They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq

They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq

4.4 44
by Kelly Kennedy

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Charlie 1-26 confronted one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad and lost more men than any battalion since Vietnam

Based on "Blood Brothers", the Michael Kelly Awardnominated series that ran in Army Times, this is the remarkable story of a courageous military unit that sacrificed their lives to change

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Charlie 1-26 confronted one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad and lost more men than any battalion since Vietnam

Based on "Blood Brothers", the Michael Kelly Awardnominated series that ran in Army Times, this is the remarkable story of a courageous military unit that sacrificed their lives to change Adhamiya, Iraq, from a lawless town where insurgents roamed freely, to a secure neighborhood with open storefronts and a safe populace.

Army Times writer Kelly Kennedy was embedded with Charlie Company in 2007, went on patrol with the soldiers and spent hours in combat support hospitals. During that period, one soldier threw himself on a grenade to save his friends, a well-liked first sergeant shot himself to death in front of his troops, and a platoon staged a mutiny. The men of Charlie 1- 26 would earn at least 95 combat awards, including one soldier who would go home with three Purple Hearts and a lost dream. This is a timeless story of men at war and a heartbreaking account of American sacrifice in Iraq.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist and former soldier Kennedy makes a solid contribution to a growing body of frontline reportage from Iraq in this account based on her series of articles in Army Times. The book tells the story of a rifle company's fight against long odds in a Baghdad neighborhood. Adhamiya was No One's Land, a place of random violence dominated by insurgents and criminals. The 1/26th Infantry did 15 months there, took more casualties than any U.S. battalion since Vietnam, and completed its tour with at least a simulacrum of civil order restored. Kennedy's account of Adhamiya's costs to Charlie Company is shaped by her own military service in Desert Storm. Urban combat, counterinsurgency, and civic action combined in a toxic brew that made mental health injuries more prevalent than physical ones. But to endure the “fears, nightmares and grief,” men had to look out for each other. That mutual caring brought Charlie Company through. It gives Kennedy her title, informs her work, and above all reaffirms the scars war leaves on those who fight. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Mar. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
A superior, blow-by-blow account of a courageous and embattled infantry company. Times News Service reporter Kennedy was embedded in Charlie Company, 26th battalion, 101st Airborne Division during its 2006-07 effort to pacify a nondescript Baghdad neighborhood. Although professionals-many with previous tours-most soldiers accepted the radical new rules of counterinsurgency. As the company commander explains, 400,000 people under their protection want to get on with their lives except for 4,000 insurgents, who look identical: "You will have to assume they want to hurt you while you treat them as neighbors." Embedded reporters tend to bond with their subjects, and Kennedy is no exception, delivering admiring portraits of dozens of officers and men. She vividly communicates their intense love for each other; none pretend to fight for anything but comradeship and pride in their profession. To these men, insurgents are a murderous, shadowy army that fights dirty, hiding in mosques and paying boys $50 to throw a grenade at passing patrols. Their increasingly powerful roadside bombs produce most American casualties in Iraq, including those in this book. Many chapters begin with portraits of soldiers who-readers quickly realize to their distress-will die or suffer crippling injuries. At the end of a 15-month tour, their area showed modest reductions in violence, but the soldiers were consuming sleeping pills daily, obsessing over lost friends and undergoing counseling. Few felt that they struck a significant blow against world terrorism. Small-unit heroics in Iraq-engrossing despite eschewing the traditional optimistic outcome. Agent: Scott Miller/Trident Media Group
From the Publisher

“[Kennedy] spares no punches in revealing the gritty and the horrific and counters it with the moments of grace.” —Washington Post Book World

“This is one of the saddest and strongest tales to come out of the Iraq war. Please buy it.” —Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times bestselling author of FIASCO and THE GAMBLE

“No book takes you deeper inside the sacrifice made by the American soldier in Iraq.” —Sean Naylor, New York Times bestselling author of NOT A GOOD DAY TO DIE

