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The inside story of the (1st) battle for Fallujah, IRAQ

Joe's war

 - in his own words by Joe Day
May 11, 2004

Warrant Officer Joe Day, an Australian fighting with US Marines in Iraq, reveals the inside story of the battle for Fallujah.

ON the evening of April 12, we received fresh orders to move south, link up with regimental combat team 7 and redeploy to near Fallujah. 

We were to assist other 1st Division troops to secure some of the trouble areas and main roads around the town in an operation called ``Ripper Sweep''.

We moved to Al Asad, about 150km to the north of Fallujah. 

We used it as a staging area in preparation for the operation.

Warrant officer Joe Day (right) with fellow Australian officer Flt Lt Gavin Macaulay

We moved to clear all roads to the west of Fallujah. Artillery fired over our heads, fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft were attacking (insurgent) positions.

It was almost like the war all over again. We were prepared for a big fight as we moved through. Our force was so large and must have appeared so daunting for the enemy that they fled in front of us, abandoning their positions.

We met little resistance on the opening day. There was one close call when a roadside bomb exploded near a humvee. Luckily, nobody was seriously injured. Over the next few days we searched every house and questioned every male of military age. Some were detained for further questioning.

We found and cleared many roadside bombs along all the roads we covered. We moved further south to cordon the town of Ash Amerya. The town had a population of about 25,000 people. I thought that it was an insurgent stronghold feeding fighters to Fallujah.

We searched the town without incident and re-established law and order. It was assessed that, once again, the enemy had fled the town before we arrived. This was of some concern because it meant that they were able to gain early warning of our movements.

I went with the CO to a bridge at the western entrance of Fallujah. It was like a scene out of World War II. Marines in heavily fortified sandbag bunkers guarded the bridge. The sounds of battle were all around.

It reminded me of when we were preparing to move into Baghdad nearly a year before. I realised that this bridge was the one that (US) civilian contractors' bodies had been hung off after being dragged through the streets by a mob of barbaric young men.

My blood boiled as I realised this was what started the whole thing in the first place. Now, people were dying in there. All because of some evil desire to kill Americans and for some hollow cause (if any at all). Marine losses were the highest they had been since our return. That thought angered me as I pondered where all this was going.

Soon we received orders to redeploy to the eastern side of the city. We were to cordon the small town of Al Karmah, about 10km to the northeast of Fallujah proper. This town was a known stronghold of Mujaheddin/insurgent fighters. They estimated there were up to 500 and they wanted to fight. This rang true when our movement was stopped by the discovery of several roadside bombs.

As we surrounded the town in the classic cordon, the discovery of more and more bombs was getting to be some kind of record. In the end, we had found 61 IEDs -- Improvised Explosive Devices -- which were all successfully destroyed.

We attacked the town on or around April 20. With the exception of one firefight in which eight enemy were killed (and no losses on our side), there was no enemy to be found.

Rumours were rife that some members of the media had deliberately let the word slip out so as to avoid a bloodbath. I don't know if that is true or not. If it is, that is a very dangerous course of action for us, as it will certainly cost lives in the future.

We remained in the town for the next few days, continuing our searches and detaining suspects as we went. It was decided that we would get some rest in a Forward Operations Base which was just outside Fallujah itself. The base was known as Camp Fallujah and was well protected by walls, wire and fortified positions. There was fresh food there and phones, an internet cafe and a PX. We were in heaven after weeks in the field.

On the evening of April 24 I knew that we would not be going back out for at least 24 hours. I smiled, as I knew the next day was so precious to me. At the orders that night I invited everyone to join me at dawn to help me commemorate ANZAC Day. Those who were with me last year knew exactly what I meant, the rest were curious but nodded anyway.

I woke early, about 0500. I took out my Australian flag, which is carefully folded and sealed in a zip-lock plastic bag. I quietly raised it on a makeshift flag pole, which my men had made out of camouflage net poles (it worked perfectly). I didn't ask them to do that, they knew it was ANZAC Day and they were more excited than I was. They do surprise me sometimes. The flag was to be the signal to everyone else for where they were to gather.

