Twenty-six years ago tonight

| February 17, 2017 | 37 Comments

This is republished from six years ago;

February 17, 1991

Twenty years ago, Task Force 1-41 Infantry attached to the Third Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division (from the Third Brigade of the 2d Armored Division (Forward)), was the only US unit in Iraq. We were fifteen clicks from the Saudi border, screening for the sweep east of Schwartzkopf’s “Hail Mary” strategy. For two days we had been watched by Iraqis and had a little contact. with some reconnaissance elements. However on February 17th, my gunner spotted 5 T-55s about 1500 meters in front of our defilade position and I called for indirect fire. The first response came from an Apache unit. The pilot ignored his instruments and fired the wrong grid coordinate, directly to my west, striking two vehicles in our own Scout platoon anchoring our far west flank.

COB6 was the platoon leader of the platoon between my platoon and the Scout elements. Despite the orders of our company commander (a phrase that I use in several other stories involving COB6 and our commander), COB6 pulled his vehicle off the line and rushed to the burning vehicles (An M3 and and an M113 from the GSR unit). COB6 and his crew pulled the broken bodies from the vehicles with burning ammunition exploding around him and shielded the injured Scouts with his own body. Two of those scouts were dead, but three others owe their lives to COB6 and his crew.

Needless to say we stopped calling for Apaches and after slamming two TOWs into a berm about a hundred meters in front of us, we used artillery fire. My first ever call for indirect fire in total darkness. The following morning, M1s found the T-55s 5000 meters north of the spot my gunner had spotted them.

These are the names of the members of 1/41 we lost throughout the war;

Tony R. Applegate
David R. Crumby
Manuel M. Davila
Anthony W. Kidd
David W. Kramer
Jeffery T. Middleton
James C. Murray, Jr.
Robert D. Talley

Talley and Middleton were killed that night.

We had the highest casualty rate of any other infantry unit in the war, I say it’s because both sides were shooting at us.

And, oh, yeah, my granddaughter celebrates her 26th birthday today, too.

Category: War Stories

Comments (37)

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  1. JacktheJarhead says:

    Glad you made it through, Jonn.

  2. OWB says:

    Yep. That was one interesting day.

    Glad you are here to remember. Was kinda in the neighborhood that day. Had some stuff not far from you, but I was well back. (Hey, somebody had keep the runways swept and fresh MRE’s incoming.)

  3. Parachutecutie says:

    Thank you for continuing to remind us of the Heroes in your unit who gave their last full measure for our nation.

    I’m forever grateful for men like you and COB6.

    This post always gets to me.

  4. Eden says:

    Rest in peace, Brothers.

  5. Hondo says:

    The GAO report on the incident can be found here; it seems relatively thorough:

    http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat5/149432.pdf

    Friendly fire casualties are never acceptable. Unfortunately, the confused nature of warfare all but guarantees such incidents from time to time. My guess is that will always be the case; the idea that we can have perfect situation awareness is IMO a chimera.

    Rest in peace, men.

    • Mick says:

      Concur, Hondo.

      It goes without saying that we all hate ‘Blue on Blue’ friendly fire incidents and we would do anything to avoid them. However, regardless of the lengths that we may go to in order to try to prevent them, the inherent chaos of warfare will always make their occurrence a possibility.

      RIP, Soldiers.

      Semper Fidelis.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      According to one report the pilot failed to take wind drift into account when he fired on the vehicles.

  6. Fyrfighter says:

    Rest In Peace Fallen Brothers. My reserve unit was put on standby over that time period, that was as close as I ever got to combat. I stand in awe of those of you who have truly been there, done that. and NO, I do not claim to be a vet of Desert Storm

  7. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    What Parachutecutie said. As for Hayles, here’s my comment from a few years ago.

    Disregarding good advice is done at one’s own peril. Disregarding orders is done at the peril of others. Hayles disregarded explicit orders not to go on the mission. And that’s where he failed. He was where he should not have been and that put him in position to do what he should not have done—trust personal perception, not instruments. His arrogance and stupidity cost American lives. He should not be rewarded for what it. But for between $10,000–$15,000, he’ll be happy to speak with your or your group about it. Here’s the link:
    http://www.keyspeakers.com/bio.php?2333-ralph-hayles

    • CB Senior says:

      Hondo’s link is exceptional.
      After reading it, and then reading your link. I am quite disturb at the situation even more. Terrible Command and Control. Total lack of adherence to policy.
      Looks more like Lt. Col. Hayes was more interested in getting a confirmed kill than anything else.

