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Minnesota National Guard
Eric Bowen Blog 2-10-07

The Blue Bongo Battle Camp Fallujah, Anbar Province, Iraq - During February 9th and 10th elements of the 2nd Battalion of the 136th Infantry Battalion of the 34th Brigade Combat Team of the Minnesota Army National Guard conducted a mission in the area around Camp Fallujah in Anbar Province to prevent insurgents from launching indirect fire attacks into Camp Fallujah while a large number of VIP's visited the base

On the morning of February 10th the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force under Major General Zilmer officially transfered control of Anbar province to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force under Major General Gaskin The ceremony was attended by numerous general officers of US and Iraqi Armies from all over Iraq, as well as the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Also in attendance were numerous civilian VIP's including the Iraqi governor of Anbar province, and the US Ambassador to Iraq

The ceremony was held in a large auditorium that has not had it's roof retrofitted to withstand rocket and mortar attacks There was significant concern that if word of the event leaked out in advance that insurgents would be motivated to launch a coordinated indirect fire attack against the base

Bravo Company 2/136 was tasked with the mission of preventing this potential attack After assessing the mission Bravo Company commander Captain Chip Rankin, a highschool teacher and wrestling coach from Lichfield Minnesota, requested additional troops from battalion to be able to effectively conduct the mission

While this mission was going on, Twin Cities television stations were covering a special ceremony being held in Captain Rankin's honor at the sectional wrestling tournament at Lichfield High School

Lieutenant Colonel Parks, the 2/136 battalion commander is also a high school teacher from Walker Minnesota Lieutenant Colonel Parks and elements of Alpha Company 2/136 drove 2 hours from their home base on the other side of Fallujah to reinforce Bravo Company on the mission "Don't tell my wife I drove", quipped Lieutenant Colonel Parks Elements of an Army Engineer Company stationed on Camp Fallujah with specialized IED clearing capabilities also joined the mission Several UAV's were tasked to support the mission UAV's are small quiet unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras that can be used to spy on enemy activity The UAV's provided an "eye in the sky" that allowed the team to covertly observe locations that insurgents were known to have previously used to fire rockets and mortars into Camp Fallujah

This observation paid off, and a UAV spotted 6 men in a blue Bongo truck digging holes for IED's next to a road The Bravo Company mortar section ran a fire mission on the target which is believed to have killed or wounded two of the insurgents A Bongo is the ubiquitous flat bed truck of Iraq It is prefered by insurgents, because the bed lifts like a dump truck, and it can be used as an improvised rocket launcher

The other insurgents loaded their casualties onto the blue Bongo, and fled the area, unaware that a silent predator was stalking their every move from the air For the next 5 hours the UAVs followed the Blue Bongo around Anbar Province while the team's Soldiers followed at a distance in Bradley fighting vehicles, and tried to coordinate an attack The team's progress was slowed by numerous IED's along the road, and on several occasions they were engaged by small arms fire from other insurgents

The team identified about 10 IED's during the day, two IED's detonated, and the rest were disarmed before they could explode In one case the wire from the IED led 300 meters through a village to a cemetery Apparently the insurgents believe that the Americans are less likely to attach them in a cemetery

One Soldier who did not want to identified, because he did not want his family to know what had almost happened, told me how he had looked over the side of his Bradley, and realized that they had parked on top of an IED The Bradley quickly pulled forward out of the kill zone, and stopped They started to dismount the vehicle, and discovered they had parked next to another IED!

Later in the day and significantly outside the normal Bravo Company battle space, the blue Bongo parked at a known insurgent house, next to multiple other vehicles The location was outside the range of the Marine Corps 155 mm howitzer battery at Camp Fallujah, and so the team attempted to call an airstrike on the house, but there were no air assets immediately available

As the team planned an attack on the house, 4 insurgents re-loaded the truck, and inexplicably headed back the way they had come, toward Camp Fallujah and the advancing US Soldiers The result of this was a hasty and one sided meeting engagement as the blue Bongo encountered the lead Bradley in a village The Bradley engaged the Bongo with it's main gun The result was two injured insurgents, and a damaged Bongo, but the other two insurgents were able to escape temporarily

But now the insurgents had driven back within range of the 155 mm howitzers on Camp Fallujah Using the UAV to observe, the team called an artillery fire mission that killed the remaining two insurgents The return to Camp Fallujah involved several more hours of clearing IED's, and the team finally arrived back on base after 10:00 pm, with no American casualties This was just another day at the office for the men of Bravo Company

While many of them were pursuing the blue Bongo, Colonel Bristol the Marine commander that Bravo Company reports to, was delivering the following remarks about Bravo at the transfer of authority ceremony where he turned over his responsibilities to the new incoming Marine commander:

"to my sons from the heartland of America The brilliant men of Bravo Company 2nd of the 136th I have commanded three times in combat, and they are the finest group of Americans that I have ever had the privilege to command"

High praise by any standard, but particularly coming from a senior Marine Corps officer

New photos from Fallujah - Day 2 http://ericbowensmugmugcom/gallery/2454997

Internet problems and expenses The internet here on Camp Fallujah has been having huge problems ever since I got here There are two free options available to me:

1 Use a military computer in somebody's office Unfortunately, this has been brutally slow 15 minutes to load a web page (not kidding) And in order to do this somebody has to unlock their office, and log me in with their official military username and password (not a practical option at 12:20 am)

2 There is also a public internet cafe on post, but it only was about 15 computers, and the line to use them is several HOURS long 7x24 And these computers don't have usable USB ports or CD drives, which prevents me from using them to upload pictures

I have had several military family members email me saying they hadn't heard from their sons at Camp Fallujah Don't worry they are fine, they just can't get to their email

That leaves me with one EXPENSIVE personal option: I have a BGAN internet modem with me, which is an amazing battery powered clam shell device that looks just like a laptop, except that when you flip the screen up it is really a flat satellite "dish" This is great except that to use it to upload 6 pictures, check my email, and make some blog posts this evening cost over $60 dollars! Ouch!!!

Just to remind all my readers: This mission is a self-funded money losing venture Your DONATIONS to help defray these costs are greatly appreciated!

Special thanks to KSTP, the Crookston Daily Times, and my co-worker Paul Brazelton for their financial support of this project

Blogs by Eric Bowen

Sources and related comments:
The Blue Bongo Battle
New photos from Fallujah - Day 2
Internet problems and expenses

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