Washington state is known for many things: pine trees, coffee, apples, rain – the list goes on. And in recent years the Evergreen State has gained some military greatness thanks to hard-charging American Heroes like Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter and Capt. William Swenson, the state’s three recent Medal of Honor recipients. There are some brave Army men in Washington, but it isn’t only heroic soldiers who call Washington home; one Marine in particular comes to mind. He isn’t a Marine whose name you’ll immediately recognize – although you should – and even within the Corps his incredible badassitude (yes, I just made up a word) isn’t as widely known as it should be. He’s Sergeant Clifford Wooldridge, and he’s a hand-to-hand combat Marine badass we guarantee you’ll always remember after today.
Cliff – we’re going to call him Cliff because a Marine like him should have a nickname reminiscent of perilous ledges of solid granite – grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and at first he seemed to be well on his way as a guy growing up in a logging town. After high school he went straight to diesel mechanic school, and from there he got a job working on machinery used for, yes, logging. But something was wrong – it didn’t feel right, he said. He was watching the news, seeing coverage of the Marines in Iraq, and he “wanted to be a part of it.” So, in 2007, he went to see a Marine Corps recruiter.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.” President Ronald Reagan, 1985
He visited a recruiter in Port Angeles, a town small enough it only has one Marine recruiter, on Front Street. When Cliff walked in the door, he got right to it: “I want to be the guy you see on TV kicking in doors.” Little did he know he’d end up being the guy you see on TV getting the second-highest decoration for valor. In a matter of days he was on his way to boot camp; it would be a few more years before he’d make his mark on Marine Corps history.
In the Marine Corps, boot camp lasts for 12 weeks and involves three phases, followed by The Crucible, then Marine Week, and graduation. For Cliff Wooldridge, boot camp was physically not overly challenging because he’d always been extremely athletic; what took real getting used to, he said, was the nonstop barrage of demands from the DI. Still, he took it as a challenge and did what any good Marine does: saw it as a competition, and set out to win. “I started to enjoy it,” he admitted, adding, “I was very driven.” And then boot camp was over, and it was time to hurry up and wait.
His unit didn’t see combat until 2010, and when they finally did go to Afghanistan it was due to a need for a show of force where the Taliban was in control. Cliff was a corporal, and he was assigned to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. The 3/7 is an infantry battalion known as The Cutting Edge; they’re a well-decorated unit with a vast number of combat deployments. Their historically significant moments include Peleliu (World War II), the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (Korean War), Operation Starlite (Vietnam), and they were the first allied infantry force to enter Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. When it comes to the War on Terror, the 3/7 has deployed 8 times thus far. When then-Corporal Cliff Wooldridge headed to Afghanistan, it was the unit’s sixth tour, and they were sent to the Helmand Province; calling it an insurgent stronghold would’ve been an understatement. There the Marines faced daily attacks in what was the most dangerous part of the ‘Stan.
“I come in peace; I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: if you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.” Marine General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders
The 3/7 was sent to Musa Qala and tasked with clearing a valley (wadi). They were informed the wadi had a “large settlement” of insurgents. They were supposed to stop at the edge of the wadi, talk to the purportedly friendly villagers, and come up with a plan of attack. But as the Marines got closer to their objective, they started meeting the villagers early – they were fleeing. They’d decided it was in their best interest to make a break for it, and the Marines watched as locals laden down with meager personal belongings leading goats and sheep fled the area. That was when, as Cliff’s company commander Major Carin Calvin put it, they “ran into a hornet’s nest.”
Musa Qala was known for its poppy fields; it was a major source of income for the Taliban. So it might have been understandable the villagers panicked and ran, because they knew the Marines were coming and there was about to be a serious throw-down. The insurgents weren’t going to give an inch even in a lousy, worthless area, and if they lost Musa Qala they’d lose more than a little money. They’d fight tooth-and-nail, and the locals took off rather than end up trapped in the middle of what promised to be a bloodbath. And so, instead of arriving at a semi-friendly meeting, the Marines of the 3/7 found themselves faced with 250 heavily-armed, well-trained insurgents. Hornet’s nest, indeed.
Rousting the insurgents wouldn’t be easy. The hills around the wadi were laced with a complicated network of trenches and bunkers, and, to quote a cliché, the enemy knew that network like the back of their battle-hardened hands. Just to make things interesting, the roads had been thoroughly filled with IEDs. Did we mention the 250 insurgents? There were actually more, because there was a near-constant stream of fanatical recruits coming each day. Turns out this particular wadi was valuable for more than just the cash flow supplied by poppies; the wadi was a main thoroughfare for insurgents entering the country from Pakistan.
The Marines of The Cutting Edge had their work cut out for them. They fought tirelessly, enduring numerous injuries yet refusing to leave the fight unless their wounds were debilitating. After Cliff had been there for a week, he was assigned to a convoy tasked with taking a hill they called “the football.”
It was June 18, 2010, and the mission wasn’t going well. Within minutes of rolling out, Cliff’s Humvee was blown away by an IED, so they moved their gear into a different vehicle. No sooner had they set out again than they hit another IED, forcing them to switch vehicles again. The Marines just wanted to reach their destination without losing another Humvee, and they did, at least, manage that. They were down to four of the original six Humvees, and they were bound and determined to take that hill. They’d discovered the insurgents tended to fire at them from a safe distance then vanish – clearly the insurgents weren’t totally stupid and knew a confrontation wouldn’t end well. With that in mind, the Marines decided to go draw the insurgents out, then send men in on foot to handle things before the enemy could disappear. It didn’t take long for them to find out their plan was working – they were drawing the insurgents out.
