If you don’t know who United States Marine Corps Sergeant Major Brad Kasal is, you should. He is known throughout the military community, especially amongst Marines, for being one of the smartest, toughest, most courageous, and caring military figures to emerge from Operation Iraqi Freedom. This weekend will mark the six-year anniversary of the battle that forever etched him in Marine Corps history, and in the eyes of many Americans, as a true hero.
In mid-November 2004, then 1st Sergeant Kasal was serving as Weapons Company 1st Sergeant for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Fallujah, Iraq. While assisting one of his platoons, intense gunfire erupted from a two-story house right in front of him; a wounded Marine, Staff Sergeant Chris Pruitt, emerged from the house shortly after and told Kasal that there were other Marines inside, pinned down by insurgents. Kasal immediately made the decision to enter the house, since referred to as the “House of Hell,” in support of his fellow Marines. “Going in for them was the right thing to do.” he later said. “They’re Marines, and I’m a Marine. We look out for each other.” Then-Private First Class Alexander Nicoll was close behind. Upon entering the first room in the house, Kasal came face-to-face with one of the insurgents. Kasal moved back as the insurgent fired and missed, at which point Kasal raised the barrel of his rifle straight into the enemy’s chest, and fired until the insurgent fell. The 1st Sergeant added two more rounds to his adversary’s forehead to put him out of action for good. Kasal called back to the Marines covering the area behind him, but instead of receiving an answer, he and Pfc. Nicoll received a burst of gunfire from insurgents. Kasal took five rounds to his lower right leg and another to his torso, while Nicoll received six shots to his leg and another to his chest. The pair fell to the floor, and Kasal crawled into the room he cleared moments before, dragging Pfc. Nicoll to him, away from the gunfire. Kasal was shot once more in the process. Kasal quickly evaluated Nicoll’s condition as well as his own, and with only enough bandages for one of them, he tended to Pfc. Nicoll. Said Kasal, “It made more sense to use all of the bandages on one of us then to split the supplies and have us both bleed to death.” The situation continued to worsen; insurgents tossed a grenade into the room where the two Marines were located, and it landed only a few feet away. 1st Sergeant Kasal, without hesitation, rolled onto Pfc. Nicoll to shelter him from the blast. The grenade detonated, spraying Kasal with over forty pieces of shrapnel, but thanks in part to the body armor and helmet he was wearing, he survived. At the same time, more Marines were rushing into the house to assist the wounded, with Sergeant R.J. Mitchell II at the front. Charging through rifle fire and grenade blasts, which resulted in a bullet ricochet wound in his left leg and shrapnel wounds to his legs and face as well as disabling his own rifle, Mitchell saw a wounded insurgent reaching for a weapon. He used his combat knife on the insurgent, stabbing and killing him. He entered the room containing 1st Sergeant Kasal and Pfc. Nicoll, and per Kasal’s instructions, tended to Nicoll. Kasal set his rifle down in the doorway as a sign to the Marines that friendlies were inside, and drew his 9mm Beretta. Sergeant Mitchell radioed for help to evacuate the wounded. The following photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Lucian M. Reed as Lance Corporal Chris Marquez and Lance Corporal Dan Shaffer helped 1st Sergeant Kasal out of the house:
Notice, that despite his wounds, 1st Sergeant Kasal (center) is still in the fight, pistol and combat knife in hand. He lost approximately sixty percent of his blood, and over the next two years endured more than 21 surgeries to repair his utterly destroyed right leg, which doctors initially wanted to amputate. He refused to accept such a thing, and less than two years later was walking, running, and training for the Marine Corps fitness test. On May 1, 2006, 1st Sergeant Kasal was promoted to Sergeant Major and awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in combat. Sadly, his father, Gerald Kasal, passed away the day before after a lengthy fight with cancer. Following the ceremony, Sergeant Major Kasal said, “It’s been a very emotional week. I am blessed to recover from my injuries, which the doctors thought would never happen, and regain my place in the Marine Corps. I would take the pain of surgeries any day over the pain of being away from my Marines.” This is a photo of him during the ceremony:
Sergeant Mitchell also received the Navy Cross for his actions that day. Pfc. Nicoll was promoted to Lance Corporal, but unfortunately lost his leg. He underwent rehabilitation and physical therapy, and has since medically retired.
Sergeant Major Kasal, and the Marines with him that day, embody what it means to be heroes. We should all be so fortunate to possess such honor and courage.