E-Mails Reveal a Fallen Soldier's Story
After the battle, they found stores of food and ammunition, 11 mortar launchers, and an antiaircraft gun inside the compound. There were so many enemy weapons that the Army filled three pickup trucks with captured guns. More than 200 people surrendered in the morning, and more than 250 were reported killed. "We shifted from secure helicopter, defense, to hasty attack, to clear the trench, to humanitarian mission," says Colonel Huggins.
I asked Griffin if he'd like to talk about the Najaf battle and all his pictures in a video interview. We borrowed some plastic chairs from an Internet cafe on the base, found an abandoned tent that was far away from the noise of the helicopter landing pad, and talked for 26 minutes.
He didn't say much about why he had joined the Armyfor all the reasons printed on the recruiting posters, he offered. He'd been a rebellious kid, the kind that his junior high school assistant principal was happy to see move to high school so he could stop sticking him in detention. Griffin ran away from home several times, too, once waiting a month to call his father, telling him he was living in the attic of a martial arts studio. He met his wife while he was jogging in Pasadena, Calif. ("I know it sounds corny," he told her, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, "but you look really beautiful.") They were married in 1994. Looking for excitement, he became a paramedic in the not-so-nice parts of Los Angeles, where he was shot at for the first time. But it was in the military that he found a new purpose and direction; he joined the National Guard in 1999 and, finding that too slow, went on active duty in July 2001.
In his first Iraq tour, Griffin spent time in Mosul and Tal Afar. He earned his chops kicking down doors and chasing bad guys, adventures that he documented in a journal on his laptop. He even won a Bronze Star with V for valor for saving the lives of three American and two Iraqi soldiers after an ied attack in Tal Afar.
When I got to the top of the vehicle, I saw Sgt. Gordon's right leg hanging on by skin only ... As we were still taking heavy small-arms fire Doc and I were pulling out our First Sergeant, whose legs had both been broken by the powerful blast. As soon as we handed him down we began to treat Sgt. Gordon by applying a tourniquet to his nearly severed leg and then handed him down. When I climbed down from the vehicle to assess PFC Rosenthal, I noticed that his face had been severely burned, so I thought, but it was merely the soot from the blast. As soon as I knelt down to cut his pants off to assess his wounds, asphalt began chipping all around us due to the small-arms [fire] getting closer ... Once at the front of the vehicle, we began taking heavy fire from a mosque off to our east and there was just nowhere else to take cover. Luckily, our Commander's vehicle approached the wreckage and we immediately loaded all the casualties and they were brought back to [Forward Operating Base] Sykes.