Sgt. Matthew Rose was getting nervous. The 507th Maintenance Company had made a wrong turn.
As the 16-vehicle convoy turned around to head back, a 21/2-ton truck in the middle of the line suddenly ran out of gas. Rose and a few others took up defensive positions while mechanics scrambled to refuel the truck. Clutching his M-16, the 37-year-old father of six scanned the road south toward the city of Nasiriyah.
Rose was the unit's supply sergeant. Guard duty in hostile territory wasn't normally a part of his job.
Several cars drove slowly by, then circled back. Then a pickup truck with a machine gun mounted in the back sped past.
Rose was relieved when the order finally came down to get back in their vehicles and start back toward town. He steered his 5-ton bobtail and trailer, laden with supplies, east on the four-lane road. Suddenly, he heard gunfire.
The 507th had driven into an ambush.
Directions seemed simple The directions to the 507th's destination in the middle of southeastern Iraq were simple enough: travel overland to the Iraqi border; link up to Route Blue, also known as Highway 8; make a left onto Route Jackson, Highway 1; stay on Route Jackson until it intersected again with Route Blue.
The instructions adhered to the Coalition forces' strategy of skirting urban areas while charging headlong toward Baghdad.
The 507th, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, was a support unit for a Patriot missile battalion. Their commander, Capt. Troy Kent King, joined the Army a decade ago as a dental assistant and got his captain's bars in October. This was his first time in combat.
On March 20, the first day of the war, the company moved out of its staging area in Kuwait at 2 p.m. Almost immediately, things began going wrong.
As the 33 vehicles, many weighed down by tons of equipment, snaked toward the border, they began bogging down in the sand. Staff Sgt. Tarik Jackson, in charge of maintaining the 507th's fleet, peeled off the end of the convoy in his 5-ton tow truck to pull them out.
The delays worsened the next day in Iraq. Every 20 minutes, it seemed, another one of the tractor-trailers was getting stuck. Cpl. Damien Luten, a beefy 24-year-old supply clerk from Indiana, called on Jackson's tow truck a half-dozen times to pull him out of the sand.
Ahead of them in the convoy, Rose, the supply sergeant, was riding with his supply clerk, 19-year-old Pfc. Jessica Lynch of West Virginia. Soon, however, their vehicle busted an engine part. Lynch jumped into another vehicle while Rose joined someone else.
By 5:30 a.m. on March 22, the little convoy was scattered for miles across the desert and had fallen well behind the rest of the Third Infantry Division it was supposed to be accompanying.
King sent 32 soldiers in 17 vehicles ahead with the main convoy and waited for the rest of his company to show up. The remaining half - 33 soldiers and 18 vehicles - finally reached him at a desert checkpoint at 7:30 p.m.
|The ambush of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company on March 23 was deadly. Of the 33 soldiers who made a wrong turn into the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, 11 were killed and six captured. The incident produced the war's most enduring hero, a West Virginia teenager named Jessica Lynch. But even as the war wound down, only shadowy explanations of the incident have been offered. Now, with Thursday's release of an official report on the incident, survivors have been given permission to speak. Four talked in detail to The Associated Press; this is their story.|
It was well past midnight when the little convoy reached Route Blue and began looking for a manned traffic control point where they should have been directed onto Route Jackson. By the time they got there, the post had been abandoned. King asked some Marines in the area if Route Blue continued north. They confirmed that it did.
King had already made a crucial mistake, according to the Army report on the incident. He was supposed to lead his company from Route Blue to Route Jackson, but on his personal map, he had highlighted Route Blue all the way.
Another turn missed Already on the wrong road, King then missed a left that would have kept them on Route Blue and bypassed the heart of the city of Nasiriyah.
Now they were heading north on Route 7/8, crossing a bridge over the Euphrates River and driving directly into what soon became known as "ambush alley."
They passed an Iraqi military checkpoint, a shack manned by a soldier. He waved at them.
Crossing a second bridge, they passed out of the city center and reached an intersection where they had to turn left or right. King took a left, then another right. He'd gone a half-mile up that road when he realized he had lost Route Blue.
