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Saturday, January 31, 2004
A MARINE'S JOURNAL
The Wait in Kuwait
Part 1 of a frontline account of Iraq's liberation.
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Monday, January 26, 2004 12:01 a.m.
(Editor's note: Mr. Taylor joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1996 and was called up for service in February 2002. His enlistment expired in November 2003. He kept this journal while deployed with the Fox Company, Second Battalion, 23rd Marines in Kuwait and Iraq. Comments in italics were added after his return to clarify and expand his account and to define military terminology for the benefit of civilian readers. This is the first of five parts.)
23 Feb 03--Camp Coyote (Marine Corps camp in northern Kuwait where I spent approximately three weeks. Before the invasion began it was home to as many as 4,000 Marines.)
We arrived last night to a tent city erected by Kuwaiti money and imported labor. Accommodations come complete with oak plywood floors. The atmosphere is friendly but focused.
The battalion intelligence chief told us to be ready for operations by 1 March. He told us that 2/23 is the only reserve battalion with a combat assignment (Regimental Combat Team 1) and that 2/6 (an active duty battalion) got passed over for this job. The battalion commander spoke, but his words were carried away by the wind. It was brief in any event.
Shari is due to deliver in two days. Current communications assets likely won't permit phone contact. What to say about it? She will be disappointed. God keep her.
Tomorrow we will stow our sea bags (the big green tube-shaped bag Marines carry their gear in; not for tactical use) in shipping containers. We won't be likely to see them again until the end of the war. Decisions must be made about what gear to carry and what to leave. Even the lightest of us will be carrying an absurd amount of weight.
As it turned out, we did not turn over our sea bags the next day. Senior Marines from several companies in the battalion argued against this plan. It seemed likely that weeks might pass before our departure, and having use of that extra gear, mainly extra uniforms and comfort items, would make life in camp much easier. Keeping our sea bags another 20 days meant starting the invasion with a fresh uniform and a supply of clean shorts and socks.
Our prep time is short. There are very few combat veterans here so the unknown looms large. There is no openly expressed or detectable undercurrent of fear in camp. But I feel some anxiety about how I will perform after we get started.
25 Feb 03
We spent yesterday repacking our gear and trying to come to grips with the battalion gear list. The thought of carrying tents and PT (physical training) gear into combat was odious and immediately drew comments like "whoever wrote this list obviously never humped a pack in his life." Eventually battalion got the message that non-mission-essential gear might need to remain behind.
We also played hearts. Garrard can't win and Smith can't lose. But still being jet-lagged we went to sleep in mid-afternoon and woke up around midnight again. It's not a bad sleep cycle for an infantryman. Lance Cpl. Garrard wrote this letter to the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. today:
Dear U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.,
My name is Lance Corporal John Garrard. My friends and I are running desperately low on Skoal Wintergreen Long Cut. Being a part of a forward deployed infantry unit, we are cut off from any opportunity to purchase your products. The Marine Corps prides itself on tradition. It wouldn't seem right for us to lay the hammer down on Iraq without a nice fat chew. Grunts and chew are like peanut butter and jelly. They just don't work without one another. If you could be so kind to send us some chew, we would be forever indebted for your generosity. Please send us some tobacco in an unmarked box so the losers in the rear don't steal it.
LCpl John Garrard
John has a can-a-day habit but strangely forgot to bring any tobacco. At my suggestion he drafted his letter on the back of an MRE (meal ready to eat; modern single-serving combat ration) box to maximize its front line effect.
This afternoon Sgt. McMullen delivered the first real warning order I've ever received--or rather, the first warning order for a genuine combat operation. Thirty miles north of the border is a disused ammo dump. We are to clear it so follow-on forces may build an EPW (enemy prisoner of war) processing center. It is believed to be unoccupied but light resistance is expected en route.
26 Feb 03
Immediately after the company finished an MRE breakfast, the first hot meal of this deployment rolled in on the back of a five-ton truck. So we ate again. Skipped the MRE lunch though.
Platoon conducted PT this morning. We did the "daily seven" and wind sprints. As we concluded the signal "GAS! GAS! GAS!" rang out so we ran the five paces or so to where our masks were staged and donned and cleared. We spent 40 minutes in masks buttoned in our tents against the possibility of chemical attack. In a nearby area 11th Marines was conducting a drill--false alarm. A few minutes ago the signal rang out again so we are in masks again. In fact I'm writing by flashlight in a closed sweltering tent.
I woke last night at 12:40 feeling that Sharlene had just given birth. No word arrives from the Red Cross and I am anxious for news. I want to know that the baby is well and well formed and healthy, and that Shari is recovering.
And I want to take this mask off.
Unmasked now. It occurred to Cpl. Broberg that all this gas masking has begun on the very day that the First Marine Regimental HQ arrived on scene. And that it has the flavor of unannounced drill. There is a persuasive wisdom there.
27 Feb 03
Capt. Schoenfeld handed me a printed message from the Red Cross informing me of the birth of my son at 12:55 p.m., date not mentioned, presumably on the 25th. It was a fine moment, though not what I would have preferred for the occasion.
Handshakes all around. Eight pounds, 15 ounces. Lots of remarks on the size and well wishing.
Then I walked over to the battalion aid station and received treatment for what appears to be a case of conjunctivitis. The treating officer, Cmdr. Krushka, asked me to return the unused eye drops when I am done because medicine is scarce.
There goes another gas alert. Perhaps there is a causal relationship between journal writing and gas alerts. I should leave off for now.
All clear and unmasked now.
Fragmentary info about our upcoming operation is beginning to filter down. The Fifth Marines are hitting an objective on our left and the Brits are way out on our right flank. The Second LAR (Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion) is attached in support of us and Fox Company will be the main effort in the battalion assault on the objective. Aerial recon shows no activity at the site but there are forces between here and there. One hundred fifty meters beyond our objective is an MSR (main supply route) through which enemy may flee the Fifth Marines. Still no date yet.
Camp life is becoming routine. Marines generally get along and go about their business, but tent walls are thin and sometimes the drama spills out. But what sounds deadly serious to Marines trapped within sounds hilarious to Marines listening without. Fights between young Marines, or the hollering of thoughtless NCOs (noncommissioned officers) at luckless subordinates, are all audible in the lanes between tents. And the predictable futility of that kind of troop management is almost funny when heard from the tents of Marines in other platoons and companies.
Sgt. McMullen is the ranking Marine in my tent and is about the most amiable, happy squad leader I've known. With mock seriousness he narrates his way through MRE mealtime, weighing the comparative merits of different preparation techniques for the dry peach cobbler, or any other mundane gibberish he can enhance with purposeful hand gesturing.
At Garrard's suggestion I replaced Cpl. Taneja with Cpl. Siggard as the assistant automatic rifleman. Taneja assures me that everything is fine, but clearly struggles to find his place in the platoon. Siggard takes some ribbing about being a Marine Corps cook, but is fitting in. He also expresses interest in the weapons systems and team functions, which pleases Garrard.
I learned how to start an IV this afternoon. I stuck Cpl. Biggers in the arm and even managed to hit his notoriously difficult vein. Broberg stuck Arnold and removed the cap on the needle before he had the hose ready and blood jetted out of his arm down his trouser leg and boot. Everyone seemed pleased by the spectacle and they probably learned enough to do it themselves in a pinch.
28 Feb 03
The Fourth Army Infantry Division arrived yesterday. On their first day here they opened a PX, a social club and who knows what else. But their war-fighting gear is still a great way off. Imagine the convoluted set of military priorities that allows such things to happen. It is as if war fighting is incidental to the Army's existence and not its reason for being.
Sgt. McMullen brought a backpacker's multi-fuel stove and all the required gear for percolating coffee in the morning. The company staff is positively abusive in the way they lean on him to "hook up" the CO (commanding officer) or themselves. And his coffee and fuel are running short. It annoys me to see him exploited that way, but he is too decent to consider it exploitation.
At 0900 Staff Sgt. Ivers told me to get my gear and my weapon and jump on Maj. Liddy's humvee to Camp Commando, which is operational headquarters. Commando is half of an old Kuwaiti base situated near Kuwait City. It is a busy purposeful place--a Marine Corps installation but full of Army personnel, Seabees, Brits and reporters. There, unlike here, people shower regularly and shave daily without fail. There are women in uniform, and women with guns. There are mess facilities, barbershops, an exchange and phones. It has nearly all the amenities of an American base.
I went to Commando to use the DSN (Defense Secure Network) line to call Shari. I reached her at about 2:00 a.m. Utah time, but she was awake to feed John Byron. She told me that she had had to undergo an emergency C-section when the baby pinched off his umbilical, but although in the process of asphyxiating himself, he snapped back admirably when they had him out in less than two minutes. She had to endure the incision sans anesthetic due to time constraints, but it went well enough for her. She held the phone to his head and I thought I could hear his eager sucking and nasal breathing. I wish I could just look through a glass on that scene.
I assured Shari that all is fine and fun here. Relayed a message from First Sgt. Lopez to his wife via Shari that he has arrived, is well, and loves her. He made me promise to keep it secret.
During the ride to and from Commando, I sat in the back of an open humvee on security with my rifle in condition 3 (magazine loaded, no round in the chamber, safety on) pointed outboard on the Kuwaiti freeways. Kuwaitis would speed by and smile, wave and give a thumbs-up. Feb. 26-28 are Kuwaiti Liberation Days, a memorial of the short ground operation during which U.S. led coalition forces drove Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait. Apparently the locals haven't forgotten the favor. The drive-by interactions brought me a great deal of gratification and real sense of military pride and adventure.
