Marines are trained to fight proficiently with deadly weapons. But when an unarmed mob in Iraq turned violent, such weapons were literally overkill. Kentuckian Noah Melgar found himself in just such a situation. As a military policeman with the Marines, Melgar had to fight hand-to-hand.
“The mob was going crazy. We tried to set up this little cordon. Uh, we got a couple of other guys in there to make, like, a bubble, and they’d found a couple of the guys that they were there to arrest. Uh, but at this point this mob was getting just completely out of control. Uh, guys were breaking our lines, coming in, uh, throwing punches and stuff like that.
So, uh, there was Marines, I’m trying to hold my line. I’m turning around, there’s Marines, you know, uh, fist fighting with guys that had broke through our perimeter and stuff like that, trying to pull-- ‘cause we had a couple of the prisoners, you know, handcuffed, and they were trying to pull these prisoners out. And, uh, I remember, uh, Corporal Kitchens had, uh, two Iraqi guys like over, two guys had, he had the prisoner and they’d grabbed, had jumped on his back, and he’s a, he’s an old grunt from back in the Gulf War that had reenlisted. He turned around and had two of these Iraqis over top of a car, uh, you know, pushing them down. Um, so we were like, We’ve got to get, we’ve got to get out of here. You know, this is getting real bad real quick.
Um, there was a, another one of the Marines was, uh, but they didn’t, the problem is they didn’t have any weapons and, and, and the guys that had started throwing the rocks had already disappeared. So it was more just like mob mentality now, so you can’t just firing, fire at someone who’s unarmed. So, instead we’re sitting here, fist-fighting, you know, people. I see a, I see a guy jump on another Marine’s back, and I had this screwdriver beside my pistol that I’d used to, we had this ghetto microwave or whatever, so I used it to turn the microwave on, and I remember thinking, I’m about to stab this guy, because he’s choking one of my Marines, with a screwdriver because I can’t shoot him, uh, or I’m scared to shoot him. Like, I feel like I’m justified in shooting someone who’s choking a Marine on his back, but, I don’t know. There’s a lot of repercussions that can come from that. You know how, uh, you know, JAG lawyers are, so, I’m like, Well, if it’s hand to hand combat I can always elevate one more above them. So I’m like, I can’t find my knife. I’m going to stab this guy with a screwdriver. But, and I remember thinking that, but, uh, he flung him off, we got the guys snatched up.
Uh, a woman came into our line, one of the worst parts was the women, too. Most of the men are more fearful from, of you because you can, you can put a, your rifle in their chest. You can, you can push them back with your rifle and hit them with the muzzle of your rifle and be like, "Look, I’m," you know, "it’s the real deal right now. Don’t be coming in here. Quit throwing rocks. Uh, we got to arrest these guys," and, uh, but the women feel like they’re untouchable, like you can’t touch them. So they’re just running through. A woman faints then the mob gets real crazy because they think we’ve hurt her or something like that. So we finally get a couple of these guys, snatch them up, and we just drag them out and we’re heading toward the exit of this refugee camp as fast as we can.
And all this probably took place within probably, you know, fifteen, fifteen, twenty minutes is, even though it felt like, you know, an hour that I was in there, and we got most of them arrested that needed to be arrested for whatever reasons, put them, gave them to the Iraqi police, turned them over to them and, uh, we drove, drove away, took them to jail and went back to our base. And, um, that was, that was the refugee riot.”
Melgar’s comments were taken from the University of Kentucky Oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky.” The 24 year-old Melgar studies agricultural economics at U-K.