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From Fallujah to BU, and Now on to Washington

Ismael Sagredo’s memories have helped him mentor NROTC students

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MSgt. Ismael Sagredo, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, training on the Esplanade with members of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at BU. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

Master Sergeant Ismael Sagredo pulls open the desk drawer at his office at the department of naval science on Bay State Road to retrieve a photograph.

“That’s him,” says Sagredo, a U.S. Marine and senior enlisted advisor for the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at BU, holding the picture up. “Corporal Kevin Kolm.”

Kolm was a gunner in Sagredo’s platoon, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, during the first Battle of Fallujah in April 2004. He lost his life during a firefight so fierce it left a reported 300 insurgents dead and saw Sagredo, then a 35-year-old staff sergeant, and his fellow Marines garner four Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, six Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and four Purple Hearts.

One year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Fallujah had become a hornet’s nest, buzzing with anti-American sentiment, overrun with insurgents. In late March 2004, four Blackwater security guards were killed, their bodies burned, dragged through the streets, and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. “We engaged the enemy every day,” the soft-spoken Sagredo recalls. “I had a Marine shoot someone as close as you and I are sitting. I shot an insurgent who was no more than two feet away.”

On a mid-April afternoon, three amphibious assault vehicles, one carrying Sagredo’s 13-man platoon, pushed into enemy territory, rolling down narrow streets in a densely packed neighborhood. Sagredo’s vehicle came to a T, but was too wide for a 180, so it turned onto a cross street — to face hundreds of Iraqi men lounging in makeshift cafes, drinking tea and cradling machine guns, grenade launchers leaning against the walls.

The surprised rebels scattered and let loose a barrage of gunfire and armor-piercing rounds. The vehicle’s front end was hit with grenades and the engine caught fire, fluids spilling everywhere. The massive machine stalled and died. “We were trapped well beyond friendly lines,” says Sagredo, second in command that day.

The Marines scrambled out of the burning vehicle, which was loaded with ammunition and explosives. Sagredo ordered his men to occupy a nearby house. The gunner, Kolm, was trapped in his hatch, the door locked from the inside and flames blocking any rescue attempt. Fire extinguishers proved useless. Meanwhile, the platoon commander was stuck on the vehicle’s roof, the back of his leg blown away. He tried rolling off, but his vest snagged on a hook. Sagredo and a fellow Marine rushed through the hail of bullet fire to free their wounded lieutenant, dragging him by the belt 120 yards to the house.

With Sagredo now in charge, the Marines dodged bullets and grenades for the next hour. Insurgents breached the house’s perimeter three times. “There were a couple times I thought we were going to get overrun,” Sagredo recalls. “Some of the Marines had run out of ammunition. I had to redistribute and tell them to fire no more than two shots and make sure they had a target.”

Hunkered within a dense warren of concrete dwellings, the only way to make radio contact was from the roof or the front garden, which meant potentially fatal exposure. Sagredo had no choice and ventured into the open several times to call for help. About 45 minutes later, tanks, sniper teams, and air support showed up. The battle raged for another 90 minutes before the enemy “was eliminated.”

“That fight was a good thing and a bad thing,” says Sagredo, a 16-year military veteran. “We retrieved a radio off a body. We learned a lot about their strength, communications, and reinforcements. It changed a lot of things. But we lost a Marine that day and others were wounded.”

Sagredo, who deployed to Iraq a second time in 2005, sometimes tells this story to his military charges at BU, but always urges them to find their own path.

“Some of these guys might hear my story and say, ‘I want to be an infantry guy.’ Why? ‘So I can go to Iraq.’ Well, it’s almost over. Are you sure that’s what you want to be? My job is to bring them back to reality.”

Sagredo’s official task is to prepare the ROTC Boston consortium’s 125 cadets, who also hail from Harvard, Tufts, MIT, Boston College, and Northeastern, for Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va., where Sagredo is a drill instructor. At BU, he teaches land navigation, small unit leadership, Marine Corps history, and physical fitness.

“I’m like a counselor,” says Sagredo. “I give them a better understanding of what the enlisted mindset is and how the enlisted view the officer ranks. I’m also here to prepare them for parades and ceremonial drills.”

Sagredo will bid BU farewell this summer and head for Washington, D.C. He’s been accepted as a Marine Corps Congressional Fellow, a program that exposes military officers and government civilians to the inner workings of the U.S. Congress.

On a recent early morning, Sagredo and his cadets run a four-mile loop around Beacon Hill that ends at the fitness cluster on the Esplanade. As the sun rises over the Charles, students in desert camo fatigues and red Marine Corps sweatshirts do pushups and pull-ups, running with large canisters of water and carrying fellow soldiers across their shoulders.

