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American Heroes

Ivica Jerak – the Croat who died as American hero

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Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak

Ivica Jerak was a member of 1st SFOD-D or publicly known as Delta Force, the unit specialized for urban warfare, who was killed in the line of duty in northern Iraq in 2005 alongside two other soldiers when a bomb exploded near their position.

For those who are not familiar with his story in his native country may find it strange when they see the inscription on the local school. The table written in both languages, Croatian and English, contains inscription: “This playground and works are dedicated to the memory of Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak, son of Debeljak, a citizen of the United States who was killed in the line of duty”.

msg. ivica jerak U.S. Army Special Forces

MSG. ivica jerak U.S. Army Special Forces

The objects mentioned in the inscription are intended for the youngest residents of the village Debeljak where lives 950 inhabitants. They were financed by the Special Operations Command Europe of the U.S. Army who donated $130,000 to preserve memory on MSG Jerak.

Ivica Jerak, son of Mirko and Dusko, was born on 12 October 1962. He attended elementary school in small village Debeljak and Sukošan while in Zadar he gained the title of a maritime sailor. After sailing the world’s seas, he landed in the United States in 1985 and only three years later he became a soldier when he enlisted as a combat medic. After training, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was part of the 690th Medical Company. He also served in the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group and the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.

Ivica Jerak took part in many military operations and missions around the world, including international peace support operations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

ivica jerak arlington cemetry

Ivica Jerak, Arlington Cemetry

He was survived by his wife Hye, an American citizen from South Korea. He lived in Houston.

As a member of the 1st SFOD-D, he was killed on August 25, 2005, near the town Husaybaha in northern Iraq. He was buried at the military cemetery in Arlington.

Among his fellow soldiers, he was known as Croatian Sensation. During his 17-years long military career Jerak finished various courses including Pathfinder Course, the Ranger Course, the Basic Airborne Course, the Static Line Jumpmaster Course, the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course, the Special Operations Medical Course, the Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic Course, the Military Freefall Course, the Jumpmaster Course, and the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course.

During his service, he was awarded 47 decorations including four Bronze Star Medals, one with Valor device, two Purple Heart Medals.

Master Sgt. Ivica Jerak was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Purple Heart.

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American Heroes

Two Marines in the path of a truck bomb lay down lives to save others

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Nine years ago, two Marines from two different walks of life who had literally just met were told to stand guard in front of their outpost’s entry control point. On Apr. 22, 2008, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter stood at entry control point at a joint security station in Ramadi along with Iraqi policemen.

Minutes later, they were staring down a big blue truck packed with explosives. With this particular shred of hell bearing down on them, they stood their ground. Heck, they even leaned in.

They immediately recognized the truck as a VBIED [Vehicle-borne improvised explosive device], stood in its path and began shooting. As the Iraqis around them fled, they leaned in, unloading their weapons. The truck stopped just short of the two Marines and detonated, killing them both instantly.

Both Marines were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions, which was captured on a security camera.

This story was told so many times so it becomes a legend. In 2010, just four days following the death of his own son in combat, Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly eulogized two other sons in an unforgettable manner.

From John Kelly’s speech:

Two years ago when I was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour.

Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.

The same broken down ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and owned by Al Qaeda. Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.

They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman.

The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.

Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.

When I read the situation report about the incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.

The regimental commander had just returned from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event—just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.

I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.

All survived. Many were injured … some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.”

What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”

“No sane man.”

“They saved us all.”

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “ … let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”

The two Marines had about five seconds left to live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.

For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have know they were safe … because two Marines stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.

The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.

The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. 

Six seconds.

Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty … into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.

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American Heroes

A life and death of distinguished member of Delta Force

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In a thinly populated, economically struggling patch of eastern Oklahoma near the border, Joshua L. Wheeler had a difficult childhood and very few options. The experience from his childhood helped shape him as a man who was comfortable with significant amounts of responsibility, family members said.

“In that area, if you didn’t go to college, you basically had a choice of the oil fields or the military,” said his uncle, Jack Shamblin. “The Army really suited him; he always had such robust energy and he always wanted to help people, and he felt he was doing that.”

The Army offered an escape, but it turned into much more. He made a career in uniform, first as Army Ranger and later as a highly decorated combat veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army’s elite Delta Force, a secretive counterterrorism force first established in the late 1970s.

Military Carrer

Joshua Wheeler enlisted in 1995, and in 1997 he joined the Army Rangers, a specially trained group within the Army.

From 2004, he was assigned to Army Special Operations Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., which includes Delta Force, the extremely selective unit that carries out some of the military’s riskiest operations. He completed specialized training in several fields, including parachute jumping, mountaineering, leading infantry units, explosives and urban combat.

Death

On October 22, 2015, he became the first U.S. service member to die in combat against the Islamic State after getting hit by small-arms fire during a raid carried out by Kurdish forces on a militant-run prison in Hawijah, Iraq. The mission freed some 70 prisoners who U.S. officials think would have been executed and dumped in a mass grave later that day.

When Kurdish commandos went on a helicopter raid to rescue about 70 hostages who were about to be executed by Islamic State militants, the plan called for the Americans who accompanied them to offer support, not join in the action, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Friday. But then the Kurdish attack on the prison where the hostages were held stalled, and Sergeant Wheeler responded.

“He ran to the sound of the guns,” Mr. Carter said. “Obviously, we’re very saddened that he lost his life,” he said, adding, “I’m immensely proud of this young man.”

A former Delta Force officer who had commanded Sergeant Wheeler in Iraq and had been briefed on the mission said that the Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, tried to blast a hole in the compound’s outer wall, but could not. Sergeant Joshua Wheeler and another American, part of a team of 10 to 20 Delta Force operators who were present, ran up to the wall, breached it with explosives, and were the first ones through the hole.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the enemy fire gets directed toward that hole, and that is where he was,” said the former officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation.

The military does not officially acknowledge the existence of the Delta Force, the Army counterpart to Navy SEAL teams.

The mission itself was a success, and the more than 70 hostages were freed. A few of the Peshmerga fighters were injured, while five ISIL militants were detained during the operation and approximately 20 were killed.

Achievements

Sergeant Wheeler was a veteran of 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, with a chest full of medals. His honors included four Bronze Stars with the letter V, awarded for valor in combat; and seven Bronze Stars, awarded for heroic or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Burial

Joshua Lloyd Wheeler

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Section 60, Grave 10348

 

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