By Capt. Scott KuhnOctober 12, 2018
Throughout military history there are battles that certain units or branches of the armed forces are known for. The Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, the 3rd Infantry Division and the Battle of the Marne, the Navy at the Battle of Midway and the Marines and Khe Sanh. But, just as is the case with most historical moments, there is always more to the story.
The 2nd Battle of Fallujah is associated, usually, with the Marines, but many are unaware that there were Army units that fought alongside the Marines during the fight. It is the story of one of those units, the 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division that is the basis for a new book by Lt. Col. Coley Tyler titled Ghosts of Fallujah.
"The first book I remember about the battle was Bing West's No True Glory, and although a very good book, there was very little mention, if at all, of Army participation in the battle," Tyler said. "So, based upon the comradery we had established with the Marines we worked with, I felt that there was an opportunity to fill a gap in the literature."
Tyler, then a junior Captain serving as the battalion's fire support officer, remembers this time vividly.
"I was extremely nervous. It's the ultimate test of your training and capabilities," he recalled. "It wasn't what we had been used to, it wasn't what Iraq had been like in the recent past with the march up. This was an opportunity for 1st Cav elements to show our stuff. You want to do well, you want to make the patch look good."
The second battle for Fallujah was code-named Operation Phantom Fury, and commenced Nov. 7, 2004. The carefully designed and skillfully executed attack employed Marine Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) 1 and 7 attacking south into the city. The "Ghost" Battalion was attached to RCT 1. That RCT was the main effort for the battle and 2-7 CAV was the main effort for RCT 1. The Ghost battalion's primary purpose was to push south and then conduct a right turn toward the river and isolate that area.
"As a 2-7 alumni, to me the striking thing is, the main effort to the main effort has always struck me as very special," Tyler said. "For the 1st Marine Division, conducting the largest urban combat since Vietnam, to have your battalion-an Army battalion-attached to a Marine Regimental Combat Team and be the main effort has always struck me as special. To be able to say you're the tip of the spear and know what the Marines thought about the capabilities of 2-7 CAV."
RCT 1, with 2-7 CAV leading the way, were so successful that when word was sent that RCT 7 was having a more difficult time General Richard Natonski, 1st Marine Division commander, ordered the RCTs to stay online and clear all the way to the south of the city. Once they reached the south, 2-7 CAV provided security while the Marines continued to clear the city. Within three weeks of the start of the battle, Ghost Battalion's mission was complete.
The second battle of Fallujah was the largest urban battle since Hue City in Vietnam, which was, coincidentally, also a joint fight with Marines and units from the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division.
According to Tyler it was teamwork from all branches that won the day. "It was the Air Force, Marines Army and Navy all working together in a very short amount of time that made this mission successful."
Following the battle, Tyler moved on to other things within his Army career, eventually ending up at West Point as an instructor for a few years. But all the while the story of 2-7 CAV's involvement in the battle remained at the back of his mind until he finally got up the courage to try to put it all down on paper.
He began his research by combing through the after action interviews conducted by the Combat Studies Institute, which is part of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. The interviews included recollections from enlisted Soldiers through the command team including then battalion commander, and now Maj. Gen. James Rainey.
Tyler says he worked on the project on nights and weekends while at West Point. When the school was out for Spring Break he took the opportunity to write the first draft-220 pages. "Once I identified that there was a void in the literature it became a confidence problem. I didn't trust my writing ability. I learned to improve my writing while at [the School of Advanced Military Studies] and then spent my utilization tour in Afghanistan rewriting the draft."
Overall, the entire process including getting it approved by the Department of Defense and then finding a publisher took about eight years. But, he says, the time commitment and work were all worth it and would recommend it to anyone with a story to tell.
"I don't want to sound cliché or anything, but I would say just do it. Even if I had never found a publisher, it was cathartic and therapeutic to go through and think about it and write out everything that was on the inside and just put it out there," he said. "And if it even just stayed a home printed draft that only my wife and kids read then that would have been success for me. So, for people who think they have a story, think about what your goal is and work toward that. If there is something weighing on your heart and mind about your service, tell it, because I guarantee there are people out there that feel the same way."