Once the bullets start flying, and explosions ring out, one often has mere seconds to interpret the battlefield and take decisive action if one is to survive the day. For 1st Lieutenant Brian Chontosh that would include escaping the kill zone during an ambush in Iraq and taking the fight directly to the enemy.
As heavy machine gun fire, mortars, and RPGs rained down upon his convoy he ordered his driver to head directly towards the enemy at full speed.
He then dismounted and with a fellow Marine began to work his way through a trench over 200 yards dispatching the enemy at every opportunity. Once his M-16 ammo ran out, he switched to his pistol and once that ammo ran out he began taking AK-47s from the dead enemy.
Within minutes, he had killed over 20 regular infantry, wounded a good number more, and disrupted the enemy ambush through on own initiative. For his actions, he would receive the Navy Cross as well as a legendary reputation in modern Marine Corps lore.
Primed for the Fight
Brian Chontosh was born in 1974 in Rochester, New York. In 1993, he had landed on a career in the Marine Corps and began his service as an enlisted Marine. Over the next decade, he would work his way through college and eventually receive a commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
This combined experience of being both and enlisted Marine and officer would prove an asset as he headed for Iraq in 2003. Chontosh was the Weapons Company Platoon Leader for 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as they were heading across the departure line from Kuwait on March 20th, 2003.
The Marines used the major highways to advance north in rapid as they bypassed smaller villages to take the fight to the heart of the Iraqi Army as quickly as possible. In what would be a 3-week advance on through Baghdad, advancing forces encountered a variety of regular military resistance along with bands of insurgents along the way.
Overwhelming military power made victory a certainty and it became a matter of when, not if Baghdad would fall.
However, despite the technological advantages enjoyed by coalition forces, the advance towards Baghdad would still require heavy infantry and infantry action, and this is precisely the way Marines like Brian Chontosh wanted it.
Smart bombs, tanks, and artillery will play their role, but infantry clearing path was the route to Baghdad. As the Marines of 3/5 charged north, a rendezvous with inexplicable gallantry and steadfast resolve awaited Lieutenant Brian Chontosh outside of Diwaniya, Iraq.
A Violent Ambush
Heading north on Highway 1 toward the Iraqi town of Al Diwaniyah, then-lieutenant Brian Chontosh was serving as the platoon leader operating out of a Humvee in a larger convoy. To his front were tanks as the convoy continued its advance with little contact when a hailstorm of machine-gun fire, mortars, and RPGs began to riddle the convoy.
It became clear that this was not an incident of casual enemy contact, but a well-coordinated ambush that now had Chontosh’s Humvees right in the kill zone. The tanks to his front served as a roadblock giving Chontosh few options and mere seconds to get his platoon on the move.
They had already taken casualties as an RPG rocked the Humvee behind them and the weight of fire continued around them. He had but seconds to act, but had quickly assessed that the only way out was directly toward the enemy. Identifying a breach in the berm, he ordered his Humvee on the move towards the enemy as the gunner in the turret rocked the .50 caliber along the way.
Coming upon the enemy at close quarters, the .50 caliber gunner destroyed the first machine gun position at the entrance to the trench. At that point, Chontosh and the driver dismounted to pursue the enemy on foot.
Taking point, Chontosh led the way through the trench firing his M-16 upon the enemy until he ran out of ammunition. At this point, he switched to his M-9 and continued the assault. When that ammo had run dry, he then picked up one AK-47 after another in pursuit of the enemy.
Chontosh had killed nearly 20 of the enemy at this point when the AK-47 ammunition ran out as well. At this point, he identified an enemy RPG and brought it up to the front. Having never fired an RPG, he quickly found his way around the weapon and then sent the rocket screaming through the trench taking out another group of fighters that was firing upon them.
A Good Day
At this point, with his .50 cal gunner running low on ammunition, they decided to call it a day and let the rest of the Marines get in on the action against what turned out to be hundreds of regular Iraqi Army Infantry. They returned to the convoy, and the word of Chontosh’s actions began to spread.
Both the driver and the gunner were awarded the Silver Star for their part in assault, while Brian Chontosh was given the Navy Cross which is the 2nd highest military honor a Marine can receive. He was given a promotion to Captain and his legend continued to grow.
He would return to Iraq in 2004 where he would take part in Operation Phantom Fury, which was the 2nd Battle of Fallujah. During that action, he would pick up two Bronze Stars with a “V” to add to his impressive resume of gallantry and speed of action.
After his second tour in Iraq, he would exit the Marine Corps now a Major and somewhat of a modern Marine Corps legend. He was truly a man who embodied the best traditions of the Marine Corps and proved on multiple occasion that he was indeed the type of officer you wanted to lead you when the bullets began to fly.
Gallantry in combat knows nothing about the politics of war. Instead, it is about the heart of the soldier who fights for those he leads into harm’s way.