Adam grew up in a very patriotic family where he attended Boy Scout meetings and Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July were honored as important holidays. Both his grandfathers served in WWII, but he credits the grandfather on his mother's side, who was a Navy C. B. in the South Pacific, for influencing him the most.
"I knew I wanted to go into the Marine Corps because they had the whole mystique about them being the finest, the best. They were always the first ones in, they were the toughest and I wanted to be the basic infantry man. I went in specifically to be a front line troop. When people think of the Marines, that's what they think of. They think of the guy walking down the street with the rifle, with the helmet. You don't think of the guy turning wrenches on a plane. Whether it's a good idea or bad idea, I wanted to be in a fight. Maybe it was a test to prove myself. Maybe it was that young adult idea of doing something exciting. I don't know but that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a basic grunt, as we call it."
In July of 1995, Adam went to Boot Camp in San Diego for three months. Marine boot camp is the longest of all the services.
"The second day I was there, I remember sitting there and wondering what the heck I'd gotten myself into. The whole idea about brainwashing and stuff like that, it's not brainwashing in a bad sense, but what it does is it shapes you for how you have to be in the military. And it's a very emotional, psychological and physical, stressful environment. Everything you know, that you're familiar with, that you're accustomed to, is wiped clean. I mean, your head is shaved, they take all your clothes, you have nothing that you could possibly associate with your life back home and they keep you so busy so much that you have no time to think about it. I mean, you're just a zombie walking through the day half the time just reacting to what they're telling you to do. People are constantly breaking down crying, you forget your name, you don't know what's going on half the time. Yeah, they'll ask you your name and you'll just look at 'em dumbfounded."
Adam graduated Company Honor Man which means he graduated at the top of his class in a class of 540 Marines. After a 10 day break he was off to Camp Pendleton for four months of infantry training where he did a repeat performance graduating as Company Honor Man. He guaranteed his specialty as infantry man going in and there he was trained in Light Armor Reconnaissance which is a vehicle similar to a tank except it has wheels and can carry infantry troops in the back. He became skilled with a M16A4, semi automatic assault rifle, with a 30 round magazine. It can accurately hit a target up to 550 yards with a maximum distance of about 3000 yards, not to mention stop a car with a round placed in the right place.
"It's a very good bullet for the type of missions we do. It's not overly large so it's not extremely heavy. It's light. It's accurate. It tumbles which means the bullet spins when it comes out to make sure it's accurate and it basically chews things up like a buzz saw. We can put a lot more gizmos on top of it. We can put all kinds of scopes, lights, blazers, all kinds of super sonic speed stuff. I carry a 9mil pistol as well, which is a barrette, like Mel Gibson shoots."
After that he went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and joined the 2nd Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion.
"What we did is we drove out these vehicles in front of everybody and we deployed, [and we would] find things. We were the advance guard. We were the early warning. Or we could be a screening force. These vehicles could go upwards of 70 miles per hour and they had cannons on 'em. We packed a pretty good punch. We were also a raid force. Let's say we wanted to attack Walker Brother's or something. [Walker Brother's pancake house is across the street from where we are sitting in a Starbucks cafe.] From the time they would hear the engines of the vehicles to the time we had gone in, blown everything up, cleared through, swept out, we could be off the site in 17 minutes."
From there he went on a MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean Sea, also called going on a float. A MEU goes with an Amphibious Ready Group, which is three ships they call an ARG. They go over seas for six months and they are kind of like the 911 force.
"If something goes down and they need troops there, like yesterday, that's what the MEU does. It's not the 82nd Airborne, it's not the 101st. It's the Marines that are on these ships and they are deployed in seas all over the world."
In March of 1997 when Albania erupted in Civil War, Adam was on a MEU off the coast of Greece. He was out in town having a good time when they started shooting red flares up from the ship in the harbor and circling helicopters overhead, signaling him back to the ship. In 18 hours they were on the shores of Albania and in 2 days they evacuated about 2000 American civilians. After that he spent some time running patrols in the Sylvania Alps where he acquired frost bite on one of the small toes of his right foot. And then he did Marine Security Guard Duty or Embassy Duty which falls under the Department of State, Diplomatic Security. He went over seas and lived at embassies in foreign countries. He was the protection of classified material, personnel, and equipment in an embassy. He spent one year in Moscow and two in Portugal. During that time he was on the security details of Bill Clinton, Vice President Cheney, Madeline Albright and others.
