Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror

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9780765313034: Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror
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They are nineteen of the most highly decorated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in the United States military, and yet most Americans don't even know their names. In this riveting, intimate account, former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall tell stories of jaw-dropping heroism and hope in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Home of the Brave takes readers beyond the bullets and battles and into the hearts and minds of the men and women who are fighting terrorists overseas so that America doesn't have to fight them at home. These are the powerful, true-life stories of the hopes, fears, and triumphs these men and women experienced fighting the War on Terror. But more than that, these are the stories of soldiers who risked everything to save lives and defend freedom. Including:

*Lieutenant Colonel Mark Mitchell, the Green Beret leader whose 15-man Special Forces team took 500 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, and posthumously repatriated the body of the first American to die in combat in the War on Terror, CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann.

*Army National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman ever to be awarded the Silver Star for combat, whose sharp-shooting and bravery played an enormous role in fighting off over fifty Iraqi insurgents while her ten-person squad protected a convoy of supplies on the way to fellow soldiers.

*Sergeant Rafael Peralta, a Mexican immigrant, enlisted in the Marines the same day he received his green card. Wounded from enemy fire, Peralta used his body to smother the blast of an enemy grenade and gave his life so that his marine brothers could live.

These real-life heroes remind us of American history's most enduring lesson: Ours would not be the land of the free if it were not also the home of the brave.

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About the Author:

CASPAR WEINBERGER was Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration from 1981-1987. Weinberger is currently chairman of Forbes, Inc. He divides his time between Maine and Washington, D.C.

