The operation to clear Haqlaniya began April 6, 2005; Haqlaniya is located on the West bank of the Euphrates River going north and compared to the city of Hit is on the smaller side but still dangerous. The river towns in our area were a known haven for insurgents who fled the fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi plus they were stop over points for foreign fighters who entered Iraq from Syria. The plan was for all the sniper teams, that were now all located at Haditha Dam, to push into the city a few hours before Lima Company began its push to clear it out and we would provide over watch. Each team had identified locations that they would occupy during each phase of the push but these things are always flexible because the situation is constantly changing and we have to bend with it or I should say tactically adjust to the situation on the ground or you could have bad day. Mission planning and all the coordination that goes into it, the PowerPoint presentations and good idea fairies, etc… all work out perfectly if the enemy does exactly what you want them to do and they never do so your plan usually lasts for a very short time. We have to start somewhere and this is what we do prior to an operation but adapting to actual developments on the ground is key to success. The Marine Corps as an institution has been very successful because of our flexibility as one of many things we do well. We have a good officer corps but our success truly comes from our NCOs who are well trained and aggressive. We understand that there will be casualties and we train those below us to do our jobs and learn the job above us so when Marines start to get wounded or killed we can still go forward and accomplish the mission. The most successful armies in history have allowed there battle field commanders to make decisions and adapt to the ever changing situation and a good case for each of these points is the German Army during WW II, they achieved stunning victories and crushing defeats depending on which method was used. Our team, Mako 6, which was now my permanent team at this point, was to occupy the tallest building in the city which was an abandoned hotel of 5 or 6 stories high. This building was located directly on the Euphrates River and had a commanding view looking north and west into the city; we also had a good view of an island that was located right in the middle of the river so we had a great place to provide support for Lima Company. We inserted before dawn and met with SSGT Delgado at the entrance to the hotel, the building had not yet been cleared at this point we went about the task of clearing the building of any possible insurgents and there were none which was good because of all the places they could have hidden. SSgt Delgado was a warrior in every sense and the battalion was lucky to have him, the command center and his section would be operating out of the hotel as well. When I say hotel I don’t want to give the impression that it was a completed hotel and all that means, it was never fully completed and it was just a dirty ugly eye sore of a building but it had what we needed to be very effective. As Rock, Nate and I set up our position on the roof we started looking very carefully at possible ambush locations and getting ranges to things that had a high probability for contact plus we were doing the “where would I be if I was going to ambush these guys” meaning the Marines” logic. Major Lawson, the Lima Company commander would be on the roof with us that day as this was going to be the location of the Command Center. About 30 minutes before dawn Lima Company began its push into the city at multiple locations riding in Amtrak’s, Humvees as well as walking dismounted. As Lima Company’s most eastern element pushed past the hotel and made it about two blocks they started receiving machine gun and RPG fire and the ensuing fire fight was quick, violent and Lima eliminated that threat, we could not take part as we could not identify any targets to engage. The sounds of these operations were of Marines aggressively busting in door, metal doors flexing and breaking open under the weight of the sledge hammer, screams rising above the city as the Marines aggressively cleared buildings, sporadic gun fire and explosions to pitched battles for territory, the sound of the tracked vehicles as they moved forward. At about 0800 an RPG was fired at one of Lima Company’s amtracks to our west, Rock and I spotted two insurgents running east down a hill moving in our direction but they were still 800 plus meters away. At this point in the mission Nate was spotting using the 40 power Leopold scope, Rock was on the sniper rifle with a 10 power scope and I had my M203 with 4 power ACOG scope. As they get to between 600 and 700 meters Rock engages with one round from the sniper rifle and just misses one of the insurgents and they scramble behind an outhouse that they were running past. Behind the outhouse was a row of trees and bushes but we could see through it and beyond that was what looked like some apartments. We had another sniper team located about 600 meters to the northeast of our position and about 150 meters from outhouse with the insurgents behind it. We raised Dave, Jeff and Monty on the radio and tried to direct them onto the target but they had an obstruction right in front of their position at the rooftop but took some shots in the general area in an effort to flush them out so we could engage