06 April 2013

9th anniversary of 2004 ambush of 2/4 Marines Echo Company in Ramadi, Iraq

Today is the 9th anniversary of the ambush of 2/4 Marines, Echo Company, in which 12 brave Americans lost their lives, and the lives of their family members was forever changed. The names of the fallen, as read by Gold Star father John Wroblewski at the ambush site during a 6 Mar 2008 memorial service are as follows:
 "LCpl Benjamin CarmanLCpl Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCpl Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises LanghorstLCpl Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez-Aceves, LCpl Anthony Roberts, SSgt Allan Walker, and my hero, 2Lt John Thomas Wroblewski."

The details of the actual ambush have been well documented by David Swanson, now a staff photographer with the Philadelphia Inquirer, who was embedded with 2/4 Marines prior to, during, and after the ambush. Mr. Swanson has created a video, "Echoes of War" which richly illustrates the time he spent with "The Magnificent Bastards" of 2/4 Marines during his embed. I highly encourage anyone interested to view his website to see his amazing images: http://photoswanson.photoshelter.com

We must never forget the sacrifices of these young men and their families. Regardless of how you feel about armed conflict, they had volunteered to serve our country by joining the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy, and lost their lives doing so. They lived alongside their Marine brothers and fought not for flag and country, but for those fellow Marines that are their brothers for life. The survivors mourn the loss of those brothers and friends to this day.

These families' lives have been forever changed by the loss of their sons. No amount of kind words, any number of blog posts, or memorials will bring these men back to their families. However, by remembering their sacrifice and loss, we can try, in some way, to keep them alive through our collective memories, and let their loved ones know that their sons will never be forgotten. 

The father of one of these Marines was determined to see and experience what his son saw while in Iraq, and to visit the site of the ambush to perform a memorial service for the fallen of 2/4. John Wroblewski met journalist Martha Zoller in Crawford, Texas during a "Support our Troops" rally. Martha had come up with the idea to take John to Iraq to try and reach the ambush site. John dearly missed his beloved son, 2Lt. J.T. "Ski" Wroblewski, and wanted to do something to honor him and the rest of the fallen.

Martha Zoller hired me to be her photographer to document the embed in January 2007, and this is how I met John Wroblewski. Unfortunately, our January 2007 embed mission was unsuccessful due to combat and heavy sniper fire in Ramadi. A Marine helicopter crew chief refused to board our group on a CH-53, telling us, "I need these seats for Marines. I don't want to be responsible for you getting killed out there." Perhaps he saved one or more of our lives - we will never know.  

What I do know is that even though John had seen much of what his son J.T. had seen, and had even visited the CSH (combat support hospital) where J.T. had died, we had failed to reach our goal of visiting the ambush site to perform the memorial service. On the long plane ride back to the U.S., I felt compelled to make a promise to John Wroblewski to get him to Ramadi one day.

When I returned home, I immediately began planning an independent Marine embed consisting of just John and myself. After 14 months of planning (and a little subterfuge), the dream finally became a reality. John and I departed to Iraq from Atlanta, Georgia on 27 February 2008. It seemed as if our trip was blessed from the start, as every aspect of our journey went incredibly smooth. There were lots of twists and turns, but we were determined to get to the ambush site to perform the memorial service.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to USMC Msgt Willie Ellerbrock, my Marine PAO. When I first spoke with him while I was in Baghdad awaiting a helo flight, Ellerbrock said he'd meet us in Fallujah and we could patrol with the Marines there. I told Ellerbrock that my plan had always been to get to Ramadi. Ellerbrock told me that we could only go to Fallujah, and could see the same type of operations there as were being conducted in Ramadi. I explained that my "assistant" was actually a Gold Star father, and we were trying to get to the actual site in Ramadi where his son and 11 other Marines were killed-in-action to perform a memorial service. After a long silence, Ellerbrock said he would see what he could do, and that he would meet our helo in Fallujah. A short while later, John and I climbed aboard a CH-53 and flew into Fallujah, where Ellerbrock met us. Ellerbrock and his team, including Amy Forsythe, had made some calls and gotten us permission to go into Ramadi. His commanding officers were also intrigued with my plan, and provided assistance, including an escort to the ambush site by USMC Major General John Kelly, who at that time was the Commander in Chief of MNFI-W (Multi-National Forces Iraq - West.)

 On 6 Mar 2008, I had the honor of standing alongside John Wroblewski, USMC Major General John Kelly, and the men of 2/8 Marines, PSD Company at the exact spot where John's son, 2Lt J.T. "Ski" Wroblewski fell in combat. John stated that we were there to honor the memories of the fallen of 2/4, and solemnly read the names of the fallen: "LCpl Benjamin Carman, LCpl Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCpl Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCpl Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez (Aceves), LCpl Anthony Roberts, SSgt Allan Walker, and my hero, 2Lt John ThomasWroblewski."

When John finished speaking the names of the fallen, he asked PSD Company and Major General John Kelly to give a loud "Oo-rah" in honor of these men. This raw, heartfelt cheer echoed throughout the alleyway and surrounding houses, bringing chills to my spine, before it faded into the palm groves surrounding us.

We must always remember these men and the sacrifices they and their families made on that terrible day, 6 April 2004. I know I will never forget them.