Now we are the invaders, come to rout out tyranny from its nest. Confusion to the enemy.
1 Mar 03
After the return ride last night from Camp Commando I found Fox Company gone from tactical assembly area Inchon, this area, by bus to Matilda. There are showers at Camp Matilda. I caught the next ride over with Weapons Company and took my first shower in a week. After living on a dust-swept desert plain for even so short a time it felt wonderful. Frankly, I expected not to shower at all, but to wash out of a canteen cup until the war is over. The canteen cup, out of which I bathe and shave, is not for drinking.
Today our platoon has camp guard duty. For four hours during the day and four hours later tonight we gear up, load weapons and stand posts. I guarded a couple of electricians while they installed electric service to the tents (they're not done yet). One was a Pakistani, one an Indian, and we are required to escort them wherever they go, and presumably shoot them if they try anything funny.
At one point while guarding three workers during their lunch, I breeched guard protocol just and little and asked if any of them spoke English. The Pakistani did. From him I learned their nationalities. They ate canned curried meat on flat bread with some kind of yogurt or cheese sauce. It looked and smelled far better than MREs.
When not on guard duty, or otherwise occupied, we rest in the tent (a 20-by-40-foot) take care of our gear, read or play cards, or write letters.
2 Mar 03
I attended an LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) service today in one of the newly erected regimental tents. Forty or 50 LDS Marines from various elements of RCT 1 (Regimental Combat Team; the entire regiment and attachments). We took the sacrament and shared testimonies. The finest moments were the singing of hymns, which make worship so easy and free. And doing it all in such an improbable place as this, and with a rifle at hand and a gas mask on the leg makes one even more mindful of the goodness of God.
Rumors about when we may cross the LOD (line of departure; where the invasion begins) and initiate this effort circulate daily. But the general consensus is that we will be fighting in Iraq by the second or third week of March.
The desert camps are rapidly filling and multiplying. The amount of men and material massed here is so large that any pretense of a mere show of force must surely be gone. We are here to fight, not threaten.
The lights came on last night. The whole camp cheered when electric service was finally established and the previously dormant fixtures flickered on in our tents. Now we can cease tripping over one another in the dark and burning our scarce batteries.
There are 20 people in this tent and it is crowded. The desert creeps in under the flaps and follows us in on our boots.
At 1300 Capt. Gougen came to the tent and offered to take my fire team and me down to the battalion command operations center tent to see digital photos of the baby. Maj. Kundith took a photo of us to send home and then we crowded into the COC. They were going over aerial imagery of our first objective and making plans. But they happily turned all that off, inserted a new disk in the computer, fumbled to find the right application for picture viewing. My whole team moved into the seats formerly held by most of the command staff and then everyone in the COC looked at baby pictures. It was an incongruous moment when desert warriors paused to stare at a new baby and congratulate his father. Whoever ran the slide show promised to print the pictures off and pass them along later.
4 Mar 03
No one here knows when we will cross into Iraq. And I suppose it is possible that we might not go at all, if the radio reports of diplomatic efforts are to be believed. But it seems inconceivable that so much force should be massed here just to allow it to be dissipated by international diplomats a world away, people who, for the most part, take no notice of U.S. security imperatives. Here in the camps the feeling is that this is a military task that must be accomplished.
And the sooner the better. I've got other things to do. A marine from H&S Company, a clerk, brought the pictures of John by my tent last night. The pictures capture that startled look newborns wear while they are trying to gauge the size of their new space. It must be disconcerting to be unable to touch the very edges of your world at any moment and instantly know your place in it.
The USNS (U.S. Navy Ship; civilian-manned) Greenlake, the ship on which our battalion's heavy gear and vehicles are embarked, has arrived at a Kuwaiti port. Now it waits for dock space and unloading service.
Yesterday we practiced loading and unloading the seven-ton trucks on which we will probably ride into Iraq. The beds will be lined with sandbags to insulate troops against the effects of anti-vehicle mines. Some marines complained that the sides will not be similarly fortified against small arms fire. But it's not our call. That decision was made by someone who won't be riding in the back of a truck.
We had classes about how to breach a minefield with a grapnel (a small anchor used for grappling) on a line and bangalore torpedoes. We had a refresher course on M240G machine-gun employment.
And we played a mort of cards. We play hearts like we were giving it up for Lent. I have a strategy of thinning out my diamonds or clubs by initial trade, and then sloughing off everything else. I can usually avoid taking a point that way, and it drives Broberg and Garrard mad when I almost immediately start sloughing hearts or the queen of spades right away.
This morning I got up at 0500 and went to chow, the only one in my platoon who bothered. Then I lined an MRE box with a black trash bag and did my laundry. Laundry day was actually two days ago for our company, but there was a sandstorm that caked every wet thing with a crust of mud. Most of us wisely waited. But Capt. Schoenfeld, our platoon commander, saw Cpl. Giles doing his socks yesterday and ordered him to stop as it was not our day for washing. So this morning I took my wash behind the truck farm and washed several sets of underwear and socks. I hung it to dry inside the tent. I can scarcely fathom why a captain of Marines would trouble himself with a matter so trivial as when Marines wash socks, particularly three days before we go to war.
Word came down yesterday that the 9th is the day we go. In three days my seven-year focus on training will change into application. It is time for doing.
8 Mar 03
OK, it isn't quite time for doing. Yesterday's intelligence brief revealed that our battalion's armored vehicles have been given to First Regiments other battalions. Now we are waiting for other vehicles and probably not crossing the LOD with RCT 1.
I washed my hair this morning with some shampoo donated by the Salvation Army. I just knelt on the ground and poured water out of my canteen. I feel great.
The storm yesterday kept us inside our tents. Someone in headquarters shared a computer with Second Platoon and we watched a movie. We made a makeshift theater out of MRE boxes and watched "Austin Powers 3."
I wish I had new news of Shari and the children. How is John's jaundice? How does Jane progress through kindergarten? And what is Keith's occupation?
Cpl. Broberg and Sgt. McMullen decided that we should all grow mustaches. Sgt. Rogers, the Third Squad leader, sports a notoriously scrubby and thin mustache, which he clings to despite all our mockery. So Broberg instituted one last mockery--we will all have mustaches in a few days superior to his humble "dirt lip."
9 Mar 03
An Echo Company Marine negligently discharged his SAW (squad automatic weapon) in the next tent this morning. No one was hurt. He is now facing a court-martial at the hands of the division CG (commanding general) with a likely reduction of rank and possible brig time. Poor devil. His punishment for negligently discharging his SAW into the floor of his tent was deferred until after the invasion, when the battalion wisely elected to take no formal action.
Today we rolled our watches back three hours from local to Zulu time (Greenwich Mean Time). This is done for operational reasons.
The MEF (Marine expeditionary force) commander, Lt. Gen. Conway, spoke to RCT 1. He stood on an amtrac (a flat-bottomed military vehicle that moves on tracks on land or water) and spoke into a microphone so the 4,000 or so Marines could hear. He talked about how Marines fight, how to master fear, and how to behave once in Iraq. As he was finishing a point about the advantages of operating in a Marine Air-Ground Task Force with organic air assets, two AV8-B Harriers flew over at about 200 feet. One looped and they arched upward. As we watched them fly away four Cobra attack helicopters abreast of each other came in at 100 feet on a low attack run to let us see what our enemies might see. The Cobras approached so low and fast that there was almost no warning. Our enemies won't see much.
Gen. Conway said that the Iraqi 51st Mechanized Division near Basra just learned that they are facing the Marines. He said, "Imagine what Hajji said when he learned that he will be facing the Marines in a few days time. He probably said, 'Abuba Belushi!' Which is Arabic for 'Ain't that a Bitch! The Marines.' " It was all fine and motivating.
13 Mar 03
Two days ago Gen. Mattis spoke to the battalion. He gave operational details about the allied advance on Baghdad. And he gave very frank answers to questions on any topic. He told us we will be given priority status when units queue up for rotation home after the war ends.
Mail still arrives only slowly, but I have been more fortunate than most receiving several pieces so far while others have received none.
The platoon walked the mile over to the Fifth Marines LSA (Logistics Support Area) yesterday to use their showers. That, and a clean shift of underwear and uniform, restored a degree of civilization. But tonight another stumble-around-and lie-in-the-dirt exercise is scheduled so the shower effect will be quite destroyed.
14 Mar 03
Delays could keep us in this camp for some time. The U.N., that cesspool of anti-U.S. sentiment, is doing its utmost to foil the U.S. Their primary objective or strategy is apparently to maroon Cpl. Taylor in this desert until the sun kills him or Gen. Conway takes the First Marine Division back to California.
Today Staff Sgt. Ivers burst into the chow tent and boomed, "Second Platoon you're done eating breakfast. Go back to the house!" Chief Warrant Officer Tomka was in a rage because he had mismanaged the Regimental Guard schedule and there was no one queued up to relieve Echo Company. So Fox Company Second Platoon got whipped into its gear and hustled out to the perimeter posts. And that's how things go in the Marines. Someone shows his ass on the job and covers it up by blasting someone else.
It is all one though. We were scheduled to stand those posts tomorrow anyway. I sat at pillbox six, a pile of sandbags covered with a camo net, for six hours. I sat with Garrard and we chatted each other up for the whole time about wives, kids, boats, motorcycles, war, officers, promotion, demobilization and other Marines. Garrard is a rare gem.
16 Mar 03
It is Sunday and there is no significant training scheduled. The SAW gunners and their assistants may go out this evening and burn off some rounds.