The insurgents were firing at the four-vehicle convoy from the west using automatic weapons and RPGs; the enemy wasn’t just entrenched in the hills, they were perched precariously in the trees. The Marines returned the favor. Turret gunners peppered the enemy with an onslaught of hot lead from the .50 cal guns, and it was time for part two: going after the insurgents on foot.
The gunners supplied cover fire while Cliff bailed from the Humvee. Cliff was armed with his M-249 SAW and took off – in the direction of incoming fire, of course. In the meantime, his fellow Marines also left the Humvee and were firing at insurgents ahead of him, but Cliff was the one on point. And this is when things started getting interesting.
Cliff reached the tree line and spotted his first insurgent, so he did the only logical thing: mow the enemy down with his SAW. Then he laid down his own cover fire while the rest of his team caught up with him; now there were three Marines. The trio made their way through the trees and broke through to the other side where they came upon a farming village of mud huts and walls. But it wasn’t just huts and walls; there was a group of 15 insurgents loitering right there in the open. The Marines were spotted by the enemy immediately, and that meant the insurgents raised their weapons, intending to kill the Americans, but that wasn’t happening, not today. Instead, Cliff opened up with his SAW, and the two Marines with him let loose with their rifles; they took out almost all 15 insurgents, although a few ran away.
One brave – read: stupid – insurgent didn’t run but decided it was a good idea to move towards Cliff. The enemy raised his RPG. Cliff aimed his SAW. You can guess what happened next. With no more targets in the immediate vicinity, Cliff moved on, but he didn’t get far before he was telling them to stop. He heard something.
Being, as he was, tough-as-nails, Cliff went to check it out. There was a wall, and it sounded like the voices were coming from the other side, so Cliff decided to take a look. When he did, he came face-to-face with not one but four Taliban fighters armed with AK-47s, RPGs, and one PKM, a 7.62 cal heavy machine gun. The heavily-armed quartet was less than ten feet away, and they saw him.
Cliff unleashed his SAW, but he was getting low on ammo. He easily took out two insurgents, then a third – and he was officially out of ammunition. He wasn’t about to admit it, though, so he leveled his empty SAW at the fourth (heavily armed) insurgent in an attempt to convince him to surrender. This was, of course, the insurgent with the big PKM, and he wasn’t going to go gently into that good night, so he got off a burst at our Marine. But Cliff was fast and managed to duck behind the wall where he attempted to reload.
For those who don’t know, reloading a SAW isn’t simple. It isn’t a semi-auto handgun you pop a mag in and you’re good to go. No, reloading a SAW is different. It requires lining up the dovetails on the weapon with the drum and sliding it in. After it clicks into place, you have to pull a few inches of ammo out (it’s linked together in a belt), put it in the feed tray, place the first round against the cartridge stop, hold the belt in place, and close the cover. And make sure you close the cover hard, because it has to lock in place. Same goes for the drum, by the way. If it isn’t secure, your gun isn’t going to work.
So while Cliff was rushing to reload his SAW, the insurgent with the PKM got sick of waiting and decided to poke the barrel of his gun around the edge of the wall. So Cliff, being a Badass Marine, simply dropped his SAW, reached over, and grabbed the barrel of the PKM.
Shocked, the insurgent yanked it back, but Cliff had it, and he wasn’t going to let go. Instead he slammed the insurgent up against the wall, and the fight was on. The two men crashed to the ground, and a good, old-fashioned brawl broke out. It didn’t take long for the insurgent to figure out the Marine was going to thoroughly kick his ass, so he got desperate and made a grab for the grenade attached to Cliff’s tac vest. Apparently the insurgent had decided if he was going, he was taking the Marine with him.
Cliff broke away as the insurgent started grabbing for his grenade and took control of the PKM. Without hesitating, he turned the insurgent’s own machine gun against him and squeezed the trigger… and nothing happened.
There must have been a dramatic pause at this point, the insurgent held at gunpoint by his very own weapon, only to have it malfunction, and the Marine, battered but refusing to give up, towering over him, practically vibrating with fury. And then, that nanosecond-long pause came to an end, and Cliff did what he had to do.
Corporal Cliff Wooldridge flipped the PKM around, barrel up, stock down, and beat the insurgent to death.
At this point the other two Marines approached, having witnessed the entire thing, and took in the scene up close. They decided they weren’t done and requested permission to continue pursuit of the remaining insurgents. Unfortunately, the convoy was taking seriously heavy – and accurate – fire and the men were ordered back, which was probably lucky for the remaining insurgents, because clearly Cliff meant business.
Later, Cliff dropped the enemy’s PKM at his commander’s feet, the butt-stock shattered and broken. Calvin looked at Cliff, who was covered in blood, and at the weapon. “I think I just killed a guy with my hands.”
“Freedom isn’t free, but the Marine Corps will pay most of your share.” Ned Dolan
As a result of the successful mission, the Marines captured some of the enemy’s weapons and radios, using the latter to listen in on the Taliban’s plans with the help of interpreters. According to interpreters, the Taliban members were “terrified” by the way Cliff meted out justice. The spirit of the Taliban fighters was crushed by Cliff’s adrenaline-laced actions. They’d come up against a Marine who feared nothing, a Marine willing to snatch the barrel of a loaded gun – because that PKM was loaded – right out of the hands of the enemy and beat him to death with it when it jammed.
Cliff Wooldridge took out 13 insurgents single-handedly that day, one of whom he took out the old-fashioned way. If you think that’s overly violent, it’s war; far better our men live to tell the tale than an insurgent survive to murder more Americans.
Cliff was awarded a Navy Cross for his actions that day.
Sergeant Cliff Wooldridge, the original Teufelhunde. Oorah!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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