Fallen Marine Chance ‘always with his unit’

Editor’s note: This is a copy of a letter sent to Chance Phelps’ father, John, by Chance’s commanding officer, Lt. Dan Robertson, after Chance was killed in action in Iraq. It is published with the family’s permission.
Dear Mr. Phelps:
Thank you for your response. Sir, below I will detail the events of April 9, 2004. On March 21, our platoon was detached from 3/11 and attached across the river to 1st Marine Division for a personal security detachment (PSD) to the assistant division commander (ADC) and other division staff officers. We were excited about the opportunity to do it and quickly realized when we got here that the tempo as going to be high, certainly higher than we had expected. But as you might expect, the Marines responded as they always do and rose to the occasion. My platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Munoz, and I were very impressed with the Marines and how they were operating. On any given day they would be tasked with two to three convoys. Essentially, sir, supplies and personnel have to move about the country, but they just do so with a heavy security detachment as you might expect. Ours comes in the form of hardback HUMMWVs with machine guns mounted on top. There is a hole in the roof and a turret for the gunner stand in. We also have another vehicle in the convoy with dismounts in the back that are responsible for clearing enemy from ambush positions.
As we were executing our mission here in Ramadi, it came to me that the assistant division commander, a brigadier general, needed to go down to an area of Iraq called Northern Babil, about 10 km. due south of Baghdad. Because the Fallujah fight was commanding so much attention, the ADC needed to go down south to run an additional command cell and we were tasked with going with him to provide security and freedom of movement for him to visit units down south. We were originally supposed to stay for 30 days, or until the Fallujah situation eased. What we found when we got down there was that this area was every bit as violent as Fallujah, but did not receive the same press. The Marine infantry battalion down there was busy, to say the least, and I quickly realized that the enemy was very busy down here as well. Our convoy to Northern Babil on April 7 went smoothly, but I could feel a tension in the air that hadn’t been present before. As you probably read, sir, the fighting in Ramadi was very intense and Fallujah was very active as well, so we were seeing a significant surge in enemy activity both west and south of Baghdad. I knew that my Marines were trained well and could handle any situation given to them and while I was aware that an attack was likely I was confident in our abilities as a unit. So this detail that went with the ADC to Northern Babil consisted of 21 Marines, including Chance.
When we arrived down south, we settled in to our billeting and the Marines got oriented to their new surroundings. As they always do, they found the video games and movies and then the chow hall and had the scoop on the place before I even unloaded my gear. At any rate, the night we got there the ADC informed me that we would be driving south about 20 km. to a place called Iskandariyah to visit an attached Army infantry battalion from the 10th Mountain Division. This was the convoy of April 9, sir. So, as we always do, we prepared in detail how we would react to an ambush or improvised explosive device (IED) or any unforeseen issue along the way. I can remember on a couple of occasions talking to Chance about not hesitating to use his weapon. I knew that he wouldn’t but it is one of those things a platoon commander wants his guys to know. When I would look into his eyes, I knew he felt confident in his abilities and the abilities of the Marines to his left and right. He had the look of a warrior in his eyes — and he certainly was. So, on April 9 we departed for Iskandariyah at about 1500. We were traveling south east on a road and the ADC stopped the convoy to talk to me and warn me how dangerous the area we were in was. I assured him that I understood and the Marines understood as we are always anticipating an attack. After this short halt, we continued on our march. Now, the convoy consisted of five vehicles. I was in the lead vehicle with two other Marines, Lance Cpl. Montesinos, and Pfc. Medberry, the second vehicle was one we were escorting as it had division staff officers in it. The third vehicle was the ADCs, the fourth vehicle had my dismounts in it, and the fifth vehicle had Sgt. Cooper, Lance Cpl. Smith, Doc Peabody, and Chance. Chance was manning a 240G 7.62 automatic medium machine gun in the turret of the rear vehicle. His sector of responsibility was to the rear, but I knew that Chance was well aware of all that was going on around him. He was very proficient with the weapon and I can remember a shoot we did in 29 Palms where I was very impressed with his knack for the weapon, that’s why we put him there. Also, although very junior, he had great judgment and he was aggressive without being out of control; he was a perfect mix. As we continued along our route shortly after the security halt, an IED went off on the right side of the road about 100 meters in front of my vehicle. It did not damage my vehicle