Monday, November 22, 2004

Leadership Lessons from Iraq 
Dexter Filkins can't capture it all. But he captures a lot:

Eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot, a pair of marines wound their way up the darkened innards of a minaret, shot through with holes by an American tank.

As the marines inched upward, a burst of gunfire rang down, fired by an insurgent hiding in the top of the tower. The bullets hit the first marine in the face, his blood spattering the marine behind him. The marine in the rear tumbled backward down the stairwell, while Lance Cpl. William Miller, age 22, lay in silence halfway up, mortally wounded.

"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"

With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.

After four attempts, Corporal Miller's lifeless body emerged from the tower, his comrades choking and covered with dust. With more insurgents closing in, the marines ran through volleys of machine-gun fire back to their base.

"I was trying to be careful, but I was trying to get him out, you know what I'm saying?" Lance Cpl. Michael Gogin, 19, said afterward...

And more...

On one particularly grim night, a group of marines from Bravo Company's First Platoon turned a corner in the darkness and headed up an alley. As they did so, they came across men dressed in uniforms worn by the Iraqi National Guard. The uniforms were so perfect that they even carried pieces of red tape and white, the signal agreed upon to assure American soldiers that any Iraqis dressed that way would be friendly; the others could be killed.

The marines, spotting the red and white tape, waved, and the men in Iraqi uniforms opened fire. One American, Corporal Anderson, died instantly. One of the wounded men, Pfc. Andrew Russell, lay in the road, screaming from a nearly severed leg.

A group of marines ran forward into the gunfire to pull their comrades out. But the ambush, and the enemy flares and gunfire that followed, rattled the men of Bravo Company more than any event. In the darkness, the men began to argue. Others stood around in the road. As the platoon's leader, Lt. Andy Eckert, struggled to take charge, the Third Platoon seemed on the brink of panic.

"Everybody was scared," Lieutenant Eckert said afterward. "If the leader can't hold, then the unit can't hold together."

The unit did hold, but only after the intervention of Bravo Company's commanding officer, Capt. Read Omohundro.

Time and again through the week, Captain Omohundro kept his men from folding, if not by his resolute manner then by his calmness under fire. In the first 16 hours of battle, when the combat was continuous and the threat of death ever present, Captain Omohundro never flinched, moving his men through the warrens and back alleys of Falluja with an uncanny sense of space and time, sensing the enemy, sensing the location of his men, even in the darkness, entirely self-possessed.

"Damn it, get moving," Captain Omohundro said, and his men, looking relieved that they had been given direction amid the anarchy, were only too happy to oblige.

A little later, Captain Omohundro, a 34-year-old Texan, allowed that the strain of the battle had weighed on him, but he said that he had long ago trained himself to keep any self-doubt hidden from view.

"It's not like I don't feel it," Captain Omohundro said. "But if I were to show it, the whole thing would come apart."

These marines are doing the Old Breed proud.

Splash, out


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