“Six Days in Fallujah” Review

Opinion: Long-Delayed Video Game
Delivers Realistic Depiction of Iraq Battle

War has forever been entwined with popular culture. Artists have attempted to replicate, with great attention to detail, iconic scenes of countless battles. Homer’s “Iliad” was spread throughout antiquity as poets recited the mythological history of the Trojan War. Many of today’s Ma­rines were first exposed to the history of the Corps through literary accounts such as “Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific,” by Robert Leckie or Eugene Sledge’s “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.” With the creation of film, and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” storytelling evolved, redefining how war was pre­sented to the public. Perhaps it was in­evitable, then, that video games—as a form of entertainment—would take up the mantle of trying to depict war within popular culture.

As long as storytellers, writers, artists, filmmakers, and game designers tried to replicate war, controversy closely fol­lowed. Painters have been accused of glorifying war. Poet Walt Whitman claimed, “The real war will never get in the books.” Director Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” was labeled by a writer from the New York Observer as a “pornography of violence and cruelty.” A World War II-themed videogame directed by Spielberg, titled “Medal of Honor,” became so mired in controversy that it was almost pulled from release before now being recognized as one of the greatest first-person shooters on the PlayStation platform. Ultimately, the question as to whether war should be depicted in popular culture is moot—as storytellers and creators will always adapt their depictions of war with evolv­ing media. Rather, we should be asking how to best depict war in popular culture. Enter “Six Days in Fallujah.”

“Six Days in Fallujah,” a first-person shooter (FPS) game, simulates the chaos of urban warfare. (Photo courtesy of Victura)

The Fight
On Nov. 7, 2004, the city of Fallujah, Iraq, ignited into a conflagration as Ma­rines and soldiers of U.S.-led coalition forces launched Operation Phantom Fury to rid the city of militant Islamic extrem­ists in what would be later called the Second Battle of Fallujah. The insurgents had turned the city into a fortress com­plete with tunnels, trenches, spider holes and improvised explosive devices of all varieties. Further complicating the co­ali­tion assault were the thousands of civilians who were unable to evacuate the city and remained hidden on every block. In the ensuing one month, two weeks, and two days, the Marines and members of the coalition fought in the bloodiest instance of urban combat in the 21st century—only to be surpassed almost two decades later with the ongoing war in Ukraine. The cost was terrible. Close to 100 Americans died and more than 500 were wounded. In addition, there were over 60 coalition casualties, the insurgents were largely annihilated, and at least 800 civilians were killed. Controversy closely followed the battle, as various media outlets reported on the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions, the extensive civilian casualties, the destruction wrought upon the city, and both real and supposed atrocities committed by both coalition and insurgent forces. Despite this, the Second Battle of Fallujah has become enshrined within the pantheon of Marine Corps battles—further demonstrating the combat prowess of the Corps against all enemies.

Sgt Eddie Garcia fought in the Battle of Fallujah and wanted to develop a game based on his experience in combat. Courtesy of Victura.


During game development, former infantry officer Capt Read Omohundro describes the Marines’ encounter with the enemy during the battle. Courtesy of Victura.

Among the wounded Marines was Sergeant Eddie Garcia, who was serious­ly injured by an insurgent-fired mortar. His fellow Marines managed to stop the bleeding and bring him to safety at a nearby field hospital before he was trans­ferred to Baghdad, then Germany, and eventu­al­ly to the United States. Upon re­turning home, Garcia reached out to Peter Tamte—a video game developer with Atomic Games.

The two had met before the battle. Garcia had been sent by the Marine Corps to be their subject matter expert for various training simulations that Atomic Games was developing. Through­out de­veloping these Marine Corps train­ing simulations, the two got to know each other quite well, with Garcia providing keen insight into how Marines fought and operated. However, when Garcia ap­proached Tamte after his return home, it was not to develop another training sim­­ulation—he wanted to de­velop a video game based on the battle he had just fought.

The idea of a game quickly went from concept to reality. As the veterans of the Second Battle of Fallujah began returning to the United States when their deploy­ments ended, Tamte and Atomic Games began conducting interviews with dozens of Marines who were willing to share their experiences. The interviews were expanded to include Iraqis who survived the battle. Recurring motifs from these interviews were the uncertainty and intimacy of close-quarters combat, the fear of what lurked behind the next door, the utter necessity of teamwork, the dif­ficulty of fighting a radical enemy that could easily blend into a terrified civilian populace, and the combat fatigue induced by constant fighting and witnessing death regularly. It soon became apparent that the game needed to be grounded in re­alism and authenticity—both in gameplay and storytelling.