but rather made us slow down just a bit, so that I could pass on radio that the enemy had tried to hit us with an IED. Before I could get it completely out of my mouth my vehicle was consumed by a heavy volume of medium machine gun, AK-47, and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire from three eight-man positions on the left side of the road. The initial burst of machine gun fire went through the engine block of my vehicle and disabled it in the kill zone. Also, several rounds hit the windshield and sent glass into my driver, Pfc. Medberry’s eyes. He was slumped over in the seat and told me, “Sir, I can’t see. I have glass in my eyes.” I was returning fire with my M-16 as the vehicle rolled to a stop with its back facing the enemy as they continued to intensify their fires on us. My gunner, Lance Cpl. Montesinos, manning a .50-caliber machine gun, was shot in the leg, and as I dismounted the vehicle I was shot in the left calf, all within about two minutes. Montesinos, wounded, began to open up on the enemy with accurate machine gun fire as I talked him on to the targets. We were completely pinned down from three positions until your son got into the fight. Sir, what I hear next made me feel a lot better. Chance, hearing Montesinos’ fires, began to open up on the enemy with his 240G. Initially, the end of the convoy didn’t take a lot of fire but, Chance drew it on them by using his machine gun. While we at the front were still heavily engaged, it gave us some time to reorganize, orient on the enemy and assess our casualties. At this point in the fight we had five casualties but were turning the table on these guys very quickly with the aggressive, violent actions of the Marines. As we continued to fight, the driver in Chance’s vehicle wanted to move down toward my vehicle to better assist us in the fight. Just before they displaced, Chance was mortally wounded. Immediately following the commencement of the ambush we were on a satellite phone requesting support from a nearby unit who dispatched a quick reaction force (QRF). Their forces were ambushed on the way to help us. Also, we had 2 F-16 aircraft check on station to help us but by this time the enemy had retreated back to a built-up area. On our way back, now with four vehicles, because one was destroyed. The enemy had disabled it and because we couldn’t tow it, we had the jets drop a 500-pound bomb on it to render it inoperable to the enemy. We then had a helicopter escort back to the medical aid station where we returned to friendly lines. Sir, I have read reports that Chance was wounded twice, which is not the case. Chance was wounded once, in the first five minutes of fighting.
Lance Cpl. Montesinos was wounded twice, but he was in the lead vehicle. I have also heard that he was on the 50-caliber machine gun, he was not, he was on a 240G. I have also heard that his vehicle was disabled, it was not. It had bullet holes in the windshield and a flat tire, but it was not disabled.
I have also heard that Lance Cpl. Smith was wounded, he was not. Sir, the actions of the Marines after Chance’s death were awe inspiring. They continued to hammer away at a numerically superior enemy force for almost an hour until the enemy retreated. At that point, we ensured that we had everyone accounted for, as no one ever, ever gets left behind. Sir, I want you to know that Chance was under escort by Marines from the time he died until he arrived home to his mother and you.
Sir, I cannot put into words the pride that I have in Chance and his actions that day. We had a memorial service for Chance at the end of April and I was afforded the opportunity to speak to the battalion. You know, sir, having been in the military and a veteran yourself I know you will understand this. I was deployed last year for the first war in Iraq and am back here now. I would find myself, late at night, wondering if we as Marines are cut from the same block as those from Guadalcanal, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Hue City, and Korea. I think it is natural to compare yourself to the legions that came before you. On April 9, Chance and the other Marines with me that day answered that question. While I wish that April 9 had never happened, I can’t help but feel this tremendous feeling of pride in what my Marines did that day. Chance exposed himself to heavy, accurate fire to help myself and my two Marines caught in the kill zone. If it wasn’t for his actions, and those of other brave Marines, the three of us would not be here today.
All Chance knew was that his fellow Marines were in trouble and he had to get them out of it. I am humbled by his courage and selflessness. We miss him so much, sir. We miss his stories, his imitations, and his laughter. I miss how he would get so pissed at me when I’d score on him in foosball, because he was such a competitor. To me, he was the essence of what it means to be a Marine. Sir, I can’t imagine how hard it is to hear this, but I wanted you to know what happened from me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Chance. We miss him so much, but please know that he is with us on every convoy we go on, in spirit. I too, now travel in the back vehicle sometimes and Smith has a picture of Chance taped to the dashboard. He is always with us, sir.