Yesterday Fox Company had a fire team competition. We ran from station to station in the heat of the afternoon with assault gear on, performing infantry tasks at each stop. At one station we had to disassemble and reassemble weapons, at another treat a simulated casualty and call for medevac. At another we were tested on vehicle recognition and weapons recognition. We gave NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) flash reports and performed prisoner searches. There were others.
Final results are not in but I hear we did not win. We topped all the Second Platoon teams though and placed highly in the company.
Last night we marched out as a company for night movement exercises. Coordinating the movement of a company formation in the night is difficult. The exercise was primarily for the platoon commanders who need practice controlling 40 men dispersed across the sand.
17 Mar 03
The time is 11:15 Zulu and Sgt. McMullen just passed word that at 1500 we will be loading our sea bags into the Conex boxes (for storage in Kuwait). Presumably this is in preparation for crossing the line of departure. I will enclose this journal in my bag at that time and take a blank one with me. There is a chance that we won't get our bags back--ever. I hope that isn't the case, as I want my journal and all the other contents of my bag.
The battalion is getting ready to publish its frag order (short for "fragmentary"; an update to a standing operations order). Our initial mission is changed.
I love my family. I long to see my wife. I long to play with my children. I am positively desperate to see and hold John Byron. God keep each of them.
(Next week: Part 2--Into Iraq.)
Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
A MARINE'S JOURNAL PART 2
GLOBE and ANCHOR
Marines Sites & Forums
By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Friday, January 30, 2004
BACK TO PART 1, A MARINE'S JOURNAL...
A MARINE'S JOURNAL
Part 2 of a frontline account of the liberation.
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Monday, February 2, 2004 12:01 a.m.
(Editor's note: Mr. Taylor joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1996 and was called up for service in February 2002. His enlistment expired in November 2003. He kept this journal while deployed with Fox Company, Second Battalion, 23rd Marines in Kuwait and Iraq. Comments in italics were added after his return to clarify and expand his account and to define military terminology for the benefit of civilian readers. Four-digit numbers followed by "Z" are time codes in Greenwich Mean Time; codes of the format "38RQU 29141756" are 8-digit MGRS grid coordinates indicating his location at the time. This is the second of five parts; click to read Part 1.)
20 Mar 03
Two days ago convoy left Logistics Support Area 1. We moved to a dispersal area to the North in empty desert. Last night GWB announced war. We are waiting to cross phase line Arnold into our AO (area of operations). Radio reports mass surrender. Mixed feelings, mostly relief.
Today we started malaria pills. They made some Marines nauseous. Garrard voided his stomach off the side of our truck.
Yesterday we drew full loads of ammo. I have 20 HEDP (high explosive, dual purpose; in this case 40mm grenades fired from my M203 grenade launcher) rounds and a few smoke and pyro. We have one AT4 (84mm antitank shoulder-fire rocket, single shot, disposable) per team. I also carried eight 30-round magazines of 5.56mm rifle rounds, and several hundred more rounds in bandoliers in my pack. Marines are eager to get into Iraq and get on to the next thing.
0929Z--Gas alert. Reportedly Iraq launched two missiles at British camps in Kuwait. They missed, but we MOPPed up (Mission Oriented Protective Posture; to "MOPP" up is to put all the chemical gear on, including suit, boots, gloves and masks). Garrard and Jensen were selected for unmasking. It was a heavy thing watching them take their masks off and waiting for signs of chemical sickness. But the "all clear" sounded.
Speckled Jim, the company NBC pigeon (a caged pigeon for chemical detection. If the bird died, then there might be chemical contaminants in the area. Ours was named Speckled Jim) was "non-recced" for promotion yesterday. There are NCOs who allege that he was disrespectful so his fast track to staff has been put on hold.
1128Z--The scud attacks have begun. Three times now the words "Gas! Gas! Gas!" or "Incoming!" have rung out and sent Marines into the swelter of MOPP suits and masks. We have dug hasty holes in the desert to protect us against the improbable bull's eye that sends shrapnel flying. One time we heard a distant thud, presumably a scud slapping the desert. It is unknown to us whether these are chemical attacks. But it is all great fun so far; Marines are happy to be busy.
1700Z--H hour (the time the invasion begins) was 1500. We will be rolling by 1815. Some miles to the north the sound of terrible bombardment can be heard. It is unending, rolling thudding bass. The flashes can be seen on the horizon through night-vision goggles.
Saddam has reportedly ignited the oil fires. The RCT (Regimental Combat Team) will be thrusting north through the night to prevent such destruction where it can and neutralize units that elect to fight. I only ever saw one distant jet of flame that looked like an oil fire. We never encountered any others in our sector.
All the team and individual gear has been checked. Everything is ready. I said a fervent prayer for my fire team and my family. May it be granted.
21 Mar 03 0515Z
Mounted hardened trucks and rode through the night. Very cramped and cold. We are nearing the border. The sound of artillery is getting closer. The convoy of vehicles moves at a snail's pace. We should join the fight today. 38RQU 29141756
22 Mar 03 0830Z
We are waiting for permission to cross phase line Arnold into 1st Marines AO. It has been two nights and a day of continuous convoy ops. Slow going. We passed through miles and miles of scattered Iraqi tanks, tanks shattered during the last war. The Kuwaitis cleaned up their side of the border. The Iraqis did not.
BBC reports massive surrender and pockets of intense fighting at Basra and in the oil felds in the north. We are waiting to see what's in store for us.
1306Z, dug in at 38RPU 73268567--The convoy is momentarily out of gas so we are paused. At this rate we may never get to the fight. The Army has beaten us to Nasiriyah. How will Col. Dowdy sleep at night? The snail pace of this RCT convoy is mystifying.
Weather is cooler in Iraq. The desert has a film of green on it.
I know Shari and my family are watching the war and worrying about me. If they knew what a lackluster show RCT 1 is putting on, they might rest easy. Perhaps there is a reason for this, but I can't imagine one myself.
23 Mar 03 1408Z
We are 27 kilometers south of Nasiriyah. The BBC reports 50 Marine casualties from small arms there. I believe that alone will qualify it as the bloodiest single engagement since Vietnam. The battalion commander halted the convoy and left to consult with the regimental commander about new routes, and how to secure bridges for allied use. Understandable.
But allowing any passing civilian to halt the convoy for an hour or more just because he approaches with hands high is incomprehensible. We have CAAT teams (combined anti-armor teams) patrolling the convoy. They could pin these folks while we pass. But instead we all halt while vehicles and persons are searched, then we shoo them away with an HDR (humanitarian daily ration; MRE lite). Meanwhile there is fighting in Nasiriyah, 27 kilometers away.
24 Mar 03 0755Z
We are still stopped in the same place. My team stood a couple of watches during the night. We tracked a steady procession of pedestrians crossing a bridge to surrender. Some were even in the military. Sheep herders surrender to us. Bedouins surrender. Passing bicyclists who apparently hadn't considered it until they saw us, they surrender.
A larger ambush in Nasiriyah has forced the RCT to adjust its plan. The city evidently belongs to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. They will escort us through so we can get to our places around Al Kut.
There was some small-arms fire to be heard to the east of here this morning. I reported it. By the time the word reached the battalion net, the word had been changed to "We are being fired upon." A CAAT team and a confused, angry first sergeant sped up demanding to know where the firefight was. We said, "Somewhere east of here." And they sped off.
26 Mar 03 0737Z
Yesterday was the day the war really began for Fox Company. We rolled into Nasiriyah at first light, past the burnt hulks of T62s (Soviet-built tanks) entrenched in groves of date palms and into Task Force Tarawa's firefight. The truck in which I was riding stopped right in the main intersection of town under fire. Twenty Marines were lying down in rank blasting away at enemy guns. The eye can follow a burst of machinegun fire and I watched a 240G (machine gun) send a burst clattering into a vehicle, and another pinging off high-tension lines. We just hunkered down and watched until someone cleared us through the intersection. Broberg opened up with his SAW (squad automatic weapon) in the next vehicle back from the top of the cab and his firing pin broke. Third Platoon's truck took two rounds but no injuries.
Once through to the other side of town we saw evidence of hard fighting. Two AAVs (amphibious assault vehicles) burned up, all Marines inside reportedly dead. And we saw numerous enemy lying about machine-gunned, blasted apart, smashed flat by a tank, etc. Serious business.
Then 12 kilometers or so north of Nasiriyah we came to a town called Al Garraf, from which the lead element of the convoy (Alpha battery 1/11) had just been ambushed. Fox got the order to attack with Second Platoon as its main effort. We trucked up (to the objective) and immediately started hearing shots and initiated our attack. Jensen, on orders from Sgt. McMullen, leaned out the side of the truck and sent SAW bursts into a nearby bunker. We scrambled out of the truck and behind a berm toward our position looking across the highway straight into town. Iraqi machine-gun fire was zinging and snapping overhead, but we were covered by the crest of the road.
While moving the 40 meters or so from our covered assembly area up to where we could see and shoot down the main street, I saw Staff Sgt. Cawley of First Platoon coming back the other way. He had run up there to get a quick view of things. He was moving south as I glanced up at him and he gave me a friendly smile. This was before the Iraqi machine gun and AK-47's had been suppressed. Rounds were snapping overhead and he had the composure to smile at me. A minute earlier I had emphasized the importance of calm thinking to my fire team, but Staff Sgt. Cawley galvanized that feeling in me with that smile. He made me feel better.
My squad crawled on line right up to the road and started suppressing enemy fires with M203s (grenade launchers), M16s (rifles) and SAWs. This allowed Sgt. Biemer to bring his assault team with rockets and smash holes in buildings and bunkers. They fired about six rockets.
