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Minnesota National Guard
Truck driver's hunch instrumental in saving lives

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq " Being a truck driver back in Minnesota assisted a Minnesota Guardsman in saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers and the possibility of a forward combat outpost south of the camp being overrun by insurgents

It was the early evening of Aug 12, 2006 Two dump trucks pulled up on the only road in or out of the outpost named Flanders But when one of the trucks suddenly accelerated, Spc Billy Feragen, manning an M-2 50 caliber machine gun in one of the outpost's towers, knew something was amiss And this member of Crookston-Minn-based Company B, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, was right

An insurgent jumped up from the truck and started firing his AK-47 machine gun at Feragen Seconds later, insurgents in both of the sandbag reinforced trucks attacked the outpost In addition to small arms fire, the insurgents threw estimated 40 grenades over the barriers

"Feragen immediately engaged the individuals and trucks, slowing them down," said Staff Sgt David Hammac of Lino Lakes, Minn, the outpost's noncommissioned officer in charge "Putting bullet holes left and right in that thing"

By the time the battle was over an hour later, 20 insurgents were killed, a Marine and a Guardsman were injured, and Hammac and four members of his squad had earned Bronze Star Medals with Valor, the nation's fourth highest award for bravery The other recipients were Sgt David Olson and Spcs Jasen Klimek, Charles Knetter and John Olson

"It was pretty intense," said Hammac, who served with the 1st Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom II "My adrenaline was pumping!"

The actions of these Soldiers will go down in 1/34 BCT history They defended an outpost that provides water to Camp Fallujah from an estimated 30 insurgents

During the attack, Feragen said he had to duck incoming fire but still fired his machine gun until it ran out of ammunition He then left his tower, falling back to another fighting position There, he grabbed his M-16 rifle and successfully engaged an insurgent standing up in one of the trucks

Spc Joseph Melhorn of St Paul, Minn, was in a tower manning the radio He witnessed Feragen "unleash hell" in a battle that often had enemy fire coming from the east and west

Hammac's actions were impressive and a testament to his dedication to his Soldiers and the mission He maneuvered outside the perimeter walls twice to engage the enemy while under withering small arms fire He checked on his Soldiers in every tower and engaged the enemy from two of the outpost's towers with a variety of weapons At the height of the battle, he called in a mortar strike that broke the enemy's attack And, after defeating the enemy, he coordinated an evacuation mission to transport the wounded, carrying one of them to the ambulance

Klimek's bravery was demonstrated at tower one by throwing grenades and firing his 50-caliber machine gun and M-16 rifle Once the attack started, he immediately ran towards tower one to gain a better firing position Maneuvering past grenades, he climbed the ladder while under fire Once on top, Klimek leaned his weapon over the sand bags, in direct sight of the enemy, to destroy an exposed enemy position When he was firing the 50-caliber, he also was only protected by a sheet of bulletproof glass

John Olson, an elementary education major from Moorhead State University, Moorhead, Minn, and Knetter performed admirably in the early minutes of the attack When the firing began, Olson had no sooner opened the door of his sleeping quarters when an injured Spc Jared Moe was being assisted by Knetter into the room as it was being peppered by enemy fire Olson immediately applied a field dressing to the shrapnel wounds on Moe's legs and side

As Olson was treating Moe, Knetter laid down covering fire to allow Spcs Justin Dunn and Domingo Augilar to "join the fight"

As Olson finished attending to Moe, the squad's medic, Spc Matthew Generux, opened the room's door to repel the attack He, Knetter, and Feragen immediately caught a wounded Marine about to fall into the room Once the Marine was moved to safety and receiving first aid for a gunshot wound to his side, they rejoined the fight

Olson wasn't done with his heroics He delivered ammunition while under fire to tower one where he also accurately engaged the enemy with his M203 grenade launcher Olson then ran to tower three where, while climbing its ladder, he was again engaged by the enemy From his tower, he suppressed the enemy using his M203 and a 50-caliber machine gun

"Both times running out to the towers, you could hear rounds pinging off," he said "You had to defend what you were out there to defend"

Besides assisting with the wounded, Knetter also grabbed a M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and charged to tower two Just as he was about to reach the tower, he was engaged by enemy fire from two different locations He made it up the ladder in time to lay down overwhelming fire on the enemy in the gravel trucks in front of his tower

David Olson's heroics included providing ammunition to tower one and two Upon learning that the Soldiers in tower two needed ammunition, he ran back to the ammunition room While he was there, he was told to take cover because of imminent mortar fire that was going to be within 50 meters of their outpost Ignoring the warning, Olson delivered the ammunition to tower two and informed the Soldiers there and in two other towers of the "incoming mortars"

"It was really scary at first because as I was running down there, there were rounds ricocheting off the walls next to me," he said "My biggest concern was my guy's conditions"

The Soldiers also were concerned with the "incoming" mortars The rounds were to be fired by their fellow Mortarmen stationed nearby at Camp Fallujah

"Soon as I knew we needed mortars, we were pretty rattled," said Melhorn Everybody was nervous because our Forward Observers told us they weren't zeroed in very well"

"As soon I heard those mortars pop out from the south gate, I was like "˜Here they come everybody!'"said Melhorn, "everyone got down immediately"

He said once the rounds hit, he felt dirt hitting the towers "all over the place"

The mortars did their job and broke the attack, though

"They had them on like you wouldn't believe," Melhorn said

And these brave Soldiers "defeated the enemy" thanks to a truck driver's hunch

By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood, 1/34 BCT Public Affairs
Apr 4, 2007

NorthStar GUARD Online: 4/4/07
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