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For the Fallen – A Co, 3/75 Rangers, CPT Russell Rippetoe/FSO, SSG Nino Livaudais, SPC Ryan Long. RLTW!
OBJ Lynx, Haditha Dam-Day 4, 03 Mar 2003
As day four began, Ranger Company A was sitting in blocking positions and conducting perimeter security and reconnaissance. Company B, along with Mo, was still on the dam holding out as best they could, all the while waiting for long-overdue relief. Chief Greg Coker joined Ranger Company C to conduct mission planning for the next important objective in the fight for the dam.
Chief came to be friends with the Fire Support Officer (FSO) of Company A, Captain Russ Rippetoe, in the time they spent working together to bring effective fire support to the Rangers. Russ was a very energetic man of immense courage and always sporting a positive attitude. Russ was out on one of A Company’s roadblocks set up to keep civilians from wandering onto the dam.
Russ was there with the Rangers when a car pulled up several meters from the barricade. A man stepped out indicating to his apparently pregnant wife inside and held up empty water bottles. Rangers were alert and kept the car at gunpoint, as no Iraqis were to be trusted at this point in the battle. Again the man indicated to his wife and the need for water.
Big-hearted Russ Rippetoe and two Rangers gathered some water bottles and brought them to the car. As they stepped near, the couple detonated a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) which instantly killed Russ and the two Rangers. Big-hearted Russ… The Rangers at the barricade immediately opened fire on the vehicle behind the one that had just detonated; it too went up in a massive explosion — another VBIED!
Chief Greg Coker coordinated a Blackhawk helicopter to retrieve the bodies of the three deceased Rangers. When the hawk landed at the FARP, Objective Serpent, Chief and another Ranger unloaded the bodies of the three men and then wept for the loss.
At that point, news also came in that Delta Force’s Master Sergeant George Andrew Fernandez had been killed at approximately the same time in a gunfight in a different part of the country. One of George’s teammates that was there at the fight with him recounts it as follows:
“We were some 300 miles inside the border traveling at night and sleeping hidden during the day. We had already hit Objective Serpent and were up at Lynx calling for fire at Haditha dam until Greg Ironhead Birch showed up with a whole battalion of Rangers — he really knows how to show up to a fight proper.
Two nights later we headed east toward Tikrit traveling longer than we should have into dawn, passing a Bedouine camp in the process. We were racked out just a few hours when one of our men on guard reported a truck approaching with a DShK heavy machine gun mounted on it. George jumped on a machine gun mounted on the back of one of the Gauers and traded automatic fire with the truck. George was hit in the side where he had no plate, and an Air Force CCT man was hit in the jaw.
We were quickly in an Alamo position calling in all the air support we could get. A Guard F-16 that was Winchester showed up and kept making faux gun runs on the enemy which really helped to hold them at bay. Then an A-10 and Night Stalker MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator (DAP) Black Hawks showed up and it was all over for the Iraqi attack.
Our medic worked on George but there was just nothing he could do. He said that even if George had been in OR it would have been next to impossible to save him. George died there with his comrades all around him. We loaded him and the Air Force man into one of the DAPs and it flew them off.
The same thing happened to 5th Green Berets and some British Special Boat Service pipe hitters on the first night of the war; both were hit and both retreated. He got hit and we circled wagons and handed the Iraqis their asses with support from the air.
B Squadron came and relieved us. On our route back we stopped again in the vicinity of Haditha dam and conducted a 21-Gun Salute in George’s honor. He was a good man, a damned-good man and we’ll all miss him forever. That’s the way I remember it… there may be some detail off here or there, but that’s just how I remember it.”
Chief flew an escort mission that night for his own teammate Ranger Tony Ely, who was tasked to fly his MH-6 scout helo to the dam to deliver a surveillance drone and operator to the Rangers so they could get long eyes downrange. Tony knew Chief had his back with his six-guns. Chief called his five-minute approach warning to Mo on the call for fire frequency. Mo reported that all was quiet at the dam, sounding like he had not slept in a hot minute.
Chief cleared the way for Tony and watched him offload his Ranger and drone. He remained on station until he was Bingo fuel and needed to return to the FARP at Objective Serpent. There was no enemy activity to be sensed, none in the slightest. They had all been killed, wounded, or rudely spanked into a state of little or no desire to fight the small American Special Operations force any farther.
Back at the FARP Chief refueled and reloaded immediately, ready to spring from Serpent to re-engage with any froggy Arabs. There were two prisoners being held there at Serpent so Chief and Tony decided to go have a close-up gander at their adversary. They were a pitiful sight to be sure, the prisoners were; just ordinary men, they two.
Four more AH-6 Gunships and two MH-6 scouts were coming in to relieve Chief’s team. Team Gravy was headed for a break and to wait for their next assignment. Chief Greg “Gravy” Coker, Night Stalkers, 75th Rangers, and Delta Force held off a vastly superior force of Iraqi Republican Guard and Fedayeen fighters for seven days. The numbers in that fight were calculated out to be 1:22. The Battle for Haditha dam was the single largest engagement of the war fought to control the largest single strategic point of the conflict.
By Almighty God, with honor, and on behalf of CWO4 Gregory “Gravy” Coker,
P.S., The cartoon I made in honor of Chief Greg Coker made it to T-Shirts at SOFREP (Geo’s Winchester) — pretty slick!