WYNTON C. HALL is an award-winning presidential scholar and speechwriter. He is the co-author, along with President Ronald Reagan's chief political strategist and pollster, Dick Wirthlin, of The Greatest Communicator: What Ronald Reagan Taught Me about Politics, Leadership, and Life.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Home of the Brave
1Marine Captain Brian Chontosh NAVY CROSS 
Marine Corporal Armand McCormick SILVER STAR 
Marine Sergeant Robert Kerman SILVER STARIRAQI'm very optimistic. It's awesome. It's beautiful. We're watching what America looked like right from the get-go that we weren't around to see over two hundred years ago. All the challenges and everything--they're not going to be perfect in a day. It took us two hundred years to get it halfway right.--CAPTAIN BRIAN CHONTOSHTwo words. That was all it took."Push forward!" Captain Brian Chontosh yelled.Like the swipe of a match across the strike plate, the marine captain's words ignited actions that would forever change the lives of five men. They would be outnumbered almost thirty to one. They would find themselves closer to death than at any other time in their lives, forcing them to puttheir fate into each others' hands. But above all, they would learn that in war, just as in life, sometimes the only way through danger is to "push forward."That was certainly the case March 25, 2003, when then-Lieutenant Brian R. Chontosh, thirty-one, served as leader of his Combined Anti-Armor Team platoon (CAAT) for Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, First Marine Expeditionary Force. Six feet tall and two hundred pounds, with chiseled facial features, the Rochester, New York, native is no stranger to peril. His mother, Robin Chontosh, says she sensed her son's courage early on."He's always been fearless," said his mother. "We always called him our wild child."1Long before Captain Chontosh put on a marine uniform, he had dreams of wearing a different uniform entirely. "I went to college to play baseball," he told us. "I thought I was going to be a major league baseball star. I was a middle infielder. I wasn't that good, but every kid's got that dream."His short stint playing college ball had been the culminating event in eighteen years of a life that, according to him, lacked direction, focus, and discipline. "I owe who I am today as a man to the military." Although not born into a "military family," the New Yorker says it was the tradition and mystique surrounding the Marine Corps that drew him in."I'm part of something greater than myself--a brotherhood, a bond. You read the stories of the guys who've gone before us, and I can't even hope to hold up the weight half as much as they did. You have that sense of tradition. I always told my men I wanted to be a 'dude among dudes.' I love thecamaraderie, the companionship. It's addictive to me and very, very rewarding to see people grow as human beings."Baseball teams consist of nine players, but that blistering day in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, Captain Chontosh's team consisted of only four other men, all of whom he would soon see flourish. One of these individuals was Corporal Armand McCormick. The two men have known each other for over three years. They are, in many ways, different: Chontosh grew up in Rochester, New York, with close to a quarter of a million people. McCormick, on the other hand, hails from the quiet town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, population nine thousand. Despite their different upbringings, McCormick, twenty-three, says one word best explains the bond between them: mentality."I knew as soon as stuff happened that we were going to go into it. That's just the kind of person he [Chontosh] is. That's why he and I got along so well. I knew it would happen. The whole time we were there we would just do fun stuff like that. His leadership goes above and beyond," said McCormick.Joining in Captain Chontosh and Corporal McCormick's "fun" would be a relative latecomer to the platoon, then-Lance Corporal Robert "Robbie" Kerman. It was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that had propelled Kerman into the Marine Corps. "He was a freshman at University of Nevada, Reno, when 9/11 happened," Kerman's father recalls. "He called me September 12 and said, 'I want to quit school and do something meaningful. I want to join the corps.' Kerman's father could hardly protest his son's decision: "I did the same thing in 1966, when I was a freshman at UCLA and Vietnam was raging."2"Kerman came fresh out of school," said Chontosh. "Young kid. His father was in Third Battalion, Fifth Marines in Vietnam, and he wanted to go serve in the same unit his father had served in. We took him under our wing. He came to the platoon real late and was one of the last ones to come into our platoon. He got meritoriously promoted that day to sergeant. Kerman is fabulous!"As it happened, 9/11 had similarly galvanized Captain Chontosh's determination: "I'd just got done from a PT run. The guys were like, 'Sir, you've got to check this out.' I got there just as the second plane was hitting. I couldn't believe it. I sat there with the same shock as everyone else ... . I remember having this one thought: I am so lucky right now to be me, because I'm going to be able to do something for my country. I'm going to have a chance to do something about this."When his chance finally came, Chontosh's five-man Humvee team included two more members, Corporal Thomas "Tank" Franklin, a .50-caliber machine gunner by specialty, and Corporal Korte, their Humvee radio operator."Thomas 'Tank' Franklin? Oh man! Tom Franklin is the best machine gunner with the .50-cal I've ever come across," said Captain Chontosh. "This is Thomas Franklin who is on terminal leave--he's out of the Marine Corps--and is going to college at Florida. Stop loss date was put into effect, and he'd made the cutoff date by four or five days; he could have stayed on terminal leave. He was my driver all the way through training, and he's a damn good .50-cal gunner. So I picked up the phone and said, 'Frankie, I gotta have you back, man.' He said, 'Are you serious?' I said, 'Yeah, we're leaving in about a week. He said, 'I'm on my way.' I had called in themiddle of his math class, and he walked out of class, went home to his wife, and said, 'Honey, I've got to go.' So he got on a bird and flew back."Brian Chontosh might have traded the baseball diamond for the battlefield, but he had a new team, one comprised of corporals McCormick, Kerman, Franklin, and Korte. And he says he wouldn't have had it any other way. On March 25, 2003, he would lead these men headlong into danger so that their marine brothers wouldn't have to. 
