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Firefight last longest 15 seconds of Marines' lives

4 Dec 2004 | Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.

The Marines wait with eager eyes steady on the first door on the left as they reach the second floor of an average Iraqi home. With rounds chambered into their M-16 rifles, 9mm pistols and shotguns, the Marines realize that this may be a door to a room like the many thousand before it: empty with sand and dust everywhere and not an enemy to be found. But, these Marines do not take it for granted.

They stand holding their weapons with sweaty fingers ready to pull the trigger if necessary. The adrenaline starts pumping and the blood rushes through to the heart at an increasing pace. The possibility of an attack from the other side of the door continues to run through their minds as they prepare to breach the room, unleashing all hell from inside.

This was a similar scene for Marines with 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, who entered a house in Fallujah, Iraq, with the intent of clearing houses of insurgents during Operation Al Fajr Nov. 14.

As the Marines reached the top of the second floor, the point man noticed two rooms on the left and two directly in front. The point man rolled passed the first door in order to provide security from the remaining three doors.

The second Marine now the point man kicked in the door with no idea of what was on the other side waiting for him.

"All of a sudden I heard 5.56 rounds coming in and out of the room," said Lance Cpl. Kip P. Yeager, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5. "Then, I saw Payton on the ground in pain."

The insurgents inside the room tried to throw a grenade out of the room but Lance Cpl. George Payton, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5, blocked it with his body, the blast severed his left leg.

"While Payton was still on the ground he was still firing back at the insurgents," said Sgt. Martin J. Gonzalez, 24, a native of Houston, and a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5.

"After the first explosion you couldn't hear anything, I couldn't even hear my own weapon as I was firing at the insurgents inside the room," said Cpl. Mason H. Fisher, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5.

Not knowing the severity of Payton's injury the Marines knew they needed to get him out of the line of fire as soon as possible.

"As I reached down to grab Payton, I was surprised to see his hand reach back up to me. We got him out of the way so he wouldn't receive further injuries," said Yeager, 20, a native of Powderhorn, Colo.

The Marines were inside of a house in the middle of a firefight and were unaware of what was still inside the room.

"I made eye contact with (Fisher) and noticed that we both had grenades ready to throw inside the room," said Yeager. "I yelled 'frag out!' and threw the grenade inside the room along with (Fisher)."

A grenade has only a 4 second response time till it blows up. Just as both grenades went inside the room, the unthinkable happened.

"I saw the grenade bounce back out of the room and without even thinking about what I was doing picked it up and threw it back inside the room," said Fisher, 23, a native of Jordanville, N.Y.

"It seemed like forever before the grenades went off, in fact the whole firefight lasted about 15 to 20 seconds," surprisingly said Yeager. "It was the longest 15 seconds of my life."

Before the smoke could settle from the two grenade blasts Gonzalez went into the room and had a M-16 pointed at him from one of the insurgent inside the room.

"There was no round in the chamber. He pulled the trigger and nothing happened and then he was shot and killed by me and Yeager," said Gonzalez.

Like many of the insurgents who have been caught or killed the ones inside the room were high on drugs. Gonzalez didn't hesitate to shoot another insurgent in the room, on methamphetamines, with a rocket propelled grenade launcher loaded.

"He didn't go down after the first few shots, so Yeager took him out," said Gonzalez.

The corpsman was nearby but because Payton was still near the fire lanes of the Marines, the corpsman could not get to him right away.

"My main concern was Payton, I knew right away I needed to apply a tourniquet to his left leg," said Seaman Apprentice Jae Y. Kwon, a field corpsman with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5. "As soon as the firing stopped I ran past the door way and started to assess Payton."

With the smoke still surrounding them, the Marines moved onto the next three rooms to make sure the entire house was fully cleared.

"There was so much smoke that everyone's lips were turning black," said 2nd Lt. Colin M. Browning, a platoon commander with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3/5.

After most of the smoke had cleared and the Marines had made sure the rest of the rooms were secured, the third and final insurgent revealed himself.

"The last (insurgent) was inside a locker in that same room, he was injured from the blasts and shooting," said "When I went inside the room again their he was about to kill one of us so I put some rounds into him."

The doc and platoon commander were working on Payton who had gotten shot three times and suffered most of his from the first grenade explosion.

"I held him in my arms trying to reassure him everything would be okay," said Browning, 24, a native of Thief River Falls, Minn.

"The whole Marine Corps scene was new to me, but Payton was one of the first to welcome me to the team," said Kwon, 19, a native of Maryland. "I tried everything to give him the best chance of living."

Payton, 21, a native of Culver City, Calif., passed away the following day, but the loss this Marine will not be forgotten by the Devil Dogs and docs who worked with him.

"He will always be remembered," said Yeager, Payton's best friend. "By his family and friends back in his hometown but also here in this battalion."

The battalion has been in Iraq since September in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II-2.

On any given day in Fallujah, firefights can start and end in a matter of seconds, but Marines must be prepared to handle the worst at any moment.

"It was the training and discipline of the platoon that ultimately saved the lives of more Marines that day," said Browning.