Skip to comments.Iraqis don't impress 'Gunny' Joe
Posted on 04/04/2003 5:10:51 AM PST by knighthawk
"Gunny" Joe Simpson has little time to waste on battlefield pundits who are criticizing the war effort safe from TV studios inside Washington's Beltway.
"I'm not political, but that sounds like liberals talking," fumed Bravo Company's hard-as- nails gunnery sergeant, spitting on the ground and taking a puff at his stogie.
"The Marines are a light force. That enables us to travel fast. The initial shock force has worked. We crossed into Iraq and gave Saddam Hussein no time to adjust. He has only retreated.
"What are we now, right here, [50 miles] or less from the heart of Baghdad? That's spitting distance. There has been minimal damage to our forces. We've had a few casualties, but nothing like we thought."
Part of the reason is men like Gunnery Sergeant Simpson. If ever there was a Marine from central casting it would be him -- the brawny lifer is short, loud and profane, his ears stick out and he has a super-short haircut. He's been married five times.
Sgt. Simpson did his share of killing in the first Gulf War 12 years ago and has claimed at least one kill in this war so far.
Gunnery sergeants are renowned for their toughness. They've been part of Marine Corps lore since the U.S. Civil War, but the notion of a no-nonsense Marine Corps gunnery sergeant got wider public circulation because of the Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge.
"I yell at everybody and hold no grudges. I even yell at the lieutenants," said the sergeant, explaining his role. "I am the commanding officer's hammer. I'm good to the Marines when they're working hard and medieval to them when they're slow.
"I'm this way because I came up with some hard people, but my gunnies were good and they were fair. I've done two tours as a drill instructor. I've never hazed anybody. I've never struck a Marine."
With the Marines now sitting on Saddam Hussein's doorstep, Baghdad is Washington's sole object of desire and that is where the battle is headed.
Although there has been no independent corroboration of this, for days the troops here have figured there is a strong likelihood the Iraqi leader is dead and these are the last days of his regime.
After only 13 days, they have roared through southern Iraq and entered the "red zone" surrounding the city, the inner belt assumed to be Saddam's last line of defence.
Except for harassing attacks on their front, especially at night, the Marines of the Third Light Armored Reconnaissance have scarcely seen an enemy for days now.
And when they do, "Gunny" Simpson is not impressed.
"Saddam is forcing civilians to fight. They're untrained," he said.
"In theory, when they ambushed us last week, they should have hurt us bad, but they were basically farmers. When their weapons jammed, they ran away."
Given what he saw of the Iraqi army 12 years ago and in the past few weeks, Sgt. Simpson is not convinced of the vaunted fighting skills of the Republican Guard, the allegedly elite unit that defends Baghdad.
"People build them up because they are Saddam's only trained force," he said.
"They actually have a rank structure, they have some discipline, they have had loyalty to Saddam Hussein drilled into them, but can they fight?"
As he spoke, he fondled an SASR, a special applications scoped rifle. This prodigiously powerful and ferocious-looking 50-calibre weapon uses bullets 12 centimetres long that can penetrate walls and pierce armour.
"This packs a big wallop," he said laconically.
"I hit an Iraqi in the shoulder with one in 1991 when I was with a weapons platoon in an infantry battalion. The guy died immediately. When it hits a guy, all his guts come out. He dies real quick."
Yesterday, part of the First Marine Division crossed the Tigris River to cut all Iraqi lines to the south. The rest of the Marine force now guards those heavy forces out front after what has been the largest inland push the Marines have ever taken -- about 300 km.
Meanwhile in the west, the U.S. Army's V Corps, which is made up of the Third Infantry Division, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne and 101st Air Assault Division, is moving around Karbala.
All these movements have been happening in slow motion for several days now.
Part of the reason is continuing Iraqi resistance in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya. Another part is logistic -- key units have been rested for the battle ahead.
But the primary reason has been to give the air war, now focused on and near Baghdad, time to wear down the Republican Guard.
From the Marines' position, it is possible to watch this extravaganza of air power at any time of the day or night.
Contrails criss-cross the sky during daylight. There is also the constant sound of jet engines and occasional glimpses of the jets themselves operating well above Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.
The air war looks more remarkable at night. At almost any time between dusk and dawn, watchers can see the result of bombs exploding on the northern horizon.
The spectacle is even more impressive when using night-vision goggles.
The war has not quite reached the point at which the soldiers feel safe placing bets on its end. But there is a feeling in the ranks that it cannot be far off.
Marines such as Gunny Simpson want the war to end when they and the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division confront Republican Guard divisions.
They have no stomach for urban warfare although they are trained for it.
"If it comes to that, I don't think the Marine Corps will go in and do it," Sgt. Simpson said. "That would be a job for the army. They are better equipped."
But that is not how he sees the second Gulf War ending.
"I think we'll surround Baghdad and squeeze the place. [With the Marines across the Tigris], Saddam will know it's over. It will just be a matter of time. We will have cut off all his supply routes. He cannot hold out forever."
Ya, love him or be smart enough to hold your tongue.
Been to any cluster f*cks lately, gunny?