Then we moved across the highway to get a better view into town. Men were still shooting at us, so we returned fire for a time. First Squad reported seeing the most fighters and shooting them. In Third Squad, Biggers and his team entered the first building across the road and found it empty. They moved to the next smaller structure to the east and entered. Once all four of them were inside, the room began to explode with enemy machine-gun fire from without. Bauer sprayed the room to the east with his SAW and the team ran out. But Pvt. Donnely fell down in the doorway.
Outside a confused sergeant (not Sgt. McMullen, who seemed immune to confusion) thought Donnely must be hit since he didn't come out, and he ran to throw a grenade into the room where Donnely remained. Biggers stopped him and the sergeant panicked, saying, "What do I do with this thing?!" He thrust the pinless grenade into Lance Cpl. Brent Bauer's hands. Bauer successfully contained the spoon long enough to throw the grenade down Main Street toward our attackers.
Our company commander, a well-liked man named Maj. Kirkpatrick, was doing what COs do, coordinating things by radio or runner. He had air assets at his disposal but he gave us a few extra minutes to complete the mission rather than calling in an air strike. He was concerned about bombs dropping so close to us and into the village where there were civilians. Within four minutes of our counterattack beginning down the main street, the volume of enemy fires sharply fell off and the convoy was moving again as we crossed the road. Maj. Kirkpatrick waved off the bombers.
The resistance melted away. Echo Company swept through town from south to north (we were attacking to the east). We became the base of fire for Echo's maneuver, but it quickly ended. The whole shootout had lasted about 40 minutes.
Afterward, Broberg described a moment when an Iraqi in a white robe, perhaps a hundred meters away, mounted a roof with a rifle and began throwing grenades. There were no Marines within his throwing range. Broberg opened up with his SAW, and his team with him. He said the man just stood in a hail of fire for several seconds and then slumped. Wade said later, "I've hunted all my life and killed all kinds of things, but my mind just kept saying, 'Hey, that's a dude.' "
During the initial skirmish I suppressed a shooter behind a one-story building 180 meters down the main street. He kept stepping out from behind a building with a green flag on the roof and loosing bursts of AK fire. I sent an HEDP grenade down there with a bang. Long. Two more with proper range and he didn't come out anymore. Staff Sgt. Ivers congratulated me, saying, "Good job suppressing those targets." But for me there was just that one.
There were a couple of nightmarish scenes of Iraqis waving white flags and using the lull in the firing this created to move to better firing positions. But far worse was the way they herded women and children into the street and then shot from behind them. We didn't have to go into town after the fight, but it is generally supposed that several of those innocents were killed in the crossfire.
I talked to a battalion sniper who operated in support of Fox Company that day. He said he saw an Iraqi emerging from behind a building to take quick shots with an AK-47. He emerged twice while the sniper was making ready to shoot. The sniper loosed a round as the target appeared for the third time, but the man thrust a child out by the arm instead. The sniper was very upset at the scene and at the thought that he had shot at a child. The incident reminded me of Saddam's promise not to use unconventional weapons, but unconventional tactics. Saddam's unconventional tactic was to make collateral victims of his own people.
After the attack was over, Fox Company returned to its vehicles and performed some quick weapons maintenance. We talked about what we had seen and done and marveled that no one had been hurt. But I learned that Staff Sgt. Ivers had in fact been hit. His job as platoon sergeant had required him to cross the highway under fire more than once. While making his way back to the safe side, a round struck his bayonet and flak vest. It bent the blade irretrievably inside its scabbard and bruised his kidney. He got checked out and cleared, but for the rest of the invasion he grimaced every time he pulled himself into the cab of his truck. That guy is tough.
28 Mar 03, 0315Z, 38RNA 92893306
Yesterday we were tasked with defending a road junction so the convoy could safely pass. First Platoon searched a couple buildings and found some AK-47's, a Mauser 98, a pistol belt and a Baath Party certificate. The certificate had Saddam's smiling face and a picture of the member.
Second Platoon slogged through a kilometer of mud to search two more buildings to the west. My team was tasked with the first one. A CAAT team spotted some movement on the roof and people hiding objects in the tall grass. We patrolled up in a wide wedge formation and then I initiated verbal contact with the family I found in the courtyard. "Irfa ya dayeka!" I yelled ("Hands up!"). Everyone's hands went up. "Enta lan toodar!" ("You will not be harmed!") They seemed to sigh and relax a little. I said, "You will not be harmed." We found Iraqi army uniforms they had thrown out and searched the house--nothing.
We asked, by the aid of our translation cards, if anyone had medical problems. Doc Parks gave Motrin to a three-year-old girl with a fever. And we left. "Asalam walecum." Peace be unto you.
The discarded uniforms didn't concern us. There were a few shabby men of military age in the group who probably owned the items, but the men seemed to belong to the household and had no weapons. If they belonged to the army at all, they were most probably discharged or deserters.
While searching this home I found a suitcase suspended from the ceiling by a strip of cloth in the upper bedroom. It hung down at eye level in the middle of a bare room. Lance Cpl. Garrard and Sgt. McMullen were there too. We didn't know what to make of it. I volunteered to search the bag, so they stepped out of the room. I stuck my hand into the open flap and felt only loose cloth. I pulled it down from the ceiling; the cloth strip parted easily. I opened the old soft-sided bag and found only civilian men's clothes, shirts and pants. I felt foolish about treating someone's old clothes like a bomb threat, but the hanging bag had confused us and somehow alarmed me. I searched a stack of bedding in the corner, declared, "All clear," and left.
Using the Arabic phrases from my translation card was gratifying to me. However bad I must have sounded to the locals, it always seemed to soothe people who were confronted by armed American invaders and scared.
Now it is morning. We slept in a freezing ditch. My feet are cold and I am running a serious sleep deficit. Fifty percent alert is considered a gift. I average two to three hours of sleep a night, and sometimes I get none. I don't feel the effects yet, but surely they will come.
"Fifty percent alert" refers to the watch rotation, meaning half of the platoon was awake and keeping watch at all times. For the first three weeks of the invasion the watch was usually 50%, sometimes 100% (no one sleeps, everyone watches), occasionally 25%. I could rarely correlate the figure with my assessment of the tactical situation. Someone between the company commander and me made those decisions, and we just stood the required watches. The watch was generally reduced during the day and Marines could nap.
0630Z--Two nights ago at dusk, and as we had completed a security operation on a section of road, an Iraqi voice sounded out in the distance in English. "Please! Somebody help me! Help, please!"--this continuously. We had just loaded ourselves into our trucks and the sound, some 250 meters away, rang out clearly. Staff Sgt. Ivers called out, "F--- No! We're not falling for that old trick!" But a few Marines from H&S Company (Headquarters and Services; it contains all the odd jobbers that support the rifle companies, clerks, cooks, armorers, snipers, drivers, etc.) worked their way around toward the voice and found the man all shot up on the ground. He had an AK-47 and an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The story goes that they secured the weapons, gave him something for his pain, and watched him die.
Staff Sgt. Ivers was referring to that old John Wayne movie, "The Sands of Iwo Jima," in which Japanese fighters lured Marines to their deaths by feigning agony. The Iraqi had very probably sustained his wounds in action against Marines at the head of our convoy. His weapons were in the trunk of his car behind which he laid on the ground. I was unaware of the severity of his wounds, but no great concern or effort was expended on his behalf.
This morning at 0530Z shouting along the line woke us from our comfortable nap in the morning sun. An old Toyota truck was rolling up on our position. Our job here is to deny access to the main north-south highway immediately behind us. The truck was moving slowly. No weapons had been seen. But when the truck got within 150 meters Third Platoon opened up with small arms, shattering the windshield and killing the driver. Sgt. Biemer loosed a SMAW (shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon) rocket and incredibly missed. The rocket flew to the right and exploded in the dirt 50 meters beyond.
Now there is a crowd of angry locals on the road. I think they want the body. They produced an English speaker and are negotiating on the road. There are 40 white flag waving locals out there and more on the way.
Third Platoon did not open fire on that truck until it had failed to stop at our wire roadblock. The driver also ignored warnings to stop shouted in Arabic.
29 Mar 03, same place
Last night we suffered our first serious casualty. Staff Sgt. James Cawley, formerly of the Salt Lake City Police Department, died instantly when a Humvee rolled over his head in the night. Capt. Porter was injured in the same incident. His jaw was broken. They are First Platoon's senior leadership. Who knows how this will impact First Platoon?
I've known Staff Sgt. Cawley for about three years. He was my own platoon sergeant when we were both in headquarters platoon. He has a wife and children. God bless them.
About yesterday's shooting: Intel reports to us that he was a Baath Party official in the town one mile southwest of here. He had a large amount of cash in the truck and had been paid by the Iraqi army to probe our lines. The crowd that gathered on the road actually cheered when they learned the identity of the victim, Baath officials being unpopular in Shiite towns. That has eased some of the trepidation about the shooting, but not all.
A rumor eventually filtered back to us that Donald Rumsfeld reviewed the shooting and said approximately, "That's what you get when you ignore a Marine Corps roadblock."
This morning two tanks and two CAAT Humvees raced into town under the cover of tank shelling to do a quick recon of conditions at the bridge. The Iraqis are up to something over there, but facts are scarce when you live in a dirt hole.
(Next week: Part 3--The March to Baghdad)
To PART 3, Here!