"And this brings us to the war..."
******Call to Duty******
On September 11, 2001 Adam was living in a 15th century manor house next to the embassy in Portugal where he had his own room. But before that day ended he would be living in windows in the embassy for the next several weeks.
"Before September 11, I was actually getting out of the Marine Corps. I was going home. I wanted to get out. I was done with everything in my life. I was on my way to George Town University, I was going to get my degree, Undergrad in International Relations. Then I wanted to go back to work in one of the government agencies. And I had everything set up. I had been accepted. I had an apartment. I had a car. I had a roommate. Everything was on my way out. You couldn't have found someone more ready to get out than I was."
He watched his buddies go into Afghanistan on TV. And by September of 2002 he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were going to invade Iraq. He was due to be out of the Marines a mere four months later in February of 2003. In a 24 hour period he changed his mind and dropped everything. He called his monitor and told him that he wanted to get to Iraq immediately. He wanted to be the first one in.
"When September 11 happened, the whole world changed. And I had done some real world operations and stuff like that. So I'd done the real deal, but not a war. That was the whole reason I had joined. You train and do this stuff all the time, you're getting ready for the inevitable. You don't know when it's coming, but you're just trying to get ready for it. So, ok, now it's coming. So I realized that this is what my grandfather had felt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he joined the Navy. Our country was under attack. [I felt] I need to go to Iraq because I'm a Marine and this is what we do."
His monitor came through and Adam was dropped onto a dessert in Kuwait on February 2, 2003 with the 1st Platoon, Gulf Company, 2nd battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
"Where we were, we were the last line between the Iraqi border. We were ten miles off the border just waiting to go, to invade. It takes a preparation stage. When we first got to Kuwait, we got issued some ammunition and our chemical defensive kits. We head out to the Kuwaiti desert and we get dropped in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing. All we have is our packs on our backs and that's it. There was no facilities. We were eating meals in a bag, our rations, that can last through a nuclear war, pretty much. We still lived out in our holes in the desert, but every once in a while we'd go back to a major camp and it looked like a city had been built from nothing in the middle of the desert.
We dug holes and sat there looking at the desert for a month and a half. We had no phones, no mail, no connection with the outside world. We had no idea what was going on. Rumors would fly. The biggest rumor that flew was that J.Lo had died. A lot of people were depressed. Think about it. You're out in the middle of the desert and there's nothing there, no buildings, just sand. Sand is everywhere and in everything. Sandstorms hit ya' every few days. They just suck the life out of ya'. You could see the wall of sand coming at you. You're just getting pelted and stung with sand. You're breathing in sand, it's getting in your clothes, every crevice of your body, in your nose, in your eyes, you're just covered and coated. It just hits you. You become so numb to things.
We were the first unit into Iraq. I made it. Our first mission was to capture the Ramallah oil fields to make sure they weren't going to be burned or blown up. Well, we started getting intelligence reports that they were burning up and the Iraqi's started launching scud missiles at Kuwait. They said they needed [our battalion] to go now. So we went and we were alone in Iraq for nine hours 'cause nobody else was ready to go. We just shot up to the Ramallah oil fields. I was in what's called an AAV which is an Amphibious Assault Vehicle, and it's a big bullseye. It can hold twenty Marines and it's a track, like a tank. As soon as we crossed the border it was a light show. Everyone thinks the war started on March 20th, but we left for Iraq the evening of March 19th."
Eventually, he crossed the Euphrates and was one of the first into Baghdad. He was surprised at how clean and beautiful the city was. Baghdad is decently modern, as he described it. They have power, they have lights, they have houses as opposed to mud huts, they have bridges, cars, busses, and even coffee shops.
"When we got downtown Baghdad, they were receiving us like a New York Thanksgiving Day parade. I came home and I was so disgusted when I saw the news. Thousands of people were lining the streets, cheering us on. We are rolling through in our vehicles, popped up and waving, like it's a parade."
And that about brings us up to that fateful day...
*******Battle of At Tarmiyah*******
After Baghdad became semi secure, the Marines kept moving. On April 12, Adam's battalion was making it's way north to Samara. Echo Company and Fox Company had been sent out East to search for POW's. Adam's company, Golf Company, was the reserve. They were to stay on the main road and be the reactionary force to maneuver in case there was trouble. But Echo and Fox weren't turning up anything so they decided to send Golf Company West to see if a bridge over the Tigris River could support tanks. Adam's platoon consisted of about 60 ground troops and they took 3 AAV's out to the Tigris.
