TIME: Into the Hot Zone
By MICHAEL WARE
"We're not going to die!" yells Staff Sergeant David Bellavia as his rattled platoon of soldiers takes cover from machine-gun fire in the streets of Fallujah. The platoon has been ordered to hunt down and kill a group of insurgents hiding somewhere in a block of 12 darkened houses. It is 1:45 a.m., and the soldiers have been running from fire fight to fire fight for 48 hours straight with no sleep, fueled only by the modest pickings from their ration packs. As they searched through nine of the houses on the block, the soldiers turned up nothing. When they trudged into the 10th house, though, a trap was sprung: the insurgents had lured them in and then opened fire, forcing Bellavia's men to scramble out of the house as shards of glass peppered them and bullets ricocheted off the gates of the courtyard. Bellavia yelled for a Bradley armored fighting vehicle to get "up here now!" The Bradley drew along the gate and poured 25-mm-cannon and M-240 machine-gun fire into the house, blasting a shower of concrete chips and luminescent sparks.
Bellavia, a wiry 29-year-old who resembles Sean Penn, is pacing the street, preparing to go back in. Bellavia's bluster on the battlefield contrasts with his refinement off it. During lulls in the fighting, he could discuss the Renaissance and East European politics. "Get on me now," he says, ordering his squad to close in. There is little movement. He asks who has more ammunition. Two soldiers stand up and join him in the street. "Here we go, Charlie's Angels," Bellavia says. "You don't move from my goddam wing. You stay on my right shoulder. You stay on my left shoulder. Hooah?" The men nod. "I wanna go in there and go after 'em."
Reaching the barred window near the front door, Bellavia tells two soldiers to perch by the house corner and watch for insurgents trying to leap out the side window. He looks at Staff Sergeant Scott Lawson and says, "You're f______ coming. Give suppressive fire at 45 degrees." Bellavia and Lawson step nervously into the house. From the living room, Bellavia rounds the corner into the hallway. The insurgents are still alive. Their AK-47s fire. Bellavia fires back, killing them both. "Two f_____s down," he says.
Lawson stays downstairs while Bellavia scours the first floor for more insurgents. A string of rapid-fire single shots ring out. Then silence. Then a low, pained moaning. The two soldiers waiting in the courtyard call out to Bellavia, "Hey, Sergeant Bell," but get no response. "Sergeant Bell is not answering," a message is shouted back to the platoon members across the street. "We need more guys." The platoon's other staff sergeant, Colin Fitts, 26, steps up. "Let's go," he says.
Fitts takes a small team over the road. "Terminators coming in," he bellows as he goes inside, using the unit's name in a code to warn that friendly forces are entering. Inside they find Bellavia alive and on the hunt. Upstairs he scans the bedrooms. An insurgent jumps out of the cupboard. Bellavia falls down and fires, spraying the man with bullets. At some point another insurgent drops out of the ceiling. Yet another runs to a window and makes for the garden. Bellavia hits him in the legs and lower back as he flees. When it's over, four insurgents are dead; another has escaped badly wounded. To Bellavia, Fitts says, "That's a good job, dude. You're a better man than me." Bellavia shakes his head. "No, no, no," he mutters.
When it kicked off last week, the battle of Fallujah was billed as a climactic clash between roughly 10,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines and about 2,000 newly minted Iraqi fighting men against the 1,500 to 3,000 armed militants who have turned the city into Iraq's biggest insurgent haven. But the battle has not involved any single Armageddon-style showdown with massed insurgent forces. Instead, for men like the soldiers of Alpha Company's 3rd Platoon, part of Task Force 2-2, the fight was far more intense, chaotic and harrowing. The Americans battled armed insurgents not just street to street or even house to house, but also up close and personal with their enemy, fighting him room to room at point-blank range. Measured by the military's strategic objectives, the assault's first few days produced success. U.S. forces, led by the members of Task Force 2-2, swept down from the north and punched deep into the city, seizing one of Fallujah's most important assets, Highway 10. The Army's assault opened the way for more forces to pour into the center of Fallujah and advance toward the south of the city, with the intent of delivering a blow to an insurgency that has overrun parts of Iraq. Ripping out the heart of the resistance in Fallujah is a necessary step to prevent the insurgents from tearing the country apart.