Semper Fidelis,
Dan Robertson

Editor’s note: This is a copy of a letter sent to Chance Phelps’ father, John, by Chance’s commanding officer, Lt. Dan Robertson, after Chance was killed in action in Iraq. It is published with the family’s permission.
Dear Mr. Phelps:Thank you for your response. Sir, below I will detail the events of April 9, 2004. On March 21, our platoon was detached from 3/11 and attached across the river to 1st Marine Division for a personal security detachment (PSD) to the assistant division commander (ADC) and other division staff officers. We were excited about the opportunity to do it and quickly realized when we got here that the tempo as going to be high, certainly higher than we had expected. But as you might expect, the Marines responded as they always do and rose to the occasion. My platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Munoz, and I were very impressed with the Marines and how they were operating. On any given day they would be tasked with two to three convoys. Essentially, sir, supplies and personnel have to move about the country, but they just do so with a heavy security detachment as you might expect. Ours comes in the form of hardback HUMMWVs with machine guns mounted on top. There is a hole in the roof and a turret for the gunner stand in. We also have another vehicle in the convoy with dismounts in the back that are responsible for clearing enemy from ambush positions.As we were executing our mission here in Ramadi, it came to me that the assistant division commander, a brigadier general, needed to go down to an area of Iraq called Northern Babil, about 10 km. due south of Baghdad. Because the Fallujah fight was commanding so much attention, the ADC needed to go down south to run an additional command cell and we were tasked with going with him to provide security and freedom of movement for him to visit units down south. We were originally supposed to stay for 30 days, or until the Fallujah situation eased. What we found when we got down there was that this area was every bit as violent as Fallujah, but did not receive the same press. The Marine infantry battalion down there was busy, to say the least, and I quickly realized that the enemy was very busy down here as well. Our convoy to Northern Babil on April 7 went smoothly, but I could feel a tension in the air that hadn’t been present before. As you probably read, sir, the fighting in Ramadi was very intense and Fallujah was very active as well, so we were seeing a significant surge in enemy activity both west and south of Baghdad. I knew that my Marines were trained well and could handle any situation given to them and while I was aware that an attack was likely I was confident in our abilities as a unit. So this detail that went with the ADC to Northern Babil consisted of 21 Marines, including Chance.When we arrived down south, we settled in to our billeting and the Marines got oriented to their new surroundings. As they always do, they found the video games and movies and then the chow hall and had the scoop on the place before I even unloaded my gear. At any rate, the night we got there the ADC informed me that we would be driving south about 20 km. to a place called Iskandariyah to visit an attached Army infantry battalion from the 10th Mountain Division. This was the convoy of April 9, sir. So, as we always do, we prepared in detail how we would react to an ambush or improvised explosive device (IED) or any unforeseen issue along the way. I can remember on a couple of occasions talking to Chance about not hesitating to use his weapon. I knew that he wouldn’t but it is one of those things a platoon commander wants his guys to know. When I would look into his eyes, I knew he felt confident in his abilities and the abilities of the Marines to his left and right. He had the look of a warrior in his eyes — and he certainly was. So, on April 9 we departed for Iskandariyah at about 1500. We were traveling south east on a road and the ADC stopped the convoy to talk to me and warn me how dangerous the area we were in was. I assured him that I understood and the Marines understood as we are always anticipating an attack. After this short halt, we continued on our march. Now, the convoy consisted of five vehicles. I was in the lead vehicle with two other Marines, Lance Cpl. Montesinos, and Pfc. Medberry, the second vehicle was one we were escorting as it had division staff officers in it. The third vehicle was the ADCs, the fourth vehicle had my dismounts in it, and the fifth vehicle had Sgt. Cooper, Lance Cpl. Smith, Doc Peabody, and Chance. Chance was manning a 240G 7.62 automatic medium machine gun in the turret of the rear vehicle. His sector of responsibility was to the rear, but I knew that Chance was well aware of all that was going on around him. He was very proficient with the weapon and I can remember a shoot we did in 29 Palms where I was very impressed with his knack for the weapon, that’s why we put him there. Also, although very junior, he had great judgment and he was aggressive without being out of control; he was a perfect mix. As we continued along our route shortly after the security halt, an IED went off on the right side of the road about 100 meters in front of my vehicle. It did not damage my vehicle but rather made us