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CHAPTER 1 Second Platoon Meets Adhamiya
At their tiny combat outpost in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad, the soldiers of second platoon acted like kids going to an amusement park: jumping around, grabbing gear, punching shoulders. They hugged the other members of the company like long-lost brothers, joyful to be part of a whole. Nothing could be worse than the two months they had spent separated from the rest of Charlie Company—they had not even lived on the same post. The men of second platoon had been attached to another unit, as often happens in war zones, and their company com­
mander, Captain Mike Baka, had fought hard to get them back.
Baka, grinning at their antics and their proximity, gathered his boys in October 25, 2006, for their .rst formation back together in months. Now that he had them back, he had to prepare them to do battle in Bagh­dad’s worst neighborhood.
“Second platoon!” he shouted, and the men stopped kicking up dust and stood still to listen. “Welcome to Adhamiya!” Baka paused as a barrage of deep-voiced “Hooah!’s” erupted from the platoon and bounced off the khaki-colored buildings.
“If there’s no violence in your sector, something’s amiss,” Baka con­tinued. “If 1 percent of the 400,000 people who live in Adhamiya are shitheads, that’s 4,000 shitheads. We’re up against some bad odds.”
“Roger that, sir!” yelled Private First Class Daniel Agami, and ev­erybody laughed, eager to see their new sector.
“The enemy does not have a uniform,” Baka said. “You won’t know who you’re up against, but they’ll know who you are. There is no front line. There is no moving forward. You will have to get to know the people. You will have to assume they want to hurt you while you treat them like neighbors.”
The guys grew quiet, having already met fear and pain two months into their deployment, but still not quite clear about the exact nature of the new mission—or, for that matter, the mission in Iraq. They knew they were part of the “surge,” and they had heard the term “counterinsurgency,” but many of the guys believed the two words were interchangeable without understanding the philosophy behind the new counterinsurgency manual written by General David Petraeus and his aides. In fact, they did not know the manual existed. According to the manual, they were supposed to spend just as much time sitting in living rooms drinking sweet, strong tea and trying to make connections with Iraqi citizens as they did rolling down the narrow streets shooting insurgents. But they would learn quickly.
Second platoon arrived at Combat Outpost Apache on a brilliantly sunny day and Baka decided to welcome them by taking them on a three- hour tour of the two- kilometer- by- three- kilometer neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. Baka’s other platoons— .rst, third, and the scouts—had been patrolling Adhamiya since late summer.
“The hardest part will be holding yourselves back,” Baka told sec­ond platoon. “For every shithead, there are 99,999 people who just want to get on with their days. They don’t want violence. They’ve been caught in the middle and are doing everything they can to help their families survive.” He explained that the soldiers would gather intelligence by ask­ing for it. They would spend much of their time offering up help in the form of water, electricity, soccer balls, and school supplies. But they would also have to memorize minute details, like how the street litter had changed from the previous patrol and how traffic should move at certain times of the day and what time the kids should be walking to school. Changes in the details signaled danger.
“Second platoon!” Baka said. “Let’s go see the neighborhood.”
They climbed into several up- armored Humvees, loaded with the usual amount of ammunition and water and bravado, and then rolled past a mural of the Grim Reaper a soldier from a previous unit had painted on a wall. Rumor was that the artist had died in Adhamiya.
Second platoon rolled out of the front gate onto one of Adhamiya’s main roads. Baka, riding in the platoon leader’s vehicle, decided to take them to a suburban area of town .rst, where things might be calmer but would still give them a sense of the place.
“Watch for IEDs,” Baka warned First Lieutenant Ryan Maravilla, second platoon leader, and Maravilla’s driver, Private First Class Jose Quinones, who rode in the lead vehicle. “IED” stands for improvised- explosive device—or roadside bomb. Baka spoke over an intercom sys­tem that allowed the whole platoon to hear him, including Sergeant First Class Tim Ybay, second platoon’s platoon sergeant, and all of his non­commissioned offi cers: Staff Sergeant John Gregory, Sergeant Jose Villa, Sergeant Ryan Wood, Staff Sergeant Robert Morris, Staff Sergeant Raja Richardson, Sergeant Billy Fielder, Sergeant Willsun Mock, Sergeant Alphonso Montenegro, Sergeant Michael French and Staff Sergeant Garth Sizemore. Ybay, thirty-eight and from the Phillipines, served as platoon daddy for second platoon. A former drill sergeant, he came from a mili­tary family—grandfather, dad, aunts, cousins, brothers and sister had all served. He’d gone to college for three years, studying criminal justice, but in his third year, he decided he just didn’t want to be in school any­more. By infantry standards, he was an old man, but he needed the expe­rience. He’d served in Bosnia and Kosovo, but Adhamiya was his . rst combat tour.
Ybay, pronounced “Ee-buy,” liked to tease his men, making them drop for push- ups and telling jokes over the intercom system. But this day, he was quiet. “The insurgents hide bombs in the garbage,” Baka continued. Maravilla’s eyes instantly began sweeping the road for signs of the bombs, which could be placed in sewage drains, or hidden in a bag of trash, or even buried beneath the street. The “suburban” area of Ad­
hamiya also boasted snipers and men tossing grenades.
“Watch that group over there,” Baka said, nodding toward a few young
men gathered on a corner. “Most of the insurgents are young males, so be
on the lookout for any suspicious activity.”
The platoon tried to take it all in, but in the middle of a city neigh­borhood, it was hard to focus on anything. In Iraq, traffic doesn’t stay in lanes. Everyone crowds together and merges and turns with a haphazard hope that everyone else is paying attention. Horns blared constantly. With no electricity, the streetlights could off er no clue as to who had the right of way. People on bikes and pedestrians appeared from between cars parked—or abandoned—on the side of the road.
On the residential streets, children and chickens walked through
sewage and .lth. Generators roared to provide some homes with electric­
