filkins, was the glue that held Bravo Co. together. Filkins wrote:

"Time and again through the week, Captain Omohundro kept his men from folding, if not by his resolute manner then by his calmness under fire." Here you see him talking to his Marines. Filkins went on, "In the first 16 hours of battle, when the combat was continuous and the threat of death ever present, Captain Omohundro never flinched, moving his men through the warrens and back alleys of Fallujah with an uncanny sense of space and time, sensing the enemy, sensing the location of his men, even in the darkness, entirely self-possessed.

" 'Damn it, get moving,' Captain Omohundro said, and his men, looking relieved that they had been given direction amid the anarchy, were only too happy to oblige.

"A little later, Captain Omohundro, a 34-year-old Texan, allowed that the strain of the battle had weighed on him, but he said that he had long ago trained himself to keep any self-doubt hidden from view.

" 'It's not like I don't feel it,' Captain Omohundro said. 'But if I were to show it, the whole thing would come apart.' "

Even after the battle seemed over, Omohundro told his men, "Keep a sharp eye. We ain't done with this war yet."

Omohundro may have felt it, but I've seen several reporters say he was "steady as a rock."

Dexter Filkins commented, "Omohundro did not like sitting still in this theater of doom, and for good reason." He quoted Omohundro saying, "My biggest fear is staying in the same place for too long. Then they'll pinpoint us and start firing."

The character of an American military sniper


Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor, presented a one hour report on the Second Battle of Fallujah that was aired on August 31, 2007. It focused on B/1-8 Marines. I have extracted comments made about their scout snipers.

There are three issues I wish to touch on: the matter of killing, images we might have in our mind about the "sniper," and what kind of person her-she is in real life.

I'll start with the matter of killing. My gut instinct is most people don’t think a lot about the
act of killing when their country’s forces go to war, other than to worry their loved one might get killed. I want to underscore I am talking about the act of killing.

I'm no psychoanalyst so I won't get into this deeply. Instead I want to make a point about snipers.

We can assume people in combat think about killing. They have been trained to do it. When going into battle, they are prepared to do it. In the case of Fallujah, our Marines and Soldiers engaged in hotly contested firefights. You've probably seen these on YouTube or some other medium. While engaged, they fire a great deal of ammunition at the enemy, and they'll call in for artillery and air. Quite often, however, even though a Marine or Soldier fired his weapons at the enemy, he may never know for sure whether he killed anyone. More often than not, he wants the engagement to end and then move on. He and his colleagues might come across dead bodies where they were firing, but they nonetheless probably wouldn't know for sure whose bullet(s) killed those people. The exception to this would be if they killed at close range, perhaps even face to face, which in Fallujah happened often, especially when going into buildings.


Let's switch over to the sniper. The sniper is most often alone or with a spotter. Part of the job is to kill an enemy who threatens friendly forces. The sniper is intimately familiar with the act of killing. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that quite often the sniper will get more kills than the men on the ground engaged in a firefight. The sniper wants "one shot, one kill." Part of the reason for that is if he misses, he might give away his position to the enemy. Another reason has to do with pride.

One Marine sniper said they are “bred to kill.” The sniper knows he is looking to kill an enemy, he is ready to kill him, and he usually knows if he did kill him. Many wait for the moment to kill. They feel accomplished that they did kill an enemy. Not only are they satisfied they did so with one shot, but they are satisfied they protected other Marines. They usually remember at least their first few kills. Some count, some don't. Some keep log books, some don't.

All Marines are infantry, even the cooks and bottle washers. But the sniper's role is far different than simply being in the infantry. The sniper knows he is in the act of killing, and knows usually for certain that he did kill; usually for certain, but not always. One Marine said while at Sniper School:

"Just being a Marine is not good enough."

With that in mind, let's switch over to what many of us might think about the sniper. Set the movies like
American Sniper aside.

Jack Coughlin, a retired Marine sniper and author of
Shock Factor: American Snipers in the War on Terror, wrote:

"Back in Vietnam, our own people called us ‘Murder Inc.' They thought we were psychopathic killers."

Coughlin goes on, however, to explain "the whole point of our existence is to be there on overwatch to minimize the threat to our own men." Whether most people understand that or not, frankly my intuition is no.

Graeme Wood, writing
"Why we fear and admire the military sniper" published by the Boston Globe, said:

"In past wars, snipers’ fellow soldiers and Marines have viewed (snipers) with suspicion, turning cold shoulders to the men widely perceived to have the coldest hearts in the US military … … non-snipers (have) viewed snipers as homicidal, soulless robots flagrantly violating the rules of fair military play."

