South of fallujah’s Route Fran were hundreds of insurgents who’d spent months digging trench lines, emplacing roadside bombs, barricading streets, training with their weapons, reading the Koran, and watching videos of suicide bombers to inspire them for the fight to come. North of Route Fran were the roughly 1,000 men of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, preparing themselves for the assault. Route Fran itself was a wide, four-lane highway. On November 9, 2004, the highway was wet—it’d rained the previous day—and the sky was gray and foreboding.
“You just know that this whole company crossing this road,” marine Justin Best later told a reporter, “someone’s gonna get hit.”
When crossing an open space like Fran, it’s important to have units in overwatch, shooting at locations from which the enemy might fire at you and your buddies. Most of the bullets expended in war aren’t intended to kill the enemy so much as to keep his head down while you maneuver your way to a place where you can kill him. It doesn’t always work. There were enough large buildings on either side of Fran that the marines could never hope to cover every window.