The U.S. offensive has left much of Fallujah in ruins, as air strikes, artillery barrages and ground fighting destroyed homes and damaged many of the city's mosques. It's impossible to count the number of enemy slain across Fallujah, but the attrition of insurgent forces in the city was decisive. In the long run, however, the rebels haven't been beaten. From the nature of the fight and interviews with insurgents before the attack, it seems clear the nationalist and jihadist leadership had by and large already left the city along with much of their ranks, leaving behind, in classic guerrilla style, a rearguard detail to harass and interdict U.S. forces. The Americans in Fallujah got a taste of what they may confront across Iraq's restive Sunni triangle as the military command attempts to root out the insurgents from their sanctuaries. They are a tenacious enemy who fight as any guerrilla force might--never head on, always from behind or the sides at moments when it's least expected, initiating combat at weak points and then pulling back to strongholds, ducking and weaving all the while.
The U.S. invasion of Fallujah exacted a price. Of roughly 400 men and women from Task Force 2-2, four were killed in action. All told, the battle's first days left at least 24 service members dead and more than 200 wounded. It was a stunning success militarily, but in human terms each loss was deeply felt, etched into the face and being of every soldier. For those who were there, the manner in which this battle was fought and victory claimed will never be forgotten. These are a few of their stories.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday night, Alpha Company paved the road into Fallujah. Engineers used a minesweeper to shoot forward 100-yd. lines of C-4 explosive to destroy or trigger any booby traps in its path. Battle tanks followed a channel marked in chemical lights, taking positions on the railway berm to cover 3rd Platoon's advance to Objective Lion, a hunk of two- and three-story buildings known to be insurgent strong points. It would be the foothold for the entire Task Force's advance.
Within the Bradley's cramped and musty hold, the shock of the minesweeper's explosion was felt by the infantrymen huddled inside. Among them is Fitts, a lithe, expressive Mississippian and father of three who joined the military eight years ago. He warns his team to "get ready to get out of this big metal bitch." With the bulk of the Marine-led assault force poised on the northern side of the railway, 3rd Platoon plowed forward, bringing its Bradleys to a halt beneath Fallujah's first houses. The platoon radio net crackled, "Drop ramp. All 3rd Platoon elements drop ramp, drop ramp." And with that, the ground battle began.
Despite all the intel showing heavy movement within the buildings, Object Lion was not defended. But in the street behind it, a mammoth propane tank lay on its side; wire ran from it to a nearby house. A squad was detailed, and went in only to come scurrying straight back out. The presence of gas cans and a car battery suggested that the propane tank and probably the house were rigged to blow.
It was a sign of things to come. Two days later, the platoon took up a position in a three-story house, overlooking the platoon's new domain. In the side street below, twin bombs erupted. A detonator cord led to the adjoining home, and someone thought he saw movement. The platoon lit up the house with volleys of automatic fire, tripping a battery of hidden devices. The house blew forward, and a young sergeant on a balcony took shrapnel in his groin. At every stop in its advance, the Wolf Pack, as 3rd Platoon is dubbed, found countless bombs, plus doors booby trapped and walls set with explosives. The enemy tactic accounted for the soldiers' unforgiving approach to entering buildings, traversing streets and tackling even lone snipers: if it looks suspicious or shoots at you, blow it up with a grenade, a cannon or the main gun of a tank. The U.S. didn't plan on taking any chances.
By dawn the next day, the Wolf Pack had reached Objective Cougar, the Imam al-Shafi Mosque that insurgent leaders used as a meeting point and command center. It sat midway down 3rd Platoon's southward advance through Fallujah's Askari district, home to many former Iraqi military officers. It had been long evacuated and been heavily fortified in anticipation of a U.S. invasion, but commanders had received reports that as many as 150 foreign fighters were ensconced in the area; the battle figured to be tough. Footage taken by an aerial drone earlier in the week showed that the area was strewn with buried explosives. When a U.S. warplane dropped a 500-lb. bomb on a weapons cache, it set off a daisy chain of roadside bombs for 100 yds. along either side of the block. Hoping to stymie any U.S. advance and herd troops into canalized killing zones, insurgents positioned dirt-filled barriers and concrete blast walls throughout the streets. The raw materials they were using had been supplied by the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard in Fallujah, many of whose ranks have since joined the insurgency.
