Thursday, April 14, 2005

Raven 42: A Profile In Courage

Last month a group of 40 to 50 heavily armed insurgents attacked a large supply convoy of civilian trucks driving down a highway near Salman Pak, Iraq. A squad of Military Police from the Kentucky National Guard following the convoy immediately went into action to defend the convoy. The following, taken from the After Action Review (AAR) of the incident, demonstrates how well led, trained and disciplined the MP unit is (emphasis is mine):

About this time, three armored Hummers that formed the MP Squad under callsign Raven 42, 617th MP Co, Kentucky National Guard, assigned to the 503rd MP Bn, 18th MP Bde, arrived on the scene like the cavalry. The squad had been shadowing the convoy from a distance behind the last vehicle, and when the convoy trucks stopped and became backed up from the initial attack, the squad sped up, paralleled the convoy up the shoulder of the road, and moved to the sound of gunfire. They arrived on the scene just as a squad of about ten enemy had moved forward across the farmer's field and were about 20 meters from the road. The MP squad opened fire with .50 cal machineguns and Mk19 grenade launchers and drove across the front of the enemy's kill zone, between the enemy and the trucks, drawing fire off of the tractor trailers. The MP's crossed the kill zone and then turned up an access road at a right angle to the ASR and next to the field full of enemy fighters. The three vehicles, carrying nine MPs and one medic, stopped in a line on the dirt access road and flanked the enemy positions with plunging fire from the .50 cal and the SAW machinegun (Squad Automatic Weapon).
The AAR continues with a description of how the attack played out and how the MPs reacted to it. Here you can see how the unit discipline and bravery of the individual soldiers is apparent:
Immediately the middle vehicle was hit by an RPG knocking the gunner unconscious from his turret and down into the vehicle. The Vehicle Commander (the TC), the squad's leader, thought the gunner was dead, but tried to treat him from inside the vehicle. Simultaneously, the rear vehicle's driver and TC, section leader two, open their doors and dismount to fight, while their gunner continued firing from his position in the gun platform on top of the Hummer. Immediately, all three fall under heavy return machinegun fire, wounded. The driver of the middle vehicle saw them fall out the rearview mirror, dismounts and sprints to get into the third vehicle and take up the SAW on top the vehicle. The Squad's medic dismounts from that third vehicle, and joined by the first vehicle's driver (CLS trained) who sprinted back to join him, begins combat life-saving techniques to treat the three wounded MPs. The gunner on the floor of the second vehicle is revived by his TC, the squad leader, and he climbs back into the .50 cal and opens fire. The Squad leader dismounted with his M4 carbine, and 2 hand grenades, grabbed the section leader out of the first vehicle who had rendered radio reports of their first contact. The two of them, squad leader Staff Sergeant and team leader Sergeant with her M4 and M203 grenade launcher, rush the nearest ditch about 20 meters away to start clearing the natural trenchline. The enemy has gone into the ditches and is hiding behind several small trees in the back of the lot. The .50 cal and SAW flanking fire tears apart the ten in the lead trenchline.
The media is going to play up the fact that one of the team leaders is a female, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, and a very competent, courageous and effective one at that. But the real issue is not women in combat. And, even though it seems obvious, it is not the courage of the soldiers in this squad. The real issue is found in this section of the AAR:
They believed even before this fight that their NCOs were the best in the Army, and that they have the best squad in the Army. The Medic who fired the AT-4, said he remembered how from the week before when his squad leader forced him to train on it, though he didn't think as a medic he would ever use one. He said he chose to use it in that moment to protect the three wounded on the ground in front of him, once they came under fire from the building. The day before this mission, they took the new RFI bandoliers that were recently issued, and experimented with mounting them in their vehicles. Once they figured out how, they pre-loaded a second basic load of ammo into magazines, put them into the bandoliers, and mounted them in their vehicles---the same exact way in every vehicle-load plans enforced and checked by leaders! Leadership under fire--once those three leaders (NCOs) stepped out of their vehicles, the squad was committed to the fight.
Yes, these soldiers are very disciplined, effectively trained and well led. All they had to do was react. These citizen-soldiers attacked a group far superior in numbers and routed them since they knew they could because of their confidence in their leaders and training. This is why there were 24 insurgents killed on the spot. This is why the insurgents and terrorists cannot defeat the U.S. military head-on. This is why the insurgents and terrorists are more comfortable killing innocent civilians. This is why the insurgents and terrorists will lose.