In late 2002, Karl Blanke’s Marine battalion—1st Battalion, 5th Marines—was preparing to deploy to Okinawa to serve as the battalion landing team for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. Just days before they were scheduled to fly, the battalion was told plans had changed. They would instead deploy to Kuwait ahead of the looming US-led invasion of Iraq—an operation the battalion, alongside the rest of the 5th Marine Regiment, would take part in.

One of the platoon commanders in the battalion was Karl Blanke. During the opening weeks of the war, the unit fought as part of the broad coalition effort to defeat the Iraqi military and advance toward Baghdad. Along the way, Karl’s battalion was given what was believed to be a simple task: secure a bridge over the Saddam Canal. Intelligence did not indicate any enemy presence at the bridge, and no resistance was expected.

In this case, however, the intelligence was inaccurate. As the Marines approached, they came under indirect fire from preregistered mortars. The Iraqi defenders even had a ZSU-23-4—a Soviet-era antiaircraft weapon—that had been dismounted and was being used to launch direct fire at the Marines. An intense fight followed, and Karl shares the story in this episode of The Spear.

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Image credit: Sgt. Kevin R. Reed, US Marine Corps