them with both the M-203 and the sniper rifle. Our position was set back off the edge of the roof and we were not worried about the enemy conducting counter sniper missions against us so we had our helmets off which helped greatly with being in the prone position and looking through the scope, Rock and Nate also had their boots unbloused, a heinous crime punishable by death as we found out in a few minutes. Nate Identifies people behind the outhouse and bushes trying to direct the insurgents to safety so we inform Maj Lawson of the situation and ask to start engaging these people and he agreed. I had no issues with Maj Lawson as he allowed us to engage in situations like this putting himself and his career at risk if he made a bad decision; he was able to see beyond the bull shit and turned us loose to kill these people even if they had no weapons and I respected that. Nate identifies a target and informs us, I already had it and Rock was going to take the shot, if he missed I would fire. Just as we were about to start pulling triggers on bad guys the SgtMaj and the senior enlisted Marine in the battalion makes his grand entrance onto the roof and the only reason I found out he was there was he starts screaming at us for not having our helmets on and why did Rock and Nate not have their boots bloused? He tells us to stop immediately what we were doing like we were sunbathing and to fix ourselves. I did not move from where I was because I just through my helmet on but Rock and Nate had to get off the gun and scope to blouse their boots the whole time getting yelled at and not allowing them to speak. I can understand the helmet issue to some degree but the blousing of the boots, to me that was as nuts as he was and I looked at the SgtMaj for a moment and laughed not believing what was going on and he looks at me and yells that if I do that again he will pull me off the sniper team I merely turned away from him without acknowledging him and started looking for targets to engage, Rock & Nate also returned to their scope and rifle and we were ready to start pulling triggers if the targets were still there, turns out one of the RPG guys did get away.
Killing with a sniper weapon system is a very personal thing, the more power of an optic you have the closer you become with that person you are about to kill. The way I can explain it is it is like you are completely inside that scope and you are doing everything to make a perfect shot that by now is second nature, slow your heart rate and control your breathing, take the slack out of the trigger exhale and squeeze and the whole time you are watching them, you can see their facial features and you will decide at what moment they will die, the power you possess at this moment is immense and these visions stay with you long after the battles are over.
Within seconds Nate spotted a good target and Rock is ready to take the shot, I also had the same target in my scope which was 670 meters away and I heard Rock say shit and right away I realized that when he got back on his gun from the SgtMaj incident he forgot to put his weapon back on fire I immediately took the shot I scored a hit on an insurgent who seemed to jump upward of 4 feet, do a split in the air and drop his AK-47 then falling to the ground and getting up and running away, he would die within an hour of being shot. Nate confirmed the hit but we had no time to celebrate as things began to pick up for us. One of the two insurgents that were behind the outhouse made a break for it but Rock had his weapon on fire this time, took the shot and killed him, the guy just dropped immediately so it was either a spine, heart or lung shot because he did not get hit in the head which was the other drop immediately shot location. We had 5 confirmed hits during this engagement but things began to slow down so Maj Lawson dispatched SSgt Delgado and his section to go check the area out and we would provide over watch for them. They confirmed that we had killed two insurgents and they were bringing back a detainee who was wounded in the leg and watched them march this guy all the way back, that must have been a painful walk for that guy but fuck him that’s what you get and he was lucky to be alive. Later in the day we observed a huge explosion to our north and it turns out a suicide bomber detonated his car on an LAV, Light Armored Vehicle, of a unit that was in a blocking position to try to prevent insurgents from getting out of the city, one Marine was killed. Lima Company also received incoming from two different sets of mortar teams but they missed their mark and nobody was hurt. As it began to get dark plans were made for the next day and we were instructed to move across the street to an abandoned school which is where we would spend the night. We were making our way across the street over to the school and noticed a huge sandstorm coming in but we were inside the school beforehand sparing us but not everyone was lucky. To explain these sand storms is like being transported to a very hostile planet, the violence is incredible and the sand gets into everything and I mean everything, your eyes, crack of your ass, weapons, everything ! Then it stops as suddenly as it started and I am glad we don’t get these in NYC. We were co-located with some other Lima company Marines so we did not have to pull watch that night so we cleaned our weapons and talked about the day’s events until we went to sleep on the concrete floor.