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HOUSE-TO-HOUSE, ROOM-TO-ROOM, and hand-to-hand, the Marines had been fighting to take Fallujah for five days and about three hours by mid-morning on November 13, 2004. First Sergeant Brad Kasal recognized Sergeant Pruitt as he came out of a house three doors up. Pruitt started walking down the street wounded, dazed, and in pain. Kasal dragged Pruitt into an alley and began to administer first aid. While Kasal worked on the wound, Pruitt told him there had been a big firefight with a lot of bad guys, and there were three wounded Marines still trapped inside. Calling another Marine to take care of Pruitt, Kasal rounded up a handful of his men and rushed into the house to rescue the wounded Marines. About 40 minutes later, Brad Kasal was carried out of the house and into the pantheon of heroes of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Thirty-eight-year-old Brad Kasal (he pronounces it "castle") grew up on a farm in tiny Afton, Iowa. His dad, Gerald, ran the farm while sharing boy-raising duties with Brad's mom, Myrna. Between Brad and his five brothers, Gerald and Myrna were busy people. There weren't a lot of in-town activities, so Brad grew up doing chores, studying, and hunting and trapping for recreation. He remembers walking the fields hunting pheasant with an old hand-me-down 20-gauge shotgun. A wrestler and middle linebacker in high school, he hung out with the athletic crowd and "with the people who weren't athletes but partied all the time." Kasal was everyone's friend, so there wasn't a lot of peer pressure. No drugs, or any of the other serious problems teenagers fall prey to.
When he graduated from high school in 1984, Kasal gravitated toward the military. Most of his family were Army men, but he chose the Marines, "because it's the most challenging and I was more impressed with the Marine recruiter. When he came in he talked about hard work and discipline when the other recruiters were preaching more about money, skills, and things like that. I was more impressed by the history of the Marine Corps and I figured that if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do the hardest."
For the next 20 years, Brad Kasal was a Marine infantryman. He was wounded in the 1991 Gulf War, but Kasal wasn't collecting Purple Hearts. "I was able to shake it off and keep going... I turned down a lot of injuries [that might have earned him medals]. I never really made big issues of them." On 9-11, Brad Kasal was First Sergeant of Kilo Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Division: K-3-1 in Marine lingo. Soon enough, Kasal was at war in Afghanistan. He declined to speak of what he did there. Much of what the Marines did in Afghanistan remains classified.
Back in the States on Christmas leave in December 2002, Kasal and his unit got word they'd be deploying to Kuwait. Kasal led the 170 enlisted men of K-3-1 aboard ship, setting sail for Kuwait on January 17.
First to Fight
K-3-1 WAS ASSIGNED to Regimental Combat Team 1, which led the invasion and moved north quickly to the city of An Nasiriyah. They led the regiment into the city and into what was probably the heaviest battle of the invasion. After a few days, K-3-1 pulled out and headed north. Kasal remembers, "We had some wounded but no one was seriously wounded. So everybody came out in pretty good shape." They entered Baghdad on April 6 or 7, and were on their way home by May. Because they'd been deployed overseas for nearly a year, K-3-1 got one of the top spots on the list of homeward-bound Marines. They didn't get to stay home for long.
Some time in August or September 2003, Kasal's unit got the word they were headed back to Iraq. By that time he'd been in the Marines for almost 20 years. He'd been in "just about every Middle Eastern country" several times and had been in combat all too often. He could have opted to stay home, but he volunteered to go back to the fight. Why? "Because it's important what we're doing over there. I'd served 20 years in the military to make a difference. I've done other combat tours but in my 20 years this is probably the most important one. I wasn't going to miss it." In February, Kasal was assigned as First Sergeant of Weapons Company, still part of K-3-1. He spent a lot of time in the field with his new men, making sure they were ready for what they'd have to face.
ABOUT 50 MILES WEST OF BAGHDAD, and once a city of over 250,000, Fallujah was the insurgents' biggest stronghold in Iraq. It was in Fallujah, in December 2003, that the insurgents killed four American security workers in an ambush, mutilated their bodies, and hung them on a bridge for conveniently present television crews to broadcast the atrocity. A few months later, by April 2004, the Marines were making probing attacks into Fallujah.
Kasal's Weapons Company was part of the Marine force that made the stop-and-start attacks on insurgent positions in Fallujah for months. "We did limited operations through August and September and all through the whole summer and fall," Kasal said. As the months passed, the Marines were getting antsy: the fight was going to happen, and they wanted to put it behind them. On November 8, the Marines assaulted Fallujah and Kasal's company led the way.
Kasal's company breached the enemy defenses, assaulting and capturing a critically located train station to pave the way for the rest of the assault force. The Army's 7th Cav swept through the breach and began the street-to-street fight for, Kasal recalled, about the first 13 blocks. Kasal's company followed by the second day, and again took a lead position.
They didn't sleep, just catching naps when they could. They ate when they could, and only dreamed of getting a shower and a good night's sleep. They were in combat, day after day and night after night, but the Marines stuck to it. Kasal said his men, "Were exhausted but with as busy as we were and with the danger the way it was and the adrenaline kicking in everybody was holding up pretty well." They suffered casualties every day, on almost every street. They were searching the one and two-story houses for insurgents, avoiding booby traps and improvised explosive devices as best they could. Kasal and his men got their first real night's sleep on November 12.
Kasal said, "It was their first good rest," since the attack began on the 8th. "On the 12th we hit the north part -- what we called 'the Queens' -- which [was]... the most dangerous part [of the city]." It was the most dangerous because the Marines' feinting attacks in the months before -- all from the south -- had drawn the terrorists in that direction. They had fortified houses in anticipation of an attack from the south, but the Marines came in from the north. Kasal, with two of his Marines -- Private First Class Nicholl and Corporal Mitchell -- had been in heavy room-to-room fights on the 12th, and they expected more of the same on the 13th. It was a cool November day, about 60 degrees and -- as on every Fallujah street -- a sewer-like odor hung in the air.
They started the house-to-house fight again at about 7 a.m. Brad Kasal's war ended about four hours later...
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