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LCpl Sharratt Article 32 summary

DEFEND OUR MARINES

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LCpl Justin Sharratt’s statement
to the Investigating Officer

Camp Pendleton / Article 32 hearing / June 14, 2007

Before closing arguments in his Article 32 hearing, LCpl Sharratt read a statement that he had prepared.

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LCpl Sharratt's statement to the Investigating Officer

Good afternoon, sir.

On July 28, 2003, shortly after my high school graduation, I fulfilled my life-long ambition of enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and serving in the infantry. I wanted to join the Marines ever since I was in sixth grade. By my junior year of high school, I met my recruiter, and my parents allowed me to sign the papers.

I joined the Marines out of the love for my country, a sense of duty, and because I wanted to be the best. On February 10, 2004, I reported to Kilo Company and met the men that I would later trust with my life in combat. Our first sergeant in Kilo Company was then First Sergeant Kasal, who is now a sergeant major. He gave his Marines a deep pride and desire to be tactically sound. First Sergeant Kasal would coach us through patrols, help us with our land navigation skills, and show us the ropes of patrolling and ambushes.

By April 2004, all of us new-joins had settled in to our squads and teams. I was placed in second squad, second team. My team leader was Sergeant Wolf. We were a very tight-knit team. And Sergeant Wolf was a great teacher. He wanted us to become the most tactically proficient Marines as possible. He would often threaten to make us fire team rush everywhere if we did not get better. Sergeant Wolf made us better Marines. And when we got to Fallujah, we were a competent and tactically proficient team.

Before I joined the Marine Corps, I signed up for the infantry because I wanted to be the best. I knew the Marine's training was longer, and I wanted the best training. I knew that going to combat would change my life. But no one could ever really understand combat until they have been there.

My first few months of combat in Shihabi was like the training I received. We spent five months in Shihabi. There were a few casualties, but no one died.

After five months we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, getting into small-arms fire excursions was the last thing we wanted at this point. We just wanted everyone to make it home. After about the five-month mark, there was a rumor going around that we could go into Fallujah. There was another rumor that we might not go because we were so close to going home. The first rumor turned out to be true.

The Army came in and took over Shihabi. Our battalion was recalled back to the firm base. We didn't have a lot of time to think about things because we had a lot of moving parts. We had to prep HMMWVs, practice fireteam rushing, and room clearing. They told us Fallujah was going to be a shit hole and we were going to be shot at. We were going to have to man up and deal with it. And we did for several days -- all we did for several days was get in our High Back HMMWVs.

Our High Back HMMWVs had 240 Gulfs. They wanted machine gunners to stand up there with armor up to their waists. We went to Motor T to get old HMMWV doors and stick them upside down on the turret to provide more armor. We also got our primary Operation Phantom Fury brief. I don't remember who gave the brief. But we were sitting there, and they were showing us routes we were taking and told us they were pounding Fallujah with artillery. They told us that they pulled all the civilians out and the only people left in that city were people that wanted to kill us and were going to fight until the bitter end.

You can look around the room, and you have the motivated Marine screaming, Oohrah, Semper Fi. Then you have the other type of guys looking down at the ground, shaking their head thinking, This could be it, this could be the end. Then you have the mixed-emotion guys that had nothing on their face. They didn't know how to feel. To be honest, I think I was one of the mixed-emotion Marines. I knew that we all felt like we could be the one to die in Fallujah. After the brief, we got into our squads and got our team briefs.

I remember the day before the push into Fallujah, the whole battalion was brought outside the firm base. And we didn't know what was happening. But we knew it was a small brief. We got some words of motivation. The CO told us to put our game faces on and said, God speed. Then they brought out these two horses with chariots attached to them. A few Marines were dressed up like Spartan warriors with duct tape all over their Kevlars to make them look like Spartan helmets.

