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Marines rescue three hostages, uncover weapons caches in Operation Spotlight

24 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, rescued three hostages and uncovered a large weapons cache, including a fully-assembled vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, during Operation Spotlight.

The intelligence-driven operation was conducted alongside Iraqi Army soldiers from 2nd and 4th Brigades, 1st Iraqi Army Division.

The three hostages were personal assistants of Dr. Rafa Hayid Chiad Al-Isawi, an Iraqi government official in Baghdad. They were held by al-Qaeda insurgents for 27 days.

“We are extremely pleased we were able to recover these Iraqi citizens,” said Col. Larry D. Nicholson, Regimental Combat Team 5’s commanding officer. “The safety of Iraqi citizens to move freely about their own country without fear is a priority for U.S. and Iraqi forces and we will continue to assist the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police in ensuring their citizens have a future that is free of terrorism.”

The three hostages were taken by insurgents west of Zaidon, a rural area south of Fallujah, and were beaten with electrical cords by their captors, bitten and threatened with their lives at gunpoint. They were treated by Coalition Forces medical personnel. 

A significant weapons cache was also recovered nearby. Aside from a fully-assembled vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, Marines also recovered IEDs and IED-making material, mortar tubes and round, artillery rounds, machine guns, bulk explosives, anti-tank mines, rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, AK-47 assault rifles, small-arms ammunition and video cameras.

“Right off the bat it didn’t start like a normal day for us,” said Sgt. Brian Vitale, a 24-year-old from Methuen, Mass., assigned to the battalion’s personnel security detachment. “When I saw almost a hundred vehicles and hundreds of anxious Marines departing friendly lines heading for the village, I knew the operation was going to be a good one.”

Vitale was right. It wasn’t going to be just another mission for them.

A huge convoy rolled into Fuhuylat before the sun could rise over the desert area south of Fallujah. Security was set for a forward command point, while immediately the operational force was making its way through the villages surrounding areas.

Reports of improvised explosive devices and weapons cache discoveries sounded over the radios as Marines monitored and waited for instructions for their next move.

“We came across some sand bags and decided to check them out,” explained Cpl. Russell P. Untiedt, a 22-year-old combat engineer from Excell, Mo. “I was amazed at what we had found. Pounds of explosive material used to make IED’s.”

Marines pressed forward, moving throughout several square miles, searching and waiting for insurgeant activity.

“We pushed out to another spot and that’s when things got a little hairy,” said Sgt. Richard J. Chase, a turret gunner from Killingly, Conn., assigned to the PSD.

Enemy mortar rounds began impacting around the group’s position.

“My heart was pumping like it was going to come out of my chest when the mortars started coming in next to us,” said Cpl. Andy Melendez, a 25-year-old turret gunner, from Utica, N.Y.

“I thought that the insurgents were going to zero-in on us at any moment,” Vitale added.

Miles away, Marine artillerymen were swinging their 155 mm M-198 howitzers and lobbing their own fire back at the insurgents.

“Within seconds the radio traffic started going crazy and I learned the artillery Marines not only found them, but they had them zeroed-in,” Vitale said.

Thuds from artillery pounded in the distance on the insurgent mortar positions.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Melendez said. “We all support each other and without the artillery unit who knows what would have happened to us.”

Before the Marines could catch their breath, they were applauding the efforts of their counterparts as reports of more weapons caches were sent their way. 

Weapons Company Marines radioed that they captured armed men guarding three Iraqis tied up inside of an underground bunker.

“It shows that they are not only terrorists, but they are animals,” Vitale said. “I mean to kidnap somebody and put them in the ground like that. It’s just not human.”

The operation pushed on for most of the day while “New England’s Own” Marines continued to capture enemy material and gather information from locals.

“It feels good to be out their helping people, you know,” Untiedt said.

“Anytime we take weapons out of insurgent hands it’s a successful mission, especially considering we saved three innocent lives,” said 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Dent, an imagery analyst from Boston.

The mission was debriefed and the Marines all agreed the day was a success.

“It was a great day,” Dent said. “With all of the weapons we found and rescuing three innocent people from the terrorists, we made a difference out there.”