ity. Occasionally, second platoon heard AK-47 .re in the distance, but
that could have been caused by anything. Someone might have had a
birthday or won a soccer match. Or killed a member of a rival group. Or
started a . re.ght with the Iraqi army or police. Or killed a soldier.
“Focus,” Baka admonished his men. “Pay attention to your sector.”
Watching the sides of the road, Baka noticed something that seemed
odd to him. “Hold up, hold up!” he said. Baka had taken a year of Arabic—
the only class in which he had received an A+ at West Point—and the
license plate on a car indicated it was from Dubai. “Foreign . ghters?”
Baka said, more to himself than to the others. Recent intelligence showed
many of the insurgents were coming in from Iran, as was their weaponry. “Let’s check it out.”
He got out of the Humvee and started walking toward a house near where the car was parked, and then he noticed his guys were hanging back a little, trying to pro cess their new neighborhood. But Baka didn’t have time for them to think about it. “Hey!” he yelled. “I need some people on the ground with me!”
Instantly, Agami was by Baka’s side, followed by Fielder and Montenegro, ready to watch the captain’s back. As Baka approached the house, his soldiers turned away from him, M-4s up and ready. In the front yard, a man in a long white robe explained through Baka’s inter­preter that the Dubai tag was similar to a temporary plate in the United States, and all new cars came in through Dubai. The explanation seemed legitimate, so Baka loaded everybody back up to head into the city areas for their .rst encounter with Antar Square and the Abu Hanifa Mosque.
Baka led them through narrow streets, picking his way past burned- out cars that created an impromptu obstacle course, piles of garbage that had cluttered the roads for months, and streams of sewage that drizzled down the gutters. The fumes of sulfur and rot caused the soldiers’ eyes to water. “Oh my God,” Agami said, riding with his squad in a Humvee behind Baka. “How can people live here?”
“Hey!” Maravilla yelled. “Is that a person?”
One of the piles in the sidewalk looked human- shaped, but it couldn’t be a body—people were walking past it, almost over it, as if there were nothing at all on the ground. Baka had the vehicles pull near for security, dismounted from his Humvee, and pulled back a scrap of cardboard covering the man’s face. The man was young, shot between the eyes, and it looked as if he had been beaten. “Jesus,” Maravilla mut­tered. “You’ll see this often,” Baka said. He called the location of the body back to the company command post so they could contact the Iraqi army to come pick the man up. With the help of an Iraqi interpreter, the soldiers interviewed some Iraqis on the scene, and received answers Baka had heard before: “He’s not from here.” “We don’t know how this happened.” “What a terrible accident.”
Shaking his head, Baka turned to his soldiers and saw their mouths gaping in disbelief. He tried to explain that the Iraqis were trying to pro­tect themselves, but he could see from his soldiers’ faces that they weren’t impressed by the explanation. Baka had them get back in the vehicles.
“OK! Load up!” he said.
“Watch the rooftops,” Baka said again, as they entered an area with shopping centers, hotels, and four- and .ve- story apartment buildings,
each fronted with arched balconies and latticed barriers that allowed women—or snipers—to look down at the street without being seen. Pri­vate First Class Ron Brown watched, but also tried to keep track of traffic and pedestrians. “Hey, Captain Baka,” he said. “That dude’s following us with a camera.”
“Where?” Baka yelled.
Baka ordered the driver, Quinones, to turn the Humvee around as Baka let the others know over the radio that they were on the chase. The man was taking pictures of second platoon’s patrol from the back of a car. Baka had already learned the insurgents liked to record everything—the grislier the better. But those videos and pictures could contain important intelligence for the Americans, if they could get their hands on them. They raced after the car and stopped it on a busy street. The soldiers sur­rounded it, pulled the driver out with his camera, and began to question him. But as they did, another car rushed through the intersection and slammed into a concrete post. “What the hell?” Maravilla said, looking over at Baka from the passenger seat.
“VBIED!” Quinones yelled, instantly assuming the car contained a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device—a suicide bomber in a car. “Wait,” Maravilla said, as they prepared to .ee the scene. “That dude looks dead.” The “suicide bomber” had slumped over his steering wheel.
“Let’s check it out,” Baka said, and sent a message over the radio for the guys in the trucks behind him to back him up. Baka had assumed the car belonged to another one of Adhamiya’s bad drivers and had simply crashed into a concrete pole because he wasn’t paying attention. But Baka’s men were not yet familiar with Adhamiya’s traffi c.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Montenegro said. “What if it blows up?” But he jumped out with the rest of the platoon, .guring the company commander must know what he was doing. Baka walked toward the car, followed by his men looking toward the rooftops for snipers and pointing their weapons out.
“Shit,” Baka said as he got near the car. Blood poured from the side
of the driver’s forehead. “Gunshot wound to the head.”
A sniper, apparently aiming for the soldiers and Baka, had hit the
civilian driver instead as he chanced through the intersection.
“Where is he? Where is he?” Agami shouted as the guys realized they were in immediate danger and began looking for the sniper. They scanned the tops of buildings, but they did not see anybody. The platoon medic quickly bandaged the man’s head. He had survived the gunshot wound, and was conscious and confused. “Load him up,” Baka yelled.
“We gotta get this guy to a hospital.”
As they moved the Iraqi man into a Humvee, the patrol started tak­
ing .re. “Just go!” Baka yelled, and had Quinones lead the way, tires
bumping over the curbs and soldiers bouncing hard in their seats.
“Sir, sir!” Maravilla shouted. “Don’t you think we’re going a little
Baka laughed.
“It’s always a little fast,” Baka said.
He told Quinones to hurry, and they hit a dip in the road, sending
soldiers .ying up out of their seats.
“Whoa,” Maravilla said, eyes wide as he grabbed the dash. “So this
is Adhamiya.”
Excerpted from They Fought For Each Other by Kelly Kennedy.
Copyright © 2010 by Kelly Kennedy.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction
is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or
medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Meet the Author

