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David Dunfee

U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star

Marine averted a potential 'friendly fire' disaster in Iraq by exposing himself to gunfire

The fight at Nasiriyah had been intense for three days. It had started Sunday morning south of the city and now, on Tuesday, Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Dunfee, the battalion gunner for 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was north of the city.

A battalion gunner is an expert in all Marine weapons and normally would be advising his commander on the utilization of the heavy guns at their disposal. But with the 1st Battalion spread out in three different locations, there was nothing normal about this fight.

In the thick of the battle, Dunfee had directed heavy weapons fire on Iraqis fighting from the appropriately named Martyrs District; he worked with his Humvee-mounted machine gunners as they laid down a suppressing fire that, in addition to the heavy Marine artillery barrage, was instrumental in knocking out Iraqi positions.

A day of heavy fighting had secured the highway through Nasiriyah, at least enough to wave the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force through to Baghdad. But about 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 25, 2003, as the heavily armored and tense Marine convoy began racing north up “Ambush Alley” through Nasiriyah, it seemingly was employing every weapon in its arsenal.

Sitting by their Humvee, Dunfee and his commander, Lt. Col. Rickie L. Grabowski, were startled by the volume of fire approaching them. Dunfee could hear the deep boom of .50-caliber machine guns among the higher notes of Marine M-16s and see flashes of light from tracer bullets as the convoy advanced toward them.

A “friendly fire” disaster was in the offing.

As Grabowski radioed to try to halt the firing, he told Dunfee to have their company commanders mark their positions with chemical lights. The firing stopped as the convoy cleared the northernmost bridge, but as the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force vehicles drove another mile, guns opened fire again on Grabowski’s dug-in Marines.

Dunfee decided it was time to act. He ran across an open field to the road, attempting to halt the friendly fire personally.

“I thought he was going to be killed,” Grabowski said later. “The volume of fire directed at us was incredible.”

Waving his arms wildly while ignoring the fire directed at him, Dunfee jumped into the middle of the road, forcing the lead vehicle to slam on its brakes.

“Cease fire. You’re firing on Marines,” Dunfee bellowed as he continued to block the passage of the heavily armed, lead Humvee. As the following vehicles braked to a halt, Dunfee kept moving from side to side to keep them from passing, loudly and expressively ordering the convoy to stop firing.

With the convoy halted, its executive officer drove forward to see why it had been stopped. Encountering a still-animated Dunfee, he quickly ordered his Marines to cease fire.

As the sun began to rise over the lines, Marines discovered that only one had been wounded. Dunfee’s quick thinking and courage under fire had diverted a potential disaster and potentially saved the lives of countless others.

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.”

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Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Dunfee stands near a group of weapons his Marine unit captured in Iraq. (Photo courtesy of David Dunfee)


David Dunfee

U.S. Marine Corps / Silver Star

Born Dec. 17, 1959, in Huntington, W.Va.

Married to Diana; one son, Sheamus.

Joined the Marines on May 15, 1978, and has served two tours of duty in Iraq.

He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.

Under heavy fire, raced across a field and jumped into the road to halt an onrushing Marine convoy and head off a potential “friendly fire” disaster.

Retired from the military, he is a Marine Corps consultant, and lives in Fredericksburg, Va.

“My father and uncle had retired from the Navy, so I always knew I wanted to serve. But when getting ready to enlist in the Army, I met a Marine recruiter who smirked at me, and after talking with him, I knew I wanted to be a Marine.”

Iraq / Nasiriyah

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