To breach the mosque and allow Iraqi Intervention Forces to search it, the U.S. employed a Bradley to smash the compound's walls after 25-mm cannon rounds failed to dent its iron gates. The Wolf Pack searched and secured a three-story building, taking a high spot overlooking the mosque and its minaret. At night it almost felt safe inside, but daylight brought the snipers and insurgent cells out into the streets. The attack started in the east but was soon joined by shooting from the north. From three edges of the roof, the soldiers fired at the insurgents, who wore tracksuit pants and the uniforms of the Iraqi National Guard as they dashed back and forth across roads or popped up in windows. The fight lasted nearly two hours. The young grunts defended themselves with all manner of fire, including AT4 antitank rockets, M-203 40-mm grenade launchers and TOW missiles from the Bradleys supporting them. A young sergeant went down, shrapnel or a bullet fragment lodging in his cheek. After checking himself, he went back to returning fire.
The heaviest fighting was still to come. The next day the 3rd Platoon and the rest of Task Force 2-2 reached Phase Line Fran, Fallujah's central bisecting road. From there they could stare into the city's notorious industrial area, a hot spot particularly for foreign fighters and the scene of innumerable past battles with the Marines. Sporadic gunfire from the decaying warehouses, cement plants and junkyards provoked U.S. tanks to unleash high-explosive rounds at insurgent positions. The Wolf Pack's fire-support officer called in mortar fire on buildings and locations where movement was seen. Even in lulls in the gunplay, the Fallujah sound track was alive with detonations and the whomps of tank rounds.
The insurgents had studied the Americans' methods well. To negate the U.S.'s preference to fight in the dark using night-vision equipment, the insurgents focused their attacks in the dim light of dawn and dusk. As the sun set, a decrepit warehouse suddenly sparkled with at least a dozen muzzle flashes. Bullets flew thick over the unit's commandeered building. "Look at the industrial complex," Bellavia yelled at his men. "I want you to shoot, shoot." The Wolf Pack lashed back with chattering automatic-weapons fire. A sister platoon, bunkered down a few hundred yards to the west, joined in, bringing a deadly cross fire to bear on the insurgents. Streams of red tracers scorched into the building as a soft golden sun emblazoned a graying sky.
"The enemy picture is so murky we just don't know anything for sure except for what you see with your own eyes," Alpha Company's commander, Captain Sean Sims, told his officers. The soldiers pushed south into the industrial zone along the eastern corridor, moving into the thick of the cement plants and metal-strewn yards. The soldiers geared up to drive into the teeth of the resistance--the kind of fight the military had been spoiling for. JDAMs rocked the earth and artillery carved a path forward as the sounds of fire fights resonated in all directions.
Winding their armor through the desolate buildings bound for their first target--Objective Bud, identified as a congregating point for foreign fighters--the Wolf Pack started taking fire immediately. A Bradley vehicle piloted by Sergeant First Class James Cantrell shuddered and filled with dust as it ran over a roadside bomb. The blast was so powerful it was at first mistaken for a bomb dropped by one of the many warplanes screeching overhead. "Goddam," said Fitts, locked down inside the mechanical beast, his shotgun nestled under his chin.
Within minutes, a thumping clunk beat the vehicle's left side. "Damn, an RPG," shouted a soldier. When they reached Objective Bud, a figure was seen scurrying through a window. The 3rd Platoon spilled into the compound, cutting off any escape. Cantrell maneuvered his Bradley to face the building. The high-explosive rounds set the bottom floor ablaze. First Lieutenant Joaquin Meno called up for the first story to be torched as well. "Let the f_____ burn," said a squad leader. When a group of insurgents brandishing RPGs was spotted 400 yds. south, Meno called in mortar fire from the rear and Abrams tank fire from the front. The insurgents had no chance. "Hey, LT, good call. That's perfect," said Bellavia. As if to punctuate the score, a direct hit on the building where the insurgents had taken cover set off repeated secondary explosions.
Late that night, while waiting for the Marines to match the pace of 2-2's advance, the platoon occupied a tall house on the northern outskirts of an area code-named Queens. It gave the exhausted grunts a rare respite--an hour's sleep. At 4 a.m. they moved out and took up positions in another building. Within hours they encountered one of their most vicious confrontations yet, as insurgents riddled the rooftop with RPGs and sniper fire. The insurgents weren't intimidated even by the fury of the tanks, daring to step from behind corners to vainly hit them with RPGs. A soldier's ankle was shattered when an RPG sent concrete flying. Linking up with 1st Platoon to consolidate its position, the Wolf Pack fended off the attack.