Like Coughlin, Wood goes on to explain:

"But one consequence of the last decade of war has been to modify the bad reputation of snipers … Today, the sniper is a trained professional who generally plies his trade with pride. Coughlin, the Marine sniper, has trained over 75 snipers, and he says the best marksmen are often those who have never fired a weapon in their lives."

Recall that was the case with Cpl. Ziolkowski. He had not fired weapons until he entered the Marine Corps.

In their book
To be a Military Sniper, Gregory Mast and Hans Halberstadt said this about the popular image of the sniper:


"Few other military specialties are as shrouded in mythology and misinformation as are snipers. The dominant popular image is that of a solitary hunter, stalking his prey with stealth and patience, shooting from such long distance that the bullet arrives at the target long before the report (noise) of the shot. One rifle, one target, one shot, one kill. Often these takes are embellished with improbable details of near supernatural capabilities and are fueled by the ballistically impossible cinematic exploits of Hollywood.


"While the basis of this is not necessarily incorrect, that of a superbly trained marksman delivering precision fire on high-value targets, the reality of modern warfare and conflict, creates a story far more complex and interesting than any cheesy action movie. When properly employed, the sniper is the smartest weapon on the battlefield dominated by 'smart weapons' "

Studying the role of the military sniper is fascinating. Most of us know about smart weapons employed from the air, but my bet is few of us see snipers as a smart weapons as well. But they are.

Let's switch gears again and get a sense for the kind of people they are, their character.

Sergeant Joel Chaverri, a Marine combat photographer with B/1-8 said, "The snipers are an interesting group. They're a little bit of loners. You know, they have to be. They live in a world of solitude because of what they have to do. "

LCpl Blake Benson, B/1-8, said, "They were a godsend. They helped us out a lot. They were guardian angels in a lot of times. When we were going somewhere, they had that overwatch on us."


Tom Foreman said, "The Marine snipers are constantly trying to lure their elusive enemies into the open." To which Sgt. Chaverri responded, "Well, they definitely were creative. And, at some times, they did have to put a hole in the wall and maybe get someone to, you know, put a little decoy of a helmet up there. Sometimes, it didn't work."

Kenneth Estes, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USMC, wrote "
US Marine Corps Operations in Iraq, 2003-2006." He conveyed many times how the Marines used their snipers.

  • Placed on overwatch positions, critical when rifle squads were operating in narrow streets.
  • Used to surveil areas and call in precision fires from artillery or the air, especially useful to prevent insurgents from escaping cordoned off areas and to support friendly ground forces under attack.
  • Engage positively identified insurgents digging and emplacing bombs or mines or otherwise threatening US-Allied forces.
  • Support company-size attacks and small team raids.
  • Locate the sources of enemy fire.
Jason Keyser, writing "Snipers take aim from Fallujah roofs," adds some meat to Estes' publication:


"The front lines in the siege of Fallujah are the realm of snipers, as riflemen on both sides of the fight seize the high points of the streetscape … Lying flat-bellied on rooftops or leaning over rifles poking out of second-floor windows in darkened rooms, Marine snipers pick off gunmen darting across streets … spend hours scanning streets and rooftops through powerful scopes that pick up body heat, outlining the shape of a figure in darkness … Snipers prefer to change positions after a few shots to keep their posts secret so gunmen can't hone in on them … The longer a sniper stays put, another problem emerges: barking dogs and birds taking off at the sound of a shot can give away his position …


"In Fallujah, Marine snipers set up rifles in front of small holes knocked out of walls with sledge hammers. Others hunker down at the corners of windows, where they've drawn shut curtains and positioned bookcases and other furniture to block light that might reveal their silhouette."

Tony Perry, writing
"Marine snipers demoralize insurgents in Fallujah" for the LA Times, quoted a corporal who was a Marine sniper:

"As a sniper your goal is to completely demoralize the enemy,"

To be clear, Keyser, and others note snipers have made mistakes, have shot and killed innocents. He noted, however, "The calculations have to be split-second."

There is also evidence that some snipers find satisfaction from doing this job, some perhaps find enjoyment. Perry quotes some Marines giving him examples:

" 'Kill One Man, Terrorize a Thousand,' the sign on the wall of sniper school at Camp Pendleton displaying this as a Chinese proverb."

" 'It's a sniper's dream,' he said in polite, matter-of-fact tones. 'You can go anywhere and there are so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are.' "

"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies. Then I'll use a second shot."

