Pendleton / Article 32 hearing / September 6, 2007
closing arguments in his Article 32 hearing, SSgt Wuterich read a
statement that he had prepared.
SSgt Frank Wuterich's statement to the Investigating
Saturday, November 19, 2005 started off as a normal day for 1st Squad
3rd Platoon Kilo Company in Hadithah, Iraq. 0530 was reveille and 0600
I gave my patrol brief to the squad. Although, the mission was
something we had conducted and accomplished dozens of times before,
today would be extraordinarily different.
The vehicle order was the same, and the squad break-down was the same.
Two forms of positive communication was a requirement and that was met
with a 148 in the third vehicle, and VRC-89 in the first vehicle which
was a hard back HMMWV. The other three vehicles were high backs.
Special equipment was the same and rechecked which included at least
one AT-4, GSR kits, digital camera, pyro used for Escalation of Force,
among other things. Pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections were
conducted prior to and while mounted on the vehicles. I gave my
required brief to the watch officer which included a mapped out route
and a description of the mission, special equipment and communication.
Cpl Salinas, LCpl Sharrat and LCpl Rodriguez occupied the first
vehicle. LCpl Tatum, Cpl De La Cruz, and PFC Mendoza occupied the
second vehicle. I, LCpl Graviss, and the corpsman Doc Whitt occupied
the third vehicle. LCpl Terrazas, LCpl Crossan, and PFC Guzman
occupied the fourth vehicle. Once I re-checked our vehicles we
conducted one last radio check and requested permission to exit
Because our enemy goes to great lengths to exploit our patterns I
chose to change our route to the traffic control point our company
occupied. We reached our objective without incident. Business was as
usual while there which included a daily crypto change with the
radios, chow re-supply, and a relief in place of our comrade
counterparts the Iraqi National Guard.
The day was chilly and the sky was clear. The city was ominously
quiet. Our route back included driving north on River Road, west on
Route Chestnut, north on Route Leopard, east on Hadithah Road, and
through our entry control point into our firm base parking lot. Again
I changed the normal route of north on River Road and west on Hadithah
Road. This is one decision I will always regret.
Vehicle one turned left on Route Chestnut. Vehicle two turned left on
Route Chestnut. My vehicle turned left on Route Chestnut. Vehicle four
turned left on Route Chestnut. We were halfway home. Vehicle
dispersion was normal- 30-40 m as per BN SOP. As I made the turn on
Chestnut, I decided to cross the two lane road and drive on the left
side of the median. This was a decision, I'm sure, that saved the
lives of the Marines in my vehicle. Vehicle four was not so lucky. An
explosion louder than anything I have ever heard rocked the entire
convoy. I remained calm. I continued to drive west as my A driver
started to scream, "The fourth vehicle got hit!" I made my way back to
the other side of Chestnut and stopped my HMMWV. Clear skies suddenly
turned brown, black and grey as shrapnel from a HMMWV came plummeting
down in front of me from hundreds of feet in the air.
LCpl Graviss was immediately on the radio requesting QRF and notifying
our command operating center of the IED attack as he struggled to exit
the vehicle. I stepped out of the HMMWV after struggling a bit to
unstick my door. Smoke and debris was everywhere.
The first thing I noticed outside my vehicle was a white, four-door
sedan to the southwest. At this point, I realized my mission had
changed. We had practiced this scenario before on white boards, in
class rooms, in front of superiors, subordinates and peers. My
training would take over from here. Some details of the events that
occurred that day will always be vividly clear in my mind; other
details will never be.
I remember encountering no vehicle traffic or foot traffic that
morning leading up to the I ED detonation. The white, four door sedan
was parked on the side of the road within 100 m of the IED attack, and
within the security parameters of our convoy. I heard yelling mostly
from the west where Cpl De La Cruz was shouting in broken Arabic and
using expletives to the military aged males who occupied the white
car. His weapon was at the ready, as it should have been. They were
not complying and in fact were starting to run in the opposite
direction to the south away from where Cpl Dela Cruz was approaching
them. I took a knee in the road and fired. Engaging was the only
choice. The threat had to be neutralized. Vehicle Borne IEDs were a
serious threat and would have incapacitated our squad making us combat
ineffective. I don't remember anyone else firing at the same time I
was, although at a squad debrief later on I learned that Cpl Dela Cruz
had engaged the men at the car at the same time as I did and Cpl
Salinas reported that he had opened fire, as well. After I watched the
military aged males fall to the ground, Cpl De La Cruz advanced on
them and I saw him fire at the bodies as they lay before I turned to
make my way to the casualties. That is when I started hearing small
arms fire from the south.
