It was Dec. 4, 2006, in the city of Ramadi in central Iraq, where Lt. Col. James Enos, received the worst news a company commander could hear. The news came over the radio — Pvt. 1st Class Roger Suarez had been killed in combat and Pvt. 1st Class Albert Nelson was severely injured.
“I slammed the hand mic into the radio so hard that I shattered the hand mic and broke the radio. Probably not the best thing to do as a company commander since that’s what I need to talk to everybody on. But that was my initial reaction,” Enos said in his office at Mahan Hall. “Then I quickly realized that If I’m not in control of the situation, it’s going to get worse.”
Enos added that a radio is more important on the battlefield than a rifle for a platoon sergeant or company commander. He remembered firing his rifle three times during his 24 months in combat, but used his radio often to maneuver platoons, coordinate close air attacks from attack Apache helicopters, and bring in mortars and artillery. However, at the time, that moment of anger and grief was the extent of his reaction. He buried the distressing news deep in his mind knowing that he would have to confront it later.
Enos said that he had a mission to complete. Every step his Soldiers took and every decision he made, at this point, was an act of coordinated strategy, sheer willpower and unyielding resiliency. This moment in Enos’ life would forever illuminate him on the importance of resiliency and what it means to be a warrior-scholar shaped and molded within the time-honored, stone walls of West Point.
It’s been 15 years since that fateful day as cadets, faculty members and special guests gathered at Washington Hall to commemorate Enos for his valorous service to the nation, during the Battle of Ramadi, by bestowing him with the Alexander R. Nininger Award on Oct. 21 at the U.S. Military Academy.
The award is given to a graduate who has embodied the motto “Duty, Honor, Country” through his or her valiant acts in battle. Furthermore, the West Point Association of Graduates recognizes the awardee as a new affiliate representative of all West Point-commissioned officers who has led Soldiers into battle.
“When I was a cadet, an old Ranger came and spoke at our Air Assault graduation. He said, ‘whenever you talk to Soldiers, you should remember the three B’s: be on time, be brief, and be gone,’” Enos said as he accepted his award. “I guess now that I’m that old Ranger, I’ll try to adhere to his advice. I’ll talk a little bit about the events of Dec. 4, 2006.”
When Enos deployed in October 2006 with Dog Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, to his assigned combat outpost in Eastern Ramadi, a Marine Corps intelligence officer wrote a report that Al Qaeda controlled the Al Anbar province, and the location was irretrievable, he said.
Enos was the company commander at the time and was in charge of 130 Soldiers. They were tasked with applying the counterinsurgency (COIN)strategy or the inkblot strategy, which is used for overwhelming a large volatile region with a small military force.
“We were supposed to set up posts, then expand our influence and grow from there, but it wasn’t really taking hold at the time. Basically, we had these little outposts — our inkblots weren’t very big. We were conducting civil affairs counterinsurgency operations. At the time, I think (retired Gen.) David Petraeus had just finished drafting the COIN manual. So, we were trying to adhere to that and it wasn’t quite working out that well.”
Initially, Enos didn’t have the support he needed from the local population. Soon after, around November on Thanksgiving Day, Al Qaeda had its sights set on a new target: a chief of a tribe known as Sheikh Jossan who favored the support of U.S. forces, he said.
“Sheikh Jossan was up in the northern part of Eastern Ramadi and was starting to come over to our side. Obviously, Al Qaeda didn’t like that, so they attacked Sheikh Jossan’s little local militia,” Enos said. “And so, we got a phone call. Basically, he needed help, and so we started figuring out what we could do so one of the companies and one of my platoons just scrounged together whatever guys we could find to make a fighting element to go up there and support him.”
Enos added that his company infiltrated the tribal area the night of Dec. 3 under the cover of darkness and secured a foothold around the perimeter. Enos’ task to set up defenses within the location set in motion the events that would unfold for the next several months due to the expansive but rural landscape by the Euphrates River.
“It’s Dec. 4 and there’s a small stretch between the Euphrates River and route Michigan, which was the main highway that went west through Ramadi, Al-Fallujah and into Baghdad,” Enos said. “So, our job on that day was to go secure that area and prevent the insurgents from moving east and west and continue to expand that little perimeter that we had around Sheikh Jossan’s tribal area.”
With that, Enos and his Soldiers started gaining momentum and building rapport with the locals. Later in the afternoon, for Enos, the battle at Ramadi had commenced.
“When you load onto an aircraft headed into a combat zone, it’s not the time to wish that you did an extra hour of physical training, fired more rounds on the range, foot marched a little longer or rehearsed a battle drill one more time,” Enos said as he conveyed his experience to the cadets in the audience.
Enos said, during the afternoon, D Company started receiving small arms fire. The enemy attack escalated until all three platoons were simultaneously engaged against the insurgents.
Enos had called in air support with Marine Corps air-ground liaison team aiding D Company, calling in harriers and F-18’s on standby to help support.
“Within that timeframe, the call came that we lost a couple of Soldiers,” Enos said. “Nelson and Suarez were killed ... That moment of anger and grief I felt was it ... I put that part of day away somewhere and dealt with it later. I still had three platoons in contact, but it was not just me ... my lieutenants, my noncommissioned officers — my Soldiers had to do the same thing ... while we all cared about Nelson and Saurez, we (also) had a job to do. That is resiliency.”
The momentum of battle shifted. Soon after, the tanks showed up on the battlefield around the same time D Company received clearance to use artillery because they were on the north side of the river.
“The north side of the river was a completely different brigades area of operation. So it took time to clear,” Enos said. “If it was on the south side of the river, as long as I cleared it right, they would be dropping rounds, but because it was on the north side, it was out of our area of responsibility so we had to call back to the brigade headquarters to talk to the battlespace owner that’s up north to make sure that they didn’t have any forces in the area. So it took some time to coordinate all that.”
Once Enos got approval, D Company started to engage the insurgent’s mortar teams, and after some time, the enemy was no longer firing their weapons.
“How many of the (insurgents) threw down their weapons and drifted off into the population? I don’t know, but our retaliation started to swing the pendulum in our favor,” Enos said. “After that battle, we stayed there for probably a couple of weeks in the same spot because now we had security. We fought hard for that piece of ground we didn’t want to give it up. So, we stayed there for a while, continuing to do patrols in the area, keeping it secure making sure no insurgents would come in.”
(Editor’s note: This is Part I of a two-part feature on the Nininger Award recipient. See next week's Pointer View for Part II.)