This story was in today's Marine Journal, It may be long... but about half way through a guy talks about his friend L/Cpl.Justin Ellsworth and what a difference he made.

Marine engineers encounter danger while rebuilding Fallujah
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 20041217143313
Story by Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

FALLUJAH, Iraq (Dec. 17, 2004) -- What was supposed to be a routine mission for the combat engineers of 1st Platoon soon became an ominous reminder that danger still resides in the narrow, uncertain streets of Fallujah.

"Just because most of the insurgents are out of the city doesn't mean it's safe," said Cpl. James N. Padget, as he stood meters away from the weapons cache he discovered in Fallujah only moments ago.

While conducting a road-clearing operation in the battle-scarred town on Dec. 14, 2004, the Marines from Company C, Combat Service Support Battalion 1, found an insurgent munitions dump only meters away from where they were working.

Dozens of rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, rockets, blasting caps and bullets of varying calibers had been laid out on the ground in a semi-organized matter while in other areas, the munitions appeared to be hastily left in piles. Also strewn about were spools of detonation cord, which has been used by insurgents to set off explosions alongside Iraq's barren highways to attack convoys similar to the one the Marines drove in that morning.

Padget paused as he stood alongside a street in the northwest side of the town, where seemingly every house has been scathed by gunfire and rubble strewn on lawns had mixed with trash ignored by locals since before the battle.

"I feel sorry for these people and the way they live," he said, "but they need to help themselves."

For the Marines of Charlie Company, an engineer unit that has been in Iraq since September, the day started out as any other as they mustered at the motor pool where they would begin their trek into Fallujah.

"All we're doin' is clearin' rubble," said Sgt. Heath T. Nall nonchalantly in his White Oak, Okl., accent. The 23-year-old was the assistant convoy commander for the platoon.

Originally, the plan was to begin construction of a humanitarian assistance site in the city. As the residents would reenter, they could go to the site and receive water, food, and compensation for the damages done to their homes caused by the battle as Marines had fought through, destroying the insurgent's hold of the city.

After receiving gunfire in the designated area on a previous trip, that plan was postponed and a street clearing mission was implemented.

At the motor pool, Marines stowed their packs into the 7-ton trucks and "Humvees," preparing for the unpopular choice of staying the night in the city if they had to. As they finished their preparations some conversed as they waited for the mission briefing.

"Hey Padget, do you know how to shoot that (expletive) thing?", yelled Seaman Nana O. Bonsu in a barely discernable voice.

The 24-year-old native of Gana, Africa, relocated to Royal Palm Beach, Fla., five years ago and would then go on to join the Navy as a corpsman, the military equivalent of an EMT.

"I'm teaching him," replied Padget in a matter-of-fact voice, referring to the lesson he was giving a Marine standing next to him atop the 7-ton truck, where a heavy-barrel machine gun was mounted to the turret.

Bonsu and Padget exchanged glances, perhaps smirks, for a moment and went back to their own personal business.

The corpsman had become quite popular with the Marines, his heavy, native accent often the muse for someone's joke or imitation. But he does not mind the jokes and can often be heard laughing with the combat engineers as they jab at him with their uncomplicated brand of humor.

Bonsu expressed his interest in the U.S. military stating, "It has all kinds of people from everywhere," as he smiled contently.

He would go on to start a conversation with Nall, where he explained the importance of his very presence and bantered back and forth with his comrade.

"I am the corpsman. If I don't go, nobody goes," explained Bonsu. "We'll replace you," retorted Nall. "I am valuable, you cannot replace me," proclaimed Bonsu. "Doc, your just a number in the system," concluded Nall.

The conversation somehow abruptly turned to sports, particularly American football, which Bonsu considered inferior to the game he knew by the same name that he had played in his native Africa, but is known as soccer in America.

"You know what your football is?" asked Bonsu in a rhetoric tone to Nall.

"Handball," he proclaimed before Nall had finished considering his question.

"We kick it, too," answered Nall after thoughtfully considering the statement.

Such are the conversations that can be heard amongst the Marines of 1st Platoon. Some as young as 19, joined the unit immediately after they completed their combat engineer training, a follow-on school they attended after completing boot camp. While topics spanned from sports to women and stories of home, their mission is something they rarely discussed, unless it was to complain to each other, similar to the way that teenagers express their disapproval of school.

For these young men, they are just doing their job. Some of them scoffed at the thought that their daily operations would be of historic significance.

CSSB-1, comprised mostly of Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marines from the 1st Force Service Support Group, has been tasked with providing engineer support to Marine units operating in and around Fallujah. The engineers call upon heavy equipment machinery, such as forklifts and bulldozers to provide services ranging from basic construction and fortification, road repair and clearing and leveling land for forward operating bases. In November, the unit's equipment had racked up 669 work hours as they completed 69 missions.