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GLOBE and ANCHOR
Marines Sites & Forums
By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Thursday, January 29, 2004
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Saturday, January 31, 2004
The princesses of the Corps
Posted: January 31, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Richard Botkin
© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com
Informed sources tell me that the most stress-filled, non-combat job in the United States Marine Corps is to serve as a recruiter. The United States Marine Corps is the only branch of the military which has yet to compromise standards to meet its vigorous need for fresh-faced warriors, a decision vindicated recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For those youngsters brazen enough to believe they want into the brotherhood, the Corps has an allure all its own. To the prospective warrior, the USMC understates the obvious tangible benefits of military service. You do not join the Marine Corps for the cash bonus, to go to college or to be all you can be. You join the Corps to see if you have what it takes and, if you pass muster, trust that you will be appropriately employed as your seniors see fit. From personal observation and experience I am able to report that the system works with few exceptions.
Duty as a Marine at once satisfies many a young man's need to serve and experience a purpose-filled, dangerous life; to exist in a world of cutting-edge innovation yet be part of something venerable and dignified.
The transition from mere mortal to Marine is a unique metamorphosis. Once the eagle, globe and anchor is stamped onto one's heart and injected into one's soul, the new creation becomes a part of living history. With the Corps as your roots, your family ties transcend time and age and ethnicity. With the Corps as your roots, you are instantaneously linked to those intrepid young men who out muscled the Germans at Chateau-Thierry, who chased Sandino's bandits in Nicaragua, who kept the faith at Wake Island, who stormed ashore at Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, who executed the icy breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, who retook Hue city block by bloody block … and on and on all the way up to the present.
The Corps' rich history and ever evolving culture of victory assures the Madison Avenue marketing gurus an inexhaustible source of material from which to appeal to those young men who seek the path less traveled to gain life's fullness. For the would-be dragon slayers, it is a sure path to reward.
It has been reassuring to see our nation honor its warriors in ways not seen since World War II. In churches they are openly acknowledged and prayed for. It is today the rare pub or tavern where a young lad sporting a high-and-tight haircut is allowed to pay for his own meal or beer. The ubiquitous flags, bumper stickers and e-mail stories all proclaim a level of patriotism never personally witnessed by anyone born after 1940. No longer are our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines unsung in their service and sacrifice.
In recent months, I have visited several friends just returned from combat duty in Iraq. First among them was my dear friend Lt. Col. Clarke Lethin. Having served as the operations officer for the First Marine Division, his duties put him at ground zero during the entire planning, preparation and execution phases for the major combat portion of the war.
I recall sitting with Clarke in his Camp Pendleton office, a large theater map spread out before us, as he gave me the unclassified blow-by-blow of how events unfolded. In rapt attention I listened as he described the actions of the Marines – his pride in their aggressive spirit, the quality of leadership at every level, the individual and collective initiative for which Marines are so well known, how they boldly and continuously pushed forward all the time. I was moved to tears as his voice lowered when he spoke of those we had lost. Even though they had moved faster, farther and with fewer casualties than ever recorded in human history, the loss of those Marines weighed heavily upon his heart. I remembered then and there thinking how wise it had been to name my second son for this man.
Later that evening, at the Lethin household, I made the remark to his lovely bride: "Wendy, most men in their Walter Mittey fantasies wish they could be Clarke." Without looking up from what she was doing, and with not a hint of bitterness or acrimony she very matter-of-factly replied. "Yeah, Rich, all men want to be Clarke, but no women want to be me."
Weeks later it was my good fortune to dine with another long-time Marine pal, Lt.Col. Geff Cooper. Coop had commanded the Second Battalion, 23rd Marines, one of nine infantry battalions used by the Corps in the long march up to Baghdad. With us was June, his wife of 25 years, and daughter Jennifer, just graduated from college.
The serious accounts of the adventures of his Marines were compelling and, like Lethin's, heartrending. After the war stories, Coop returned to his signature anecdotes and cornball jokes. Keeping me laughing with his disgustingly good-natured quips, daughter Jennifer rolled her eyes as if to say "not again" and lovingly told her father: "Dad, you're such a dork." Enjoying the family exchange I thought, "I wonder if Saddam's troops thought your dad a dork as his Marines were taking the fight to them?" At the same time I glanced over at June. Happy that her man was back, she was taking it all in, her eyes fixed on him looking like a teenage girl with a crush on the high-school football hero.
Throughout the many Marine or somehow Corps-related functions I attended in the last year, there was always a special kind of joy. Whether at the funeral of an old friend and mentor who had served both in World War II and Korea or as a guest at the reunion of American Marine advisers and their South Vietnamese counterparts, there was that undiminished, unquantifiable feeling, the old fire-in-the-belly warmth that comes from being in the company of good men.
Pondering that joy and what it took to create it all, I thought about the wives. It was Wendy Lethin's steady devotion to her husband, his mission and to serving all Corps families there at Camp Pendleton that awakened me from my lethargy, made me see what was always there but had failed to discern fully. I was not the only Marine to marry up. We all have. The Marines are the warriors, the men in the arena, the victors … but the wives. The wives. An enemy is safer doing battle with the husbands. As plain as day, there it was. The quality and character of the Corps is unchanged from Guadalcanal to Dong Ha to an-Nasiriyah. And so it is for the women who make the Corps the Corps for the men who staff it. These are the women, who in every generation, daily demonstrate the "Semper" part of "Semper Fidelis."
As with its recruiting standards, the Corps was absolutely parsimonious in its awarding of medals for the Iraq action. So when I read the Bronze Star Medal citation for my friend, Col. Andy Hutchison, a man duly recognized for his superior intellect, leadership and creative resourcefulness in helping organize and, along with a talent-laden team, execute fully a logistics plan that supported tens of thousands of Marines and their gear through countless actions in disparate locations, I cannot help but believe a portion of that medal goes to wife, Susy.
Known and respected widely throughout the greater Seattle area for her years as a professional newscaster, Susan Hutchison is far more than just another television personality. A veteran in her own right, as a young girl she watched her fighter pilot father depart for a one-year tour of combat duty in Vietnam. As a wife and mother she endured these trials yet again. And like Wendy Lethin down at Camp Pendleton laboring countless unsung, unpaid hours for families of others with loved ones in harms way, Susy matched her husband's leadership step for step in her efforts to assist local families.
With their husbands away I would often call Wendy, June and Susy hoping to impart a telephonic hug, let them know our family was praying for them, all that stuff. Usually they were impossible to find. They were always out somewhere, doing something for someone else, and when I would catch up with them it was I who would come away from the conversation refreshed and reinvigorated.
Day in, day out, ensuring the needs of their children were met: homework, doctor's appointments, school meetings, soccer tournaments, music lessons, and then doing the same for other families. One day Wendy and Susy even teamed up to work with Hugh Hewitt on his nationally broadcast radio show. In three hours, they helped raise more than $100,000 for needy military families. No big deal. Just another day of service. Semper Fidelis in the real world.
Clarke Lethin, Geff Cooper and most of the First Marine Division will soon return to Iraq. They are set to relieve the able soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division. Those Army families are about to get their well-deserved, temporary break from the toughest part of military service. For Wendy Lethin and the thousands of other Marine Corps wives and families, it is game time yet again.
For that very small percentage of men upon whose courage and wits our freedoms have always depended, for those who lead men into danger, who cheerfully blast off from blackened aircraft carrier decks or parachute into the night, for those with the cunning and engineering skill to drive submarines through murky, stealthy depths, the joy of that service, the fullness to those lives comes at high price. I think often now of the wisdom of a Wendy Lethin. Maybe she is right. Few women would choose that life. But for those men who live at the edge there can be no completeness without a Wendy in their corner.
The recruiters, the marketing whizzes are masterful at selling adventure, danger, challenge. The dragon-slaying stuff they have down cold. But they left out the part about the princess. For insight, maybe they should call my pal Clarke Lethin.
Richard Botkin, a member of the WorldNetDaily.com board of directors, was a Marine Corps infantry officer.
GLOBE and ANCHOR
Marines Sites & Forums
By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
(Note: For original story, Pics, etc. click on red title/link above
MARFOREUR remembers the 'Irish Marines' of WWII
Submitted by: Marine Forces Europe
Story Identification Number: 20041304630
Story by Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland(January 28, 2004) -- In 1942 United States Marines forged a relationship with a Northern Ireland community so strong it remains to this day.
The Marines who came here in 1942 experienced a contrast to the events of World War II that were occurring elsewhere. That exceedingly pleasant atmosphere and genuine hospitality of these people toward Marines still exists today.
Recently approximately 40 Marines from Marine Corps Forces Europe experienced the friendliness that is legendary of this region. The Marines participated in a professional military education event that taught them the history and culture of this region.
“This is a tangible way of showing Marines that you can become fully accepted in a foreign community, even in a time of crisis,” said Col. Brendan Kearney, Chief of Staff, MARFOREUR. “The impact on the Derry community is a testament to the World War II Marines who came with an open minded approach to life.”
The ‘Irish Marines’ of World War II were part of the 1st Provisional Marine Battalion that landed in Northern Ireland on May 12, 1942. These Marines spent two years guarding the Naval Operations Base that was vital to the Battle of the Atlantic. In that time the Marines became an important part of the community. They hosted children’s parties and barbecues, put on boxing exhibitions with local champions, and even started the Marine Corps Pipes and Drums Band after being challenged that Marines couldn’t play the bagpipes.
These Marines made a very positive impact on the city of Derry. One child who lived near the camp was particularly impressed and enjoyed his time with the Marines. He learned to play baseball, and the Marines gave him candy. This young boy also saw that the Marines were able to see beyond politics and work together. That young boy was John Hume, and he grew up to become co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his pivotal role in ending decades of violence in Northern Ireland. He is now a member of both the Westminster and European Parliaments.
Hume played a big role in the PME, this time himself teaching the importance of acceptance and diversity to the Marines.
“We are building our links with America very strongly,” said Hume. “Since modern technology has made it a smaller world, we are in a stronger position to work together.”