"I couldn't have asked to be in a better place. I just got lucky: to be here at the right time and with the right training."

"The first time you get the adrenaline rush afterward. During the shooting, you have to take care of your breathing. It felt good to do my job, good to take a bad guy out."

All of that said and acknowledged, Captain Douglas Zembiec, USMC, shown here in the fight for Fallujah in April 2004, said this:

"The snipers clear the streets for us. The snipers are true heroes."

At the end of the day, this corporal seemed to sum it up:

"When I go hunting for whitetail, it's for food and sport. Here, when I go hunting, it's personal, very personal. You have to have a combat mind-set."

In his book, Ronin: A Marine Scout-Sniper Platoon in Iraq, Mike Tucker, a Special Forces guy with significant clandestine experience, now an author, talks quite a bit about how various Marine Corps snipers are put together. Ronin Scout Snipers were part of the 2-6 Marines in Fallujah, and Tucker was embedded with them. Cpl. Brian Areballo, the Ronin2 Team Leader, said:

"We named ourselves Ronin, samurais without masters, before we got in country. In the guerrilla war here, we discovered that we truly are samurais without masters: shafted, stonewalled, and ignored. But we survived, brother. We are Ronin and we are one. We left America together and we're going home together."

The 2-6 had four, four-man sniper teams. They used "Ronin" as their callsign. Tucker described them as the "equal of anyone I have ever been in combat with and carried out clandestine actions with, stalwart and savvy; fiercely loyal to one another, their teams, and their platoon; brilliant in the field; and completely fearless when it came to their field intelligence analyses…"

Cpl. Justin Novi, USMC scout sniper, Ronin4 assistant team leader, wrote a marvelous introduction for Tucker's book. I'll highlight some of what he wrote below:

They called the new guys in a sniper platoon "PIGs," standing for Professionally Instructed Gunman." They called the old timers "HOGS," or "Hunters of gunmen, experienced Marine snipers." The HOGS trained the PIGs along these lines:

  • "PIGs will listen to HOGS like their lives depend on it, because they do.
  • "PIGs want to someday be HOGS … you have to earn it.
  • "PIGs run everywhere. Walking is unacceptable.
  • "PIGs hate weekends. Large amounts of homework will be given on weekends … There are many beautiful women in America, and rest assured, PIGs, one day you will meet them. But not on your weekends of PIG existence.
  • "PIGs hate sleep. Do not plan on sleeping.
  • "PIGs hate food … Food is a privilege, not a right.
  • "PIGs love the mud. Don't ever plan on staying clean … The mud is your friend.
  • "PIGs stick together, If one PIG screws up, you all screw up … You understand real quick that when you take care of your brother sniper, he'll take care of you."
Tucker then remarked, "PIGs develop a strong hatred for the HOGs." But after Fallujah, the HOGS became their best friends and comrades.

I'll insert here that I learned one more acronym: SLUG. That is a "Slow, Lazy, Untrained Gunman," or a Marine with no sniper training.

Tucker described several of the HOGS. I'll not provide their full descriptions or names, but just brief character sketches drawn from Tucker's book.:

  • "Consummate professional. Soft spoken, powerfully built … True man of action … Intimidating when you first meet him … Don't take his kindness for weakness."
  • "Loud, obnoxious, dramatic and hilarious … a real no bullshit guy … a great friend and an exceptional sniper team leader."
  • "You want (this guy) on your side when live rounds rock. A bar fighter, an excellent leader, with a great sense of humor … He definitely knew how to distinguish work from play."
  • "Sharp attention to detail. At times quiet, he can also be extremely sarcastic and hilarious … Highly values his friends and family."
  • "Excellent musician, impulsive buyer, with a great sense of humor, and is a great assault man as well."
  • "Very professional …performs well above his pay grade, fun person to hang out with, not afraid to throw the bullshit flag. Analytical mind, shrewd and savvy."
  • "Loves to throw the bullshit flag, usually can't win an argument if his life depended on it, brunt of platoon's jokes, good sport …Articulate, well read, and reliable to a fault."
  • "Known as 'Hollywood' because he looks like a movie star. Ladies man … strong leader. Stands for his team at all times. Outstanding knowledge of covert skills, tracking, and all aspects of sniping."
  • "Very smart with exceptional computer-tracking skills, an accomplished locksmith … Integrity is his middle name …Sees right to the heart of things."
  • "An ex-gangbanger who found God. One of the platoon's intellectuals. Great trash talker …never curses. Loves spreading the word of God … Solid in martial arts, top-notch close-quarter combat skills. The platoon's caffeine fiend."
  • "Heavily tattooed, loves Boston, passionate about integrity, excites easily, cools down quickly too. Very insightful."
  • "Missed his girlfriend the whole time. His woman was always on his mind at war in Iraq … Missing a few fingers due to a woodchopping accident. Amazing that he can still fire a pistol … Big guy, tall."
  • "Quiet, keeps quiet until he gets to know you … Inquisitive, eager to learn and apply new knowledge. Listened well."
  • "An honest man. Short in height with a shorter temper. Irish to the core. Brilliant team leader."

