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New Film Pays Tribute to Marines Who Stopped Truck Bomb Attack in Ramadi

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Six seconds. Not enough time to do much of anything, but Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter made their last six seconds on Earth count in a way that has passed into Marine Corps legend.

Their astonishing heroism in stopping a truck bomb attack that threatened the lives of scores of Marines and Iraqis is now the subject of a short film that will have its first screening next month.

Joshua DeFour, the student director of the movie, said his main challenge was avoiding caricatures in portraying the two young riflemen.

“I felt this sense of responsibility” to depict the 21-year-old Yale and 19-year-old Haerter as the complicated human beings they were on the fateful morning of April 22, 2008, said DeFour, a former Marine sergeant and combat correspondent who served in Afghanistan.

His 23-minute film “The 11th Order” will get its first screening May 19 at the Hogg Memorial Auditorium at the University of Texas in Austin as part of his graduate thesis, but he said it wouldn’t have happened without the approval of the mothers of the two Marines — Rebecca Yale and JoAnn Lyles.

DeFour said he spoke with Rebecca Yale for two hours to get her permission to proceed with the project.

“The gist was that it was still a very painful thing to bring up,” he said.

Yale and Haerter gave their own lives to stop an attack that likely would have killed the 50 Marines and 100 partnered Iraqis behind the gate they were guarding as sentries in the flashpoint town of Ramadi.

Lyles agreed to the project after speaking with DeFour and meeting the actor who would play her son.

Reached last week at Camp Pendleton, California, where she was joining other Gold Star parents in climbing an iconic hill in tribute to fallen Marines, Lyles said the biggest thing for her was that more people would know the names of Haerter and Yale after seeing the movie.

“And Joshua has taken such good care of the story,” she said. “It’s not for profit. It’s his thesis, so that felt good. And it honors the Corps.”

That, she said, was a main factor in her giving approval.

Recreating Ramadi on ‘American Sniper’ Set

Two years ago, DeFour was dabbling with another project for his thesis when his roommate at the University of Texas, also a former Marine, came to him with a video of a speech given by then-Lt. Gen. John Kelly in 2010 about Yale and Haerter’s heroism.

“This is your next film,” DeFour’s roommate told him.

Kelly was in charge of Marines in Iraq when the Marines’ selfless actions stopped the truck bomb. Kelly would later say that he was not satisfied with initial accounts he received of the incident and went to Ramadi to investigate himself.

What he learned resulted in Yale and Haerter being posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor.

The title of the movie came from the Marine Corps’ 11th general order for sentries, which guided Yale and Haerter’s actions: “To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging. To challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.”

The focal point of the film is the first speech Kelly gave on the incident on Nov. 13, 2010, to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis. He gave the remarks four days after the death of his son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan.

Yale and Haerter were from different units: Yale from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, which was preparing to return to the U.S., and Haerter from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, which had just arrived in Iraq.

Someone, Kelly said, decided that the two would stand guard that morning. Yale, as the corporal, would be in charge. Haerter would follow his lead.

Kelly surmised how the assignment may have happened: A sergeant said, “‘OK, you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized person or vehicles pass. You clear on that?'”

“And I’m sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like, ‘Yeah, sergeant, we got it. We know what we’re doing — screw you,'” Kelly said. “Again, I’m prior enlisted, so I know how they think.”

The two Marines were from different backgrounds, but “they were cut from the same bolt of cloth and they had the same steel in their backs,” he said.

Kelly said he learned from a security camera that survived the explosion that it had taken exactly six seconds from when the bomb-laden truck entered the alley to when it detonated.

“I suppose it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. No time to talk it over,” he said. “It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up.

“For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines firing their weapons non-stop. The truck’s windshield explodes into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart,” Kelly said.

“Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could.

“They had only one second left to live, and I think they knew. The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God,” he said. “Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty.”

The story leading to the “six seconds” at the gate is told in flashbacks bouncing from Kelly’s speech to the streets of Ramadi, DeFour said.

For the part of Kelly, he recruited actor Colin Hoffmeister, who appeared in the “Sons of Anarchy” series. Michael Grant, who has credits from “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” has the role of Haerter. And Noah Gray-Cabey, from “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists,” was cast as Yale.

