Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
When the fight started, Bellavia's squad was pinned down, so he stood in a doorway and blasted at the insurgents with an M249 squad automatic weapon, providing a base of fire that allowed his fellow soldiers to escape from the kill zone.
"There were rounds coming right at me and I stood there and I fired [the M249]," Bellavia told Task & Purpose on Monday. "I remember hooking my finger to the second knuckle, which you're not supposed to do with a machine gun, because I figured if I got hit I'd want to keep that machine gun shooting."
With his squad safely outside, a Bradley fighting vehicle pounded the house – rupturing all of the plumbing in the process. Bellavia decided the only way he could tell if the Bradley had killed any of the jihadists was to go back inside.
"As soon as I'm in that living room and I'm looking at broken glass and the mirror that they basically set up to look for us, I'm realizing that these guys are alive," Bellavia said. "They don't appear to be wounded. They're very much whispering, talking. They're in the fight."
Bellavia was talking to another soldier about how to attack the house, when suddenly Bellavia saw an insurgent screw a fuse onto a rocket and then load it into an RPG.
Instinct took over.
"It just happened," he said. "It was like: I can't even finish my sentence because this is going to kill us all. So, we engage."
Bellavia quickly shot two insurgents, but then he heard others talking and the sounds of footsteps. He moved into a dark room, only to find out it had not been cleared.
The battle in the dark was confusing. The jihadists refused to die after being hit. Somehow, they kept fighting. Distinguishing between dead and wounded adversaries became nearly impossible.
"The only way you could tell if it was somebody you engaged before is if they were bleeding," he said. "If they were bleeding, I figured I had shot them. When you think you killed someone, you look down, you see a puddle of blood in the water, but there's no guy.
"You see almost like chum in the water – like there's a blood streak through a puddle. And you're like: OK, he crawled over there. I could see he's not moving, so move onto the next thing. While that's happening, I see sparks impacting a wall in the room that I'm in."
As the combat became more chaotic, Bellavia tried to remember hymns that he had learned as a child, but instead scenes from "The Exorcist" flooded into his mind, according to The Buffalo News.
In the midst of the fighting, an insurgent who was hiding in a wardrobe jumped out and started firing with a snub-nosed AK-47.
"You're initially freaked out," Bellavia said. "It scares you. But then I got him. I got him good. He ran onto a bed with wet feet. He got tied up on the sheets or tied up on the mattress, and he just tumbled. When he tumbled, I was able to really put solid rounds onto him. He just hit that metal door and bounced up."
The fighting was so intense that Bellavia narrowly avoided getting shot when he slipped on a bloody staircase. Later, he slit an insurgent's throat in hand-to-hand combat.
After killing four insurgents, Bellavia stepped onto the house's second story patio to have a cigarette while he waited for the rest of his squad to arrive and help him kill the remaining jihadist."
As I'm smoking my cigarette, this guy just jumps down," Bellavia said in an Army video about the battle. "My weapon is away from me. I'm smoking a cigarette. I don't have a helmet on. I can't run. My eyes are burning. He had the jump. But, you know, he landed the way he landed, so I was able to fire onto him."
The fatally wounded fighter crawled off the roof, Bellavia said. The man's body was never recovered.
"A crazy day ended and we went on to the next crazy fight – and there was plenty of those for the rest of the time we were in Fallujah," he said.
SEE ALSO: John Chapman Died Alone On A Mountaintop Fighting Al Qaeda. Now He's Getting The Medal Of Honor
WATCH NEXT: John Chapman's Medal Of Honor Heroics In Afghanistan
The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.
President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.
"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'
"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"
This 400-pound feral hog is one of more than 1,200 that have invaded a Texas Air Force base since 2016
At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.
A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.
In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."
A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.
In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.
Constant deployments broke the Air Force's B-1 fleet. Now the service is facing a major bomber shortfall
On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.
In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.
A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.
The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.