On Saturday the final assault got under way as the Wolf Pack drove farther south, positioned to swing west to complete the sweep of the city. Alpha Company took more casualties, one a key member that was particularly bitter, as the battle's end was so close. As the soldiers evacuated their wounded, military sources said Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was readying to announce the end of combat in the recaptured city. As the fighting in Fallujah dies down, the Wolf Pack and the rest of Task Force 2-2 are due to return to their usual area of operations in Diyala province north of Baghdad. But with the insurgents showing little sign of giving up, the Americans face more battles ahead. The men of 3rd Platoon just shrug their shoulders at the thought. It's as though they were bred to fight. Says Fitts: "I don't know how to do anything else."
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Medal of Honor nomination for SSG David Bellavia
NOTE: For Mick's cover story in the November 22, 2004 issue of Time regarding the second battle of Fallujah he was embedded with Alpha Company's 3rd Platoon, part of Task Force 2-2. Mick's article and the video he shot during the operation brought the house-to-house, room-to-room battle to those of us tucked up safely at home, although there are neither words nor pictures that could adequately convey the bravery of the men sent in to reclaim that troubled city.
Afterwards, Mick was asked to contribute his eyewitness account to the Medal of Honor nomination for Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, the man who led the 2nd Squad. I'm including the nomination document here because it does describe some of what Mick saw and (insanely!) did; however, despite the fact that this is a website devoted to him and his work, please remember as you read this that he was an observer there, a bystander who put himself in harm's way on our behalf so that we readers could understand what our military goes through in battle. The heroes of this story are Bellavia and his men.
SSG DAVID BELLAVIA
FOR THE MEDAL OF HONOR
DURING OPERATION PHANTOM FURY
On the night of 10 November 2004 Third Platoon, A Company, Task Force 2-2 IN near OBJ Wolf in Fallujah, Iraq, was ordered to attack to destroy six to eight Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF). 1LT Edward Iwan, the A Company Executive Officer, had identified six to eight AIF who had entered a block of twelve buildings. These AIF had engaged A55 and tanks from Team Tank with automatic weapons and rocket fire. Having a 25 mm cannon malfunction, 1LT Edward Iwan cordoned off the area and called Third Platoon to enter and clear all buildings until the AIF were killed or captured.
The first nine buildings yielded many AK47s, Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, rockets, assorted ammunition, and flak vests. When they came to the tenth home, SSG Colin Fitts, 1st Squad Leader, led his squad of soldiers into the house, with four soldiers from SSG Bellavias 2nd Squad. SGT Hugh Hall, 1st Squad, B Team Leader and SGT Warren Misa 1st Squad, A Team Leader, established a quick foothold in the interior of the house. When SGT Misa attempted to clear the second room he encountered heavy enemy fire. Two AIF were under a stairwell, well covered behind a three-foot barrier, engaging SGT Misa and SPC Lance Ohle as they attempted to move into the room. At that point, multiple bursts of automatic and semi-automatic gunfire were exchanged from extremely close quarters. As rounds impacted near the entry point of the house, nine Third Platoon soldiers became fixed inside the house. At that moment, fire erupted from a kitchen ground floor window onto the inner cordon in the carport of the house. At one point, gun fire was being exchanged inside and outside of the house, as a total of three dismounted squads from Third Platoon were in contact.
SSG Bellavia quickly requested a M240B machine gun and a M249 SAW to suppress the AIF under the stairs in an effort to break contact and consolidate the platoon. Rounds from the insurgent side of the wall began impacting through the poorly made plaster. Multiple soldiers were bleeding from the face from flying debris. Two soldiers had glass and metal shards in their face, one soldier had been grazed on the side of his stomach underneath his vest and at least six others were bleeding from some cut or scrape from the point blank fire they were receiving. As two soldiers answered the request for support, it became apparent that the entrance to the building was extremely dangerous from ricocheting rounds.