My friend Nichol had a baseball bat with duct tape and 5.56 ammo to make it look like a mace. Then Nichol gave his, I am PFC Nichol, a spin off of Brave Heart. They got the horses and chariots on line. And the Marines got into the little carts. They raced the horses down the track a couple of times. This brought a lot of stress off our chest because it gave us a good laugh.

When that was over, we had a barbeque with some good hamburgers and hotdogs. After we all ate and got fat, we sat around talking and smoking cigars. They handed out cigars to the whole battalion. After that, we grabbed some rack time because the next morning we were getting up early and starting Phantom Fury.

Basically, the HMMWVs pulled up to the first road in Fallujah. And we dismounted and got into a tactical column. Within five minutes of pushing down the road, by the time we got to the first intersection, we started taking small-arms fire. For the first few days in Fallujah, we saw constant combat. And I saw 17 of my friends wounded. Juan Segura and Sergeant Heflin, the first squad leader, were also killed. Over the previous five months, the Marines I got to know and got to live with became more than just friends. They became brothers.

One of the most important days of my life occurred on November 13, 2004. We were on a patrol walking down the street when we saw third squad taking the other side of the road. As we approached the hell house, we began to hear gunshots. My squad started to clear and secure nearby houses. We learned that third squad was trapped inside of a house and needed help. They were taking fire from a hole in the ceiling.

The insurgents were raining down fire from the second floor. Sergeant Wolf put together a team to go into the house and pull the Marines out. First Sergeant Kasal and PFC Nichol had already gone into the house and got hit by a grenade in the first room. The second we got in the house, there was smoke, dust, and confusion.

There was a lot of screaming. Carlisle had already been shot multiple times in the leg. PFC Nichol and Sergeant Major Kasal had already been hit. I could hear them screaming, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I can remember them screaming, We need help, hurry the fuck up, hurry the fuck up. We yelled back, We are doing what we can, just hang in there. But in the back of our minds, we knew we couldn't go into the kill zone; or we would wind up being another man that needed help. I felt terrible screaming for them to hang in there knowing any minute they could die.

We were in a living room with a dead insurgent laying on the ground. The bullets were flying all over the house. You couldn't get close to any doors without being shot. The team I was with was trying to move to a door near where the insurgent was firing at the wounded Marines. I will never forget what happened in that room.

When Kilo Company was doing the workup for the deployment, we became a close group of friends. A few days before the hell house, I remember standing around in the smoke pit talking to Sergeant Norwood. When you are in combat, you talk about the little things in life, the things you look forward to when you get back. I remember talking with Norwood about all the food we were going to eat and when we got back.

When I got back from Fallujah, I had to eat for the both of us. When we got into the hell house, Norwood came into the room that we were bunkered down in. He was a Marine that I was proud to have served with. He was the kind of Marine who liked to get his feet dirty. He always wanted to help other Marines.

When we were bunkered down in the room, I remember Norwood coming into the room. He was one of the bravest men I have ever known. He had got a bit close in the room and didn't know that bullets were flying so close to the door. I was only in the hell house for ten minutes, but it felt like forever.

When I think about what happened with Norwood, everything was in slow motion. I remember him coming into the room and moving towards the door. I screamed to him not to go near the door. Thinking back to the hell house, I don't remember much that was said because the tunnel vision started kicking in. But all I remember is screaming for Norwood not to go near the door.

It all happened so fast. And when he got close to the door, an AK-47 round came through the door. I remember seeing the back of his head explode. The insurgent shot him straight through the face. And in an instant, Norwood was laying in a pool of blood near the doorway.

I remember how I felt. I was angry. I ran into the door where Norwood was and fired 200 rounds at the insurgents while a few other Marines dragged his body out of the way. Another Marine came up with an idea to bust up the wall of the house with any Marines necessary to pull out the wounded. Once everyone was evacuated, someone through a 20-pound satchel charge as far in the house as possible. While we were pulling back, the satchel charge blew the bottom of the house out; and it collapsed.

