Jeremiah Workman always dreamed of being a soldier since he was a little boy. Workman enlisted two days after his 17th birthday. He told friends he’d joined the elite, the tip of the spear. He regretted missing the invasion of Iraq, but by 2004 he was heading to Al Anbar province. That meant leaving Jessica, his 19- year-old wife. Married for just a year, they had been dating since she was a freshman in high school. The reality of separation came in the early hours of a September morning. The first sight of Fallujah in September 2004 was chilling. Workman had seen the internet videos of insurgents beheading US civilians. He remembered the first battle of Fallujah in April of that year, and he remembered images of the Blackwater employees’ mutilated bodies, hanging from a bridge on the outskirts of town. This was Iraq’s wild west. Americans entered at their peril.
Jason Arellano at the age of 26, it was his second tour in Iraq. His anticipation in 2004 colored by prior experience. Unlike Workman, he knew the harsh reality of war. In March 2003, he had been in the front lines pushing into Iraq from Kuwait. It was a different war back then. America was going to crush what remained of the fourth largest army in the world. A campaign of shock and awe would bring Saddam to his knees. In just 21 days they raced to Baghdad, along the way the elements proved the most formidable obstacle. By October 2004, this war veteran was a squad leader. But determination borne of his first deployment was now tempered by the fact that he hated to leave his girlfriend behind. But that didn't change the urgency of the American war plan. The insurgents controlled Fallujah, either they could be routed or the American war effort would go down to humiliating defeat.
Dr. Richard Jadick at 38-years-old, this trauma surgeon could have continued as a brigade surgeon at Camp Lejeune. But when Jadick heard there was an opening with the 1st Battalion 8th Marines - the 1-8, and that they were heading to western Iraq, he insisted that he should deploy. That was the easy part. His wife was 8 months pregnant at the time. The day the battle began, Dr. Richard Jadick brought his medical unit to the outskirts of the city. Close enough to hear the fight, distant enough to avoid being hit by stray bullets. But Jadick had never seen war. Pentagon guidelines called for the surgical team to stay safe and out of the fight. Ambulance teams would bring the wounded out. But when the first major call crackled through the radio the wounded marine was nowhere near an ambulance. So Jadick grabbed his 9mm pistol, an escort and headed into the fight.
Christine Knight had just started her nursing career. But then she received the call to serve. Christine felt confident she was prepared for battle. But as a member of the National Guard this was the first time she’d understood what the Pentagon Generals meant when they talked of a unified command. She rescued countless Marines from the rubble of Fallujah, but the memories of that battle remained,…just below the surface.
Father Dan Hoedl a Navy Chaplain from Fargo, North Dakota, understood the fears that gripped the American forces under his care encamped around Fallujah. But it wasn't fear of the unknown for Hoedl. As a Navy Chaplain he served during the 2003 invasion. On the eve of the battle of Fallujah one engagement in particular still haunted him. It was March 23, 2003, the fourth day of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hoedl was inside an armored vehicle driving down Ambush Alley through a town called Nasiriyah. By the end of that March day, eighteen Marines of Charlie Company were dead in the costliest firefight for American forces in this whole war. Hoedl witnessed it all.
Ricky Nelson always wanted to be in the Marines like his Grandfather, so at eighteen Ricky became a mortar-man with Fox Company. A decision his Mother understood, reluctantly. In 2004, Ricky’s unit was ordered into bandit country, the lawless desert of Western Al Anbar. They were stationed in Mahmudiyah, just south of Baghdad, an area known as the "Triangle of Death." Five members of Fox Company died during that first deployment. A stark reminder of the fragility of life.