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Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War
On Sept. 15, 2011, Sergeant Dakota Meyer joined the ranks of those very few Americans who have been awarded the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. Just two years earlier, Meyer acted with extraordinary bravery and heroism in one of the most ferocious battles of the war in Afghanistan, saving the lives of numerous Americans and Afghans.
Overwhelmed by enemy fighters and unsupported by available American firepower, the events surrounding the Battle of Ganjgal have become a topic of great controversy and scrutiny. With assistance from Bing West, author and fellow Marine, Meyer tells his captivating story, from his childhood in Kentucky to his life as a distinguished combat veteran.
Exploiting Meyer’s personal writings and recollections, West weaves an inspiring story about the young Marine’s upbringing, training and determination that prepared him to fight repeatedly through almost certain death to save the lives of his comrades and recover his fallen teammates.
In 2009, then-Corporal Dakota Meyer volunteered for a four-man advising team that was responsible for training a company of Afghan soldiers. Three Marines and a Navy corpsman ate, slept and patrolled with Afghan security forces in the mountainous region that borders Pakistan.
As the only infantryman and sniper on his team, Meyer’s job was to train the Afghans on tactics and weapons. Yet, his emphasis on infantry discipline raised disagreements over the very nature of the advisors’ roles. “Were we to act as garrison instructors or combat advisors?” Meyer questioned after receiving a lecture from his superior that they were “not going there to fight ... [but] to train the Afghans.” The lingering confusion over the exact type of training and assistance the Afghans required resulted in too few advisors possessing infantry skills and combat experience.
Meyer notes the “makeshift workup” the advisors received and how training for Afghanistan resembled camping out “Boy Scout style.” Understanding that his real mission was to be a combat advisor, Meyer often struggled to contain his dissent when he knew planning or execution of a mission was not thorough. During the planning for Operation Buri Booza, in what would become the Battle of Ganjgal, Meyer recognized that too many assumptions left the inexperienced team exposed, outgunned and without a clear chain of command.
On Sept. 8, 2009, 15 advisors and 90 Afghan soldiers walked into a disaster. Within minutes of entering the formidable terrain of Ganjgal, relentless small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars overwhelmed the men. Disconnected and in danger of becoming enveloped, the trapped team’s only lifeline was prompt and accurate fire support; however, senior military leaders rejected repeated requests for urgent artillery fire that could have saved the embattled advisors.
The rationale was new rules of engagement that required “positive identification of the enemy within a residential compound” in an attempt to minimize Afghan civilian casualties. Defying orders, 21-year-old Meyer and a fellow Marine drove into the “kill zone” a total of five times in order to rescue his beleaguered team who had not been heard from since hours into the firefight. Each time they braved a torrent of enemy gunfire, Meyer managed to rescue soldiers along the way while rallying others to stay in the fight.
After hours of relentless fighting, including hand-to-hand combat, close air support arrived and provided much needed relief to Meyer and the few advisors still engaged. Tragically, however, Meyer’s teammates had been fatally wounded while in the most exposed position.
As a veteran and author of multiple books on American wars, West conveys the gritty chaos of a tough fight with the empathy that only a fellow infantryman could. The authors retell a remarkable story of sacrifice, courage, bravery and determination. Instead of focusing on the strategy, doctrinal and organizational shortcomings that led to the severity of the battle, saved for the epilogue, authors Dakota Meyer and Bing West bring out the tactical details of a valorous fight against long odds.
“Into the Fire” is more than an incredible story of Dakota Meyer’s heroic actions; it reveals the complexities of the war in Afghanistan from the infantryman’s perspective and offers an eye-opening look at the ambitious efforts to advise and train Afghan security forces with traditional U.S. military personnel. A task thought to be the U.S. Special Forces’ primary mission.
“Into the Fire” also is a disheartening account of the “insensibility of senior military leadership” overly committed on a population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine. “The battle resulted in thirteen friendly fatalities, two investigations, two reprimands for dereliction of duty, one Medal of Honor and the ‘loss’ of the recommendation for a second Medal of Honor,” revealing how senior military leaders remain unwilling to admit responsibility for the disastrous events of Sept. 8, 2009.
West presents a convincing narrative that everything leading up to the Battle of Ganjgal prepared Meyer to step up as a natural leader and determined warrior. Meyer’s recollection also is a story of the bonds forged with his fallen teammates and a plea to both readers and senior military officials to recognize another American hero from that fateful day to whom he attributes his own life, U.S. Army Captain Will Swenson. CPT Swenson was recommended for the Medal of Honor, yet he has received no form of recognition for his heroic actions.
“Into the Fire” is an inspiring story of a young Marine’s remarkable actions that saved numerous lives in one of the most ferocious battles of the war in Afghanistan. This book provides a breathtaking look at life on a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, the difficult mission of military advisor teams, the complexities of the war in Afghanistan, and the great risk our young men and women take on a daily basis in the name of a population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.
Dakota Meyer’s upbringing, aggressive nature, military training and professionalism allowed him to step up and repeatedly defy death to break the Taliban attack. As a young noncommissioned officer and leader of Marines, Meyer’s story is a must-read for anyone aspiring to lead men into battle or wanting to understand what the ongoing war in Afghanistan looks like.