The game’s development was formally announced in 2009 and was planned for a 2010 release. However, problems began to arise. The controversy of the Battle of Fallujah and the public distaste for Ameri­can intervention in the Middle East reared their heads. Some argued that the game’s subject was too recent to tastefully be de­picted in a video game; others argued that the game would neg­atively depict Muslims by their worst stereotypes and devolve into a racist kill simulator; and some accused the de­velopers of creat­ing a propaganda piece that glorified a con­flict that many viewed to be unjust. The controversy spawned by this crit­icism pushed the game’s publisher, Konami, to suspend its role in the project in April 2009. Within two years, Atomic Games went into bankruptcy—putting the future of “Six Days in Fallujah” into question.

Despite this series of obstacles, Tamte held onto hope. He eventually formed a new gaming company, Victura, to carry the mantle of producing “Six Days in Fallujah,” with developers from games such as “Halo” and “Destiny” jumping on board to help finish the project. Within two years, in late June, an early access version of the game became available for purchase via Steam. Since its release, “Six Days in Fallujah” has undergone a few updates, and the completed ver­sion will be available in 2024. Currently, the game is limited to online cooperative mode with teams of up to four people. However, a single-player campaign is in development. Based on the available content, we can begin to disseminate how “Six Days in Fallujah” authentically depicts war as a means of popular cul­ture and to what degree it maintains authenticity.

Courtesy of Victura
Players are provided with a unique experience each playthrough. Gameplay includes environmental im­mersion, differing map designs and relentless enemies.

Upon starting the game, the player is presented with a short film (with a History Channel-esque vibe) describing the situation with period footage, photo­graphy and interviews. Loading screens include images of veterans and Iraqi sur­vivors accompanied by their quotes describing the battle. From this onset, the player realizes they are part of a real story with real people—not a generic war story where the characters are made up. In doing so, the game is trying to place players into the shoes of someone who took part in this battle—putting extra emotional weight behind the experience they are about to have.

After assembling a team in the co-op mode lobby, players are then thrust into a generated situation to accomplish a randomized mission, such as locating and destroying an enemy supply cache, securing an enemy strongpoint, or re­pelling waves of attacks supported by vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIED). To repli­cate the fear of not knowing what lurks behind every door, “Six Days in Fallujah” employs a map-design randomizer feature that creates new maps every playthrough: buildings will not appear in the same place, entrances will be along different walls, enemies will not hide behind the same doors, etc. This randomizer is per­haps the strongest feature of gameplay, as it forces the players to handle each situation uniquely, rather than memoriz­ing a cookie-cutter scenario as in most other first-person shooters.

The learning curve for playing “Six Days in Fallujah” is steep and the game­play is unforgiving—reminiscent of the famed game “Oregon Trail”: you can easily die at any time, for any reason, in any possible way. Snipers fire with deadly accuracy should you expose yourself for too long; mortars can wipe out an entire team with a single round; the enemy will fix your team with machinegun fire while a VBIED rolls up your flank and detonates behind you; insurgents will fire at you be­tween cracks of war-torn buildings; your team can easily be caught in the fatal funnel of every doorway; the list is end­less. This is not your typical run-and-gun game. The weapons feel weighted, and the recoil must be accounted for when pulling the trigger. Wounds must be bandaged; injured teammates must be assisted to get back into the fight; and ammunition can only be replenished at your AAV. Additionally, to quote Murphy’s law of combat operations: “Friendly fire isn’t,” which was a hard-learned lesson while clearing buildings. Many first-person shooter gamers may not be used to the slower pacing of the game; however, many gamers—some of whom served in combat—have applauded the game’s pacing as being more realistic.

You learn quickly that teamwork is the only way to accomplish missions—and even that does not guarantee success. If you try to move too fast, your team can get caught in an ambush; move too slow, the enemy can gain the initiative and outmaneuver your position; stay too close together, a single grenade can wipe your team; and spread too far out, you risk be­ing defeated in detail. From my own experiences, of the 30 games played by myself and with two teammates, we were defeated within two minutes on 18 at­tempts, lasted longer than five minutes on 11, and accomplished the objective once. However, with proper coordination, patience and a basic understanding of the principles of fire-and-maneuver tac­tics, players can fight and win in the labyrinth of Fallujah.

Ultimately, “Six Days in Fallujah” is an experience akin to a horror-survival game that strives to ground its gameplay in a higher level of depth and realism. To an extent, the game is a teaching tool as much as it is a means of entertainment. Yes, not every feature is perfect as some reviewers have pointed out, but with the game still being in development, time allows for the edges to be smoothed out for greater historical accuracy. However, in an era where Nicki Minaj is a playable character in “Call of Duty” and where “Battlefield V” bastardized World War II with historically inaccurate character customizations, “Six Days of Fallujah” is a breath of fresh air for those who want a historical experience when gaming. And to those who question as to whether this game is coming out “too soon,” I respond with this:

After over 20 years of fighting two wars, many Americans cannot name a single battle or recall any cities in Iraq or Afghanistan besides maybe Baghdad. To them, places such as Fallujah, Marjah, Mosul, Basra, or Kandahar mean nothing. They cannot recall any place where their tax dollars sent our country’s finest to fight and die in wars that were fought for reasons that are increasingly unclear to the general public. What “Six Days in Fallujah” has done is keep the Iraq War in the public consciousness, to remind us that these wars involved real people who had to live with the consequences of being in monumental historical situa­tions. It portrays war as a human exper­ience and attempts to do so as accurately as possible. If “Six Days in Fallujah” can encourage a young gamer to reflect upon the struggles of the Iraq War, watch an educational film on the subject, or read histories or biographies from survivors, then the game has served its purpose.