A few Marines stayed to assess the threat level. One last insurgent had enough life left in him to throw a grenade while pinned underneath the rubble. No Marines were killed by the grenade, and someone went over and shot the insurgent. Later, I heard there were at least five insurgents fired from above. I learned that these insurgents would never give up.

When our platoon returned to the firm base, it was an emotional moment. I took that time to go to the Marines that were hurting and crying to help cheer them up. I am an upbeat and positive person. And I try not to let the negative in. I rarely cry. I haven't cried in a long long time.

In late January and early February, Kilo Company came back to Pendleton. Our first month after redeployment was laid back without much field training. I took some post-deployment leave and went home to Pennsylvania. One thing I realized when I was home is that the situational awareness that I developed in Iraq followed me back to the United States. I was looking at every little detail. I was noticing everything just like I was in Iraq. I was happy to be home and safe.

I tried to act like nothing changed, but it had. I knew it wasn't everyone else that changed. It was me. It was strange at first not being with the brothers I made in Iraq. But I got over that because I knew in 15 days, I would rejoin them to train for our next deployment.

When I got back to Camp Pendleton, it was a relief because I was back where I belonged with the Marines that I loved. Our new company commander was Captain McConnell. The Captain was a good officer who worked the company hard in preparation for the next deployment.

In September 2005, we left the states to go on our next deployment. A lot of the Marines had been with me in Fallujah, and I knew them well. We also had some junior Marines that we were getting to know. This time around, I was with first squad.

The night before on November 19th our squad was told around 0600 we would conduct a convoy operation out to the COP to drop off several Iraqi Army soldiers. This was a mission that Kilo Company performed almost daily. The platoon in Kilo rotated every three days between patrols, the combat outposts, the quick reaction force, and rest.

On November 19 I woke up around 0500. Around 0530, I went over to the briefing room. And Sergeant Wuterich gave us a brief on the mission. Wuterich was a great squad leader. He cared a lot about his Marines. And he listened to them. During the brief, he gave us the SOP for what to do if we were hit by an IED. We were told to clear the kill zone, set up a cordon, and look for the trigger man. Then we went through the SOP for indirect fire and near and far ambushes.  The brief took about 15 to 20 minutes. Then we went out to the vehicles, loaded up, did some COMM checks, then waited for everyone to get ready.

I was in the turret of the first vehicle. It was a normal morning. The weather was cooling off. During the brief, I had gotten Doc Woods’ 9-millimeter pistol. I asked him for the pistol because I thought it was ridiculous to have to fire warning shots at oncoming vehicles with an automatic weapon.

These missions usually took 20 minutes to an hour depending on how long the crypto change lasted and how long the Iraqis took to change over at the COP. If the mission had gone smoothly, we would have gone back to the QRF at Sparta and hung out until we were needed for something else.

After our convoy left Sparta, we headed down Route Leopard to the COP. It was still probably only about 0630, which was normal. It was early, and the traffic was light. The change-over at the COP lasted about 10to 15 minutes. I hung out in the turret and had a smoke. After the change-over, we pulled on to River Road. The traffic was a little heavier, but there still wasn't much.

I was constantly scanning for IEDs. You can't be too paranoid about everything. And it is tough to spot IEDs while you were moving. But usually, you look for suspicious activity, fresh dirt, wire sticking up, and big clumps of metal.

I don't remember any civilians being out that day. It took about five minutes to drive down River Road before we made a left on Chestnut. Chestnut was a paved four-lane road that had a concrete lifted median. It was usually a busy road. The first two vehicles made a lift-hand turn for River Road on to Chestnut into the lanes on the right of the median. We were driving about30, 40 miles per hour, and the vehicles were about 75 to100 meters apart so that one IED would not take out several vehicles.

We had driven about 500 meters, and my vehicle passed Route Viper. I saw a white four-door sedan that had people in it. About 50 meters, I started to waive for the car to pull over. It started to veer off to the side of the road. As my vehicle passed the car, I heard the explosion from the IED. The explosion was big, and it shook the ground causing me to jump a little bit. I turned around and looked. All I saw was a huge smoke cloud and debris flying through the air. I checked to  see if the other vehicles were still there. I yelled down from the turret to Salinas and Rodriguez that I could see vehicles two, three, and said, I am not seeing four, I am not seeing four.

