Back from ‘Ambush Alley’

Jared Martin survived one of the fiercest battles in the Iraqi war as he and fellow Marines shot their way out of a neighborhood where men, women and children were shooting.

“There were kids carrying weapons; there were women. If it moved, we shot it,” said Martin, a lance corporal who returned to his Tempe home last week.

He bears scars on his face, arm and one leg, carries heavy grief over watching his best buddy get killed by friendly fire, and suffers “bad dreams, a lot of them.”

But he says they couldn’t have done anything differently.

“We were in a very hostile situation in one house. The whole neighborhood could’ve attacked us,” he said Thursday of the six-hour battle on March 23.

Martin, 27, was part of Task Force Tarawa, which traveled into Nasiriyah a few hours after the infamous ambush of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company that took the life of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa. Three companies from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines Expeditionary Force arrived at the south end of the city about noon, as an Army convoy was leaving.

“They were screaming, ‘Hey, we’ve been hit; we still have friendlies (soldiers) in there,’ ” Martin recalled.

But the Marines had been sent to secure two bridges, and they headed into the city. The other two companies veered off to secure east and west. Martin’s company “went straight up the gut of Ambush Alley.”

Officially, 15 Dead

The Marine Corps officially lists 15 dead; Martin says there were 18 killed and 14 badly wounded. The inch-long scar on his cheek from a 20mm round, the scrap metal in his right arm and leg, don’t add up to enough to count him among those wounded.

When Martin’s company lost track of the other two companies just inside Nasiriyah, they hurried to catch up, not realizing the others had gotten stuck.

“We didn’t know we were by ourselves,” Martin said. “We were going into the jaws of hell.”

Iraqis lined the streets, waving white flags. Men, women and children, looking friendly, as the Marines had been told they would be.

“Then you see them throw the white flags down, pull their AK47s and start firing,” he said.

“Women were shooting at us, children were shooting at us. They even had men dressed up as women. After we were hit by small arms, we returned fire back. Women, children, men, we figured it was us or them. We just did what we had to do to get out.”

A rocket-propelled grenade struck Martin’s vehicle, wounding five men.

The concussion created a temporary silence. “All you could taste was the blood in your mouth,” he said, as the force of the explosion caused some of them to bleed.

As the inside of the vehicle filled with smoke, the Marines donned gas masks, fearing biological or chemical agents. Outside, their packs and gear had caught fire. Meanwhile, the driver kept them going.

‘Chaos Inside’

“It was nuts; it was chaos inside. We pushed north as we were on fire and crossed the north bridge that was supposed to be a safe area,” he said.

Martin ran about 150 yards back and forth to another armored vehicle, carrying wounded over his shoulder.

“All I could hear was rounds flying past my head,” he said. “It was pretty scary.”

The men took refuge in a ditch. When they heard a whistling, they recognized the sound as incoming mortar fire and knew “something bad was going to happen.”

“That sound of mortar rounds flying in the area, not knowing where it was going to hit, was one of the scariest moments of my life,” he said.

Mortar rounds destroyed their vehicle, then the shelling moved toward them.

The Marines ran. Just behind Martin was his “best buddy,” Lance Cpl. David Fribley.

“That’s when the A10 (Warthog) from the Air Force came. We weren’t supposed to be up there. They came down and all you hear is a grunting noise, and the sand is just flying up at you.”

It was like being inside a huge drum, he said, while someone bangs on it.

“You just feel your whole body shake inside and out.”

Feeling heat on his back, he thought he’d been shot. He hit the ground, saw blood on his face and couldn’t feel his hands.

Those who could climbed into the armored vehicle. Martin watched two men pick up Fribley. As they put him into the vehicle, Martin saw the exit wound in Fribley’s back.

“That round had hit him square in the chest. His body shouldn’t have bent that way; he had no spine. And that’s when I knew my buddy was dead.”

After they’d gotten everyone in, they made a move that Martin still doesn’t understand: They returned south into Nasiriyah.

“No one knows why we went back down south. We were just hit hard coming through, so why would we go back?”

He said the decision, “definitely the wrong call,” is under investigation.

Carrying the Wounded

Traveling back through the city, their vehicle came under attack and struck a pole. The men carried the wounded out of the vehicle and to the refuge of a house.

Martin won’t talk about what happened inside the house. He says he’ll probably never want to talk about that. He says they “cleared” it.

The 18 Marines in the house weren’t out of danger; they lacked sufficient ammunition, and many of their weapons were full of mud. Martin and six others took up stations on the roof; six men were downstairs, and five more outside by the fence.

He remembers looking at his watch and realizing they only had about two hours of daylight left. From his post on the roof, Martin could see Iraqis in the street, “peeking around corners,” trying to get a grenade launcher to work.

Close to sunset on the 23rd, they were rescued by other Marines, who drove them north out of Nasiriyah.

Nearly four months later, Martin says, “We had to do what we had to do to survive. I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t a pretty sight after we left that place.”