Often, as has been the case with combat operations in Fallujah, the Marines are called upon for dangerous assignments. Along with mine sweeping and weapons cache searches, the Marines provide security for explosive ordnance disposal teams - Marine Corps bomb squads. The engineers often help the EOD teams remove and destroy the munitions. Occasionally, the engineers get to "blow up stuff," a main reason many of them chose this job field, when they destroy buildings or obstacles.

Many of the Marines do realize the difference they are making, though.

"We're part of a legacy now," said Cpl. Nicholas R. Papke, a 21-year-old from Higley, Arizona.

Papke would go on to describe how Saddam's regime was what began Iraq's downward spiral. When the Marines freed Iraq, the average citizens were afraid of the extremists and insurgents. They were too afraid to fight back. Now, the Marines were making good on a promise to truly liberate the people of Iraq from terror, said Papke.

All thoughts and attention were soon concentrated on the convoy commander, Staff Sgt. Jose R. Miranda.

Even though the 25-year-old, Orlando, Fla., native was shorter than most of the Marines he was in charge of, they seemed to look up to him as he calmly passed the information they needed to carry out their mission.

As he gave his brief, Miranda often stopped to remind the Marines of the dangers that possibly awaited.

After Miranda was finished, the Marines mounted their vehicles and the convoy into the city began.

As they drove, the Marines kept their eyes focused out the windows. They were not looking out in curiosity, but diligence.

Each Marine was focused on the possible dangers they have encountered on Iraq's dangerous roads in passed months, most notably the insurgent's choice weapon of the improvised explosive devices, or IED. Made in a variety of ways then placed along the roads, these bombs continue to be a threat for everyone in Iraq.

This kind of trip was not new for 1st Platoon. Last month alone, their company had traveled more than 3,500 miles.

They arrived to their objective after an uneventful trip, considered by Marines as a safe trip.

The Marines then went about their business, raking trash and rubble off the sidewalks and road, disposing of it with the help of two forklifts. The forklifts, along with their operators, were from the Army's 120th Engineer Combat Battalion, a National Guard unit from Oklahoma.

No more than two hours after they had arrived, Padget noticed a rocket propelled grenade on the other side of the street, then another, causing Padget to reflect about a friend he lost from such a circumstance, Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth.

Only a month ago, Ellsworth, a member of Charlie Company, had been killed during the earlier battle to retake the city. Ellsworth had been attached to an infantry unit and fell victim to an IED while in performing the same duties Padgett was now doing, searching for weapons cashes and mines.

Padget described his friend with fondness, his expression nostalgic as he recalled Ellsworth's indomitable spirit.

"He had a grin from ear to ear," he began. "He could be told to police all Iraq and he would be smiling," he said, using the military term for picking litter off the ground, similar to what the Marines were doing now.

"Nothing got to him," finished Padget as the somber, tired look overcame his expression.

Later in the afternoon, a busload of Iraqi citizens would join the Marines in the cleanup. As the Marines disposed of the larger debris, the Iraqis would rake and sweep the littered sidewalks. Earlier in the day, the Marines had noticed Iraqi Security Forces patrolling through the adjacent block. After years of oppression at the hands of a dictator who killed thousands of his own people, the Iraqis were doing there part to pick up the pieces in both a literal and figurative sense.

"Our job right now is to help in that particular endeavor," said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Commandant of Marine Corps during a visit to the Marines at Camp Fallujah that same day. Hagee stressed the importance of rebuilding the country by establishing the infrastructure of the new government, allowing Iraqi officials to govern their own affairs. He described the importance of training Iraqi police and security forces and also mentioned the need to allow Iraqi people back into Fallujah.

As the commandant spoke, 1st platoon was witnessing this reconstruction firsthand.

As the day went on, the work of the Marines became evident; sidewalks could now be used, trenches dug by insurgents were filled, and the trash that had collected along homes was thrown away, something that evidently had not been done in a long time.

As dusk approached, the Marines returned to their vehicles. Nall went to every vehicle, accounting for every man before giving the order to move. Many were anxious to hear if they would stay the night inside the city.

The Marines drove to a strongpoint in the city where Miranda would report to his commanders and ultimately, find out if the Marines would return to base.

Miranda ordered one more accountability check to ensure every Marine that came out with them was on the return trip. Upon receiving word that all were present, he gave the order to get ready for one more mission - the drive back to Camp Fallujah. They would sleep in their own beds after all.

As they departed Fallujah, billows of smoke could be seen in the distance. The weak draft did not carry the smoke far; a dark cloud had begun to form. As they passed the source, they found a building on fire, other Marines were in the area and had closed the site off.

As the sun died out and night fell, the Marines made it home.

A quick speech was made by Miranda, who told the Marines to go get a hot dinner and sleep well. They would be returning to Fallujah tomorrow.

Last modified date and time: 01/17/2005 8:44