KELLY KENNEDY served as a soldier in Desert Storm and Mogadishu, Somalia. She has written for The Salt Lake Tribune, The Portland Oregonian, The Chicago Tribune, and Army Times. She lives in Virginia.

Kelly Kennedy served as a soldier in Desert Storm and Mogadishu, Somalia. She has written for The Salt Lake Tribune, The Portland Oregonian, The Chicago Tribune, and Army Times. She lives in Virginia.

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They Fought for Each Other 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a difficult read. I had a loved one serve in this unit so knowing the ending made it all the more difficult. I wish it was listed under fiction and that the events that unfolded were not true experiences these young men and women went through. I felt that the author should have spent more time describing the soldiers characters (and some of them were characters)and although I understand that there are limitations when writing a book I felt it would have been better to have shown some more of the other struggles the soldiers were going through. The personal life struggles (which they still had to deal with amidst their grief). Wives leaving husbands during the deployment, babies being born without the support of the father, financial burdens being placed on the families when pay was an issue. Also, some of the every day living conditions these guys had to go through. There were some good ones touched on but a lot that were left out. Again, I know that there were limitations when writing the book. I think the readers will get a really good look at the personalities and struggles the Commanding Officers went through but I think a lot of the soldiers get left out of the story. Too many to cover all of them in the book but not enough was touched on in regards to them. It really felt more like a story about the leaders and not the soldiers. I can almost see a screenplay now and can visualize how it will play out. A story about the courageous leaders and all they went through to try to sculpt and mold their men into the soldiers the army wanted them to be. Basically avon ladies selling avon door to door but soldiers selling peace to a society that seems to me, would not know what to do with it. When things go so very, very wrong and too many lives are lost and they truly have had enough they are accused of mutiny and this tight knit family of brothers is seperated. The many lives lost was the true tragedy here but so is what remains of the post war soldiers. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Traumatic Brain Injuries, amputations, severe burns, etc. The thing I hope the reader takes away from this book the most is a deeper understanding of the American soldier's sacrifice and service. Of the unfathomable sacrifice he/she has made. This book is a good step towards opening the eyes of Americans. I hope to see more stories like this offered in the future.
JTRTST10 More than 1 year ago
Outstanding book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
True heros
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was deployed to Iraq in 2004 part ofOIF2 This book hit home with me as it describes the relationships and the battlefield of the mind. Like my unit you have good leaders and bad, but how one was able to work with both was sometime a chore. This book helped me understand that year in Hell and how it haunts me to this day
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MsHonee More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a book that would be difficult for anyone to write without feeling something. Given that the author was embedded with this unit, it is easy to understand why it is written the way it is. I find that this is a book I want to read slowly to get a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices my fellow soldiers have made for our country. One of the most humorous points in the book was when the the company was calling their new Battalion Commander "Lord Farquaad" (Shrek). They said it was because he looked like him :0) and the way he command their battalion reminded them of him. I will never look at Lord Farquaad the same.
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