“There’s no better friend, no worse enemy than a United States Marine. That type of philosophy has been with us since our inception.” said Sgt. Joseph Forbes, who attended the PME. “It was with us in WWII. It impressed and inspired a great many people at that time, to include Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume. Although Derry has seen three to four generations since WWII, this youngest group continues to cherish and embrace the spirit of the Marine Corps. Sixty years later they still know who we are, and they love us. Makes you feel good to be a Marine, doesn’t it?”
“The information obtained was overwhelming,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Lamey. “A Nobel Peace Prize recipient was inspired by U.S. Marines stationed here. I learned from him that the impact of the teamwork and comradery of the Marines helped him to bring the people of Northern Ireland to peace.”
Author and filmmaker, Dr. Mary Pat Kelly recognized the strong ties of this community to the Marine Corps. Through her efforts along with the O’Kane/Donnely family of the Beach Hill Country House Hotel, former site of the Marine Corps Headquarters, interest has grown in restoring this connection.
“The relationship with the people here is very positive and very genuine,” said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen. “You really feel like the relationship is growing. We were welcomed with warm hospitality by all the people, I felt very comfortable there.”
Allen chose Derry as the place to perform his re-enlistment along with Sgt. Major Carlton Kent, Sgt. Major MARFOREUR.
“It was something very special to not only be on this historic ground, but to be piped in to a re-enlistment in Derry Ireland. Not a lot of people get to experience something like that.” said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen.
“I am truly touched being able to stand on these grounds,” said Kent. “I wish every Marine could experience this.”
In 1997 the Hon. John H. Dalton, Secretary of the Navy, dedicated a monument to the 1st Provisional Marine Battalion, and the Beech Hill US Navy-Marine Corps Friendship Association was formed and the Hon. John Hume was named Chairman.
“You may no longer hear the strains of bagpipes being played by American Marines at the Beech Hill Headquarters,” said Dalton at the dedication ceremony. “You may no longer hear the sound of young Marines teaching the children of Derry how to play baseball in their off-duty hours. But the sound of their time here, and what they gained, echoes for all time.”
Since the dedication, an annual ceremony has been held for those who embody the spirit of friendship shared by the Marines and the people of the community during the war. This year the Marines involved in the PME participated in a wreath laying ceremony that honored the WWII Marines.
“I really enjoyed the closing ceremony,” said Kearney. “All in uniform, wearing service alphas, which are very similar to the uniform of the WWII Marines. It really evidenced the linkage between what we did here and what went on 60 years ago. This was a great experience. Socially it was a good time, but it was also a time of listening and learning.”
Photos included with story:
The Hon. John Hume, co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Peace Prize for his efforts in brokering peace in Northern Ireland stands in front of a monument built in tribute to those who lost their lives on 'bloody sunday'. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
John Hume was very personable and available to the Marines who were honored to be in the presence of a man like Hume. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
Music is a very important part of the Derry community. Whether it's an out of tune sing-a-long over many pints or the best choir in town, an old saying says, there is often a tune in the Derry air. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
A tree can be found near the Beech Hill Country House Hotel that has been carved with the initials of Marines since 1942. It has now become a tradition for visiting Marines to add their initials and become a part of the history of the "Irish Marines". Sgt. Chris Rager adds his name to the list of Marines who have been there. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
This tree has initials carved in it from Marines dating as far back as 1942, now the most recient visitors have left their mark on history. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
Sgt. Major Carlton Kent and Gunnery Sgt. Juan Allen re-enlisted at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel and as part of the cerimony were marched into the Marine Room by a traditional bagpiper. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
Marines from Marine Corps Forces Europe took part in what has become an cerimony at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel in Londonderry, Northern Irelnd. The event is held to honor the spirit of friendship shared by U.S. Marines and the people of the community since WWII. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
The Marines were able to experience the true tradition of North Ireland. Shown here are a U.S. Marine and an Irish bag piper having a drink at a pub, just as Marines and Irishmen have been doing for generations. Photo by: Sgt. Michael Hjelmstad
Text version of story is attached below:
GLOBE and ANCHOR
Marines Sites & Forums
By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Maneuver Warfare: It Worked in Iraq
By F. J. Bing West
In the Iraqi Freedom conflict, network-centric warfare concepts were not an option for the warriors at the front. Maneuver warfare techniquesâ€”as used by Major General James Mattis, here defining for the First Marine Division each unit's role in the campaignâ€”were what built success.
Retired Marine Major General Ray Smith and I accompanied the First Marine Division (1stMarDiv) to write a book about its fight from Kuwait to Baghdad. Over the course of 1,100 kilometers we shifted among 18 units that engaged in combat on 16 days. Most officers will participate in major theater wars only a few times in their careers. When a once-in-a-decade war such as Iraqi Freedom occurs, it is wise to compare the operational experience with written theories such as network-centric warfare.
The I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) was comprised of a logistics support group, an air wing, and three major ground maneuver units: 1stMarDiv, a separate brigade-size force from the Second Marine Division called Task Force Tarawa, and British units totaling more than a division. All Marine units were a mixture of active-duty and reserve forces. Task Force Tarawa and the British were assigned to control the south of Iraq, while the 1stMarDiv marched on Baghdad. As things turned out, either the Army's Fifth Corps (the main effort) or I MEF (the supporting effort) could have taken Baghdad alone, such was the traumatizing effect on the Iraqi military of tactical air and the Abrams tank.
Under Central Command's direction, 1stMarDiv had been preparing to attack Saddam's forces for years. The planning inside the division had the advantage of exceptional continuity. One division commander, General Michael Hagee, became Commandant; the next commander, Lieutenant General James Conway, became the MEF commander; and the next commander, Major General James Mattis, led the division in Iraqi Freedom, secure in the knowledge that Generals Hagee and Conway knew exactly what he intended to do, as they had helped design the plan.
The plan was the first major test of the maneuver warfare doctrine, designed for commanders to defeat an enemy by clever movement rather than by brute force that relied on two-sided attrition. Although Desert Storm in 1991 applied the doctrine at the then-commander-in-chief level, the Marines still had attacked along a small front in their constrained area of operations, with scant opportunity to maneuver. As the supporting effort in Iraqi Freedom, the MEF by design confronted more Iraqi divisions than did the Army. The MEF was supposed to draw off Iraqi forces so that Army Fifth Corps could get to Baghdad faster and with less opposition.
There were six Iraqi divisions guarding the area assigned to the Marines, stretching roughly from the Euphrates River east to the Iranian border. Because the traditional invasion route followed the Tigris River northwesterly from Basra to Baghdad, Saddam had four divisions stacked along that route, with a fifth in the southern Rumalia oil fields and a sixth near Baghdad. The war began after only a few hours of aerial bombing, with 1stMarDiv seizing the oil fields before Saddam could torch them. When the division attacked the Basra airport, Iraqi commanders were convinced that was the opening move in an offensive that would follow the historical path up the Tigris.
After a day's fighting, however, General Mattis suddenly shifted the division 100 kilometers to the west and attacked up two highways between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Previously a vast swamp harboring Shiites who were opposed to the Baath Party, the area had been drained by Saddam following the Shiite uprising after Desert Storm. The spongy ground could not support the weight of armor and was left relatively undefended. General Mattis advanced three regimental combat teams, each with about 1,000 vehicles, in a 100-kilometer single file up two highways, one so rickety each bridge had to be tested before a tank rolled across. This stratagem got off to a rocky start at Nasariah, where Private First Class Jessica Lynch was captured amid confusion, uncertainty, and substantial casualties, compounded by losses from friendly air. The passage through Nasariah proved to be the roughest spot in the war for the MEF and it set back the timetable for one regimental combat team by a full day.
Colonel Joe Dunford (left), commander of the Fifth Regimental Combat Team in Iraqi Freedom, directs troops from the front; General Mattis also used basic communications modes in what has been called a "colonels' war."
The other two teams had charged ahead and in a few days all three were ready to sprint to Baghdad. Two regimental combat teams were poised on Highway One, which led to Baghdad, and the Iraqis had deployed a division to block the road. Again, General Mattis employed maneuver warfare, sending the regiments east along a side road and crossing the Tigris at a spot between the artillery fans of the two Iraqi divisions defending on the east side of the Tigris. Once across the river, General Mattis sent two battalions south to attack the Republican Guard division at al Kut from an unexpected direction. At the same time, he ordered the Fifth Marine Regiment to attack up Route Six straight toward Baghdad. After a spectacular "run and gun" tank charge of 110 kilometers in two days, General Mattis had his division poised at the Baghdad Bridge.
Instead of to seize the city, the verbal order from the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC) was to conduct raids into Baghdad. This was prudent for the Army's Fifth Corps to the west, which had tanks but few infantry. With tanks and perhaps four times as many infantry (6,000 dismounted riflemen), however, raids back and forth across a war-damaged bridge did not make sense to I MEF and 1stMarDiv. The Marines had come to Baghdad to seize and liberate it, not to lay siege to it. So the MEF divided East Baghdad into 36 zones, designated "targets of interest" in each zone, and sent the three regiments across the bridge with orders to "raid" from one target to the next until they occupied all the zones.
Several observations follow from this short recapitulation of the march up to Baghdad. First, maneuver warfare was conducted by issuing mission-type orders, under which the commander states why a mission is to be accomplished but does not dictate how the mission is to be carried out tactically. Before the war, General Mattis had shared his plan with the entire division; every Marine knew the basic scheme and the intent. In prewar meetings, the three regimental commanders repeatedly went over their routes and objectives. Once the war got rolling, each regimental commander operated on his own; General Mattis or his deputy, Brigadier General John Kelly, would drop in on a regiment every two days or so. The battalions were equally independent. The distances were too vast, helicopter availability at the distant fronts too scarce, and the queues on the few roads too long for centralized control.