      • Poetrooper says:

        Bingo! My first thought was that the colonel wanted that first trophy scalp. Fog of war is a legitimate cause of many friendly fire incidents but I believe many unnecessary casualties also occur due to over-eagerness on the part of leaders who want to be first on the objective, first to draw enemy blood, etc., etc.

        On the other hand the colonel could simply have misread the coordinates due to fatigue, ineptitude or that over-eagerness factor. After reading the report, I’d lean toward the latter; he wanted that first kill.

  8. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    The loss of good men under these circumstances is particularly distressing…I echo the sentiments of all here who are glad you were not harmed physically that night, and amazed at the actions of men like COB6…what a nation we have that produces men like these.

    And sadly, how little we, as a nation, truly appreciate them while they are here. The nation pays a great deal of lip service to veterans, but not much else. Here’s hoping that changes under the new administration into definitive action.

  9. Thunderstixx says:

    Thank you to all of you and Godspeed to the fallen brothers.
    Good to see you posting on a regular basis Jonn.

  10. SFC D says:

    Good men lost, rest easy Soldiers.

    26 years. When did I get so old.

  11. ex-OS2 says:

    I was floating around in the Red Sea.

    Glad you made it through, Jonn.

    Rest In Peace, Brothers.

  12. Deplorable B Woodman says:

    Friendly fire………isn’t.

  13. Wilted Willy says:

    I was truly amazed that this was the first war that was broadcast on live TV! I stayed up for two straight days glued to the coverage. This was truly a sad day for you Jonn, but I am damn glad you were there to do what you all did! You gave America back her soul! May God bless all of you who served and especially those who gave all. May they rest in Peace.

  14. CB Senior says:

    Never Forget.
    That is the endless Chain that Unites All of Us and how great and brave men/women last for ever.

    RIP

  15. HMC Ret says:

    Rest peacefully, brothers. And welcome home intact, Jonn.

    26 years ago, about this time, I was submitting my retirement papers after 23 years.

  16. UpNorth says:

    Rest In Peace, brothers.

  17. Sparks says:

    I’m glad you and COB6 made it Jonn. The other men as well. My sympathies for the loss of your men. God rest them well and thank you for serving there.

  18. Skyjumper says:

    PVT Robert D. Talley & SGT Jeffery Middleton, RIP.

    My heart goes out to their families, and also to you Jonn.

    A bit more on PVT Robert D. Talley.

    http://www.njrunforthefallen.org/pvt-robert-d-talley.html

  19. Chip says:

    Proud to have served C 4-3 FA and provided 1-41 with indirect fire support.

  20. Ncat says:

    Twenty-six years. I was, of all things, on the DEP in that time period and I recall how when people would ask me, “You think you’ll go over there (Iraq)?”, I’d say,”doesn’t look like it.” That was because the Iraqi airforce had been largely neutralized and men like Jonn and COB6 were putting such a holy ass-whooping on the Iraqi army, it didn’t look like we’d be there long. In the end, I didn’t have to sacrifice anything- not time, effort or far more, because of them.

    The war was so “successfully prosecuted” for those of us on the outside looking in, it’s particularly important to remember that it had real and terrible casualties. The fact that they were fewer than in other US conflicts, certainly doesn’t make them less tragic.

    Thank you to all the warriors who were there, and may those who did not come back rest in peace.

  21. NormanS says:

    My “friendly fire” experience was not nearly so devastating; happened near the end of a three-day FTX at Camp Roberts, California. Our BC took it upon himself to change the battery firing position. The BC failed to follow several artillery protocols, and our battery wound up in front of elements we should have been behind. I was driving the lead vehicle, a HMMWV, and encountered a concertina barricade. The grunts we were in front of were expecting to be aggressed by “opfor”. Having never been in actual combat, it was quite the experience to see the night sky; I now understand how literal it is when the term, “Lit them up” is uses.

    I still kick myself whenever I recall. As the guy on the radio, I could have called battalion for a status on our “A32” (I think that was the line code for a movement order). S3 would likely have canceled our movement, and read the BC the riot act.

    As for the BC, I suspect even a training incident would look bad in his record. It was gut-wrenching, even if it was just “notional”. I would not wish to be in one for real.

