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Reports from a region in conflict
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Dispatch from the 101st

The dialogue of battle draws portrait of fight

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 1, 2003

NAJAF, Iraq -- Monday's attack on Najaf by the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division succeeded in weakening key Iraqi positions in the city.

The battle still had its tense moments. Here are excerpts of radio transmissions among Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, commander of the 2nd Battalion (known as No Slack); Capt. Tom Ehrhart, commander of the battalion's Delta Company, which consists of lightly armored Humvees carrying antitank missiles, heavy machine guns and grenade launchers; and the lead pilot of a trio of Kiowa helicopters flying in support.

No Slack launched its attack at 3 p.m. Monday. It ended about three hours later.

* * *

After several volleys of artillery fire, Hughes radioed a pair of F-16 fighter-bombers waiting to hit predetermined targets with one 500-pound bomb each.

Hughes: "Bombs away."

Then, loudly, to the Kiowa pilots: "Get your a-- south, NOW! You're in my CAS (close air support) box. Move. Quicker. I told you guys . . ."

The planes screamed overhead but held their bombs just in time. The three Kiowas raced south, flying just 20 feet or so over the desert, then circled in safety almost two miles away.

The F-16s returned and dropped their loads.

Hughes to Ehrhart: "How's it feel down there?"

Ehrhart: "Not too bad. I like when they're our guns."

His trucks began taking heavy fire from a white building near the historic mosque of Najaf. His team responded with an antitank missile, but the shooting continued. And continued.

Ehrhart: "The weapon's still firing. We'd like to put another (missile) in there."

Hughes: "Okay. Keep 'em suppressed. That's the way to do it."

Ehrhart: "We're getting more automatic fire from that building here. They're working the area pretty good."

Hughes: "Okay. Keep working it. . . . Continue to use the Mark 19 (grenade launcher) to raise continuous hell. The (Kiowas) are starting to work it pretty good. Keep them suppressed, let Big Tank do his thing."

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