INTO THE FIRE: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War
By Dakota Meyer and Bing West
Published by Random House
MCA Members - $24.30
Regular Price - $27
- INTO THE FIRE: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War (Book Review)
- Confirmed: Sgt Dakota Meyer To Be Awarded The Medal Of Honor (Magazine Page)
- About Sgt Dakota Meyer, Medal Of Honor Recipient (Magazine Page)
- Marine Corps Addresses News Report Regarding Medal Of Honor (Magazine Page)
- Dakota Meyer, J.R. Martinez To Speak At National Conference (Event)
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Today in USMC History
1895 - Marines in Tientsin, China, were awarded the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal for the period 4 Dec 1894 – May 1895.
Related Story: Expeditionary Medal By John P. Clelland Jr. Marine Corps Gazette (Nov 1983)
Historic Leatherneck Magazine Covers
Leatherneck Staff Artist, Technical Sergeant Robert Fleischauer, felt that our July cover should be commemorative of the Fourth of July. Since the members of the missile units are probably the Corps' best rocketeers, he picked them to perform a standard Fourth of July action. Whether or not the "Honest Johnny" is useful as a combat piece is a matter for debate, but you can't beat it for morale." [July 1957.]
“The Join Up on the Nick” by Major Alex Durr, USMCR, a member of the History Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va.
Hospitalman Daniel T. Bobic, assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3d Battalion, Second Marine Regiment, rappelled at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, in late April, 2002.
The oldest post of the Marine Corps, Washington, DC, is celebrating 200 years of excellence. Posed near the Barracks main gate were members of the official Color Guard of the United States Marine Corps (left to right): LCpl Joseph N. Keough, rifleman; Sgt Blake L. Richardson, Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps; Cpl Gerardo A. Guajardo, organizational color bearer; and LCpl Gregory A. Serwo, rifleman.
GySgt Verlando Frazier, East Coast Food Service Management Team, looked ready to dig into some of the new items included in MREs.
This photo by Sgt Earnie Grafton of Marines from Fox Co., 2/4 shows varied emotions as they greeted the coalition forces outside Kuwait city.
A fleet of trucks was needed to transport Dr. Felix de Weldon’s original model of the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue from the sculptor’s home in Newport, R.I., to the grounds of the Marine Military Academy at Harlingen, Texas. After the statue’s arrival, a nearly around-the-clock effort by skilled workmen was required in order to have the memorial reassembled and ready for dedication ceremonies on April 16, 1982.
In April this year (1981), two squadrons of AV-8A “Harriers” sailed for the Mediterranean aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau. Purpose of the cruise was to demonstrate the Navy/Marine Corps team’s capability to augment naval forces in any area of the World on short notice and to provide at-sea training for Marine Harrier pilots.
The cover of Leatherneck’s Bicentennial issue is an oil painting by the late Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR. The painting depicts General George Washington’s Colonial troops at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Va., during the French and Indian War.
Sightseeing tours for the men of the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico, include a trip to the El Morro Fortress. San Juan is now retired as a Post of the Corps.
The Marines in Vietnam have found that the programs which work best are those which operate close to the people. Our July cover is a mixed media (acrylic and charcoal) by Art Editor James L. Hopewell. It catches the spirit of Marines who enjoy their relationship with the Vietnamese around them.
In Naples, Italy, Marines are responsible for the internal security of the Headquarters of NATO’s Southern European Command, while the elite Carabinieri Corpa provides external security. PFC Robert M. Mallard’s NATO shield was admired by a Carabiniere as the two men prepared to take up their side-by-side posts at the entrance of the imposing NATO Headquarters, which appears in the background of this cover.
"We've Fought In Every Clime And Place": Stamping out the Caco Insurrection in the Republic d' Haiti.
January 2002: The Marines engraved another mark in the rich history of the Corps when they came from more than 400 miles offshore to establish a forward operating base south of Kandahar in the war on terrorism. The Marine CH-46 helicopter on the cover, photographed by PH1(AW/SW) Greg Messier, USN, fought in the desert sand to land and resupply Marines such as the ones (inset) photographed by Sgt Joseph R. Chenelly.
January 2001: This firefight during the Frozen Chosin Reservoir Campaign of 1950 was painted by “Chosin Few” veteran Jack Cannon, who served with Company B, 1st Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment and resides in the warmer climes of New Mexico. The cover was part of Leatherneck’s 50th anniversary salute to the Korean War veterans.
January 1992: This cover photograph of runners during Marine Corps Marathon XVI in Washington, D.C., was photographed by Sgt Deirdre Hallett.
January 1991: This month’s cover by Ross Simpson captures the Marines’ waiting-but-ready posture in the Middle East.
January 1982: Participants in the Sixth Annual Marine Corps Marathon presented a colorful spectacle as they began the 26-mile, 385-yard run in Washington, D.C., November 1, 1981. The cover photo, by Tom Bartlett, was taken from a bridge overlooking Highway 50 about a half-mile from the starting line.
January 1981: Nearly 7,800 runners participated in the Fifth Annual Marine Corps Marathon held in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The oldest finisher was 78; the youngest was 10. Leatherneck staffer Ron Lunn pre-positioned himself near the Nation’s Capitol to photograph runners during their 14th mile of the 26-mile, 385-yard course.
January 1972: This month’s cover, by Marine Combat Artist Peter Gish, shows members of the New Corps sightseeing in the Old World. While on liberty in Athens, Greece, the 3d Bn, Eighth Marines, were able to tour the Erektheon Porch and Cariatides. The water color is from the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Art collection.
Originally Published December 1983 -- Something tells us that we could date the cover without knowing when it was published.
Originally Published December 1972 -- We're not sure what's more interesting, Santa or the old style gas pump.
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This November 1992 article in the Marine Corps Gazette looked at the uniform regulations of 1859 and the attempt to standardize uniforms within the Corps. Read the story and see more pics.