Chelsea Scott (CAS’10), a second-class midshipman, says Sagredo is a wealth of knowledge.

“The master sergeant was in infantry, so he provides a perspective of what’s going on,” Scott says. “You only get what you hear from media sources, so it’s really cool to hear how he dealt with things and how things have changed over time. And he’s extremely humble.”

“I don’t think my experience in Iraq was any harder than anyone else’s,” Sagredo says. “Even though I received a distinguished award, it was for a six-hour time frame. That’s not my whole military career. I’m still me, with or without the award.”

BU’s Division of Military Education will hold its annual Pass-in-Review ceremony on Saturday, April 25, featuring keynote speaker Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller. This year, the division celebrates the 90th consecutive year of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at BU. The ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. at Nickerson Field, with an Air Force flyover, a band performance, and an 11-gun salute. The event is free, the public welcome.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

6 Comments

6 Comments on From Fallujah to BU, and Now on to Washington

  • Ross Caputi on 04.24.2009 at 1:45 pm

    Pointless hero stories

    I’m a BU student and a Fallujah vet. Reading hero stories about Fallujah, like the one Sagredo just told, infuriates me. Hero stories only serve to glorify. Ask Sagredo about the civilian casualties or the families who had to flee Fallujah and wonder around in the desert. Those are the things that I remember about Fallujah, and we would all be better off to talk about those things and learn from them rather than to glorify our aggression in Iraq and with hero stories.

  • Anonymous on 04.24.2009 at 5:33 pm

    I agree with the person who posted “Pointless hero stories”. I think a person who is trained to kill is not a hero, he or she is a victim and should not be glorified. I wish this propaganda would stop, and you would allow people to see that these men are going into a country that is not their own, to fight for an unjust cause and to cause all kinds of horrific casualties for civilians. Whatever condition they lived in the few months they are there, remember that the people in that country will suffer them more severely for years and years to come.

  • LT Michael Kiser on 04.27.2009 at 6:04 am

    Just the Facts

    “pointless hero” : A read of the story and I think you’ll see that this is not about making him a hero. This article is about a man who mentors students at BU. It tells what he did before he came here and what he will be moving on to. I’m sorry about your time in Iraq. However, if you want talk about the results of war, BU Today probably isn’t the forum. However, there are many publications that do fill that need.

    BU Today: Great Story.

  • Anonymous on 04.28.2009 at 12:49 pm

    A Mentor to be Honored

    Pointless hero stories- First of all being in the military I would hope you know the respect you should give senior enlisted, especially a Master Sergeant. I would assume that BU Today approached Master Sergeant Sagredo to honor his time serving BU not to relive war stories. A hero is defined as someone with exceptional courage. I believe Master Sergeant Sagredo fits that title. This story does not glorify war by any means. His role is to show the kids he mentors the harsh reality of what they are volunteering to do. I believe every veteran is a hero. They sacrifice their lives to help protect your freedoms. If you think that defending Americans from the actions of terrorists is doing more harm than good, why don’t you fix the problem and we will see if the problem goes away.

  • Anonymous on 04.29.2009 at 4:01 pm

    Serving

    I am not sure why someone who has zero experience with anything military related like the person who submitted “I agree with the person who..” even thinks that he or she has any type of right to talk. You are so sheltered living in a place like Boston and going to BU, that you have no idea what the real world is like. There is a whole lot more to this war and what is going on than propaganda and the crap that is shown on television. You think television and newspapers show any accuracy to what is going on in the war? NONE is the answer. Even people who go over to Iraq and Afghanistan in the press do not know what is going on because they do not have all the information. You “I agree with the person who..” are so clearly brainwashed that you think you have any right or say anything or that your words have any merit. Your words mean nothing. Get a clue and think before you speak. No single person, especially a civilian has enough information to make a comment about a war situation. You just keep going on enjoying your comfortable life because you have no idea what it is like to be in a horrible situation like that.

    P.S. Marines fight for each other and to protect people like you because that is what your beloved new president tells them to do.

  • Stephen on 05.11.2013 at 11:22 pm

    I served with Sagredo in Fallujah ’04. He pulled an injured friend of mine from a burning track. He is as humble and selfless a Marine as I ever served with, and all the more deserving of a gracious acknowledgement of his service because of that. If you’ve got an axe to grind over Fallujah or any other of your personal experiences, so be it. There is no need to impugn another Marine’s character because of your own issues.

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