    • NavyEODguy says:

      Ahh, Norman. Reading the words “Camp Roberts” brought back a memory.

      I was the Leading Chief Petty Officer (NCOIC) of a Navy EOD Shore Detachment a little north of there.

      We got calls simultaneously from the USCG and Ca Highway Patrol. A fishing trawler thought they had hooked a torpedo in its nets and didn’t want to cut away the net.

      We met several LEO agencies at a pier in the north part of Halfmoon Bay. And yep, it was a torpedo. WW2 Japanese style. It was still in pretty good shape, but our research told us the warhead contained about 900 pounds of picric acid based explosives. Some nasty stuff, especially as it ages.

      We had brought a deuce and a half and lots of lumber & packing material. Loaded her up and took it to Camp Roberts. We’d already made plans with the cadre leadership if it turned out to be real.

      We met up with a Major and a crusty SGM at the ops HQ. We asked where we could counter-charge and detonate the torpedo. The SGM walked over to a gigantic grid chart and pointed, “Here’s a good spot.

      I grabbed a length of string and put it to the scale, measured out to where they wanted us to detonate it. I turned to the Major & SGM and told them I didn’t think that location was far enough away. We sort of argued back & forth and I explained a little “explosive-ology” to them.

      The cloud cover was THICK with a ceiling of 300-500 feet. I told them it was going to be like a C-4 satchel being detonated in a large diameter pipe, with a tremendous pressure wave coming outa that pipe.

      They basically said blow it up where we say, or, take it home with you.

      We drove it out, roughly a half mile, clear line of sight to the building, with dozens of windows “looking” at us.

      We off loaded the torpedo, uncreated it, packed 20 pounds of C-4 into a hole in the side of the warhead, found us a relic APC down in a deep ditch, and Ka-boom, lit her up.

      Every window on our side of their HG building was blown in.

      We got back to them and they were pale-faced and shaking like leaves.

      I wanted to say, “I told you so.” But I bit my lip. I figured they’d had the bejezus scared out of them, and the fact they were going to have some ‘splainin’ to do to higher ups.

      Never will forget that day. Good ol’ Camp Roberts.

  22. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    Rest In Peace, Fallen Warriors.

    I knew Jeff Middleton, we had a couple of college classes together. He was in ROTC AND was hell-bent about spending some time Enlisted before becoming an Officer and was just as hell-bent on being the best he could.

  23. Michael Moody says:

    I was leaving Ft Did after 63B and H-8 wrecker training. We landed in Daharan, and were scattered to units within 48 hours of landing. I hate to say it but as bad as it sucked I still had a really good time. Yes I am a POUG, and damn proud of it, with out me mounted infantry becomes light leg, and bungry.

  24. Michael Moody says:

    I was leaving Ft Dix after 63B and H-8 wrecker training. We landed in Daharan, and were scattered to units within 48 hours of landing. I hate to say it but as bad as it sucked I still had a really good time. Yes I am a POUG, and damn proud of it, with out me mounted infantry becomes light leg, and bungry.

    • Poetrooper says:

      Michael, as former light infantry, I gotta warn ya, you do NOT want to be around us when we’re bungry. You simply would not believe some of the atrocious things I have seen bungry infantrymen do. They’re bad enough when they’re hungry but when those badasses get BUNGRY, they are way too much to handle.

  25. AW1Ed says:

    Like ex-OS2, I was flying over the Red Sea. How can something that happened 26 years ago seem like yesterday?

    Fair winds and following seas to all those lost on those days.

  26. Ex-PH2 says:

    I was in the middle of typing something when the US involvement in Kuwait was announced on the radio sitting behind me on a bookshelf.
    C-SPAN carried the Gulf War live 24 hrs a day. I got hooked on it. Turned me into a news junkie. Everything, including this incident of friendly fire.

    Just glad you and COB6 made it back, Jonn.

  27. Jay inTN says:

    I remember this happening as I was in the same desert a few miles away. I was with Aco 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st ID. After the news got out, I was a little spooked when we would see the Ah 64s flying over. God bless these soldiers.

  28. 20thEB67 says:

    Welcome Home, Jonn.

    Peace be with you.

  29. Silentium Est Aureum says:

    Nowhere near there, although Chicago, Louisville, and Pittsburgh got a few shots in with Tomahawks.

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