09 October 2007

'Game on'

“It was pretty much ‘game on’ after that. Everybody ran to the rooftop, started opening up on them. I dropped almost two mags at the building that was shooting at us,” Horvath said. “It’s like an ultimate feeling of safety to fire back. Every round they shoot at us, we shoot a hundred back.”

BAGHDAD - Despite the dangers that linger behind street corners and on rooftops, the Vilseck, Germany-based 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, currently with Multi-National Division – Baghdad, wanted to send a clear message to the insurgency Sept. 20.

The Stryker Soldiers, who have been in the country for less than two months, are tackling their clearing mission one weapons cache, suspected insurgent and roadside bomb at a time in a fight that Staff Sgt. Jared Utter briefly described as possibly being "one of the biggest fights in Iraq right now.' ...

This particular day started off like all the others with the sun peeking above the horizon creating an orange backdrop behind the company’s formation of eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles. ...

It was a little after 1 p.m. and the company has been clearing homes all morning. Behind a shield of white smoke, 3rd Squad maneuvered across 60th Street, a road with a direct view of an open field, when something exploded and rounds started to fly.

“I saw tracers hit the ground. They opened up on us with PKCs (machine guns). We don’t know if it was a mortar or (rocket-propelled grenade that exploded), but it couldn't have hit more than 20 feet away from us,” said Spc. Eric Horvath of Mentor, Ohio, who later found pieces of shrapnel melted onto his gear. “It all happened so fast. It was like I teleported to cover.”

While they continued to receive heavy machine gun fire from the second story of a building across the open field, Spc. J. Jacobs of Bloomington, Ind., fell face down onto the cement.

Jacobs said he felt the blast, grabbed his neck, saw the blood and instinctively applied pressure to the wound, a piece of shrapnel in his neck.

“I felt loopy, was hot and dizzy, and fell,” the 32-year-old said. “At some point, I must have lost consciousness.”

“I heard the machine gun fire and turned around and got blasted in the face with something. I went to the corner and didn’t know he was down,” said Spc. Jason “Doc” Kucharski, the squad’s medic.

“I thought he was shot,” Utter said. “I thought he took one.”

Sgt. Michael Huffman said he saw his Soldier moving on the ground and then he stopped.

Three more smoke grenades were tossed out from different directions as rounds continued to fly over Jacobs. Pfc. Victor Flores who was the second Soldier in the file moving down the street rushed behind the cover of a building's corner and quickly laid down suppressive fire with his squad automatic weapon.

“The first thing that came to mind was to take cover and shoot back,” said Flores of San Jose, Calif. “I saw someone in a white shirt, blue collar, black jeans about 16 to 18 years old run into the building right before the contact.”

“We turn around and all we could see is Jacobs lying face first on the corner,” said Horvath. “We weren't sure if he was dead or if he was shot. I thought he was shot and so did Hawkins (Spc. Michael Hawkins, an infantryman from Palm Springs, Calif.)”

“We have a man down,” Owens echoed over the radio.

Huffman, a team leader, said he shot an M-203 grenade, as the rest of the company started to lay out suppressive fire.

“It took me about half a second to realize what was happening. You see bullets flying at you and that’s all it takes,” said Spc. Richard Main of Reno, Nev., “I was in the (vehicle commander’s) hole in the truck manning my 50-caliber machine gun.”

Main said knowing his buddy was down definitely made him fight that much harder. The infantryman fired more than 450 rounds at the enemy from the truck.

“Our main goal was to get him the (heck out of there),” Huffman said.

Still under enemy fire, Huffman and Kucharski grabbed the downed Soldier and pulled him into the closest courtyard.

“When we moved him, I saw a blood spot right where his face was,” said Kucharski. “He was struggling to breathe, but he was trying to.”

“When I came to, I was disoriented. I saw the blood. I couldn’t see or hear very well,” Jacobs said. “My chest felt like it was hit by a sledge hammer. I had a hard time breathing and I started to panic because I didn’t know what was going on.”

With a combat life saver, a combat medic, a physician’s assistant and his fellow Soldiers surrounding him, they assessed his wounds. He was quickly loaded onto a truck and medically evacuated out of the area.

“It was pretty much ‘game on’ after that. Everybody ran to the rooftop, started opening up on them (the insurgents). I dropped almost two mags at the building that was shooting at us,” Horvath said. “It’s like an ultimate feeling of safety to fire back. Every round they shoot at us, we shoot a hundred back.”

The company fired back with an AT4 (anti-tank rocket), two javelins and one wire-guided missile. They also support from attack aviation assets, both rotary and fixed-wing. Two hellfire missiles and a 500-pound bomb hit the structure.

“(The building) is nothing but the burnt skeleton of what once was a house,” said Hawkins as he pulled over watch on the rooftop.

Once the firefight came to an end, Utter told his Soldiers that they did a good job maneuvering. They went to their guy under fire and pulled him out.

As they loaded up and headed back to their base, they knew they will be back at it again tomorrow. This is just the beginning their 15-month deployment. ...

Jacobs, who suffered a concussion, a hairline fracture of the left check and sinus cavity, as well as the shrapnel wound in his neck, is recovering and is scheduled to be back out with his comrades in a week.

Story and Photos by Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
Oct 1, 2007

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