I was deployed to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo when Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. I remember wondering how this war would affect my life or the direction of my career and unit. In March of 2003 I found out. Because of the war, our replacements, already having been trained for real world action, were sent to Iraq, extending my already long six month tour to ten. The start and end of that war, as a whole, had its effects on not just me and my unit, as I was deployed there twice, but on the whole world. The outcome of a war can be explained one way or the other. The effects of which can echo throughout the ages. But the battles that bring you to the wars conclusion are the building blocks to the character of that war. One such battle that helped define the character of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the first battle for Fallujah also known as Operation Vigilant Resolve.
Fallujah is a city in the Al Anbar Province. It sits on the Euphrates River about 35 miles west of Baghdad. When the war kicked off in March 2003 US Forces left Fallujah, for the most part, alone. They figured it had no real tactical advantage and so, while keeping it under the supervision and control of the 82nd Airborne Division, did not try to take the city. Before the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) took over control of the Al Anbar Province on 24 March 2004 Fallujah had started to, “gain a reputation as one of the more dangerous cities in Iraq,” Gerald says (pg 8) (Gerald, 2009).
Fallujah’s reputation was easily won. On top of the constant attacks on US personnel there where multiple other events which helped lead to Fallujah’s instability before the I MEF took over. These events include: the deaths of 15 Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops during a protest; 7 Iraqi policemen and hospital guards where killed by U.S. troops in September, 2003; a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter was shot down in November, 2003; a convey carrying the CENTCOM Commander, General John Abizaid, and the 82nd Airborne Division Commander, Major General Charles Swannack was attacked on 12 February 2004; and there was a raid on an Iraqi Police station on 14 February 2004 that killed twenty-one people and wounded thirty-three others. The ambush, killing, gruesome mutilation, burning and hanging, in that order, of four U.S. Military Contractors from the Blackwater outfit was the last straw that sent the media and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the offensive to take back control of the city (Gerald, 2009).
Before coming to Iraq I MEF’s Commander Lieutenant General James T. Conway and his division commander MajGen Mattis trained under the impression that they would handle the Al Anbar province like prior counterinsurgencies. This approach would be to live among the locals, gain their trust by learning the language and by observing local customs. They didn’t want to use tactics such as air raiding civilian populated areas, truculent house searches, or...