The Gunner's Sights

  E-mail Rick!

Sept. 23, 2004 11:25 a.m.

Once, while I was embedded, we drove straight into an ambush. It was just a few days into the war, and our unit, the 3rd L.A.R., was trying to reach an objective before dark, but we kept hitting snags, and still had miles to go as night fell.

Our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Stacy Clardy, decided to keep pushing forward. There were dozens of Light Armored Vehicles (LAV's) in our convoy, with hundreds of tired but focused Marines inside with little or no combat experience, on edge but ready for battle.

The colonel had warned us to expect trouble, but I never dreamed we were headed for a firefight.

We heard the first shots way up ahead of us at the front of our convoy on the dark, two-lane paved road. We immediately came to a stop, and the captain of our company, Jon Custis, ordered Sgt. Bill Gwaltney, the gunner on our vehicle, to scan the horizon with the night-vision sights of his 25mm Bushmaster chain gun. The familiar nightmare-like whine of the hydraulics filled the LAV as he swung the turret back and forth.  My cameraman Christian and I popped our heads out the back hatch. Off in the distance, up ahead of us, we could see the flash of gunfire and heard the thumps of the big chain guns shooting their explosive grenade-like rounds. There were sparks flying and tracers in the air.

“Holy sh*t,” we said to each other, scared and excited at the same time.  “It's on.”

Our Marines were taking fire from both sides of the road. Fighters were popping up from behind the sand dunes firing AK-47's, RPGs, and mortars in hit-and-run attacks, shooting, ducking, moving, and shooting again. Fortunately, they were lousy shots.

The Marines often bragged they “owned the night,” because of their night-vision goggles and thermal sights. They proved it that March evening. The fighting went on for an hour as the enemy made its way down the long line of LAVs, trying to kill our guys but failing miserably. Eventually the battle enveloped us. The sound of gunfire, and the steady “thump-thump-thump” of Gwaltney's chain gun was deafening and nerve rattling. Christian was shooting what he could with a PD150 videocamera out the back hatch without getting his head blown off, and eventually I called in to FOX and went live over the satellite phone as the war raged around us. Eventually, the shooting stopped, and we pulled over to spend the night just a couple clicks from the battlefield.

There were no Marine casualties, but they estimated dozens of enemy killed. It was hard to get an accurate figure, because no one was going in to the desert to count bodies. I talked to one gunner the next day, a guy I played football with at the base camp a couple days before the war started. He was a big, tough kid, but he was shaken.

He told me how he saw several armed men in his sights, trying to set up a mortar. He described how he fired at them, and watched their bodies disintegrate as the explosive rounds met flesh. He saw a couple of them run to a small hut and fired there too, blowing it to bits. He figured he killed five guys. He looked dazed and a bit sad, surprised at what happened and how he'd done his job, used his training, with deadly results. He had no regrets since the men were trying to kill us, but he was clearly shaken by what happened.

I spoke to that gunner a couple days later. He told me he kept having the same dream, kept waking up with the men in his sights, evaporating on impact. He was upset, but there was no time for counseling. We were at war, pushing north towards Baghdad.

I have admired your reporting since the war, and all the way to the hurricane. This grandma thinks you are a neat guy!

— Ellie (Goshen IN)

Mr. Leventhal,

I'd like to thank you for posting the Hurricane Hospitality story about the Landry's.  Such acts are the cornerstone of our great country and are as equally deserving of airtime as any other story.  In fact, I'd much rather hear about the compassion of our homeland than "The Memos."

Stay safe, for you are a welcome part of my family every time we turned to FOX News.

E. Ray (Knoxville, TN)


I enjoyed reading your article titled "Hurricane Hospitality."  Congratulations to Debbie Landry and her family for showing you out-of-towners what true southern hospitality really is. You may know by now that the warmth and caring she showed to you and your crew is very common in this part of the country.

You need to find some time to come back and allow us to show you a good time under better conditions.  Y'all come back now, ya hear!

Charlie (Baton Rouge, LA)

Coming from a New Orleanian native who evacuated to Arkansas, I really enjoyed your coverage over in New Orleans, especially near Lake Pontchartrain. What a trooper you were to stay out there for all those hours while still keeping a great attitude.  Just another reason why FOX News is my only choice for fair, balanced, and all around excellent reporting.  Hopefully your next trip to the Big Easy will be drier!
Geaux Tigers!!

— Jodee

Hi Rick,
Hope you got some rest. I have been watching the news about Pensacola. It looks really bad. We really enjoyed reading your article. I had to laugh about the family picture resembling the graduating class and faculty.
Please know you are welcomed any time for a meal while in New Orleans. Take care.

Great job covering Ivan as well as your other storm coverages and embeds in Iraq. Glad you got the chance to experience some New Orleans hospitality. Considering that you were in Key West early for Ivan and it didn't go there, and Ivan skipped New Orleans and you were down there waiting, please feel free to come back anytime we have a natural disaster bearing down on us.
Baton Rouge

Dear Rick,

I’m not much of a fan of people or things, but you, my man, are the star of the show at FOX. Is there anywhere they don’t send you? My wife and I were talking, if there is a chance of someone getting hurt or even killed Rick is the guy FOX puts out in the middle of it. Great job, but take care of yourself, we like you!



You did a terrific job reporting from New Orleans and your calm, steady style was a welcome respite from the hysteria found on other stations/networks.  FNC has strong credibility due to reporters such as yourself and this viewer, one of many, is very appreciative.
I'm glad that you experienced some New Orleans hospitality; but for the curfew, be assured that you and your crew would have been inundated by invitations.  Perhaps you will return to our fair city to report on our very serious wetlands erosion issue... at which time you may enjoy some of our famous restaurants.
— Mary 
PS - Your reporting (and FNC's coverage) from Iraq during your embed was also much appreciated.  It was an eye-opener!