LCpl Graviss was on the radio trying to communicate with the COC but
was growing increasingly agitated because the COC couldn't understand
him and was asking for the same information he provided several times
before. Remaining calm, I grabbed the radio from him and conveyed the
information the COC requested which included a typical CASEVAC report
stating the administration number of the wounded and killed, the
priority of the casualties, along with the triage that was being
administered by Doc Whitt.
The next thing I remember was the QRF arriving on scene. Lt. Kallop
was the first Marine I met from the QRF and I began to present an
informal situation report to him. I remember his main focus was on the
WIAs. I provided him that information and showed him our KIA, LCpl
Terrazas. While still receiving small arms fire, Cpl Salinas directed
Lt. Kallop to take cover and get down, Cpl Salinas and I then advised
Lt. Kallop that we were taking fire from a house to the south and we
needed to assault that house. Lt. Kallop agreed and gave us the order
to clear south. Cpl Salinas then commenced suppressive fire on the
house using his M203 grenade launcher firing high explosive rounds
into the structure. I watched at least three impacts detonate on the
upper portion of the house with minimal to no damage.
Small arms fire had ceased and I and Cpl Salinas proceeded to assault
that house. Simultaneously, Cpl Salinas directed the two closest squad
members (LCpl Tatum and PFC Mendoza), to join us so we would have at
least a fire team going into the assault. At some point previous to us
departing, Lt. Kallop directed me to give him my 148 because he didn't
have a radio with him at the time.
The four of us aggressively advanced on the house and on approach I
advised the team something like shoot first and ask questions later or
don't hesitate to shoot. I can't remember my exact words but I wanted
them to understand that hesitation to shoot would only result in the
four of us being killed. This was the first time we would employ MOUT
training tactics since we had been in Iraq.
The exact details of clearing the first and second house will forever
remain unclear to me. I'll never be able to pinpoint exact shooting
positions, exact chronology of events, who was where and when, or even
what the exact layout of the houses were. What I do know is that we
cleared those houses as we were trained using forced entry, grenade
employment, followed with clearing by fire. I remember that after
clearing the bottom floor of the first house, a door that was leading
south was open. Someone shouted, "There's a runner!" and we quickly
exited that house and continued the assault to the second house
directly south. We ran to the second house because it was the closest
structure and the only place the runner could have gone.
We treated the second house the same as the first. After PFC Mendoza
fired at the man at the door, the rest of the team flowed in. Again,
we used grenades and cleared the rooms by fire.
After I felt the threat was neutralized and we were no longer being
fired on, I took the team back within the security perimeter on Route
Chestnut. Heading along Route Zebra, the team stopped twice to search
unoccupied structures. Somewhere around the intersection of Zebra and
Chestnut I received my radio back. At that time I transmitted back to
the COC that we had finished clearing two houses and there may be
collateral damage. I was asked to provide more details as far as a
number of enemy vs. neutral KIAs. This was information I did not have
at the time. I estimated 15 KIAs and that was the extent of my report.
After communicating with Lt. Kallop that we just finished clearing two
houses, he directed us to search a house on the north side of Chestnut
that had anti-American writing in Arabic on the courtyard brick wall.
We learned about the Arabic language from one of the Iraqi Security
Force members. I don't remember who was with me when that house was
searched, but upon completion of the search, nothing significant was
found. My team then occupied an over watch position at the
intersection of Chestnut and Viper. Within the next several hours we
located and. killed insurgents in a house north of our position and we
killed another suspected insurgent fleeing from the scene along a
ridgeline. We watched as rotary winged aircraft deployed Hellfires and
dropped bombs on houses directly to our south. We remained on over
watch for the majority of the rest of the day.
The day ended with my squad along with 3rd squad from my platoon and a
squad from 1st platoon retrieving the deceased from the multiple
locations and transporting them to firm base Sparta via HMMWVs. They
were counted, separated and photographed and would later be delivered
to the hospital.
As a Sergeant and the squad leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, I am
responsible for the decisions made to employ the tactics we used that
day. My Marines responded to the threats they faced in the manner that
we all had been trained. I will bear the memory of the events of that
day forever, and will always mourn the unfortunate deaths of the
innocent Iraqis who were killed during our response to the attack.