Saturday, December 30, 2006

Standing Tall in Duty, Deed

I’d like to tell you about another friend of mine, Sergeant First Class Michael Harrington. The previous piece about the Purple Heart medal and Sal Cernigilia relates to this incident because both took place during the same battle. The following op-ed piece tells Harrington’s story. At the time he was a Staff Sergeant:

Daring rescue embodies the U.S. citizen soldier
Special to the Sentinel
April 16, 2005

Staff Sgt. Michael Harrington heard the strained voice of his wounded commander over the radio. It was late in the morning of Aug. 8, 2004, and at least a hundred Iraqi insurgents were laying siege to the only government building in Baghdad’s Sadr City – the DAC, or District Advisory Council. Small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars were taking a toll on the defenders. Several American advisers were wounded and at least two of the Iraqi soldiers defending the walled-in compound were dead. As the injured officer asked for a re-supply of ammunition, he warned that the compound was in danger of being over-run.

Harrington, a resident of Orlando, and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Welsh of Dunedin were advisers at the DAC. They had just started a three-day R & R a few kilometers away, but when they knew their comrades were in trouble, the R & R was over. The two sergeants quickly organized a convoy of five vehicles filled with ammunition, food and water. Harrington was the only American permitted to accompany the 17 Iraqi soldiers as the convoy headed toward the Sadr City battle.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Militia were then, and still are, the force to be reckoned with in Sadr City. The area is named for al Sadr’s father and is home to some 2 million Iraqis. On this day, the intent of the Mahdi Militia was to destroy the DAC and its defenders. During the first hours of the relentless assault, the American and Iraqi soldiers had expended 40,000 rounds of ammunition. The desperate situation was clear as the men resorted to scraping loose bullets off the ground to fill the magazines of their weapons.

The convoy left Baghdad’s Camp Cuervo but was ambushed a short distance away. The soldiers pushed the vehicles through the enemy attack with only minor damage and two wounds to Iraqi soldiers. They arrived at Forward Operating Base Ironhorse and Harrington asked for an armed escort to the DAC. Unfortunately, with other units also engaged in operations, no escort was available. Time was also an enemy now, so Harrington and the convoy moved out.

Just before entering Sadr City, they were ambushed again. Rocket-propelled grenades skidded across the pavement in front of them, small-arms fire shattered windows in some of the vehicles and more Iraqi soldiers were wounded. During this attack, Harrington credited one of the Iraqis with saving his life when the man drove his vehicle between the enemy and the American.

With even more damage and additional casualties, Harrington pressed the convoy on, reaching the gate of the DAC compound under a withering fusillade of small-arms fire. After the vehicles were safely inside, Harrington and the Iraqis ran to the only building in the compound. Debris and small rocks bounced off their backs as bullets and mortars hit the ground nearby. Ammunition was quickly distributed and the battle continued.

The siege of the DAC continued for several days, but the American and Iraqi defenders ensured that the 6-foot walls of the compound were never breached. Sgt. Welsh returned the day after Harrington and, although both men had to kill some of the insurgents during the battle, they echoed the sentiments of warriors throughout history. “It was them or us,” they said.

The American defenders of the DAC were all awarded Bronze Stars for their service as advisers to the Iraqi Army. Harrington and Welsh are experienced Army infantrymen who also earned the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge on that August day. They and others from their Orlando Army Reserve unit, the 3rd Battalion, 347th Regiment, have trained and fought with many of the new Iraqi soldiers. Like other Reservists and National Guardsmen, they are proud of their part in the war on terror.

As the Army Reserve celebrates its 97th birthday in April, it is important to remember that this war could not be fought, and will not be won, without the citizen soldier.

SFC Chuck Grist

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