For now, gamers must be content with the available cooperative mode. Only with the release of a single-player campaign can we truly understand the full extent to which “Six Days in Fallujah” can be used to tell the story of one of the Marine Corps’ most hard-fought battles in Iraq.

Author’s note: I would like to thank Danny Roldan and Ricc Donate-Perez for playtesting “Six Days in Fallujah” with me to help write this article.

Author’s bio: William Treuting is an editor and content creator for the Marine Corps Gazette. He is a cohost of the MCA’s “Scuttlebutt” podcast and direc­tor of MCA Films.

“The Gift”

Revealing the Lasting Impact of Corporal Jason Dunham

In the years following Jason’s death, the Dunham family donated several items to the collection of artifacts housed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, including his woodland MARPAT blouse. (Photo by Kyle Watts)

In 2003, film producer and director David Kniess caught a red-eye flight from California, bound for the East Coast. A young Marine took the seat next to him. They struck up a conversation, and Kniess soon abandoned any thought of sleeping on the plane.

“He was just one of those people that you meet, and you immediately know there’s some­thing special about them,” Kniess recalled in a recent interview. “Very courteous, charis­matic; one of those people you meet, and you don’t want the conversation to end.”

The two stayed up talking through the night as the flight crossed the country. Kniess learned the young man’s name was Jason Dunham. He would soon be deploying to combat with “Kilo” Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. When the plane landed and they caught different connecting flights, Kniess shook Dunham’s hand and told him to take care of himself.

Several months later, in May 2004, Kniess received a call from a friend.
“Did you see The Wall Street Journal today?”
“No, why?”
“Remember that kid you told me about? Do you know what he did? Go get the paper.”

Kniess picked up a copy and saw Dunham’s portrait on the front page. He read on to learn how Dunham had been gravely wounded in Iraq and died eight days later after smothering a grenade with his Kevlar helmet to save the lives of two of his Marines.

Kniess wrote a short story about his exper­ience meeting Dunham on the flight and published it online. The story made its way to Jason’s parents, Deb and Dan Dunham, in Scio, N.Y. Before long, Kniess found a voicemail on his phone from Dunham’s mother. He initially ignored the message. What would he say to her?

When she called again, he realized he could not continue putting off the conversation. Kniess returned the Dunhams’ call, speaking with them about the story he wrote and rem­iniscing about their son. A friendship de­vel­oped quickly, and within a month, Kniess was on his way to their home in western New York.

The relationship with the Dunham family expanded in the following months. In Septem­ber 2004, Kniess met Dunham’s fellow Ma­rines as they returned from their deployment in Iraq. He listened to their stories and learned the full details of what Dunham had done and became determined to create a documen­tary about Dunham and the Marines who served with him.

Dan Dunham, left, adopted Jason as a baby. He and his wife, Deb, right, raised Jason in Scio, N.Y, with his siblings. In the film, Dan and Deb recount Jason’s history, what drove him to the Corps, how he grew into the selfless and charismatic man that he became.

As the years passed, he maintained a close relationship with the Dunham family and the Marines Dunham served alongside. One by one they left the Marine Corps, while Kniess waited for the right time to tell Dunham’s story.

Shortly before Kniess met Dunham’s family and began developing relationships with his Marines, he had worked on a separate documentary covering Vietnam veterans in the battle of Khe Sanh. One of the Marines being interviewed, a Bronze Star with “V” recipient named Bob Arotta, struggled as he recounted the friends he’d lost.

“He told me some very graphic stories from his time during the siege,” Kniess remembered. “He told me, ‘You know, the things that hap­pened then affect me more now than on the day they happened.’ That message was fresh in my mind as these guys started coming home from the war. I kept thinking, when is that day going to come for them? They were still in the Marine Corps. They still had the brotherhood. But I knew that day would come when the full effect of the war would hit them, and I worried about all of them. Sure enough, over the years I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. A lot of these guys are doing great now, but some of them aren’t with us anymore. It got to a point where they became old enough and a lot of this reflection had already happened.”

In 2020, 16 years after Dunham’s death, Kniess felt that enough time had passed, and it was time to tell the story. Not just the story of Dunham’s service and heroism, but also how his actions formed the foundation of life-altering events for so many others who served with him. Filming and production of the documentary began despite significant delays brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. Travel and gatherings were restricted, but the team found a way to make it work as they traveled around the nation interviewing everyone necessary to tell the story.

