Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
Hundred of Marines will gather in Virginia to remember those killed in the line of duty in the 10 years after the Battle of An-Nasiriyah, the first major conflict of the war in Iraq.
Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of the Battle of An-Nasiriyah, the first major conflict in the U.S. War in Iraq.
More than 200 Marine veterans of that battle are expected Saturday at Quantico, Virginia for a reunion.
Dozens of U.S. Marine Corps and Army service members were killed in the battle, which began on March 23, 2003.
"We will always honor those we have served with, those that didn't have the opportunity to make it home," said retired Marine Lt. Dion Brugger of Arlington, Texas.
NBC 5 Reporter Ken Kalthoff and Photographer Mike Heimbuch were embedded for the first 30 days of the war with Brugger’s unit, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, the Artillery Battalion of Marine Task Force Tarawa.
Brugger, now product manager with an electronics firm, helped organize the Virginia reunion.
"The memories just keep flooding back," Brugger said.
The Battalion's big guns outside the city provided support for Task Force Tarawa infantry Marines at the front line of battle in An Nasiriyah.
Texas A&M University Corp of Cadets Assistant Commandant, Retired Marine Col. Glenn Starnes, was the 1-10 commander in 2003.
"We're there to bring freedom to those people. We're not conquerors. We're not trying to take over the country. We're trying to get Saddam out of the country so the Iraqis can have their country back," Starnes said.
The Battle of An-Nasiriyah flared from what was expected to be a relatively simple mission to secure bridges through the city for other military traffic coming north toward Baghdad from Kuwait.
"The next thing you know we're trying to fight for the bridges that were supposed to be peacefully taken and held. And what was supposed to be a one-day movement through Nasiriyah turned into a 7-day movement through Nasiriyah," Starnes said.
The organized Iraqi army had left the city when the U.S. Forces arrived, but guerrilla tactics by Iraqi fighters dressed in civilian clothes included fake surrender and innocent women used as shields.
Lt. Brugger helped supervise artillery outside the city but also was called to help reinforce infantry at the front lines.
"So the challenge was picking out friend from foe," Brugger said.
Several men under Starnes' command died in the Iraq War. "You still remember in a somber way," he said.
The Battle of An-Nasiriyah was the first combat experience for Lt. Col. Starnes who was later promoted to colonel.
He said the war experience helps him train future soldiers at the A&M Corp.
"All those experiences you will carry with you for the rest of your life, you'll never forget," Starnes said.
Brugger is still seeking donations to help pay reunion expenses.