There is just a big cloud of smoke. Then I saw Salinas jump out of the vehicle and start running towards vehicle four. I immediately turned around to the front to monitor the sector to the west. I could hear small-arms fire both 7.62 and 5.56 rounds behind me. I stayed focus on my sector to the west because I was anticipating a coordinating attack. I saw Rodriguez jump out of the vehicle and run around to the other side to monitor his sector to the north.  After about a minute of scanning my sector to the west, I heard Rodriguez yell up to the turret, "The fourth vehicle is hit, TJ is dead." I said, "Shit;" and Rodriguez said, "Fucking A, man."

I kept scanning to the front sector because I didn't want a vehicle born IED to come down the road and hit us. After about two minutes, the decision was made to back the vehicles up. Rodriguez backed our vehicle up about the intersection of Viper and Chestnut. After a few minutes, the first QRF showed up, set up security, and grabbed the casualty. I saw the QRF drive off.

The next thing I saw was two Marines running into a depression and up a hill to our south. I thought it was only those two Marines running in that direction. I knew I had to help them. I decided to dismount the 240 Gulf from the turret because it was only two Marines; and I wanted to bring more fire power to the table, plus, my SAW and gear were below in the back seat of the vehicle. It was faster to grab the 240.

I was also concerned that if I got separated from them while trying to catch up, I would need the extra firepower. I dismounted the 240 Gulf, I slung some rounds over my shoulder, and I jumped off the turret and started running down and back up the hill with the 240 Gulf.

I don't know exactly what happened in houses one and two, and I didn't witness with my own eyes what happened in those houses. I shot the lock off a third house that ended up being empty. And we cleared a fourth empty house as well. I remember then moving back up to Route Zebra towards Route Chestnut. Once we got back to the vehicles, I threw the 240 Gulf up on top of my HMMWV and pulled my SAW and ammo out of the back. Lieutenant Kallop then ordered us to create an observation post on top of the house next to the IED site.

On top of the OP, it was myself, Corporal Salinas, Sergeant Wuterich and, at first, Lance Corporal Rodriguez was up there with us. We were calm on the OP.  We smoked several cigarettes and just sat around and talked while we observed the area. After a while, Lieutenant Kallop came up and told Rodriguez to go with him to house one. While on the OP, the helos fire hellfire missiles in support of Weapons Platoon at what later I learned was a house with insurgents in it.

Sometime around then, we noticed some Iraqi males were looking over the wall in front of a house on Viper. This was suspicious because they would watch us and then duck away when they saw that we were watching. They did not act several times. We had been waiving at them to scare them off. After a few minutes of them watching us, Corporal Salinas fired an M203 training round at the wall in front of the house. At that point, I saw two men leave the wall in front of the house four and run back inside house four.

After a few minutes, they started watching us again and would peek at us and run back inside. The turkey peeking caused us to have serious concerns. We had no idea if the Iraqi males were triggermen or lookouts for other insurgents. We were trained that under certain circumstances, turkey peeking, like what we were watching, could be considered hostile intent. We had no desire to hurt these men. And for that reason, we did not fire an HE at them. Eventually, our concerns for our safety was enough that we decided to go find out why they were watching us.

We walked down from the OP and began walking north on Viper towards this suspicious house. At first, I actually thought both houses were one. I went through the gate from house three and walked up to the front door. During both combat tours, I searched hundreds of houses. Haditha was a very dangerous place where we were trying to develop a relationship within the community.

When we went to house three, we did not know who was at that house other than the males that were observing us. When I walked up to the house, the front door was closed but not locked. When I entered the house, there were four our five adult women in the room and a couple of children. I don't remember seeing any adult males. I began searching several rooms. I remember Sergeant Wuterich and Corporal Salinas talking to the women. The SOP is usually to ask in Arabic if there are any weapons. Then the SOP is to ask if there are any males around.

