AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. William A. Staley is lucky to be alive.
“I was running from the chow hall to grab my flak jacket,” said Staley, a 24-year-old mortarman from Lockport, N.Y. “Then the explosion hit.”
Staley recalled the enormous blast that sent debris into his face and knocked him down a flight of stairs.
“After the explosion I got up and began running around making sure everyone was alright,” said Staley, a Marine with L Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
He was one of many Marines who survived a powerful explosion from a suicide vehicle that rocked the Veteran Affairs building here in late April.
On April 17, 3rd Platoon, Lima Company was operating at the Observation Post Veteran Affairs (OP VA) when the insurgents began a coordinated attack. It was midday when insurgents began firing machinegun and small arms weapons at the building’s rooftop.
Meanwhile, teams of insurgents fired multiple rocket propelled grenades that sailed directly towards the posts.
“The rocket propelled grenades knocked the Marines physically out of the posts,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew J. Sherman, a 25-year-old platoon commander from Mobile, Alabama, who was knocked down by an RPG blast. “While the machine gunners where getting back up and running back to the guns, a suicide vehicle born improvised explosive device breached the west gate,” he said.
Lance Cpl. Aaron C. Shaffer, a 20-year-old from Charleston, West Va., who was knocked from his post by an RPG blast, was able to see the truck from his rooftop vantage point moments before it detonated.
“I got back to my post and saw the truck and began firing on it,” said Shaffer. “I don’t remember much after that; all I remember is a handful of dirt slamming me in the face.”
The dump truck laden with explosives detonated inside the compound ripping the northwest corner of the building apart. Massive amount of debris flew everywhere as flames from the blast ignited the building’s camouflage netting surrounding the Marines.
“I thought the whole building was destroyed,” said Staley. “The concussion of the blast jolted and knocked (several of us down).”
Moments later, Marines dazed from the barrage of gunfire, began receiving mortar rounds that rained down, impacting on top of the building.
Marines began low crawling over ruble and under a spray of small arms fire to maneuver to secondary fighting positions, according to Sherman who was calling for back-up support.
They also called for a quick reaction force team. As the QRF sped towards the gunfight they encountered and destroyed four VBIEDS parked along the road.
Once Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class William T. Corso gained consciousness after the initial blast, he began hearing a call for help.
It was from Lance Cpl. Michael C. Sarbu who had a gunshot wound to the leg.
Trained in combat lifesaving techniques, Corso quickly ran up a ladder, exposing himself to enemy fire. He reached Sarbu and started treating his leg. He immediately called for medical evacuation and treated two other Marines.
Meanwhile, Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Leeper ran to a secondary post to man a heavy machinegun upon hearing sporadic gunfire. As he was about to reach the post, a car bomb detonated, throwing him back inside the building and burying his weapon under rubble. Refusing medical treatment, he ran to another part of the building to assist Marines that were engaged with enemy fighters. He was able to help the Marines by repairing their weapon systems and re-supplying them with ammunition.
Both Corso and Leeper were recommended for combat awards for their bravery during the complex attack. Several other Marines and Sailors were also put up for awards.
The attack lasted an hour and 45 minutes. The Marines’ tenacity was key in repelling the enemy assault.
When it was all said and done, every Marine inside OP VA survived the attack. A few Marines sustained minor injuries, but Sarbu was medically evacuated to a regional medical facility for treatment for his wounds. The Marines reported killing approximately 20 insurgents during the battle.
the next few days were spent refortifying the observation post to ensure it hadn’t been weakened by the attack.
“We worked 48 hours straight to reinforce the post,” said Staley. “It was a non-stop working party.”
Today, the war-torn building still stands and Marines continue to operate there providing security for the people of Ramadi.