Javier A. Alvarez
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
He lost his right hand to a
grenade explosion in a fierce firefight with Iraqi insurgents
Editor’s Note: The following tells the story of three Marines – Cpl. Joshua Mooi, Gunnery Sgt. Robert Homer and Cpl. Javier Alvarez – who were decorated for heroism, along with others, in the same battle.
In well-rehearsed fashion, the four Marines knocked on a farmhouse door, opened it and tossed in a flash grenade before rushing inside.
The morning of Nov. 16, 2005, was another day in Operation Steel Curtain to stem the flow of mercenaries entering Iraq from Syria. The end of this particular assignment was in sight as the Marines were running out of houses to check for signs of hostiles on the outskirts of New Ubaydi, near the Iraq border.
What they couldn’t know was that two dozen insurgents had picked the last farmhouse on the road for a final stand.
Or that after shielding themselves from the grenade, the insurgents would unleash a hail of explosives and gunfire on the Marines. Cpl. Joshua Ware, the first Marine through the door, never had a chance: Insurgents drew a bead on him from fire ports they had cut into the walls.
There’s no line on a map to etch this battle in history. What happened next boiled down to a few Marines fighting and dying to save other Marines in a battle for control of a death house in a remote spot in Anbar province.
Lance Cpl. Joshua Mooi, a grenadier in the 2nd Platoon, Company F, Second Battalion, 1st Marine Corps, had just cleared a nearby house with his own fire team about 50 meters away when he heard the sudden gunfire.
Mooi, 19, sprinted for the house, where he found Lance Cpl. Antonio Mendez outside the door, wounded.
“Where is everybody?” Mooi asked.
“I don’t know,” Mendez said, looking him in the eye as he continued to fire his weapon.
By the time Gunnery Sgt. Robert Homer evaded hostile fire to reach the house, Lance Cpl. Lamonte McGee, who had made the dash with Mooi, had been hit in the thigh. And Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Portillo had been dazed from an AK-47 round to the helmet.
“He looked like he had a baseball growing out of his forehead,” Homer said.
With grenades being hurled at them from over the roof and gunfire coming at them from inside, the front of the house was no place for wounded Marines. So Homer braved more enemy fire to get Mendez, Portillo and McGee to safety.
Meanwhile, Mooi, Cpl. Jeffry Rogers and Lance Cpl. John Lucente went inside to rescue Lance Cpl. Ben Sanbeck, who had taken shrapnel. They made the same dash across open terrain, evading enemy fire to get him to the casualty collection point.
“We’re trying to find out how many people are in there, so we get as much as we can from Sanbeck and go back across,” Mooi said.
Mooi’s Navy Cross citation said that six times he “willingly entered an ambush site to pursue the enemy and extricate injured Marines . . . often alone in his efforts.”
Mooi wasn’t counting.
“I wasn’t really thinking at all at this point,” he said. “I was just doing what had to be done. It was nothing another Marine wouldn’t have done if he was in my position.”
On one trip inside the house, Mooi saw Lucente catch a couple of rounds in the stomach from one of the spider-web holes insurgents had made in the wall.
“He’s in a sitting position and I’m leaned over, dragging him while Cpl. Rogers is providing cover down the hallway so I can make it out,” Mooi said.
They passed 2nd. Lt. Donald McGlothlin, their platoon commander, who was on his way inside.
“He’s asking if everybody is out,” Mooi said. “I heard a couple more exchanges of fire. The last thing I heard was a loud, muffled explosion.”
Mooi didn’t know it at the time, but McGlothlin had taken a grenade to save them.
Outside, Rogers said they needed to go back and get the lieutenant.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about? We just passed him up,’ ” Mooi said. “Sure enough, I look inside down the hallway and there’s the lieutenant lying on the floor. The two of us go back in, grab the lieutenant and get him out as well.”
As he walked backward, pulling the lieutenant, Mooi eyed an insurgent in the stairwell, throwing grenades over the roof into the front yard.
Mooi fired, and the man fell.
Cpl. Javier Alvarez, a squad leader with two Marine units and one Iraqi fire team under his command, was on tank security when he first heard the shooting about 100 meters away.
“We had to stay with the tanks, but once the tanks started moving that direction we followed them,” Alvarez said.
Without radio communication, Alvarez couldn’t tell what was happening at the farmhouse until the tank stopped.
“A staff sergeant asked me if I could have the tanks put a round into the house where the insurgents were,” Alvarez said.
The tank commander wanted to know if Marines were still in the house.
That’s when Alvarez saw Rogers lying face down in front of the door.
“At that point my platoon sergeant was talking to one of my teams about going in to extract Marines,” Alvarez said.
There was no other way.
Alvarez took the point, firing as he ran to prevent hostiles hiding in the field from popping up and mowing them down. He was hit three times in the legs as he tried to replace a magazine.
“We continued to push toward the house, about 20 feet away at that point,” he said. “I didn’t know if it hit an artery, so I stopped and took cover behind the wall.”