Urban warfare


I wanted to highlight a few words on the challenges presented by urban warfare. Given our discussion of snipers, note how many times the word "precision" is used as a requirement to fight in urban areas.

There is quite a bit of work underway to figure out how to handle what most see as the future of warfare: urban warfare. I'll just provide a few examples.

To say that the US military has found the solution after witnessing what happened in Fallujah and elsewhere would be silly. There was enormous destruction and many innocent civilians were killed or injured. Such effects of urban warfare served to enrage the civilian population, and caused notable damage to Marine morale and carved unthinkable images that will remain in their souls forever. But there are also plentiful examples of American forces doing their best under fire to pin-point enemy targets and destroy them with pin-point weapons. There are also many examples of US forces working with and on behalf of the local population stressed by the terror of urban warfare.

There is a rapidly growing understanding of the challenges. General James Mattis, USMC, commanding general 1st Marine Division at the time, put it this way:

“Shoulder to shoulder with our comrades in the Army, Coalition Forces and maturing [Iraqi] Security Forces, we are going to destroy the enemy with precise firepower while diminishing the conditions that create adversarial relationships between us and the Iraqi people.”

Mattis wrote a letter to his forces prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq that said, in part:

"Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. 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. You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon … Keep your honor clean."

Indeed the driving issue has to do with the fact that there are a lot of people in these urban centers; by 2030 perhaps 60 percent of the world's population will live there. Alex Ward, writing
"Battleground Metropolis: The Future of Urban Warfare," says it well:

"If the United States wants to secure its interests in the future, it must do so in cities."

Fighting in the urban terrain will become very, very complicated. Many of these cities are and will be victims of poor governance, which means "urban areas will become a fertile breeding ground for organized crime, terrorism and other forms of violence."

John Spencer, writing "The Army needs an urban warfare school and it needs it soon," published by the Modern War Institute at West Point on April 5, 2017, quoted Army Chief of Staff (CSA) General Mark Miller, USA, saying:

"(The future battlefield ) will almost certainly be in dense urban terrain (and the future Army will have to) optimize for urban combat … Army forces operating in complex, densely populated urban terrain in dense urban areas is the toughest and bloodiest form of combat and it will become the norm, not the exception in the future … In these battle spaces, forces can enter easily, but will be harder to extract; ambushes will be easier to conduct and more prevalent; foot soldiers will conduct most of the fighting; the terrain favors defense; and the mobility advantage professional militaries have is lost. All of this allows usually weaker forces to impose a significant challenge to America and its coalition as the fighting becomes very personal: street-to-street, door-to-door, eye-to-eye."

Spencer goes on, "The military strategist Sun Tzu advised that 'the worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative.' Military forces prefer not to fight in cities for good reasons. With infinite enemy locations, vertical and subterranean confined spaces, massive civilian populations that can be injured or killed, and psychologically taxing operational requirements, it’s no wonder past urban battles have been described as combat in hell. But alongside Sun Tzu’s maxim sits another, equally venerated in military circles: the enemy has a vote."

Spencer goes on to argue that current training is insufficient, that, "The Army desperately needs a standalone school dedicated to preparing its soldiers and units for urban terrain. It could, and should, be both a school for individual soldiers and a training venue for units. This would allow the Army to invest resources in a single, premier site rather than continuing to recommend inadequate, unit-based training facilities."

David E. Johnson, Matthew Wade Markel, and Brian Shannon, writing "
The 2008 Battle of Sadr City," published by The Rand Corp., wrote, "The 2008 Battle of Sadr City, which took place in Baghdad nearly 15 months after the beginning of the U.S. 'surge' in Iraq, has received relatively little scholarly attention. However, the coalition's defeat of Jaish al-Mahdi after six weeks of high-intensity fighting offers important lessons for the U.S. Army as it prepares for future operations.