LCpl Bill Hampton (left) and PFC Kelly Miller (right) fought alongside Dunham in Iraq and were wounded in the grenade blast that Dunham smothered with his Kevlar helmet. These Marines, along with numerous others from Kilo, 3/7, share the gripping details of what Dunham did on Apr. 14, 2004, and how his sacrifice changed their lives. (Photos courtesy of Three Branches Productions, LLC)

The film opens with Dunham’s family back­ground. Dan and Deb Dunham are not his biologi­cal parents, and the film details how Dan came to adopt him. From a young age, Dunham learned what responsibility and a strong work ethic looked like as he watched over his younger brother and worked with his father on a dairy farm. His parents encouraged Dunham’s enlistment in the Marines. They understood, even before he graduated high school, Dunham needed a challenge to thrive; not a contest against others, but to continually challenge himself.

“We get a lot of credit for what he did,” Deb Dunham states in the film. “We don’t deserve that. We sent them [the Marine Corps] a young man that had a lot of good values. He went to the Marine Corps and the seeds that we prayed we had planted and would [grow] well, they blossomed, and the Marines polished what we gave them. Whenever people would say, ‘Are you a Marine?’ Jason would flash that grin and say, ‘You bet your sweet ass I am.’ He was proud of it. He was a Devil Dog, and that was what he wanted to be and do.”

The film proceeds into Dunham’s service in the Corps and eventual deployment to Iraq with Kilo, 3/7. One lesser-known fact emerges from the film; Dunham extended his enlistment so he could deploy to Iraq with his Marines.

The documentary covers the details of Dunham’s heroism and the events leading up to his final act of smothering a grenade with his Kevlar helmet. The two Marines next to him that day, Private First Class Kelly Miller and Lance Corporal Bill Hampton, describe what happened and reflect on Dunham’s his actions, as he traded his life for theirs. Other Marines who watched Dunham’s patrol leave the wire that day reveal the aftermath of the loss and how the details of his actions came to light. Stunning images of Dunham’s helmet, ripped to shreds, play alongside Marines’ descriptions of how they tried to process the day.

Much of the later portions of the film demonstrate precisely how Dunham’s actions continue to im­pact a growing number of people. Many of the Marines interviewed have battled guilt and post-traumatic stress. Dan Dunham describes his own bout with guilt following his decision to take his son off life support eight days after he was wounded.

Another perspective offered by the documentary comes from the spouse of a Marine who served with Dunham in Iraq. Becky Dean, the ex-wife of Marine veteran Mark Dean, participated in the film and described her former husband’s significant battle with PTSD in the years following his de­ployment in the hope of helping to demonstrate the tragic effects of war on the families back home.

“A lot of people don’t realize that PTSD is transferred to the kids and spouse,” said Kniess. “Especially the spouses. They are front and center. They get the brunt of it. Having Becky’s story included is something I think a lot of people out there will relate to.”

Perhaps the most powerful part of the story centers on a Kilo 3/7 reunion organized for the film. In September 2021, 3/7 Marines from across the nation gathered in the Dunhams’ driveway in New York before marching to the local cemetery where Dunham is buried. The candid remarks captured for the film on that occasion are both heartbreaking and inspiring, revealing the true extent to which Jason Dunham impacted the people who had the privilege of knowing him.

The production crew endured numerous hard­ships and setbacks filming during the pandemic but despite these challenges, Kniess reflected that the most difficult part of making the documentary was conducting the interviews. Month after month, interview after interview, Kniess and his team relived Dunham’s story with Kilo 3/7 veterans around the nation. Each time felt like opening an old wound. He knew it would be difficult for the Marines to relive that day. Kniess did not fully expect the emotional toll it would take on him. He saw it in the faces of his team as well. Tears flowed freely on multiple occasions, and heavy-hearted interviews ended with the team hugging the interviewee one by one and thanking them for sharing their story.

Healing emerged through the pain, however. The process of reliving and celebrating Dunham’s story held enormous therapeutic value for some. Jason Sanders, one of the Marines with Dunham on his final patrol in Iraq, offers a profoundly insightful view during his interview in the film.

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) on Dec. 2, 2018, while deployed in the Mediterranean Sea.

“It’s kind of hard to give up your stories to some­one who has never been involved in anything like that,” Sanders says. “It’s real hard to, because you’re sitting there wondering, I don’t think they’re really comprehending what the hell I’m saying, you know? And you can’t expect anybody else to know the feelings that you felt that day, because it’s not normal. You kind of have to let your guard down and let people help you.”

The difficulty of the interviews also played a role in naming the film. One of the cameramen working on the production team spent time as a combat photographer in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, most recently, Syria in 2018. The interviews with Dunham’s Marines brought back gruesome mem­ories of his time as a combat photographer and drove him to tears.

“You need to call this thing ‘The Gift,’” he told Kniess one day after an interview concluded. “What Jason did was a gift. You’ve got children being born, families being started, and people who were able to go on and do things with their lives because of this gift.” As Kniess expanded the interviews, more and more people referred to “the gift” that Dunham had given them. By the time filming was complete, there could be no other title.