Back at the casualty collection point, Homer saw the dust fly from incoming fire from a nearby palm grove and then saw Alvarez go down, get back up and struggle to reach the house’s front wall.
“It’s basically kind of a lose-lose situation,” Homer said. On one hand, any Marine who dared to cross the field was going to be exposed to a heavy volume of fire. On the other, there were injured Marines only 30 meters away in front of the house yelling for help.
“There’s almost nothing you can do except kind of like hold your breath, run as fast as you can and hopefully you can get there,” Homer said. “That’s what I did.”
When he arrived, Homer found himself at Alvarez’s side.
Seven Marines, most of them injured, were huddled together at the wall in front of the house, still exposed to enemy fire. A Navy corpsman, Jesse Hickey, was trying to assist Rogers, and Lance Cpl. Liswon Salisbury was putting tourniquets on Alvarez’s legs when Salisbury, too, was shot.
“It probably ricocheted off him, so I picked up my weapon and started shooting into the windows where the round came from,” Alvarez said.
“As I ran out of rounds, I put my weapon down. And as I looked back up, I see Lance Cpl. Salisbury’s face, you know, with a pretty intense look. I look down to see what he’s looking at … and there was a grenade.”
It was rocking back and forth on the ground by the time Salisbury started yelling, “Grenade! Grenade! Grenade!”
From his sitting position, Alvarez reached for it.
“The first thing I thought was I had two or three seconds before the grenade goes off,” Alvarez said. “I kind of knew where everybody was, so I knew the only place I could get rid of it. It took a little longer to turn all the way around.”
The grenade exploded, blowing off his right hand.
Alvarez blacked out for a second from blast’s G-force.
“As my vision came back in, I saw my hand burning, and I looked at it and it was completely missing,” he said. “My sleeves were black and red from the blood. I think it was singed off, so it wasn’t bleeding profusely.”
Homer, sitting to Alvarez’s left when the grenade exploded, was sprayed with 15 or 20 pieces of shrapnel.
Homer took one look at Alvarez and took his belt off because “we’re running low on tourniquets and there’s a lot of bleeding going on.”
Alvarez was too big for Homer to carry and there were too many bullets flying to risk removing Alvarez’s flak jacket, so he got him to his feet.
“Hey, you gotta help me out here,” Homer told Alvarez. “You gotta stand up. I know you have some bullet holes in your leg and you just lost your hand.”
At least no more grenades came their way. Mooi had made sure of that by taking down the insurgent at the stairwell.
Mooi went back to the house one more time to link up with Rogers, only to find him dead.
“I’m a little heated and upset at this point, because I’m the only person left from my squad,” said Mooi, who then fired a rocket-propelled grenade through the door and stormed in with Lance Cpl. Justin Mayfield.
They cleared three rooms and the stairwell before going out back, where another insurgent had Mooi in his sights. Mooi traded fire until his M-16 jammed.
Nicknamed “Jinx” because his good luck didn’t always rub off on everyone else, Mooi figured his own luck had run out, too.
But the bullet struck Mooi’s rifle, giving Mayfield time to raise his weapon and kill the insurgent.
Altogether, “Jinx” was shot three times in the weapon that day.
“He didn’t go down,” Homer said. “He’s the man, I guess, an amazing Marine.”
Afterward, with rescue helicopters whirling around him, Mooi ended up on the roof of the casualty collection point. Downstairs, a staff sergeant was taking a head count. He found the First Squad in one room, Second Squad in another.
“Where’s Third Squad?” he said.
“I’m up here,” Mooi replied.
He gave Mooi an incredulous look, as if to ask what happened to everybody else.
“I don’t know,” Mooi said.
Five Marines died that day. Eleven others were injured.
The record also shows that Mooi’s actions helped save 10 Marines and brought an end to a little-known firefight as part of Operation Steel Curtain.
It lasted only an hour, but the heroics produced one Navy Cross, four Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars with Valor.
Tom Lindley is editor of Oklahoma Watch, an investigative reporting team.
Javier A. Alvarez
U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star
Born Nov. 30, 1980, in Columbia, South America.
Wife, Rebekah. They are expecting a child.
Earned valor medal as 2nd Squad Leader in the 2nd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Served three tours in Iraq. Two brothers-in-law also are Marines — Sgt. Anthony Dilling, still on active duty, and Staff Sgt. Peter Madigral, in Marine reserves. Both also did three tours.
WHAT HE DID
Lost his right hand in a grenade explosion while trying to rescue injured Marines under attack by insurgents.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Lives in Vail, Ariz., and is a sergeant in the individual ready reserves.
WHY HE JOINED THE MARINES
“I joined before 9/11 occurred … really didn’t have much going on in my life at that point, and I felt the Marine Corps was the best branch of the military … because of their attitude, their integrity, their judgment.”
Iraq / New Ubaqdi