It Happened To Me – Fire and Blades

An infantryman’s guns, knives and impedimenta are cataloged as “weapons,”…

“...Bellavia climbed the stairs to confront a fighter, armed with an AK, who ducked into a bedroom. Bellavia fragged him, then burst into the room to find him still full of fight.”

An infantryman’s guns, knives and impedimenta are cataloged as “weapons,” but the true weapon is the infantryman. Hardware is only part of his arsenal. Will, an item of neither issue nor purchase, is the most important asset. A reservoir of will he didn’t know he had, and a Gerber folder he nearly forgot he did, were the unfailing tools that enabled Staff Sergeant David Bellavia to prevail in a fight to the death in Fallujah, Iraq.

In 2004, civilians had evacuated the city that hid thousands of well-trained, well-equipped, mostly experienced Muslim fighters assembled from Asia and the Middle East. They came to die for Allah while taking as many American troops with them as possible. In night combat, even ordinary activity was dangerous, as though the gods of war delighted in bewildering the troops, who fought for days under enemy fire, with scant sleep or rations and under threat of ambush and IEDs. Charging through a danger zone during night MOUT operations, one of Bellavia’s men stepped into coils of electrical wire, which snarled around him like a trap. A comrade had a wire cutter, but as the coils were cut, they would spring around and entangle both the soldiers. Being ensnared in a kill zone in the dark as a firefight begins is not good. Bellavia pulled a Gerber folder from his pocket and helped saw through coils of wire as firefights escalated nearby and to the west. Finished, Bellavia clipped the folder to his belt.

The blade came in handy again when he was clearing a house that turned out to be a bomb in itself, packed with explosives and large propane tanks, with a maze of tripwires. Bellavia also used his Gerber to emplace blocks of C4 near individual mines, and he later used it to check an enemy casualty for signs of life. One night in November 2004, units of Bellavia’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment were fighting their way through insurgent-controlled Fallujah—block by block, then house to house, then room by room, then man by man. When the tools of modern combat failed, ran dry or were not in reach, the desperate, personal fight continued. In darkness, soldiers wrestled on floors slippery with the blood of combatants, with blunt objects, teeth and bare hands.

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