Dunham is recognized today through many tributes. Most notably, the U.S. Navy named a guided missile destroyer in his honor, USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109). Even so, in the years since he became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, Dunham’s story has been largely overshadowed by later recipients perhaps because a surprising number of Medal of Honor recipients from the global war on terrorism survived to receive their medals.

“The Gift” documentary succeeds in rejuvenat­ing Dunham’s story in a moving and relevant way. The Marines interviewed unanimously echo a resounding fact; Dunham’s sacrifice affects them more now than it did the day it happened. “There are two things I want people to get from this doc­umentary,” Kniess said. “The general public, I want them to gain a better understanding of what it’s like for Marines and Soldiers to go to war, what they experience, and how it affects them. Everyone in uniform these days has had the experience of someone coming up to them and saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I don’t think a lot of people who do that really understand what those words mean. I don’t blame them or fault them for that. I think it’s great they take the time to say it, but I hope people will watch this film so the next time they say it, they will better understand what those words mean.

“As for the veteran community, I know there are still guys out there struggling. There’s going to be someone out there watching this, and they’re going to learn about some of the guys we interviewed, the drug addiction, all the things they went through, and how they turned their lives around. I’m hoping that veterans like that will watch this and think, ‘Well, if they did it, why can’t I?’”

“The Gift” was produced by Three Branches Productions, LLC, a veteran-owned production company. The company was founded by three veterans: Kniess, who served in the Navy; Vincent Vargas, an Army Ranger; and Anthony Taylor, a Marine. The fourth member of the team, a civilian, is executive producer Chase Peel. “The Gift” won Best Documentary at the Utah Film Festival in January, has been invited to the GI Film Festival in San Diego, Calif., taking place this month. Kniess received the Santini Patriot Spirit Award at the Beaufort International Film Festival in February for his role as director, and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s Major Norman Hatch Award for best documentary feature. Three Branches produced two versions of the story, a two-hour feature length film, and a five-part series. “The Gift” will release on streaming media in spring 2023. Visit www.watchthegift.com for updated information about the release date.

Desert Shield/Desert Storm

From the Leatherneck Archives: April 1991

Stories from the Marines on the Ground

Jan. 15, 1991, Was Payday at the Front, But Nobody Remembers It

Just hours before Operation Desert Storm began, Sergeant Kevin Kessinger, a tank commander with the 1st Marine Division’s armor-heavy Task Force Ripper, said the only thing different about Jan. 15, 1991, was that it was payday.

But over the predawn crackle of radio updates, it seemed that Kessinger and his crew would have to leave their checks in the bank.

Kessinger and his fellow Marines have been in Saudi Arabia for seven months. They said they have had plenty of time to contemplate war, and that they have come to terms with it.

“You know when you join the Marine Corps that people go to combat,” said Lance Corporal Kevin Moroney, Kessinger’s tank driver. “It’s on our minds, but we don’t dwell on it.”

This sentiment, which prevailed among Marines throughout Operation Desert Shield, did not change with the passing of the United Nations deadline. There was little change whatsoever. The recent change in weather from scorching heat to rain and cold was, in fact, welcomed by the Marines of Task Force Ripper.

“It’s been wet and miserable, but at least it’s different,” said Moroney of Lucas, Ohio. “Anything different is welcome.”

The last word from Kessinger and Moroney just before they embarked on the biggest change in their lives was that they were going into it with confidence and caution.

“The only thing I’m worrying about is doing something stupid and getting one of my Marines killed,” said Kessinger, who has been training for war for more than nine years. He added that he believes the United States has the best-trained military force in the world and that all he has to do is live up to its standards. “The people who are doing the planning for this operation are simply the best,” he said.

Colonel Carlton Fulford, commanding officer of Task Force Ripper, expressed similar concerns for his men, and also expressed confidence in the Marines’ ability to defeat Iraqi forces. He said that this is in part due to the quality and quantity of training they have had since arriving in August.

“Since the beginning of August, we have literally been on one solid training cycle,” Fulford said. “We haven’t gone out on liberty, and we haven’t gone out to the liberty ship, wherever that is. We’re desert-hard, and we know each other real well.

“I would prefer not to go to war because of the cost in human lives,” Fulford added, “but should we go, I think this organization is as ready and prepared as it could possibly be at this time.”

As Fulford, Kessinger and all the other Marine leaders here prepared for the imminent responsibilities of perhaps one of the world’s most grave crises, the waiting was indeed over.

“Things haven’t changed much out here,” Kessinger said. “Like I said, it’s payday and I haven’t been paid yet. I don’t even remember yesterday.”

Sgt Brad Mitzelfelt, USMC

Fire Mission: LCpl Gabriel Juarez Yanked the Lanyard And Sent the First Arty Rounds Onto the Iraqis

The first artillery offensive by U.S. ground troops took place here Jan. 21, 1991. The 1st Marine Di­vision artillery unit opened fire from Saudi Arabia across the border on Iraqi positions at 3:14 a.m. and concluded its mission at 3:40.