Captain Chontosh, known to his men as "Big Fish" or "Tosh," didn't like the looks of the eight-foot-tall berm lining the sides of Highway 1, just outside Baghdad, south of Ad Diwaniyah. The terrain was mostly desert, with small vegetation just beginning to spring up through the sandy soil. The roughly eighty-man platoon had been at war for five days now and had seen minimal action. But Chontosh knew that could and would change at a moment's notice.The column was led by four M1-A1 Abrams tanks, which were followed by seven thin-skinned Humvees, each with a .50-caliber machine gun turret on top. Then-Lieutenant Chontosh rode in the passenger's seat. His vehicle was the first of the Humvees and trailed the last of the Abrams tanks by about fifty meters. McCormick was driving, Corporals Franklin and Kerman were at the turret, and Korte was at the radio. The arrangement was somewhat atypical. Having traveled hundreds of miles and not seen much action, the marines had become bored and thought it might be fun to break the monotony by shuffling their usual roles. McCormick, a basic rifleman, had never driven the Humvee."It's a little after five A.M. Iraq time, and it's starting to look like it's going to be another boring day," remembers Corporal McCormick. "But we only make it about two kilometers. We see some action up in front of the tanks: a white civilian truck--it looked like it had people in back. That's when we came up on the man-made berm. It's pretty tall, twenty-five meters off the road, and about eight feet tall. Captain Chontosh looks over and says, 'I'm a little nervous about that berm.' So he radios to the rest of our trucks to keep an eye out on this berm and that it looks a little suspicious."The M1-A1 Abrams tanks in front of their Humvee (call sign "Blue One") came to an abrupt halt. McCormick mashed the break pedal.Huge flashes streaked through the air in front of them. They were rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). The tanks stopped and buttoned up--the gunner quickly ducked inside and the vehicle commander scurried inside--but the tanks weren't moving. They just sat there."Push forward, Blue One! Push, push, push!" yelled Captain Chontosh.Mortars, small-arms fire, and RPGs began flooding the kill zone. With the tanks blocking the thin-skinned Humvees, Chontosh's vehicle and the others were now stationary targets; they were trapped. The tanks started to inch forward, only to jerk in fits and starts. Corporal McCormick was itching to grab his M-16, dismount the vehicle, and "do some damage." He was a rifleman by specialty. Instead of his weapon, however, his hands were now gripped around the steering wheel of their Humvee.Chontosh's eyes darted back and forth across Highway 1.He couldn't see where the fire was coming from. No one could. The berm had obstructed their view. But he was determined to find the source of the enemy fire. He ordered McCormick to whip out of the column and off-road the vehicle."I have no idea what was going on at that time. I don't want to say it was instinct. I don't want to say it was training. It all boils down to luck and chance I think. Just aggressive action. We just had to do something. I want to say that my mind was perfectly clear, but I wasn't thinking," said Chontosh.He then spotted a small "driveway" that led into the berm. Covering from vegetation almost prevented the marines from catching the tiny entryway. McCormick was driving fast. He jerked a hard right. The Humvee barely fit through the snug driveway. It felt like he was driving through a narrow hallway."As soon as we take a right, we see this machine-gun bunker. We see just flashes shooting at us. Corporal Franklin sitting on top with the .50-cal just neutralizes that bunker within seconds--right away," said McCormick.The decision to have Franklin on the .50-caliber had proved fateful. He was an ace on the gun and could shoot with devastating accuracy, even while moving at high speeds. Had Franklin not locked in on the five Iraqis blasting away from their machine-gun bunker, the five marines might have been killed the instant their Humvee penetrated the berm.The sight was something to behold, even for the seasoned Chontosh: "Franklin's free-gunning with the .50-cal off road and shooting accurately while we're on the move. It was amazing to watch."Equally adept were McCormick's driving skills. He floored the Humvee while averting enemy fire before whipping thevehicle into a tight indentation in the berm that served as a makeshift "parking spot." The area inside the enemy nest was large, about two hundred meters or so in size. A trench lay just across the way. Chontosh, Kerman, and McCormick leapt out of the vehicle. Franklin stayed on the .50-caliber, Korte on the radio."I jumped out," said McCormick. "Franklin asked me for a can of ammo. 'Tosh' and Kerman are running down into the trench. I caught up to them and ran in there too. We ran almost two hundred yards. That's when all hell breaks loose. There were guys everywhere. I was just shooting. There were enemy everywhere. There were people five feet in front of us. We had to run by and double tap to make sure they were gone as we made our way down the trench ... . I holstered my 9 mm and grabbed an AK-47 that was laying on the ground. But the enemy were on top of us. Just right there, right on us. There was nothing to duck behind," McCormick recalls.Entering the trench had been the equivalent of a boot stomping on an ant mound. The minute the three marines entered the trench, enemy fighters flooded the zone. Official estimates indicated that the three marines had been swarmed by a company-sized element of roughly 150 to 200 Iraqi fighters. The deafening noise emanating from Corporal Franklin's .50-caliber machine gun had sent many of the enemy soldiers scrambling for cover. But the fiercest Iraqis were now engaging the three young marines in groups of five and six in close-quarter combat, often at an arm's-length distance.Always quick to share credit with his boys, Chontosh says it was Kerman and McCormick's skills that kept him alive. "They saved my life that day without a doubt. Kerman theway he's shootin'; McCormick the way he's driving. Kerman was so cool: just one shot, one shot, one shot. He was so cool in there," said Chontosh.What the gracious leader fails to mention, however, was that as Kerman and McCormick were shooting with the utmost proficiency, Captain Chontosh was busy taking down at least twenty enemy shooters with his M-16 rifle and 9 mm pistol. Some of the enemy fighters wore civilian rags; others donned war belts. But each Iraqi had been outfitted with an impressive array of AK-47s, 9 mm pistols, and RPG launchers. As the three marines dropped enemy after enemy, weapons of opportunity began multiplying on the battlefield."I grabbed an AK-47 and just let it fly," said Chontosh.Asked what he was thinking during the close-quarter combat assault, Corporal McCormick responded, "I was thinking, 'I need some more ammo!' That's what I'm thinking!"Kerman, the new guy, the "boot" as marines call them, was rapidly gaining respect in the hearts and minds of the other four. His calm, sure demeanor and skillful shooting elevated his status instantly.Even though the first flurry of action inside the trench had now begun to calm slightly, the rest of the platoon still had no clue about the brutal battle their five marine brothers were caught in. There had been no time for Chontosh to establish communication with the tanks. Meanwhile, Corporal Korte, the radio operator, had cautioned the rest of the platoon about entering the trench. Doing so, he worried, might increase the odds of a possible friendly fire tragedy.Still, Chontosh, McCormick, and Kerman had to somehow make it back to Franklin and Korte, who were waiting in thetruck. Two football fields' worth of distance separated them from their Humvee. With Iraqis still firing at them, they decided to make a run for it and dashed through the trench toward their vehicle. Along the way, Corporal McCormick had snatched up an enemy RPG launcher and tossed it to Chontosh."If you can figure out how to fire this thing, we can get the hell out of here," McCormick said.Captain Chontosh quickly looked the weapon over. He then raised it into a firing position before squeezing the trigger. A grenade shot out of the weapon and skimmed across the ground, sending enemy fighters scurrying for cover. The act of turning the enemy fighters' own weapon against them bought McCormick enough time to get back behind the wheel."Going out of there I was going as fast as a Humvee can drive," McCormick said.When the dust settled, Chontosh had cleared two hundred meters of enemy trench, killed more than twenty Iraqi fighters, and wounded numerous others. But when their Humvee broke through the berm and back out onto Highway 1, there was no time for Chontosh or his teammates to contemplate the gravity of the events that had just unfolde...

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