"In the back here, inside the vehicle, this is where you have all your ground troops. [He pointed to a sketch he had drawn of the AAV] We could fit 20 in each. The book says you can fit 18, but you can always fit one more. The back will drop down with a little ramp thing. You can run out the back. The top can also open up so you can look out the side. The crew operates the vehicle. 'Cause we don't operate the vehicle. We're just passengers. They control the driving and they have a 50 caliber machine gun [up front]. I sat in this little hatch right here, where I could get a panoramic view. Everybody else, your back there, it's black. You can't see anything. You don't know what's going on. You're choking on diesel."
At approximately 800 Zulu, 1st platoon reached the pontoon bridge and after deciding that it would sustain tanks, two of the AAV's crossed over. They were greeted on the other side by a traffic jam. People and cars are everywhere and Adam thought he was going to be playing traffic cops again. Welcome to At Tarmiyah. Directly to the left is a little bridge house, made of stone, that Adam thought looked like something you'd sell ice-cream out of. To the South-West the city spread out comprising of three and four story buildings and houses.
"It was a very docile environment. People are trying to sell us goats. That's what it was like. [Those who weren't stationed as defense] were kind of hanging out in this building in the shade and I'm actually walking along cutting pieces of salami off with my knife and giving it to Marines for something to eat. And we're just hanging out. We got all our stuff on but it's relatively docile."
His recommendation and summary of action records what happened next. "At approximately 0900 Zulu, 1st Platoon minus was caught in an enemy Iraqi ambush of unknown size orienting from the north and south of the town, creating cross fire."
"I think it was 8:56, actually. I remember looking up. I kind of looked over this way and, like, the cars are gone, people are gone. And it's just one of those things where you kind of look up and it's like everything is in slow motion. You just looked up and, like, everybody was gone when a minute ago you had heard and seen everybody. And I remember looking around at one of my friends and stuff and they just kind of looked back at me. I have no idea how many came at us. But, they were coming at us from all different directions. Two of 'em hit my track. [They] went through the nose of my track, basically through the headlights. Blew the heck out of my track. Covered me in dust and smoke. I got peppered with stuff. Nearly knocked me over."
I asked him if he was afraid. I was hoping to come to a greater understanding of the psyche of fear vs. courage. I have to keep hoping, because after my interview with Adam I have to admit that I understand acts of heroics and undaunted bravery even less than before my interview with him.
"Didn't feel anything at that point, still in shock. I went deaf. I got covered in smoke and debris. And you're trying to think, 'What is going on.' It's like everything is in slow motion. You kinda hear things but you don't hear things. You only know what's going on, like, from me to you. That's as much as you have, are aware, at one moment. After the initial beef of everything you start to get more aware but it's still very tunnel vision. There is so much going on, so much you're thinking about, so much you're worrying about, so much you're trying to do that, literally, you could have somebody walk on your back and you'd have no idea sometimes."
In the first few seconds of the assault, Adam was nearly blown off his feet into a wall. He starts swinging his way into the bridge house when he realizes that he still has his knife and salami in his hand. Once inside, he returns fire. He thinks he blew off 60 rounds within the first two minutes.
"We were surrounded. They're shooting at us from both directions and straight. So, at no point when I was outside was a bullet not coming near me. They were zinging by your ears. You can tell a distinct difference when you hear bullets come at you how close it is. The guys that were in the vehicle, they kind of pile out of the vehicle. I just saw them skid by me, nubs for legs, blood streaking all over the place. We've got a corps man there and he kind of pulls 'em into the house, throwing tourniquets on them and stuff like that."
They couldn't retreat back over the bridge because they would have been sitting ducks and, like wise, no one could cross over to their aid. They were completely cut off. It took them a few minutes, but they started returning organized fire on the enemy.
"We've got these little ear piece things. They're only good for about five hundred yards. So, this is how we're talking to each other. This is how we're talking across the river. Well, this is bad because kilometers away is where your help is. We had no air support. We had no artillery. Nobody even knows we're in a fight. They didn't know we were in a fight until about thirty minutes into it. We're slugging it out over here. I'm looking at our situation and we're stuck. The only way to finish a fight is to get into a fight. We had to go straight into 'em.