The actual firing time lasted six minutes. The battery pumped out 71 rounds of improved conventional ammunition shells from M198 155 mm howitzers, covering roughly 1,000 square meters, according to Captain Phillip Thompson, a battalion fire direction officer. The unit was about 3 miles from the border and fired about 8 to 10 miles into Kuwait.

During a routine training exercise, Lance Corporal Gabriel Juarez probably wouldn’t have moved at lightning speed after waking up at 3 a.m. to assist in firing artillery rounds into an impact range.

But this wasn’t Camp Pendleton, Okinawa, Hawaii, or any other training base. This was Saudi Arabia in the midst of a war, and Juarez and the rest of his gun crew had just received a “real-world” fire mission.

They received the order nine hours after setting-in their positions near the Iraqi border. The temperatures had been cold all night, and since his battery’s mission involved some waiting, Gun Six’s crew was at 50 percent guard—one half remaining awake and on alert, and the other half asleep and/or trying to stay warm.

“We received a call for fire from an infantry regiment and were told that an enemy artillery battery was actually firing down into Khafji [from across the border],” Thompson said.

“We were told to bring only what we needed for the raid, so we didn’t have much cold-weather gear with us,” Juarez said. “But it [worrying about the cold] kept our minds off of thinking about incoming rounds we might have taken from the Iraqis or anything else that could have gone wrong.

“It was a rude awakening,” he said, “but it didn’t take long to wake up. After I heard that we had a fire mission, the butterflies kicked in. We all just jumped up, everybody went to their respective places, and we started throwing rounds downrange.”

Juarez is the number one man, meaning that he is the last man to contribute to the gun’s operation by priming the powder charge and pulling the lanyard which fires the projectiles. “At first, pulling the lanyard wasn’t too big of a deal because my adrenaline was pumping and I just wanted to shoot the rounds downrange and get out of there, knowing that we might be taking some incoming fire, too,” Juarez said. “In a way, it was almost like a regular training mission, but at the end, we all started to ponder that we were the first ones to fire on them (the Iraqi forces).

“When you shoot the type of rounds we fired and as much as we did, the trails of the gun dig in pretty much so it took longer than usual to get them out and hooked up to the truck, but we did well, considering we were pretty tired.”

Thompson said that the battalion had less than 12 hours notice that it was going to execute the mission. Despite the short notice, the “cannon cockers” were on the road at 3:30 p.m. on the 20th and were in place at 6 p.m. They waited for a fire mission throughout the night.

About two hours before they unleashed their howitzers, the battery received enemy fire, but it had no effect, landing about 2,000 meters southeast of its position.
According to First Lieutenant Christopher Mayette, a battery executive officer, the possible targets the battery was to engage included multiple rocket launchers, a command-and-control site, and a surface-to-air missile site. “The rocket-launcher battery is one that fired upon us, but was later taken out by air,” he said. “We ended up firing on a different battery that was firing on Marine positions near the border.”
Gunnery Sergeant Juan DeWilliams said that Marines rehearse for combat but cannot rehearse actual combat. “The boys impressed me,” said the 14-year veteran. “We did what we had to do, then got the hell out of there.”

“I was nervous of the unexpected,” said Sergeant Norman Arias. “I’m an artillery meteorologist. My job is to get weather-condition information to the fire direction center, so the guns don’t have to use ‘Kentucky windage’ to aim their rounds. It felt good knowing I helped the guns get all those rounds downrange and on target.”

LCpl Robert Redwine said, “The 3rd Marines were the first to take incoming from Iraqi troops, and now we were able to give some of it back.” Redwine was one of the Marines who supplied the security for the mission. “I was happy to be out there and to make a little history,” said the Marine from Portland, Ore.

Cpl Steve Nelson, USMC and
Sgt John Dodd, USMC

Cpl Donald Vaught, left, and Cpl Marc Carbonetto, both “Stinger” missile­men, practice honing in on targets from USS Guam in the Persian Gulf. They were part of an 18,000-Marine amphibious force that tied down several Iraqi divisions, forcing them to keep close to the Kuwaiti coast while trying to guess where the Marines would land.

While Cannoneers Sent Rounds Downrange, Infantrymen Took Incoming and Waited forWord to Attack

“Incoming, incoming! Hit your fight­ing holes!” could be heard throughout the area as the leathernecks from an in­fantry battalion of the 1st Marine Division rushed for cover.

For more than a week, these Marines were taking artillery rounds from Iraqi positions inside the Kuwaiti border.

“We don’t mind taking incoming as long as we don’t take any hits,” said Captain Kent Bradford, an operations officer. Bradford said the Iraqis had been dropping two to three rounds a night for five nights running but hadn’t hit them yet.