Desert Storm in 1991 was described as the "generals' war" because on the open desert, the generals were at the head of their intact divisions, deciding on each objective. Iraqi Freedom was a "colonels' war"; the regimental and battalion commanders were the key decision makers. Each night every battalion would "coil" separately, and each battalion commander and sergeant major visited with all key subordinates inside the lines. Conversely, the war did not lend itself to small-unit initiative by captains, lieutenants, and sergeants. Patrolling was limited to security missions, and in the major firefights in the open terrain, the battalion commanders could direct the movements of their companies.
In Iraqi Freedom, 1stMarDiv employed maneuver warfare under decentralized control in accord with mission-type orders. Network-centric warfare, on the other hand, means that digital pipes enable the key players at all levels of command in a battle to share information in near-real time, resulting in faster and better-informed decisions. To some, the frame of reference implied is that of fighting the ship: a set of subordinate officers has explicit responsibilities and reports relevant data, perhaps by digital connection, to a commanding officer, who makes the critical decisions.
The problem, or perhaps the blessing, in Iraqi Freedom is that the fighters on the ground were disconnected from network-centric command and control, which is based on digital connectivity. The Marine program to employ FM-based radios, with relays to report digitally the location of units, failed. What worked was the Army blue force tracker, a vehicle-mounted digital satellite communications (satcom) system that showed the location of all units on the net and allowed text messages. The Marines did not have many of these, though.
Voice, not digital data, was the essential tool in the division for command and control. The battalions in each regiment were connected by voice radio, with the backbone from battalion down being the PRC-119 radio, which works well for short distances. On the move, the distances were such that often the satcom cell phone was the link from battalion to regiment to division. Once the battle got rolling, 1stMarDiv received scant exploitable intelligence from outside the division. The division commander was issuing verbal mission orders, and the regiments were executing so quickly that the senior staffs at MEF and CFLCC, sending operational guidance plans via written (digital) format, were a day or two behind the battle. From the perspective of those in the division fighting the battles, the senior staffs with their laptops, e-mail, and other accoutrements of digital network centricity were self-licking ice cream cones: they did not add value inside the division's zone of operations.
This is not an argument for Luddite revisionism. Digital connectivities were the communications backbone for coordinating fires beyond the fire support coordination line. The MEF was shaping the battlefield in front of the division, a task made much easier by digital connections. After the war, when the division transitioned to stability operations, digital connectivities from the division to battalions with headquarters in five cities 50-100 kilometers away played a key role.
Network centricity, however, is of limited utility in a ground war until there is digital connectivity down to at least the rifle company and individual combat patrol. The Army's blue force tracker points the way toward all vehicle locations being shared digitally, as well as succinct reporting by text, and voice radio is the primary link among the fighters in those vehicles during engagements.
If senior joint and corps-level staffs keep their hands off the battlefield and issue only brief mission-type orders, then the size and the communications budgets of those staffs can be reduced. Too much network-centric digital money goes to senior headquarters while the fighters struggle with voice radios. Full fielding for a "dismounted" rifleman to carry a lightweight digital device with acceptable battery endurance is years away and very expensive. Until it is deployed, ground warfare will feature two distinct communications paths: voice at the battalion level and below, where the fight takes place, and digital plus voice at the division level and above.
Even with digital connectivity down to the fighting level, the concept of network centricity is suspect if the underlying model envisions all stations reporting so the captain can fight the ship. The wisdom of flowing information from higher-level intelligence assets to a central fusion center and then down to the tactical units is questionable. Of the four critical junctures faced by 1stMarDiv in Iraqi Freedom, better digital connectivity would have reduced the confusion at Nasariah, where an A-10 attacked Marine amtracs and where senior commanders had only periodic contact with their rifle companies. Network centricity would have played a minor role at the other three junctures: whether to halt in the desert, whether to charge 110 kilometers up to Baghdad, and whether to raid versus seize the city.
Maneuver warfare and mission-type orders worked. It is time to review the critical decisions made during Iraqi Freedom and ask which systems and which associated network-centric concepts would have improved which decision, at what cost, and who pays for it.
F. J. Bing West, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, is most recently the coauthor, with Major General Ray L. Smith, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), of The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division (New York: Random House, 2003).
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Monday, January 26, 2004
Giving Thanks for America's Warrior Class
By Karl Zinsmeister
Thanksgiving has just passed, and the first American troops to deploy for the Iraq War are nearing their one-year anniversary overseas. That makes it a good time to remember some families in this country to whom the rest of us owe a great deal. Take, for example, the family of Sean Shields, the young American I photographed in combat for the cover of my new book Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq. Lieutenant Shields, currently stationed near Baghdad, is the third generation of his clan to serve in the U.S. Army airborne.
Sean's grandfather was one of the men who created the stellar reputation of the 82nd Airborne Division in the first place--parachuting into the critical battles of Normandy and Nijmegen during World War II, and fighting with distinction at the Battle of the Bulge. In his nighttime jump into Normandy (no nightvision goggles in those days), the elder Shields' parachute hooked on the steeple of a stone church; he slammed into the side of the building and was knocked out cold. When he came to, he cut himself free from his parachute harness, fell heavily to the ground, and in the pitch black promptly stumbled into a foxhole of German soldiers, losing his rifle in the process. So his introduction to Normandy began with a knife fight, which he won.
Sean's father served in Gulf War I, eventually retiring as a colonel. Now Sean is an Army Ranger doing his part of the dirty work in Iraq. He has shaken off two roadside bombings of his humvee within a month, and soldiers on without complaint. There are many such families in this country with a multigenerational tradition of military service.
There are also lots of families who are oblivious to this tradition. In his recent book Keeping Faith, Frank Schaefer describes how, after he'd sent other children to New York University and Georgetown, his affluent Boston neighbors expressed disappointment at his son's decision to become a Marine. "He's so bright and talented and could do anything!" blurted one man. "What a waste!" A similar view is betrayed by New York Times reporter Chris Hedges when he describes today's soldiers as "poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance and joined the Army because it was all we offered them." Or even more harshly by Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi, who told some war protestors not long ago that they were "'A' students, who think for themselves," in contrast to the "'C' students with their stupid fingers on the trigger."
Are such impressions accurate? From my experiences observing and writing about American soldiers--most recently as an embedded reporter during last spring's Iraq war--my answer is an emphatic "no." Such representations of America's fighting men and women, I suggest, are misunderstandings of scandalous proportion.
Many Americans do not fully appreciate what a wide and talented range of people currently serve in our military. There are suburbanites, hillbillies, kids from concrete canyons, and farm boys in our fighting forces. I met graduates of tony schools like Wesleyan and Cornell in Iraq, not only in the officers corps, but right in the ranks. I met disciplined immigrants from Colombia, Russia, Panama, and other places. Our battlefield computers, helicopters, and radars are kept humming by flocks of mechanical whizzes and high-tech aces.
I know of a man who was most of the way through a Ph.D. at Fordham University when, looking for a more active and patriotic career, he decided he'd like to start jumping out of perfectly good airplanes with the 82nd Airborne. He came in not as an officer but as a private. When I met him four years later, he was a highly competent sergeant. I know of the son of an engineer and a nursing supervisor who had glided through his school's gifted-student program after being accelerated a grade above his age group, then landed a good job as an open-heart-surgery technician. But then the September 11 attacks convinced him his country needed him for more important work. He is now a medic in the 82nd Airborne, hoping for an eventual career as an Army doctor.
I shared a tent with a soldier who, after suddenly breaking into fluent Spanish, explained that he had picked up his language facility while serving as a missionary in South America for three years before joining the Army. This mature and worldly individual was just a rank-and-file paratrooper.
Another entry-level soldier from California I got to know was, if I had to guess, probably not a stellar book learner. But after just a few minutes of conversation I could tell he had a quick native intelligence, and he was a classic American autodidact. He had trained himself in German, thinking it might aid his aspiration to enter the Special Forces, and was now studying battlefield medicine on his own time. Envisioning some sort of advanced first aid, I discovered to my surprise that in the latest week he had taught himself how to do emergency tracheotomies.
A military translator I met had recently finished learning one of the world's hardest languages--Mandarin--when the Army, noting his obvious linguistic facility, told him they needed Arabic speakers. So he went right back to school to learn one of the planet's other hardest languages. This man's intellectual skills would make him a success in any number of fields, but he has chosen to serve his country as a well armed multilingual sergeant. "Don't ask," he replied wearily when I asked him what language he dreams in.
A few years ago, I interviewed General John Abizaid, now America's top military officer in the Middle East. He had entered West Point in 1969, and noted that at that time the academy had to accept every minimally qualified applicant just to fill his class. Today, by contrast, there are scores of young Americans competing for each open slot; entry into our military academies is now as prized as admission to an Ivy League school. That, it seems to me, is a nice indicator of how support for the military has rebounded in this country since our Vietnam-era lows--and it hints at the high quality of the individuals who are now flowing into our armed forces at all levels.
Our soldiers aren't all saints and scholars, but they are a good cross section of our country, and the base of our military pyramid is full of impressive individuals. There are also many unusually talented men and women at the middle and top of the command structure. The commanders of our troops in Iraq today are instructive examples.
Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, who leads the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, has earned, in addition to his military achievements, three separate Master's degrees. Major General David Petraeus, whose leadership of the 101st Airborne has temporarily made him the prince of northern Iraq, is well equipped for that task thanks to, among other credentials, a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton (which he earned two years faster than most doctoral candidates). The commander of our third full division in Iraq, Major General Raymond Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division, has a Master's in nuclear engineering, and is known equally for his brilliance and for his fighting prowess.