Sergeant Wuterich and Corporal Salinas called me over. And I think it was Salinas that told me that the women were pointing that the men were next door. I stepped outside, and Sergeant Wuterich told me to go with him over to house four while Salinas waited with the women and children in house three. I was in the lead as we walked over to house four. I had my SAW and my 9-mil. We were cautioned as we entered the house because of the IED that morning. The fact that Weapons Platoon needed support from Hellfire missiles, the suspicious turkey peeking from the men, and the fact that they were hiding in a house with the women and children next door.

I entered the house through the front door. It was quiet. I moved into the center meeting room, and Staff Sergeant Wuterich followed me. We cleared the room by walking along the walls. The room was mostly empty. I remember that there were some mats on the floor. Sergeant Wuterich and I began to stack along the door on the wall that allowed access to the interior hallway and stairs.

As we started to stack ourselves, I glanced across the hallway and saw an Iraqi male pointing an AK-47 at me as if he was going shoot. I quickly shouldered my SAW and tried to fire, but it jammed. When the SAW jammed, I withdrew behind the wall. At the same time, I dropped my SAW letting the sling catch it near my waist. Then I jumped back. I bumped into Staff Sergeant Wuterich who was behind me. I knew that there were insurgents with weapons in that room. I had to move fast to establish fire superiority, or Sergeant Wuterich and I could wind up trapped inside.

As I was pulling back in the room dropping the SAW to my side, I said, "Jam," to Staff Sergeant Wuterich, while simultaneously drew my 9-millimeter sidearm. I leaned out past the door jam waiting for the insurgent to present himself. When the insurgent popped back out from behind the door, I shot him once in the head; and he fell backwards. I began to assault through the objective and stepped forward into the bedroom doorway. I could hear an AK-47 racking its chamber.

As I stepped into the doorway, to my front was another insurgent with his AK-47 waist level as though he just completed racking it. I immediately fired at his chest and head firing several times with my pistol. After shooting him, I continued to shoot the other individuals in the room. I kept firing until my magazine was empty because I didn't know if they had body armor on or suicide vests. As I fired at the other insurgents in the room, I felt as if they were coming towards me.

After I ran out of ammo, I yelled, I'm out. SergeantWuterich entered the room and fired his M-16 at the men too. By the time Sergeant Wuterich came in the room, I felt as though I shot all the men in the room.

After clearing the room, I grabbed the two AK-47s. And Sergeant Wuterich and I searched the rest of the rooms in the house. As we were leaving the house, we found a suitcase with three or four Jordanian passports in it, clothes, and hygiene gear. We left the house with the suitcase and the AK-47s.

When we got back to the HMMWVs, I handed the suitcase and the AK-47s to Lance Corporal Tatum who was pulling security on the vehicle. I do not remember seeing those AK-47s or suitcase again.

We did not execute any Iraqi men in house four. I am a disciplined Marine, and I have always tried to act professionally with the civilian population.

On November 19, I did exactly as I was trained to do. After I stacked myself against the wall, I was surprised by the Iraqi in the doorway with the AK-47. I jumped back and bumped into Sergeant Wuterich. After that, my training took over and everything that my first sergeants and squad leaders have ever taught me came into play. I heard Staff Sergeant Fields talk about what we thought would happen if we made a mistake and violated the ROE. There was a common saying amongst us, I would rather be tried by a jury of 12 of my peers instead of being carried by six of my friends in a casket.

I think about what happened in those houses – house four every day, and I question myself every day whether I made the right decision. In the end, no matter how much I second guess myself, I would not change any of the decisions I made that day.

I cannot ever express to my parents how much their support means to me. My mother once said that I was her hero. I want her to know that she is my hero and my father is my hero. I will always be proud of my service in Iraq, and I will always be proud to be a Marine.

That is all, sir.

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