“Marines here haven’t displayed any amount of stress or strain,” added the captain. “The apprehension is there, but we don’t talk about shells landing on our position.”
Being shelled was the worst feeling in the world for Private First Class Scott Zmiewsky. “You don’t know where the rounds are coming from, and all you can do is run for cover,” said Zmiewsky.

“At first you’re scared,” added Lance Corporal Chad Graff. “You find yourself stopping what you are doing and looking around. Then all of a sudden, it clicks in your head what to do.”

The incoming wasn’t like the Iraqis were pounding the hell out of them, noted First Lieutenant David Johannsen, a platoon commander. “It’s just a couple of rounds a night,” said the Algonquin, Ill., native.

“Yeah, just enough to tick you off,” said LCpl John Couch. “They wake us up in the middle of night. We have to head to our fighting holes, then back to the rack after the attack is over.”

Sgt John Dodd, USMC

For These Guys, Desert Storm Means Getting Sandblasted by Helicopters


Getting sandblasted from helicopter prop wash is part of the price Landing Support Battalion Marines paid to keep their fellow leathernecks supplied.

Hunkered down in a hole in the desert floor, four Marines sat and idly talked as the frigid wind of the Saudi winter passed overhead. Storm clouds covered the sky, intermittently spitting rain at them.

A low grumbling caused the Marines to perk up and look out over flatland toward the horizon.

“Bird comin’,” one of the Marines stated matter-of-factly.

Grabbing goggles and helmets, two Marines wearing reflective vests clam­bered out of the protective pit and scurried onto the landing zone (LZ).

Like giant bumblebees, two approaching CH-53E helicopters gently maneuvered toward the LZ. Their “pollen,” six pallets of meals, ready to eat (MRE), dangled in nets underneath. The helicopter support team used a variety of hand-and-arm signals to guide the incoming ’53s safely down onto the LZ.

Unhooking their load, the helicopters pulled up and soared out of the area.

Marines of the helicopter support team (HST), part of Beach and Terminal Operations Company, 2nd Landing Support Battalion (LSB), are the eyes and ears of helo pilots who approach and land in an LZ under their control.

During the first weeks of Operation Desert Storm, these HST Marines were working to help furnish a supply depot near the Kuwaiti border. The incoming “birds” were supplying the depot with MREs, medical supplies and maintenance parts.

“Our main mission is to talk the helos into the zone,” said HST leader Corporal J. Shane Bost. “We also help the Landing Support Equipment Marines move the cargo off the LZ, and we package and hook up any outgoing cargo.”

The Lexington, N.C., native said that his company had been in country and manning the landing zone about a month. He added that the helicopter support teams quickly learned how treacherous the desert can be during their operations.

“We have a lot more trouble seeing the birds when they get close to the ground,” the Camp Lejeune Marine said. “We get sandblasted pretty good from the rotor wash.”

Bost and his crew are usually part of an HST; however, they can perform a number of duties required of a beaching operation.

“If we were at the beach, the entire BTO company would be staging vehicles and gear. If there were any helo support ops to do, we would probably be doing that also.” He added the red patches LSB Marines wear on their utility trousers and covers are to let people on the beach know who they are as they run the operation.

Other duties an HST is tasked with are helping to move litters of wounded per­sonnel on and off helos during a medevac and the management of personnel hitching rides on the aircraft.

Although infrequent, mishaps can occur as the HST performs its duties.

“I was bringing in a bird with an external load the other day,” began Private First Class Timothy L. McClintic, a member of Bost’s HST. “He cut his load and was pulling up when one of his engines blew. The bird began wobbling around and came down within about 30 feet of me. The pilot moved to the side of his cargo and came down pretty hard,” said the landing support specialist from Seymour, Ind.

Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident and the HST reviews events such as this.
“We often have safety briefs with the pilots. They tell us if they have trouble over the LZ, they’ll try to head to an 11 o’clock position and so we move to 5 o’clock,” commented Bost.

The HST Marines are usually on the LZ shortly after daybreak. They often work into the night as long as the birds are coming in. A spotlight on the bird and their reflective vests help pilots to pinpoint them in the dark.

“We are a mobile unit, like all Marine units,” Bost said, as he brushed desert grit from one of his crew’s automatic weapons. “We don’t know how long we’ll be here at this supply depot. But anywhere we’re needed by the helos, that’s where we’ll go.”

Cpl Kevin Doll, USMC

LCpl Danny J. House talks to an incoming helo via radio.

Tanks a Lot! The Corps Put Abrams Tank on
Front Line In Time for Shoot-Out


LCpl John C. Maloney maneuvers his M1A1 Abrams. Tanks helped spearhead drives by the 1st and 2nd Marine Di­vi­sions that reached Kuwait City in less than three days.


LCpl Adam Kennedy peers up through the gunner’s hatch of his M1A1 tank before aiming it north and driving into Kuwait.

Marines of 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division unloaded M1A1 tanks from military prepositioning ships Jan. 10. The Abrams tanks will gradually re­place the aging M-60s and are the first of the sophisticated tanks to join the Corps. They couldn’t have arrived in Saudi Arabia at a better time.