These smart, competent soldiers and officers are essential to America's new style of fighting--which can be likened to chess, compared to the "checkers" style of combat (much slower, less mobile, more ponderous) that was practiced as recently as the first Gulf War. Far more than in the past, today's servicemen must think and adapt on the fly. The speed of maneuver and pace of battle are dramatically faster, and complex equipment and tactics must be mastered.
Our military units are substituting superior technology, communications, mobility, and intelligence for the sheer mass of force they once relied on. Of course, this formula works only if there are bright, flexible, self-reliant people behind the wheels of the vehicles, at the eyepieces of the scopes, and on the triggers of the weapons. Those smart, tough decision-makers, much more than the advanced technologies themselves, are the key to the superiority of today's American military.
Independent thinking by line soldiers is not only tolerated in our armed forces at present, it is required by the new freelancing style of warfare. Outsiders who envision our fighting forces as authoritarian institutions would be quite surprised to learn how much less they rely on top-down order-giving than on small unit problem-solving. Our military is highly meritocratic, and obstacles are generally surmounted after open, democratic-style contention among competing views. I witnessed many spirited debates--both among officers in the command tents and between privates and sergeants at the base of the military pyramid--over the best ways to achieve important objectives. The general modus operandi is competition: "May the smartest idea and biggest biceps win."
While they are extremely disciplined, our elite military outfits exhibit little intimidation or "yes man" syndrome. In the Kuwait camps before we plunged into combat in Iraq, I was amused to walk into a bathroom one night and find the 82nd's brigade commander--a man with life and death authority over about 3,000 men--scrubbing his dirty socks and underwear in a bucket, just like any good private.
So America's soldiers are skilled enough to fly missiles into designated windows, negotiate subtly with local leaders, and squeeze off one-mile sniper shots (actual Iraq War events I describe in my book). They have the openness and democratic habits to serve as good representatives of our free society. And they are also admirable on a third front: for their moral idealism.
Hollywood war stories like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down promulgate the notion that contemporary soldiers fight not for cause and country but simply for the survival of themselves and their buddies. I can report that that is emphatically untrue. America's soldiers are quite conscious of the titanic clash of moral universes that lies behind today's U.S. venture into the Middle East. Most of them are not only aware of the historical importance of this fight, but quite proud of their role in it, and broadly motivated by high principles extending far beyond self preservation.
Gregory Kolodciejczky was a New York City fireman. When the Twin Towers went down, 14 men from his stationhouse were killed, and Kolodciejczky decided to help make sure the events of that day would never be replayed in his country. So at age 32 he chucked everything and started a new career as a paratrooper. He believes that by fighting in Iraq he is honoring the memory of his dead friends, and helping protect Americans from future acts of terror.
I know numerous soldiers who put aside wellpaying jobs, family life, graduate school, and comfortable careers after concluding, in the wake of September 11, that their country needed their military service. U.S. fighters in Iraq placed NYPD stickers on their trucks, drew pictures of the World Trade Center on bombs, and named one of our staging grounds in the Kuwaiti desert Camp 93--in honor of Flight 93, where 9/11 passengers fought back against their hijackers. The evening before the 82nd Airborne's nastiest battle this spring, one soldier duct-taped an "I Love NY"T-shirt to the wall of the building where the assault was being planned, just to remind himself what he was doing in that distant and forsaken country.
Lieutenant Rob Gillespie strongly personifies the principled nature of many American fighters. He grew up on Long Island in a household of self-described "do-gooders and Village Voice subscribers." During his first year at the University of Southern California the earnest Gillespie was considering joining the Peace Corps when, thanks to USC's ROTC program, he began running into soldiers just back from the Balkans. He asked them what they had been doing with their lives.
The answer was that they had been stopping genocide, rape, and religious persecution of thousands of civilians.
In the course of these conversations Gillespie realized that if he really wanted to help the oppressed and miserable of our planet, he could do more as a member of the U.S. armed forces than in any other occupation. He transferred to West Point, and is now an up-and-coming cavalry officer.
Families of some of the soldiers I've reported on have shared their letters home with me, and many of these reflect the American idealism of those men and women. Lieutenant John Gibson of the 82nd's 325th Regiment wrote his mom and dad on his birthday this summer to report that "we are homesick and want to see our families and loved ones, but not at the expense of an incomplete mission. I know that a completely free and democratic Iraq may not be in place by the time that I leave, but it will be significantly under way before I am redeployed. I see things here, on a daily basis, that hurt the human heart. I see poverty, crime, terrorism, murder, and stupidity. However, I see hope in the eyes of many Iraqis, hope for a chance to govern themselves. I think they are on the cusp of a new adventure, a chance for an entire country to start over again."
Walter Rausch, a machine gunner in the 101st Airborne who hails from my own home town in upstate New York, encapsulates a similar spirit and idealism in a letter to his parents: "We take so much for granted. My dearest beloved family, don't waste a single second. We have been blessed to be raised in ways that are true and just. These people have known nothing but oppression, tyranny, and poverty. We have more things than some of these Iraqi children could possibly imagine. And I am thankful that the children's innocence was preserved during most of this conflict."
Private Melville Johnson of the 82nd Airborne reflected on his time in combat this way: "In the city of Samawah my battalion engaged in the hottest firefight the division has been in since Vietnam. Every paratrooper who fought in that battle fought bravely and honorably. The day after the battle, we took positions in the streets among the blown-out buildings. One by one the people returned. The adults set commerce in motion. The laughter and splashing of children playing in the Euphrates was a great relief to hear. Every day I was blessed with kind words of gratitude.
"I feel Iraq has real potential for the future--with the help of the U.S. military, humanitarian agencies, and the installation of a just, fair, and compassionate government. I feel tremendously for the American families that lost a loved one. I also feel for the families of the enemy. At night, before I rest, I think of the enemy we killed. I remember the way their bodies lay in unnatural states, positions God never intended them to take. I hope these images will soon fade.
"Would I willingly, happily, and completely fight this war again? Yes. I would do it all over again with just as much, or more, determination."
Any honest observer will be struck by the way American soldiers wrap ferocity and decency in the very same uniform. They are skilled, aggressive, and deadly in a fight. But they don't nurse grudges; they forgive easily; they are gracious, charitable, and humane to opponents. My conclusion from watching them in mortal combat is that these men are the worst people imaginable to have as military enemies, and the very best to surrender to.
Some people have a hard time believing that our soldiers who endure tough physical conditions and unpredictable attacks in Iraq's danger zones are keeping their morale and fighting spirit up. They assume our servicemen must feel discouraged and taken advantage of. What such people forget is that there are some men whose reflex is to run into danger, rather than away from it. Those are the men who become police officers and firemen. Those are the men who become soldiers. They know their work is perilous, and they don't want to be hurt, but if their own personal safety were their main concern, they would be chefs or graduate students, not GIs. Chasing down bad guys provides these soldiers with a deep sense of satisfaction that is often lost on outside observers.
The American patriot Thomas Paine once said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so that my children may have peace." This is a creed that many soldiers hold to quite literally. To a man, the deployed GIs I am in touch with tell me they don't want any waffling or hesitation about finishing the job in Iraq. Some of these men were there in 1991; they want a more conclusive victory this time so they won't need to come back again. They say it is much less important that the Iraq war be over soon than that it be successful, and they know that will take time.
The sister of an 82nd soldier read me one of his letters this week in which he commented with great satisfaction on the lack of terrorist attacks in the U.S. itself over the last two years. That, he said, is exactly what our armed services are for--to deflect the pain of fighting from our homeland, transfer it to the enemy's backyard, and ultimately put an end to it. Easy for us to say from our armchairs; quite a noble sentiment from a man currently in the midst of the battle in the Sunni triangle.
Most American fighting men subscribe to the view put into words by John Stuart Mill: "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
Amidst the sour soap opera surrounding Jessica Lynch, I hope Americans will remember that there are many U.S. soldiers who really did display self-sacrificial heroism in recent months. Just among the 82nd Airborne there are men like Andrew Joseph, a 26-year-old paratrooper who died trying to rescue other soldiers from a canal amidst a mortar attack. Or Medic Alan Babin, who left a covered position and exposed himself on the battlefield to come to the aid of another soldier. He was shot critically in the abdomen and is now fighting his way back from the loss of several organs, four full-body arrests, and 20 operations.
The astonishing thing when you interview these soldiers who have been wounded in action is how many of them volunteer the same thoughts: They don't regret the fight. There was somebody else who was even more selfless or brave. And (almost universally) how anxious they are to return to their units.
Where does this sturdiness come from? I can do no better than quote retired Army officer Tom Tinsley, who wrote to me in November: "The magic I found in the Army was repeated again and again. Colonels teaching Captains. Sergeants teaching Privates and Specialists.
Handing down the tribal wisdom to the following generation. I have been in corporate life for seven years now, and have found nothing like it outside the Army. Leaders unselfishly preparing the next generation, who will in turn pass it on to those who will succeed them."
It's easy for critics on both the left and right to convince themselves that the United States is a decadent society, that our young people have all gone soft, that we will never have another generation like the men who climbed the cliffs at Normandy on D-Day. That judgment, I'm here to report, is utterly and completely wrong. We have soldiers in uniform today whom Americans can trust with any responsibility, any difficulty, any mortal challenge.
And at the end of this strenuous year, we give thanks for them.
Karl Zinsmeister is TAE's editor in chief.
Published in Warriors, Messiahs, Governors, and Generals January/February 2004
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)