I ran across the street. Find these guys, they had hunkered down in some holes just kind of grabbing their butt and praying to God. This whole time I was never not getting shot at. There was always bullets hitting over my head, hitting at my feet, whizzing by my ear the whole time."
From that vantage point Adam identifies his biggest threat, where a lot of the rockets were coming from. It was a three story building in town. They need to cut them down before they get cut to shreds.
"I call over and I say, 'Hey, I'm going into town. I'm going to the three story building. I'm gonna mark it. Get the guns up. Which basically means, get the machine guns rockin' and rollin' just to cover me as I run across. I tapped [a Marine] on the head, he has a machine gun. He looked up. I said, 'Cover me.' He said that was his scarriest moment. He thought, 'Oh my God, what's he about to do?"
Adam ran about 70 meters of open terrain, by himself, to make his way to the side of the building.
"At one point, when I'm about to run across, I'm thinking to myself, 'Am I really going to do this?' And that's when I took off. [Once there, he] Threw colored smoke over the side to identify the building 'cause now we have air support. This is about thirty minutes into it. They basically called out the distress signal: We got a unit in some serious trouble. Everything in the world come here. It was up close and personal. Close enough where you could see their eyes."
Later his lieutenant would recall seeing Adam running up to the town, shooting.
"He said it was one of the most spectacular things he'd ever seen but he also said, 'Well, I guess he's gone."
Adam was shooting his way into the building when things began to quite down. That's because there was a bunch of them hiding around the corner waiting to spring on him. By the grace of God, Adam was forewarned and was able to throw a grenade around the corner to take care of them that way. By this time air strikes were coming in. They were dropping rockets. They always run parallel to their unit so that they don't drop on you if they drop short.
"They're dropping missiles right over my head. They called me and said, 'Get down. Air's coming in.' So I just grabbed some dirt. And as the missiles are dropping and the explosions are going off into buildings over here, like, my body's lifting off the ground. You feel it in your lungs. They compress real quick. And you actually jump. You whole body feels the compression."
Adam was up in that building about thirty minutes by himself when he called to his buddies for some help because he was running out of ammo. He carried 360 bullets and he'd blown through most of those. But, the good news is that planes are finally coming in and artillery is starting to drop.
"I can see into the town so I'm calling this stuff in, I'm like, 'Yep, bring it closer. Bring it closer.' Danger close for artillery is like 650 meters. 700 is fine. 600, no good. Just because of short rounds or shrapnel or whatever. Well, we were dropping this stuff within 200, 250 meters in front of me. We broke all the safety rules that day."
Finally, three guys make it up to Adam in the building.
"At the two hour mark I was thinking, 'Oh my God, when is this gonna end.' I've been in combat environments that have lasted 48 hours, but that's intermittent. We were in a shoot out. Four straight hours of shooting. This was four hours of no rest, can't hear anything because bullets and things were exploding. I don't know how we made it out. I don't know how we walked away."
The battle is hot and heavy now. They are shooting their way deeper and deeper into town.
"We're shooting rockets. You name it. Everything we can, we're firing. Artillery is goin', planes are coming in, reinforcements have finally made it across about 2 hours into it."
Due to garbled communications, Adam thought there were Marines down across town.
"I just stood up on the building and said, 'Who wants to go dodge some bullets?"
Amazingly, two Marines volunteered. They grab a track and head towards the sound of the gunfire. They ran ahead of the track, jumping in ditches and dodging bullets the whole time. When they make it there, they throw the seriously wounded in the track.
"I get a call saying, 'Hey, move back we're about to level the town. Which basically means, we're going to pull back and artillery and airplanes are going to come in and turn the whole town into dust. It's like a fighting withdrawal. We got people dropping as we're running back and we're picking 'em up, dragging 'em through."
After they count everybody they head back over the river from whence they came and the town is smoked like Gomorrah. Later, they would learn that Saddam Hussein had been in the town the day before and the people they were fighting were his hard core fanatics.
O beautiful for heroes proved/In liberating strife/Who more than self their country loved/And mercy more than life!
A million thanks to you, Adam, and to your brethren soldiers, for your faithful service to our country.
Happy Birthday, America. God mend thine every flaw/ Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law!
By C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved