A dream from

The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa

Michael L. Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt

The First Dream

Thus one who excels at warfare first establishes himself
in a position where he cannot be defeated.
—Sun-tzu, The Art of War

Captain Brown wasted no time in rattling off the details of my mission.

“I need you to establish a COP overwatching this pontoon bridge at Jisr al-Doreaa.” Using the satellite imagery, he pointed to a small line crossing a river. [View map of Red Platoon Area of Operations.]

“You will control your area of operations, including the village of al-Doreaa, from your COP and prevent anti-Iraqi forces from moving across the bridge from the east to the west. The troop and I will continue our operations from the FOB, so support may be a good distance from your position. I’m going to plus you up with the mortarmen as additional dismounts and a couple of guys from headquarters; I think you’ll need some extra manpower down there. Do you have any questions?”

Visions of Silver Stars and general officer adulation swirled about my head. “No problem, sir!”

The commander smiled—somewhat uneasily, I thought—and asked, “Do you need anything else for the operation?”

I had five M-1114 armored highly mobile multi-wheeled vehicles with .50-caliber machine guns and MK-19 automatic grenade launchers; three M-3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicles with their 25-mm chain guns; countless M-4 rifles; and a couple of M-240 machine guns. I had thirty highly trained cavalry scouts and NCOs. I couldn’t think of anything else worth bringing. “No, sir, we’re good to go.”

While the platoon prepared to move, I looked over the intelligence summaries and satellite imagery. It appeared that al-Doreaa was not particularly dangerous, with no more than the typical IED attacks and small-arms ambushes along major routes. But U.S. presence in the area had been extremely limited in the last year, so detailed recent information was largely lacking. The surrounding population was small, about five hundred people, and predominantly Sunni Muslim. No major threats there, I thought; I was almost disappointed that my first mission would be such a cakewalk. [View chart of Overview of Available Equipment and Personnel in Red Platoon.]

The satellite imagery delineated my zone with a blue line that cut across the rural village and the surrounding farms. A blue triangle was placed over a small government building near the bridge that was to be my outpost. It seemed like a good spot. I grabbed my section sergeants and briefed a quick order before the pre-combat inspections. I was proud of myself for working through the troop-leading procedures just as I had learned them in school. We rehearsed the movement and occupation plan and then lined up for SP.

As we moved into zone, the rumbling of the Bradley tracks on the pavement and the hot wind blowing in my face gave me a feeling of invulnerability. I took the opportunity to observe the lay of the land from the hatch of my Bradley. Along the river, dense foliage and reeds severely restricted observations and fields of fire. Beyond the riverbanks, fields of crops stretched out to the horizon, broken only by more reeds shooting up here and there from canals that cut a chaotic web of impassible trenches into the ground. Al-Doreaa was just a cluster of mud-brick huts; only a few homes and shops boasted a sturdier concrete-and-rebar construction. As we rolled by, children who seemed eager to look at our Bradleys and trucks were quickly whisked inside by their mothers. A number of men gave us hard stares. Go ahead: take a shot, tough guy, I thought. I was eager to get in a fight and earn my Combat Action Badge. As I war-gamed a valiant firefight in my head, I was brought back to the task at hand by Red 2, my senior scout.

“Red 1, Red 2; we’re at the COP,” the radio crackled.

“Roger. Occupy.”

I dismounted the Bradley to check out our new home. A tall concrete-block wall surrounded the outpost and extended to the bank of the river. The wall had two entrances: a metal gate on its east side large enough for vehicles, and a smaller gate to the north. Inside was an unkempt yard with a small lawn. Rows of trees followed the wall’s interior down to the riverbank. The south edge of the property along the water was marked with a two-foot wall. At the north end of the enclosure sat the main building. Built of concrete, with a flat roof typical of the region, it was either an old police checkpoint or former army position. It had been gutted by looters; the electrical wiring and plumbing had been torn out and graffiti covered the walls. There were three large rooms we could use for sleeping quarters, and the concrete-block construction offered good cover from small-arms fire. This would do just fine. [View map of Red Platoon’s Combat Outpost.]

The sun was beginning to set across the river, and I realized we had had a long day jumping through our asses to get down here. I tried to think of my next move. My leader book from the Scout Leaders Course was full of old high-intensity conflict doctrine and checklists. They’d be of no use here, I thought; this is a new kind of war. The old rules don’t apply. The days of a dug-in tank defense were over. Besides, what kind of insurgent force would take on Bradleys and American troops armed with M-4 rifles and M-240 machine guns? I decided I would take care of my Soldiers by letting them get as much rest as possible. I called the platoon sergeant over.

“Sergeant, we’ll man two Brads tonight, two men per Brad; have them overwatch the roads and the bridge. Go ahead and make the rest plan; we’ll get hot tomorrow on the mission.”

“Roger, sir.”

The cots were set up, and the MREs came out. While my MRE beef stew was cooking in its chemical pouch, I placed my rifle in the corner and happily removed my heavy body armor. My shoulders and back ached from a long day burdened by the weight of my equipment. Sitting in the cool night air, my section sergeants and I dug into our dinners. After dessert (a bag of Skittles) we began a game of Spades on a makeshift table of cardboard MRE boxes. Red 5 and I were trouncing the platoon sergeant and Red 2 when a call came over the handheld radio.

