Jason E. Smith
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Marine honored for rescue and leaving no man behind
Capt. Jason Smith was frustrated. He could see where his stranded Marines were located by the smoke of their burning vehicle, yet the rescue convoy of Abrams tanks and Humvees wasn’t moving nearly fast enough.
Earlier that day, April 13, 2004, he’d ordered food and ammunition for a squad of Marines at a forward observation point in the middle of Fallujah. Although heavy fighting had recently lessened, Marines and insurgents continued to jockey for position, and enemy fire had driven away an unarmored Humvee before it could resupply the Marines.
Two Amphibious Assault Vehicles (Amtracs) were borrowed to run the supplies forward. They were attacked as they moved into the city, and as the lead vehicle raced ahead to escape the ambush, it lost communications when its antennas were knocked out. The trailing Amtrac continued to its destination, and then began circling the area, looking for its missing mate.
Battalion commanders didn’t know the first vehicle had escaped the ambush, turning south to avoid heavy incoming fire, but running into several hundred heavily armed insurgents. A huge firefight erupted, the Marines using a .50-caliber machine gun in the Amtrac’s turret, and infantrymen in the troop compartment popping the hatches to add fire from their M-16s.
A barrage of rocket propelled grenades hit on and around the Marines. One killed Cpl. Kevin Kolm, the .50-caliber gunner, and another seriously wounded vehicle commander Lt. Christopher Ayres and several others.
The driver continued to maneuver the now-flaming vehicle through the narrow street, trying to put distance between the Americans and the insurgents before the engine died.
The Amtrac finally came to a shuddering halt and the Marines bailed out, carrying Ayres and their wounded into a private house and setting up defensive positions.
Back at the command post, Smith and others heard some garbled radio traffic about a squad of Marines with a severe casualty. They quickly organized a rescue convoy.
As the Quick Relief Force went to rescue his Marines, Smith’s patience at its slow movement was quickly exhausted. He leaped from his rear-most Humvee and ran forward to pick up the pace. As the radio repeatedly spit out the location where the Marines were supposed to be, a frustrated Smith couldn’t convince rescuers to head towards the smoke column he believed marked his missing Marines.
”We were starting and stopping,” he said later. “While we were looking for the path of least resistance, my Marines were under attack out there and we needed to move.”
As the relief force finally reached the smoking Amtrac, he found it empty. Where were his Marines? He spotted a dead Iraqi lying in the doorway to a house, and ran to it. His Marines were inside, but down to their last magazines of ammunition after repelling multiple enemy charges.
The relief force took positions around the house, and the badly wounded Ayres was loaded into a vehicle and driven to Marine lines. Cpl. Kolm lay dead in the still-burning vehicle, and Smith refused an order to blow up and abandon it, telling his battalion leaders, “I’m prepared to stay here all night.”
In the face of his obstinacy, one Abrams crew stayed and worked to tow the vehicle and Cpl. Kolms back with them. The Amtrac’s light aluminum armor had melted as the ammunition inside cooked off, and the multiple explosions knocked the treads off the road wheels.
Despite the ferocity of the battle, Smith kept faith with the most honored Marine tradition. As Gen. Oliver P. Smith was said to have declared when decimated U.S. forces marched out of Korea’s Chosin Reservoir: “We’re coming out, and we’re bringing our wounded and our dead with us.”
Andrew Lubin is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania who has embedded with the Marine Corps in Iraq; Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Beirut, Lebanon. He is the author of “Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq.”
Jason E. Smith
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Born in 1973 in Baton Rouge, La. Now lives in Colts Neck, N.J.
Wife, Rebekah; children Jackson, Winston, Maggie and Augst.Enlisted in December 1993. Was company commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, at the time of this incident. Also served previous tour during the 2003 invasion.
What he did:
Under heavy enemy fire, he led a convoy through Fallujah, Iraq, to rescue wounded Marines stranded with their burning assault vehicle.
Where he is now:
Now a major, he is commanding officer of Marine Corps Recruiting Station New Jersey.
Why he joined the Marines:
“I was a History major at LSU, and wanted to do something with my life that had meaning. My father was a Marine reservist who'd been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and so joining the Marine Corps looked like a good way to accomplish that goal.”
Iraq / Fallujah