Rather than place his soldier at risk, SSG Bellavia moved quickly to come to the aid of the squad. He exchanged weapon systems with a M249 SAW gunner and entered the fatal funnel of the room. The enemy was crouched behind the barrier and continued to fire at the doorway of the house where SSG Bellavia was positioned. With enemy rounds impacting around him, he fired the SAW at a cyclic rate of fire, forcing the enemy to take cover and allowing the squad to break contact and move into the street to consolidate. SSG Bellavias actions undoubtedly saved the lives of that squad.
As the platoon gathered outside to get accountability of personnel, two or more AIF engaged Third Platoon from the roof. Rounds ricocheted off the ground and SSG Fitts moved his squad to an adjacent building to over watch the AIF on the roofs. SSG Bellavia grabbed an M16 rifle and headed back to the outside of the house. SSG Bellavia called for a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to come up and suppress the outside of the building. The high walls of the enemy strong point made it difficult at close proximity to get well-aimed 25mm cannon fire into the actual building. AIF again engaged Third Platoon from windows.
After the BFV suppressed the house, SSG Bellavia decided to move back inside the house to determine the effects of the BFV fire and whether the AIF still occupied the bottom floor of the house. He placed two SAW gunners and SSG Scott Lawson into the courtyard as the inner cordon. Michael Ware, a TIME magazine journalist, entered the house with SSG Bellavia.
SSG Bellavia entered the house and told SSG Lawson to stay outside until he was needed in the second room. The only two people that went into the house at first were Michael Ware and SSG Bellavia. SSG Bellavia heard AIF whispering from the other side of the wall. Mr. Ware was told to run out if anything happened inside the second room. The journalist insisted on going into the second room. SSG Bellavia got in a low crouched fighting position and quickly pie wedged the first room and fired his M16A4. The enemy immediately fired back with a belt fed RPK machine gun. SSG Bellavia quickly turned away from the fire. The AIF had fire superiority and SSG Bellavia didnt have time to get off well-aimed shots.
As SSG Bellavia moved again to get eyes on the room and determine the enemy disposition, he identified one of the AIF loading an RPG launcher. Understanding how devastating this weapon could be to his platoon, he moved quickly to eliminate the threat. SSG Bellavia told Mr. Ware to remain in the first room. As debris and smoke filled the room the insurgent with the RPG was killed first near the stairwell. A second AIF with a PKC machine gun fired as he ran for the kitchen. SSG Bellavia shot and wounded him in the back of the shoulder. He was heard screaming from outside the building. At that point an AIF yelled from upstairs. SSG Bellavia quickly realized how many insurgents were in the house. Despite the odds he continued the assault.
SSG Lawson entered the room with SSG Bellavia. He was armed with only a 9mm pistol. SSG Lawson was across the room firing into the kitchen door, and SSG Bellavia was near the doorway of the master bedroom using the stairs as his cover. The wounded AIF was firing back, this time with an AK47. The insurgent was screaming loudly as he fired. SSG Lawson fired an entire magazine toward the kitchen, when a piece of debris lodged in his right shoulder. Thinking he was shot and with only one 9mm magazine remaining, SSG Bellavia told him to leave to get medical aid and to retrieve a shotgun with buckshot and other soldiers. SSG Lawson and Mr. Ware exited the house.
SSG Bellavia realized that his back was facing a room he had not cleared. In order to secure his position he entered the master bedroom of the house. SSG Bellavia heard movement in the room and fired into the dark corners to clear them by fire. There was a closet directly in front of him with six closed doors, and multiple areas of dead space. At that point an insurgent ran down the stairs and started firing into the room. SSG Bellavia moved behind a protruding corner of the wall to acquire cover. Over the loud noise of small arms fire from across the hall, he could hear screaming from upstairs and to his immediate left. Confused and trying to locate if another insurgent was in the corner of the room, SSG Bellavia began to scan the room with his PEQ-2A. Thinking the noise originated from the closet, SSG Bellavia took a few steps to his left and began to fire into each door from left to right. Before he could finish clearing the closet the wounded AIF from the kitchen ran toward the bedroom door and began blindly shooting at him from outside. Finding his position of cover behind the elbow of the wall, SSG Bellavia fired back. As the enemy fire came closer, he moved his position into the far opposing corner of the room. The AIF exposed his shoulders as he fired into the bedroom and SSG Bellavia fired wounding and then killing him.