The tanks are out-of-the-factory new. When they rolled out of their assembly plants, they rolled onto ships and were joined with forces already in place.

When the ships docked, 2nd Tank Bn Marines boarded them to ready the tanks for offload. Private First Class Chester Bryans climbed aboard the first tank. After a quick light and instrument check, he drove the 67.5-ton tank onto the ramp spanning the gap from ship to shore.

Bryans taxied the tank to a rally point to ready it for its first test. There, a factory employee replaced Bryans for the trial run.

Once in position, a road guide gave his signal, and the tank lunged forward, picking up speed. The tank’s engine revved up as its driver drove down the darkened road, at approximately 40 mph.

At the end of the half-mile strip, the driver parked the tank in a staging area, where tankers started the depreservation process by taking off equipment boxes and removing tape from the M256 120 mm main guns.

For several days, the Marines equipped the tanks with machine guns, removed the packing grease, and readied what they call “Silent Death” for combat.

In November, the 2nd Tank Bn leather­necks had learned to operate the new tank.
“We spent two weeks learning about the M-1A1,” Lance Corporal Allan Bouchard of Lexington, N.C., said. “We mostly focused on our own stations because of the (Persian Gulf) crisis.”

According to Bouchard, the Marines like the M-1A1 much better than the M-60. “It’s a lot faster, has a lower profile, a larger gun and has much better armor,” he said. “It’s just a far better tank.”

The Marines are also very confident of the tank’s capabilities. “We can outrun, outgun and take a hit better than any other tank made,” Corporal James J. Reinhardt of Cherokee, Iowa, said. “Besides, the M-1A1 even has an NBC (nuclear, bio­logical and chemical) defense system on board so we don’t have to worry about getting gassed.”

With the new tanks in Saudi Arabia, 2nd Tanks now has a piece of equipment with the technology of tomorrow, for combat today.

Cpl Philip Haring, USMC

M1A1 Abrams tanks arrived in Saudi Arabia in time to roll into Kuwait and battle the Soviet-made T-55 and T-62 tanks.

2nd Marine Division Took First Iraqi Prisoners: “Very Prudent Individuals”

The first Iraqi prisoners taken by the 2nd Marine Division surrendered on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 1991.

The six Iraqi soldiers, two officers and four enlisted men, drove to the berm in a vehicle displaying a white flag. They dismounted, walked to Marine units that had them under observation and asked to surrender. “Each had the pamphlets explaining surrender procedures,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jan Huly, the assistant operations officer of the division.

“They were part of a combat engineer unit,” Huly said. “They told us that they were disenchanted with the war effort. They indicated that food, medicine and other basic needs were in short supply. They were very prudent individuals.”

The prisoners ate meals, ready to eat (MREs) and a hot meal, underwent a medical checkup and had the opportunity to clean up. “They were in pretty good condition when they showed up,” said Huly, “but they were grateful for the food. They especially enjoyed the MRE candy.”

LtCol Huly stated that after questioning, the prisoners were turned over for their detainment in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

“They indicated that their particular unit was suffering greatly from desertions, apparently the results of allied bombing. They also indicated that many more of their soldiers would defect, but they lack the opportunity. There seems to be a shortage of almost everything there, so it seems that our bombing campaign is having positive effects for us,” Huly said.

Sgt Earnie Grafton, USMC

Getting Attention The Hard Way

They weren’t looking for trouble; they just wanted to be seen. Ele­ments of the 1st Marine Division were sending out mobile patrols to let everybody up north know that the United States had its eye on the area near the border.

“The patrols are mainly for surveillance and to establish a U.S. presence in the area,” said Captain Kevin Scott, a rifle company commander. “If there are un­friendlies in the area, they see us, and, therefore, know that we’re still interested in the ground we’re patrolling. It keeps them guessing.”

Each company of the task force which was running the patrols usually headed out with troops, vehicles and weaponry consisting of small arms, antiarmor, and large-caliber weapons. They also had the ability to call for fire and always had a Saudi liaison officer or translator with them.

“If we keep doing these patrols, some­body’s bound to see us and call it in on their radio,” said Sergeant Don Milojevich, a Weapons Company Marine. “As long as they know we’re here, it’s good.

With weapons always at the ready, the patrols usually headed out at midmorning and returned to their respective base camps just before nightfall.

Rolling across the barren desert, the patrols often met up with Saudi military personnel and stopped to converse for a while to further make their presence known.
Sheep and camel herders and other Bedouins were also passed by, often waving or holding up the “peace” or “victory” sign.

Whether it was dry, dusty terrain or mud-filled sabkhas, the patrols pressed on through the desert, stopping from time to time in order to compute a grid to give them their exact location and keep them on the right course.

“They [the Iraqis] may still have a forward observer in the Khafji area,” Scott said. “We want to be seen.”

Cpl Steve Nelson, USMC