“Red 1, this is Red 4 golf… I’ve got two locals here; I think they want to talk to you.”

Throwing on my gear, I walked out to the road, where two people were standing in the headlights of the Bradley. As I got closer I could make out two men wearing “man-dresses”—“I’ll never understand why they wear those things,” I murmured to myself as I approached them—one tall and thin, the other relatively short. As soon as they saw me, both began frantically gesturing and babbling in Arabic. Since I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, I tried to catch on by reading their body language. The stumpy man, clearly so scared he was starting to cry, kept pointing at my rifle and waving his hands, yelling, “boom, boom, boom.” The beanpole grew angry, asking, “Mutargem? Mutargem?”

After about fifteen minutes of incomprehension, I told them to leave by using a shooing motion. When they just kept on babbling, I raised my voice, grabbed my rifle, pulled it to the low ready, and yelled, “Enough! Get out of here!” They took the hint, quickly disappearing into the shadows.

By the time I got back inside the COP, the game had broken up. Most of the guys were already asleep. I was surprised to see that many of them had moved their cots outside or onto the roof, but guessed they figured it was more comfortable to sleep outdoors, where there was a pleasant breeze. Agreeing with their assessment, I stripped off my gear, pausing for a moment to look toward the river. I could hear the water lapping at the near bank and the buzz of insects in the reeds; everything seemed peaceful. I lay down on my cot in the courtyard and, staring at the stars and imagining the glories of combat ahead, drifted off to sleep.

I awoke when my body hit the ground, debris still flying through the air. My ears were ringing; everything seemed to be moving in slow motion: dirt, rocks, sand, concrete, and ash were pelting me. I strained to focus in the dim light and slowly regained my senses. Looking toward the road, all I could see was a billowing cloud of black smoke obscuring the early morning sun. Turning, I saw that the rest of the men were as stunned as I was, most of them still half naked, staring blankly at the smoke and debris. One of the men ran to me from the gate and yelped out his contact report.

“Sir, a car… was hauling ass… drove right by us… and blew up next to 15… it’s on fire, sir, and 14’s turret was damaged.”

I grabbed him by the shoulders. “Calm down, man. Do we have any casualt—” I was interrupted by a blast of air and steel that threw me off my feet.

Pain shot through my arm. Looking up from the ground, I watched five more mortar rounds crash into the outpost. The men scrambled to don their body armor and seek cover, but many didn’t make it, torn to pieces by the shards of metal that rang through the compound.

When the barrage stopped, I got to my feet, slung on my armor, and ran to the gate. 15 was on fire, with 25-mm rounds cooking off in the back. The charred remains of a sedan, barely recognizable as a car frame, lay next to the Bradley. 14 was in bad shape; the sedan’s engine block had impacted the gun barrel and the ISU sight, making it impossible to fire. Just as I was deciding that I would need to man the other vehicles to get some security out, I heard the chatter of machine-gun fire coming from the west side of the compound, followed by the popping of M-4s.

Inside the outpost, the platoon was firing into the southwest side of the compound. Green tracer bullets were raking the compound from the corner, and masked men were pouring through a gap in the wall where it met the water. I heard the loud crack and zing of rounds and felt chips from the wall behind me bounce off my helmet. I ducked and ran toward the cement building. The yard was filled with bodies. Blood was everywhere, and smoke from the burning vehicles by the gate made it hard to breathe. Chased by a hail of AK-47 fire, I dove through the front doorway.

Inside, the medic was working on five men; one was missing a leg. I grabbed ahold of the manpack we had been using for radio checks and called for help. I could only pray that the antenna wire hadn’t been cut in the attack.

“Any station this net, any station this net, this is Red 1. We’re under attack! We’re under attack!”

An unintelligible blast of squelch was all that came back across. I hoped the message got through, but I couldn’t be sure. I counted ten men left inside the building, some wounded, all shooting from the windows and doors.

We were beginning to run low on ammunition when the shooting suddenly stopped, and the AIF began to break contact and move back, out of the compound. I heard the steady whomp-whomp-whomp of the Apache helicopters before I saw them come into view, circling the compound. The medic began working on my arm. We had lost fifteen men KIA, one man DOW, and four seriously wounded. We lost two Bradleys, and most of our other vehicles were damaged.

While I waited for the MEDEVAC, I tried to figure out where I had gone so terribly wrong.

  1. 1. Security is the number-one priority. Units must maintain 360-degree security no matter what the situation.
  2. 2. The fundamentals still apply. Counterinsurgency operations and low-intensity conflict do not negate the value of systems time tested in countless conflicts. When establishing an outpost, it is critical to employ the fundamentals of defense, the seven steps of engagement area development, and the priorities of work.

As the pain of my injury burned these lessons into my memory, I found myself somehow drifting into another dream.

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 1–9 of The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa by Michael L. Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

Michael L. Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt
The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift”
With a Foreword by John A. Nagl
©2009, 178 pages, 8 halftones, 7 line drawings
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226080925
Paper $14.00 ISBN: 9780226080932

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa.

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