U.S. Marine Corps / Bronze Star with Valor
Marine holds off enemy while working to extract stuck convoy
As U.S. Marines pushed into Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, they were looking to seize a pair of Euphrates River bridges critical to their drive toward Baghdad.
It was just three days into Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Gunnery Sgt. Eric Ingerson would soon get a harrowing lesson in the enemy’s unconventional tactics.
Moving through the eastern part of the city in late morning, Ingerson’s platoon from Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was to provide covering fire for a larger force headed toward the center of Nasiriyah, Iraq’s fourth largest city. The idea was to dislodge Iraqi troops and push them east, where other American troops would be waiting.
The plan went well until part of the company rolled into what looked like a courtyard. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the sewage lines had been broken just under the crust of the land.
“The sun was just enough to keep it dry,” Ingerson recalled. “And as soon as you got on it – I relate it to melted M&Ms – if a vehicle turned on it at all, it was going down.”
Two tanks, three amphibious assault vehicles and several support vehicles quickly were trapped in the muck. When the advance stopped, Ingerson, riding at the back of the column, walked forward to see what was up.
The track of at least one amphibious vehicle was almost completely buried, and as other vehicles tried to back out of the mess, their spinning tracks dug them deeper into the bog of sewage.
“I spent about 10 hours in that crap,” he recalled. It was “absolutely the nastiest environment I’ve ever been in in my life.”
To make matters worse, Iraqi troops displaced by the main advance seemed to appear like flies, moving into and between buildings all around the bog and firing on the stuck vehicles and the Marines trying to free them.
Marines not stuck moved ahead to pursue their original mission, leaving an Ingerson-led force of 26 to set up a defensive perimeter. With that done, he organized a chain of vehicles on firm ground to free two of the amphibious assault vehicles.
“Exposing himself on the open ground without concern for his own safety,” Ingerson “rallied his Marines to affix the necessary tow cables,” according to an official account of the battle. In the meantime, “small arms fire steadily increased.”
Ingerson said he was kind of oblivious to the fire: “I got so focused on what I needed to do … and you just start doing things. A couple of times, my Marines told me, you need to get out of the way or get down. …You do what you can. Hook up the vehicles-that was my main goal.”
The work took all afternoon. Some rescue equipment sent to the scene at Ingerson’s request also got bogged down. And as darkness approached, more Iraqi troops moved into the area. The Marines finally decided to abandon the stuck tanks and several other vehicles, after first stripping them of classified information and gear that might be useful to the enemy.
Finally, they headed out-without any casualties.
“I still don’t feel like I did anything special,” Ingerson said. “I was just glad to have my fellow 26 Marines with me when we finally did get linked back up with everybody.”
As daylight began to fade, he said the extent of the danger finally sunk in: “I don’t know how to describe it other than being kind of surreal. You’re looking at things happening. There’s kind of a sense of disbelief that they’re happening. The gravity of the situation doesn’t settle in for quite some time.”
Dale Eisman covered the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy for 15 years as Washington correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He is now a Washington-based freelance reporter.
U.S. Marine Corps / Bronze Star with Valor
Born July 27, 1971 in Fulton, N.Y.
He and his wife Mia have two sons, Eric Jr. and Jordan.Joined Marine Corps in 1990. Served three tours of duty in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.
What he did:
Held off enemy fire while organizing efforts to extract tanks and assault vehicles trapped in a sewage bog in Nasiriyah during an early phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Why he joined the Marines:
"It was the way (the recruiter) looked. They didn't have to sell me on it. I made a personal decision. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like that guy."
Iraq / Nasiriyah