"(The) following factors (are) critical to coalition victory:
  • "Supporting ground maneuver elements with integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and strike assets
  • "The key roles played by heavy forces, snipers, and special operations forces
  • "Decentralized decision-making
  • "Capable indigenous security forces
  • "Rapid transitions from phase to phase."
Russell W. Glenn, Christopher Paul, Todd C. Helmus, and Paul S. Steinberg collaborated to wrote "People make the city, Joint Urban Operations Observations and Insights from Afghanistan and Iraq," published by the Rand Corp. The underlying theme is the task of fighting urban warfare is very complex. That is largely due to the fact that urban populations are usually dense, they are filled with a lot of indigenous people, and they host many man-made structures important to those people. These people are crucial to a successful outcome; they cannot be ignored nor sold out.

The authors refer to former Commandant of the Marine Corp (CMC) General Charles Krulak, USMC who described urban operations in terms of a three block war, all of which must be handled by US forces simultaneously: Support the indigenous population, help to restore or maintain stability, and fight a hostile enemy embedded in the urban area.

The authors argue that at present, US forces are not equipped or staffed to take on these jobs concurrently. They place great emphasis on military and civilian interaction and cooperation. It requires a great understanding of the population and its culture(s) and as quick a return to civilian authority as is possible. In between are a plethora of actions that need to be taken too numerous to explore here. I will comment that significant improvements to intelligence must be made.

Sgt. Lonny D. Wells, USMC (Deceased)

My heart compels me to finish up this report talking about Sgt. Lonny Wells, USMC, B/1-8, also killed in the Second Battle of Fallujah. He is shown here before the battle. You will see a group of four photos that went viral once publicly available. I wish to explain those photos.

Tim Dyhouse, writing "Fallujah: Battle for the 'City of Mosques' " published by VFW Magazine noted the al-Hadra Mosque was "directly in the unit's (B/1-8) path to the south. Four Marines were wounded and one, Sgt. Lonny D. Wells was killed in the fight to take the building."

Let's pause an talk a bit about the Wells event.


These photos went viral on the internet, but the story is not well known. When Lonny Wells was shot, he was sprawled on the street face down. Writing "Praise from a Marine Corps Veteran," Thom Welborn described what happened once his comrades saw Wells hit and down.

Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Shane, USMC, B/1-8, shown here before the operation, ran over to him to try to pull him out. Navy Corpsman Joel Lambotte joined him. Shane said, "I felt bullets hitting my back, bouncing off my vest. The next burst hit me in the lower back. I was airborne and I think I blacked out. Lambotte was hit in the heel and got back to safety.”

Shane had been hit six times in his back body armor, and one bullet was lodged in his chest plate.


The sequence in the photo goes like this starting upper left to upper right, then down lower left and lower right:

  • Shane grabs Wells and tries to pull him out of the line of fire.
  • Lambotte, standing, holds on to Shane while Shane tries to drag Wells away.
  • Shane is hit, is thrown several feet, and drops to the ground.
  • The last frame shows Shane to the left and Wells to the right, both lying on the ground.
Despite Shane's situation, Lambotte continued dragging Wells, but he was hit in the foot and got out.

The other Marines managed to shut down the enemy machine gunner, and then went in to grab Wells and Shane through heavy hostile fire that had again started up. They got them to safety for a medevac. Shane had been hit through his abdomen which severely injured his internal organs. Even after multiple surgeries, he still had fragments inside. Wells died.


General Sattler described the battle after it was finished:

"(The battle) was intense, close, and personal, the likes of which have been experienced [by U.S. forces] on just a few occasions since the battle of Hue City in the Vietnam War . . . There were no real front lines, because [the insurgents] would get behind you constantly,”

In his book, Bing West wraps it up saying this after the battle:

"There would be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq until they were not looked upon as victims but as aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die."

In an article published by The New York Times in 2014, “Human Costs of the Forever Wars, Enough to Fill a Bookshelf,” Michiko Kakutani wrote this:

“War cracks people’s lives apart, unmasks the most extreme emotions, fuels the deepest existential questions … All war literature, across the centuries, bears witness to certain eternal truths: the death and chaos encountered, minute by minute; the bonds of love and loyalty among soldiers; the bad dreams and worse anxieties that afflict many of those lucky enough to return home.”

All this in honor of Cpl. Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, USMC, and all those Marines, Soldiers and Sailors who fought the fierce Second Battle of Fallujah.