To recreate Kelly’s speech, DeFour received permission from Camp Pendleton to use an auditorium on the base, with Marines playing the audience.

“That was really important to me,” he said.

“The 11th Order,” a short film chronicling the selfless heroism of two Marines in Iraq, gets its first screening in May. (Matt Valenzuela, Illume Multimedia)

The Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in California, which was the set for Iraq in “American Sniper,” was used for the Ramadi scenes in “The 11th Order.”

“It was a long journey to where we are now,” said DeFour, whose film was backed with a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and also from members of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

“The goal of the film was not to do, ‘Hurrah America,’ he said he repeatedly told the actors. “It was more to show that they weren’t superheroes, that they were just average young men who were put in an extraordinary situation.”

That was also, he said, something that was important to JoAnn Lyles — not to make the Marines seem otherworldly, but to depict them as young men faithfully doing their duty.

“At their core, they were Marines,’ DeFour said. “And that was what they were supposed to do.”

He said viewers should come away with a question: “What would you have done? Six seconds is enough time to run.”

They Were Not ‘Sane’ by Civilian Standards

In carrying out the order that day, the Marines’ actions were not “sane,” and not “normal,” by most people’s definition of the terms, one of the Iraqi police officers whose life was saved told Kelly.

The statement was made in utter admiration for Yale and Haerter. In remarks to Gold Star families in 2014, Kelly quoted the Iraqi officer as saying: “Sir, in the name of Allah, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. They saved all of us.”

Yale, with his M249 squad automatic weapon, and Haerter, with his M16 rifle, stopped the blue truck weaving its way past Jersey barriers before it could get through the alleyway and past the gate, or Entry Control Point, to a makeshift barracks where the Marines and Iraqis rested.

The two Marines blew out the windshield, likely killing the driver and stopping the truck just feet in front of them. But a “deadman’s switch” set off the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that investigative personnel later estimated had the force of 2,000 pounds of high explosives.

Yale and Haerter had never met before that morning, but worked together in the six-second mission that stopped the truck.

“They didn’t know how to run from danger,” Kelly said. “Two Marines were on watch, and they would die before they ran,”

Kelly would later achieve four-star rank and go on to become director of the Department of Homeland Security and then President Donald Trump‘s chief of staff.

In an address at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 2009, then-President Barack Obama said of Yale and Haerter, “These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck.

“When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved 50 Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path.”

Ten years after the attack, one of the survivors, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Grooms, said in a Pentagon video: “I’m not sure if I could even put into right words what it took for those two Marines to stare death in the face and say, ‘You’re not taking my brothers, you’re not passing.'”

The promotional material for the film says that it is intended to “offer multiple perspectives surrounding this true event of sacrifice, heroism, and humanity in the face of uncertain violence.”

“Less about glorifying war or the event itself, this film will provide context to the unimaginable: To show these young men as everyday people put in extraordinary circumstances, and explain why there was never doubt in their actions and decisive sacrifice,” the material states.

Yale was from Burkeville, Virginia. Rebecca Yale told The Associated Press that her son was a free spirit, a skateboarder and a paintballer, who “also didn’t mind sitting home with his Mama to watch a chick flick with a box of Kleenex between us. He was the best boy you could ask for.”

Haerter was from Sag Harbor, New York, at the east end of Long Island, an old whaling town and now something of an artists’ and writers’ colony, where Jimmy Buffett and Steven Spielberg park their yachts.

When Haerter was in 10th grade, “I was thinking he’s on the college path,” Lyles said. But then, she said, he said he was done with school for a while and wanted to join the Marines.

“We were shocked,” his mother said. “He already had a plan. He was going to do the Marines, then he wanted to go to school and then he wanted to be a police officer in Sag Harbor. He had a goal.”

DeFour said neither of the young men were stereotypical Marines.

For Haerter, “there wasn’t really anything on paper that would have said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going to become a Marine,'” he said. “And the same thing with Jonathan. He was cheerleader, did extreme sports.”

“They came from two different worlds; they had different personalities,” DeFour added. “One of the Marines was leaving the country, and one was coming there. Yale was the corporal teaching the lance corporal the steps before he left. That was something I think that was at the heart of the film.”

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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