BAGHDAD - On June 4, 2007, the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq declared two captured U.S. Soldiers dead and buried. The message mocked the United States in saying the bodies would not be returned nor found.
Fourteen months of relentless efforts by U.S. and Coalition forces proved the terrorists' taunts false.
Coalition Special Operations Forces accompanied by Soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, recovered the remains and equipment of Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez, of Lawrence, Mass., and Spc. Byron Fouty, of Waterford, Mich., west of Jurf As Sukhr on July 8, 2008, led to the site by one of the men who buried them.
Jimenez, Fouty, and Pfc. Joseph Anzack, of Torrance, Calif., all Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, were captured and four other Soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter killed during an attack May 12, 2007, outside Yousifiyah, Iraq - an area within the infamous "triangle of death."
The body of Pfc. Anzack was later recovered from the Euphrates River downstream from the attack on May 23, 2007.
The search for Jimenez and Fouty continued over the following weeks with over 4,000 Soldiers conducting combat operations in support of their recovery. They disseminated posters, talked to the local population and engaged community leaders for help - and absorbed casualties among their own in the determined search that followed.
"The US Army Soldier's creed states: 'I will never leave a fallen comrade,' expressing the belief that there is a bond between professional warriors that can never be broken - not even by capture or death," said Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, 10th Mountain Division and current Multi-National Division - Center commander.
In June 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in written postings and a propaganda video posted on extremist websites. Later that month, Coalition forces discovering some personal effects of Jimenez and Fouty, including their identification cards during a raid of a suspected AQI safe house near Samarra, Iraq.
In October 2007, Coalition forces recovered weapons issued to Jimenez, Fouty and Anzack in Fetuah, Iraq. The following month, video evidence depicting weapons and equipment taken from the captured Soldiers was discovered in Iskandariyah, Iraq. Each new finding gave intelligence experts more clues and more suspects, some of whom provided key names and information.
In November 2007, Task Force Marne, then in charge of Multi-National Division - Center, formed a Missing & Captured operations team to maintain continuity in the search efforts as the 2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., prepared to return home.
The MISCAP cell fused the intelligence efforts of several coordinated sources. This included the collaboration of key unit brigades on the ground, the Personnel Recovery Division at Multi-National Force - Iraq, and analysts from multiple agencies, to include: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Intelligence & Security Command, National Security Agency and the U.S. Central Command. The cell also took charge of conducting analysis and targeting suspected individuals involved in the attack.
Talking to the population and working with Iraqi counterparts assisted Coalition forces in gathering material that would lead them to some of the insurgents believed to be directly linked to the ambush and capture.
"We had a number of people detained we know were involved and we had a number of other leads that point to other people we believe were involved," said Lt. Col. Michael Ryan, of Oklahoma City, the staff judge advocate at the MND-C Headquarters.
Throughout the course of a year's search, over a dozen key people with information were detained or captured. Others with known criminal and terrorist ties chose to fight and were killed by Coalition forces intent on capturing them to gain more information.
During the winter of 2007 and early 2008, Coalition forces detained and questioned sources who eventually led them to three people alleged to know the Soldiers' exact location.
Throughout the month of June, the 4th BCT and the 3rd BCT, 101st Airborne Division, continued to engage Iraqi citizens for information of AQI in their communities, gaining valuable information on terrorist activities and movements in the area.
On July 1, Coalition SOF captured a reported leader of multiple AQI cells south of Baghdad. The captured leader, linked to facilitating suicide bombers for attacks in Baghdad, was believed to know the missing Soldiers' whereabouts. Initially telling Coalition forces he knew where Jimenez and Fouty were buried, it was not until July 3 that the AQI leader disclosed the location.
On July 8, the AQI leader led Coalition SOF and Soldiers from the 4th BCT to the site where the Soldiers secured the area. Once on site, however, the AQI leader could not determine the exact location, but led Coalition SOF to another suspect nearby he claimed had information about the burial site.
Coalition forces located and detained the suspect who, after identifying the original burial site, led them to another nearby site where he claimed he had moved the remains. Upon searching the area, Coalition forces discovered the remains and various equipment and clothing of Staff Sgt. Jimenez and Spc. Fouty.
"This was definitely a joint effort of many units within and outside of Multi-National Division - Center that led to the recovery of these two warriors," said Lt. Col. Richard Ruffcorn, officer in charge of the Missing & Captured cell at the MND-C Headquarters.
On July 9, a Criminal Investigation Division forensics team and an investigative officer from MND-C Headquarters traveled to the burial site, located nearly 20 kilometers south of the May 12 ambush site, to survey the area and collect evidence. Later that day, the remains of Staff Sgt. Jimenez and Spc. Fouty were transported by mortuary affairs personnel to Camp Victory, south of Baghdad and prepared for transportation to the United States. At 10:51p.m., following a ramp ceremony honoring the fallen Soldiers, the airplane departed with Staff Sgt. Jimenez and Spc. Fouty aboard, headed for Dover Air Force Base.
Arriving in Dover, Del., July 10, the remains were transported to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology where a medical examiner analyzed and confirmed they were Jimenez and Fouty. Shortly after positive identification was confirmed, the families of Jimenez and Fouty were informed by uniformed officers of the U.S. Army.
"I would have to say I consider it an honor to have been involved in the recovery of these two Soldiers," Ruffcorn said.
The quest to find Staff Sgt. Jimenez and Spc. Fouty was a study in commitment and teamwork, with every service, unit, and individual Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and civilian who has been involved in their recovery playing a part in its success. Yet their mission is not complete.
"We look forward to working together with the Government of Iraq to bring the criminals and terrorists responsible for the ambush, kidnapping and death of the these Soldiers to justice," Ryan said.
Note: Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez and Spc. Byron Fouty were posthumously promoted from sergeant and private first class respectively. Staff Sgt. Jimenez's date of rank is December 1, 2007; Spc. Fouty's date of rank is March 8, 2008.