Anzac Day in Fallujah
While I waited for the others to arrive, I went about making a special brew of coffee in a large pot. Everything was going just perfectly as some early rising guests arrived to give me a hand. I was impressed as the number of guests grew. I wondered whether I had enough coffee to go around. Rationing was in order, I thought. But I was glad, as I had not forced anyone to wake up early; they came of their own free will, out of respect.

I honoured their attendance with my special blend of coffee, which included that special ingredient - rum - in keeping with the finest ANZAC tradition. Of course, alcohol of any kind is strictly forbidden to US forces in Iraq, but I am not in the US forces and special exception was made for me.

I went on to tell the story of the first ANZAC Day and explain what it now means to me and to all Australians. I was careful to recognise the bond that has grown between the US and Australian forces ever since World War I.

I continued: "So here we stand as comrades and I want to dedicate this ANZAC Day to all our Marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice in this, our latest fight for freedom.

"Let's bow our heads for a moment's silence as we remember our fallen mates.'' I saw the sea of moist eyes around me as I realised that I had touched them by what I had said. I think this was the first time we had to really think about these things.

The next day we returned to the field to tighten our cordon on Fallujah and its surrounding towns. We still had a sizeable force in Al Karmah. Rocket attacks were becoming more prevalent and our artillery was coming into play now with counter battery fire.

A few days later a ceasefire was declared and the battalion was ordered to return to Al Asad, and then its own area of operations further to the north, at Al Qaim.

After nearly a month-long operation we are now at our base camp and preparing for the next operation. We don't know where we are going or what the mission will be. Our base camp is a lot smaller than the ones to our south. There is no fresh food and water is scarce, we sleep in an abandoned building with no air-conditioning nor any other luxuries.

We have certainly seen a lot more of this country than most. My platoon clocked up 8000km this week after just three months.

I have to acknowledge the important role which my wife and children play. Their support is the most critical and precious thing to my own morale. I think about them every day. They give me the tools to go on. They give me something to fight for and something to live for. That is a powerful thing and should never be underestimated.

Some operational details are not fully disclosed in this version of events for security reasons. Any views expressed in this summary are my own and do not represent official US or Australian government policy

    • March 2003: Has front-line role with coalition invasion force before returning to the US in June 2003
    • February 19, 2004: Returns to Iraq when he is deployed to the northwest of the country
    • April 12: He moves to Al Asad about 150km north of Fallujah where his battalion moves to clear all the roads and towns to the west of Fallujah. Over the next few days his force moves to Ash Amerya, where they locate bomb-makers and weapons caches
    • Several days later Day and his battalion deploy to Al Karmah about 10km northeast of Fallujah. They find and disarm 61 roadside bombs (a record) set up to attack their convoys. On April 20 they attack the town, killing eight enemies
    • April 24: Pulls back to a protected base just outside of Fallujah where he celebrates Anzac Day
    • April 26: Comes under rocket attack at base camp near Fallujah
    • April 27: Conducts a sweep around the outskirts of Fallujah, with soldiers in his unit finding weapons caches and capturing a high-ranking Lebanese arms dealer - described as a 'high value target'

      The Australian (newspaper)

Anzac Day in Iraq, 2004

There’s not much good Aussie companionship when you’re the only Australian in a remote Iraqi township but Maj Craig Madden, RAE, is nothing if not resourceful. Maj Madden, left, scouted around on Anzac Day and eventually came across Rochelle Knight, right, a Kiwi from Christchurch, who is in Iraq working for civilian contract company KBR. Add about 20 US soldiers to hold the flags, wreaths made from locally-growing gum trees and “wha-lah!” a instant Anzac Day ceremony. 

Maj Madden and Rochelle were in Balad, a town about 100km north of Baghdad, where he was providing awareness training on mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance.
Photo provided by Mrs Pamela Madden (from ARMY News The Soldiers Newspaper)


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