slow down just a bit, so that I could pass on radio that the enemy had tried to hit us with an IED. Before I could get it completely out of my mouth my vehicle was consumed by a heavy volume of medium machine gun, AK-47, and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire from three eight-man positions on the left side of the road. The initial burst of machine gun fire went through the engine block of my vehicle and disabled it in the kill zone. Also, several rounds hit the windshield and sent glass into my driver, Pfc. Medberry’s eyes. He was slumped over in the seat and told me, “Sir, I can’t see. I have glass in my eyes.” I was returning fire with my M-16 as the vehicle rolled to a stop with its back facing the enemy as they continued to intensify their fires on us. My gunner, Lance Cpl. Montesinos, manning a .50-caliber machine gun, was shot in the leg, and as I dismounted the vehicle I was shot in the left calf, all within about two minutes. Montesinos, wounded, began to open up on the enemy with accurate machine gun fire as I talked him on to the targets. We were completely pinned down from three positions until your son got into the fight. Sir, what I hear next made me feel a lot better. Chance, hearing Montesinos’ fires, began to open up on the enemy with his 240G. Initially, the end of the convoy didn’t take a lot of fire but, Chance drew it on them by using his machine gun. While we at the front were still heavily engaged, it gave us some time to reorganize, orient on the enemy and assess our casualties. At this point in the fight we had five casualties but were turning the table on these guys very quickly with the aggressive, violent actions of the Marines. As we continued to fight, the driver in Chance’s vehicle wanted to move down toward my vehicle to better assist us in the fight. Just before they displaced, Chance was mortally wounded. Immediately following the commencement of the ambush we were on a satellite phone requesting support from a nearby unit who dispatched a quick reaction force (QRF). Their forces were ambushed on the way to help us. Also, we had 2 F-16 aircraft check on station to help us but by this time the enemy had retreated back to a built-up area. On our way back, now with four vehicles, because one was destroyed. The enemy had disabled it and because we couldn’t tow it, we had the jets drop a 500-pound bomb on it to render it inoperable to the enemy. We then had a helicopter escort back to the medical aid station where we returned to friendly lines. Sir, I have read reports that Chance was wounded twice, which is not the case. Chance was wounded once, in the first five minutes of fighting.Lance Cpl. Montesinos was wounded twice, but he was in the lead vehicle. I have also heard that he was on the 50-caliber machine gun, he was not, he was on a 240G. I have also heard that his vehicle was disabled, it was not. It had bullet holes in the windshield and a flat tire, but it was not disabled. I have also heard that Lance Cpl. Smith was wounded, he was not. Sir, the actions of the Marines after Chance’s death were awe inspiring. They continued to hammer away at a numerically superior enemy force for almost an hour until the enemy retreated. At that point, we ensured that we had everyone accounted for, as no one ever, ever gets left behind. Sir, I want you to know that Chance was under escort by Marines from the time he died until he arrived home to his mother and you.Sir, I cannot put into words the pride that I have in Chance and his actions that day. We had a memorial service for Chance at the end of April and I was afforded the opportunity to speak to the battalion. You know, sir, having been in the military and a veteran yourself I know you will understand this. I was deployed last year for the first war in Iraq and am back here now. I would find myself, late at night, wondering if we as Marines are cut from the same block as those from Guadalcanal, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Hue City, and Korea. I think it is natural to compare yourself to the legions that came before you. On April 9, Chance and the other Marines with me that day answered that question. While I wish that April 9 had never happened, I can’t help but feel this tremendous feeling of pride in what my Marines did that day. Chance exposed himself to heavy, accurate fire to help myself and my two Marines caught in the kill zone. If it wasn’t for his actions, and those of other brave Marines, the three of us would not be here today.All Chance knew was that his fellow Marines were in trouble and he had to get them out of it. I am humbled by his courage and selflessness. We miss him so much, sir. We miss his stories, his imitations, and his laughter. I miss how he would get so pissed at me when I’d score on him in foosball, because he was such a competitor. To me, he was the essence of what it means to be a Marine. Sir, I can’t imagine how hard it is to hear this, but I wanted you to know what happened from me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Chance. We miss him so much, but please know that he is with us on every convoy we go on, in spirit. I too, now travel in the back vehicle sometimes and Smith has a picture of Chance taped to the dashboard. He is always with us, sir.Semper Fidelis,Dan Robertson