They had backtracked only a few minutes when gunshots rang out. In the confusion, King missed the turn back on to Route 7/8. The convoy began turning around again, but the larger vehicles had to travel farther down the road to find a spot wide enough to turn. One 5-ton tractor-trailer gave out. According to the Army report, one of the soldiers in the vehicle was picked up, but the other, Sgt. Donald Walters, may have been left behind and was apparently the first member of the company killed.
Convoy divided into 3 parts The convoy was now split into three groups. The first three vehicles, led by King, sprinted ahead. Rose led a second group of four vehicles that included Sgt. Curtis Campbell, 27, a logistics specialist, Jackson, Luten and six others. Far behind was the largest group, with 17 soldiers, including Lynch.
In the heart of the city now, Rose saw dozens of Iraqis in civilian dress firing from trenches and behind berms along the road. Others ducked in and out of buildings, unleashing bursts of machine gun fire.
Rose stomped on the gas but his bobtail refused to budge past 45 mph. He watched King's vehicle speed farther ahead. Behind him, Jackson, Campbell and Luten barreled along, swerving to avoid debris tossed into the road.
Jackson was firing out of his Humvee with his M-16 when he felt a bullet graze his left hand. Moments later, he felt the burning of a round penetrating his right arm, breaking the bone.
Behind him, Campbell was firing his M-16 when it jammed. He reached for another weapon, then felt a warm sensation near his hip. He'd been hit.
Luten stood on his seat to man a .50-caliber machine gun on the roof of his semi, but he couldn't get it to work. He sat back down then felt a pain in his right knee. He tried to move but screamed in agony.
Luten slumped in the cab and rolled down the window to fire his M-16, but it jammed. The Army report says the soldiers may not have properly maintained their weapons, although Luten says he cleaned his at every stop.
Rose had entered the city as the lead vehicle in the second group, but now the others all passed him. A fuel truck with two soldiers rumbled past, its shot-out tires flapping.
After the second group barreled back over the Euphrates, Campbell's bullet-ridden vehicle gave out. Moments later, Jackson's Humvee sputtered and died. About 150 yards behind them, Rose's truck ground to a halt.
Luten and his partner drove ahead, only to spot what appeared to be a roadblock. They circled back to where soldiers were now congregating around Jackson's Humvee. Grabbing a medical kit, Rose, a former medic, bandaged the wounded as best he could.
Despite his hip wound, Campbell could still walk. He salvaged ammunition from his vehicle and headed with the others for a berm several hundred yards away. As Rose and another soldier struggled to pull Luten from his truck, the other seven in the group settled into a ditch. Mortar rounds were falling across the road.
Meanwhile, the slow-moving third group was under heavy fire. Veering to avoid an Iraqi dump truck, one tractor-trailer carrying two soldiers went off the road. It was immediately struck from behind by the Humvee carrying Lynch and four others. Three were killed instantly; Lynch and Pfc. Lori Piestewa, who died later in captivity, were badly hurt. Behind them, another soldier was killed by gunfire.
Pfc. Patrick Miller, a welder from Kansas, later told Rose that he left his broken-down vehicle, jumped into the dump truck and tried to drive it off the road. It wouldn't start. Then he turned his weapon on an Iraqi mortar position. He may have killed as many as nine Iraqis before being captured, according to the Army report.
Two other vehicles nearly made it out of the ambush before the soldiers inside were killed. Everyone in the third group with Miller was either killed or captured.
King, meanwhile, had reached a Marine unit, which dispatched M-1 Abrams tanks to rescue the second group. Within 45 minutes from the Marines' arrival, Luten and Jackson were on operating tables in a field hospital in Kuwait.
The fate of the rest of their company wouldn't become clear until the days and weeks ahead.
Of the 33 soldiers who entered Nasiriyah that morning, only 16 would emerge that day, four them wounded. Ultimately, 11 soldiers were found dead and seven were captured, among them Lynch, who was later rescued from an Iraqi hospital.
Rose received the Bronze Star with V-device for valor for his actions that day; Campbell, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star; Jackson and Luten, Purple Hearts.
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