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Marines survive attack on seven-story building

18 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Veronika R. Tuskowski

Lance Cpl. Ronald C. Conyers thanks God and a single pillar for saving his squad's life here Wednesday.

Conyers and his squad were manning an observation post on the roof of a seven-story building when two large improvised explosive devices were detonated, destroying the floor directly beneath them.

The Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, man the top of the observation post to prevent any terrorists from planting IEDs along Main Supply Route Michigan, which passes through Ar Ramadi.

That day, Conyers and the members of his squad knew something was going to happen.

"We knew something was up, because there was no one in the building," said Conyers, 19, and an automatic rifleman from Mullins, S.C. "The building normally had more people."

"The Iraqi Police looked nervous," said Cpl. Jason T. Chadwick, a fireteam leader.

"Around (6:30 p.m.), the first explosion went off," said Conyers, who was sitting on the opposite side of the roof. "I looked back and I could see the roof bobbling, getting ready to collapse." 

The first explosion was detonated on the east side of the building, blasting glass and debris to the street below.

"The explosion pushed me up and away from the wall," said Chadwick, who was sitting above the first explosion on radio watch.

"At the time, my first thought were that the (terrorists) shot an RPG. So I just laid there and waited for additional RPGs. That's when the second explosion went off," said Chadwick, from Richmond, Mo.

The second bomb exploded at the northwest corner of the building, directly underneath a room where Marines off-shift were sleeping.

"I saw a lot of smoke, and I froze for a second," said Conyers. "Then I low-crawled to see if the other Marines were alright."

Conyers crawled to the room where the Marines had been sleeping.

"They were coughing from the smoke, and I did my best to assist them," said Conyers.

After everyone was assessed for injuries and no one was badly hurt, the Marines radioed in for the quick reaction force. They then carefully crawled to the center of the roof and provided security until help arrived.

"We tried to remain as still as possible," said Conyers.

The door leading from the roof to the inside of the building was bowed in from the blast, locking the Marines on the wobbly roof with no way to escape.

The QRF arrived a few minutes later, along with Cpl. Ian R. Burns, a military dog handler, and his four-year-old German Shepard, Cak, to clear the building of terrorists and additional bombs.

"When we got there, there was debris and glass all the way out to the road," said Burns, 21, from Farmingdale, Maine.

Burns and the QRF approached the building, unsure of what they would find inside.

"This was a building search from hell," said Burns, who had to use his dog's sense of smell to sniff out any additional bombs that might injure Marines. "It had such a high chance of a secondary explosion."

Carefully, they cleared each floor up to the roof, until they reached the jammed door that locked out their fellow brothers. The Marines kicked open the door, freeing their trapped comrades and everyone quickly descended down the seven flights of stairs.

"The stairs looked pretty stable," said Conyers. "After I realized that everyone was okay, I was just hoping we could get out safe. That's when I noticed the rebar wire and the pillar. That was the only thing keeping the roof up."

Conyers believes God was watching over him that day.

"I believe it's faith," said Conyers. "I pray every night."

However, attacks here have not always had such fortunate outcomes. Terrorists have targeted the post before.

"A few days prior, one of our fellow Marines was killed by a terrorist sniper," said Staff Sgt. Jason C. Petrakos, platoon sergeant. "They take small arms fire periodically."

The Marines believe they were targeted on this post by terrorists, who want them to retreat.

"We are preventing them from putting IEDs on the road below. They are trying to get us off MSR Michigan," Petrakos said.

Since the incident, the Marines have moved their observation post and will continue to maintain a watchful eye on the road. They have implemented new security procedures to prevent anything like this from happening again.

"The terrorists are trying to scare us back to the firm bases," said Petrakos. "They need to realize that it's never going to happen."