From Fallujah to BU, and Now on to Washington
Ismael Sagredo’s memories have helped him mentor NROTC students
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 email@example.com Comments