He then noticed a closet door was open and he witnessed tracer fire hit the side of the room. Unsure of where the fire originated, SSG Bellavia looked for a target. Suddenly the insurgent on the stairs began shooting at him again. As the wounded AIF turned and exposed his position in the doorway he was hit and fell near the stairs. He was moaning and slowly moved away from the door, mortally wounded. Simultaneously, a closet door opened and clothing flew everywhere, as an insurgent leapt out and fired wildly all over the room. In his rush out of the closet he tripped on something in the closet and the entire wardrobe fell down resting on the open doors. This actually was a benefit to SSG Bellavia as it provided more cover. When the AIF attempted to cross over the bed, he lost his balance on the mattress and was shot multiple times. The insurgent fell to the ground and with his back to the front door, fired an accurate burst directly into the closet and the wall near SSG Bellavia. SSG Bellavia crouched low to the ground, the insurgent was screaming loudly in broken English. Someone from upstairs was yelling back in Arabic. SSG Bellavia responded in Arabic in an attempt to intimidate the men into surrendering. The insurgent then picked himself up and ran out of the room and up the stairs. SSG Bellavia fired, missing the insurgent and then pursued him as he fled up the stairs. Blood was soaked all over the stairs causing SSG Bellavia to slip, nearly catching a burst of AK fire. The wounded AIF turned and shot an automatic burst from the first landing of the stairs but once again missed SSG Bellavia, who was now well behind cover.
Tracking the blood, SSG Bellavia followed the AIF into a room immediately to the left on the second story. He heard the AIF inside and tossed a fragmentary grenade into the room. The blast sent the screaming AIF onto the second story roof. The AIF began shooting his weapon in all directions, until it was empty of ammunition. Bellavia noticed the AIF was seriously wounded in the right side of his body from the blast of the grenade. The insurgent stumbled back into the room and began to dry fire his weapon. As SSG Bellavia scanned the inside of the room, it was quickly filling with thick smoke from burning foam mattresses ignited from the blast. Two AIF could be heard screaming at each other from a third story of the building. Not wanting the AIF to give away his position, SSG Bellavia quickly grabbed the wounded AIF in a choke hold to keep him quiet. SSG Bellavia met resistance as he attempted to quiet the screaming AIF. Bellavia was bit on the arm and struck in the face with the barrel of the wounded insurgents small AK47. A .45 caliber pistol shot off against the wall and SSG Bellavia, whose helmet was loosened when it was jarred by the barrel of the AK, began to thrash the AIF in attempts to pacify him. Exchanging blows in the struggle, SSG Bellavia fearing that the screaming insurgent was issuing instructions to his peers upstairs, opened his IBA vest and attempted to use his front sappy plate to forcibly subdue the insurgent into compliance. Hearing multiple foot steps over his position, Bellavia used his Gerber tactical blade and cut into the left side of the insurgent's throat. Not wanting to discharge his weapon as to give away his position and in fear of the many propane tanks near the wall, SSG Bellavia bled the insurgent with applied pressure as he was spastically kicked and scratched in the melee. Two other insurgents, only feet away yelled to their comrade in Arabic, simultaneously firing their weapons. SSG Bellavia confirmed the insurgent was dead and exited the room as his eyes and the fresh scratches on his face were stinging from the smoke and heat of the growing fire.
SSG Bellavia moved to secure the two doors to his right. Suddenly an AIF dropped down from the third story roof, onto the second story roof. The AIF dropped his weapon as he fell to his knees. SSG Bellavia moved to the window and as the AIF went to grab his weapon SSG Bellavia shot in his direction multiple times, wounding him in the lower back. The AIF was prone and SSG Bellavia assumed he was dead. He moved to the door leading to the roof and found the insurgent straddling a large water tank at the edge of the roof. He shot the remainder of his ammunition into the insurgent's legs and went back inside to grab a dead insurgent's weapon. As he moved inside the house the insurgent fell off the roof and into the garden. Moments later, five members of Third Platoon entered and secured the downstairs of the house and yelled up to SSG Bellavia who was still on the second floor.
SSG Bellavia moved to link up with the rest of his platoon. However, before the search could begin for the fifth or sixth insurgent the platoon was ordered to move out of the area due to a close air support mission called in by an adjacent unit.
SSG Bellavia single handedly saved three squads of his Third Platoon that night, risking his own life by allowing them to break contact and reorganize. He then entered and cleared an insurgent strong point, killing four insurgents and mortally wounding another.