The appointed time and place came, and I made a satellite call to Ms. Meg. After we exchanged pleasantries and salutations, which for me is a Rocky Balboa 'how you doin', Ms. Meg began the questioning. I would like to pause at this point, in case she ends up being a recipient of this email, and state for the record that Ms. Meg was very polite, very professional, very pleasant and in my opinion VERY SINCERELY INTERESTED IN THE MAD GHOSTS of 2/24.
Anyhow, back to our story: she asked many well thought out questions. I, as is my policy, answered all in brute frankness and honesty, and then began the ritual of "sweating bullets" until publication to see who is offended or who races to challenge my assertions. (Bothers me not who does, as I stand by my statements and always stand ready to defend them, as I "defend to the death the right of those who vehemently disagree with them.")
But, the point is that one of the questions she asked me struck me as odd. She asked me, and I am paraphrasing, "how do you decide what to write about in your updates."
Now, this struck me as odd, and although I did not give her this particular answer, it struck me as odd because my challenge each week is not to "decide what TO write about," my challenge every week is to "decide what NOT TO write about." Simply put, every minute of every hour of every day of every week spent in the company of the Mad Ghosts IS something to write home about. You see, the challenge is that these magnificent Marines accomplish so much in the course of a day, an entire book could be written about just that day, and it would be the size of War and Peace, no pun intended. I struggle so hard with what details not to talk about, but I also know that the biggest challenge I could ever undertake is to attempt to actually give you a feel for this place, these Marines and what they accomplish: Day In, Day Out.
The best I can do is ask you to just look around your house and imagine, Barney style, just imagine. Imagine that every single thing you take for granted you now have to provide: your electricity, your water, your toilets, your very dwelling, your food, your entertainment, ALL OF IT.
You have to provide it, and then sustain and maintain it: Day In, Day Out. And, you have to do it while hunting an evil enemy relentlessly!
Everywhere you go the ground is subject to explode in a milli-second of ear shattering violence and a cloud of lethal dust. Everything you do is subject to being interrupted by the thump/boom of rockets and mortars and their deadly payload.
How would you feel? What would be your status? What would be your motivation? What would you do?
Well, I can tell you, as both a participant and an observer, that the answer to those questions for the Mad Ghosts is as follows:
How do you feel? Quite rationally fearful.
What would be your status? Mission capable, locked/cocked and ready to rock.
What would be your motivation? That I am a United States Marine, like all United States Marines that have gone before, some giving their last full measure of devotion.
What would you do? Your duty...because that is your oath, and that is your motto: Semper Fidelis!
Yeah, I could fill pages of each week's update with exploits. Exploits like Echo Company conducting a night helo assault in Black Hawk Helicopters in 1% illumination, striking the Landing Zone at the exact minute as planned, capturing 3 known terrorists and locating 14 artillery shells primed and prepared to be IEDs, just waiting to be buried on the side of the road...and all done in a darkness so black you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and with a precision that would make any "special forces" unit envious.
Yeah, I could talk about exploits like the Engineers and Mobile Strike Teams from Weapons Company moving in the middle of the night and establishing an obstacle fortress at a suspected enemy ambush site that would make the makers of the Infiltration Course at Quantico as jealous as a jilted lover.
Yeah, I could talk about Fox Company who this week entertained both street workers and A CANDIDATE FOR PUBLIC OFFICE WHO CAMPAIGNED IN YUSUFIYAH, a town so under the control of the terrorists and without MNF presence three months ago that people did not venture from their homes!!!
Yeah, I could talk about Golf Company, their never-ending identification and detention of terrorists in a previous hotbed at a rate three times what they should realistically be able to accomplish with their combat power.
Yeah, I could talk about the Marines of H&S who work 16-18 hour days and also provide some of the most stellar and demanding security duties you can imagine.
Yeah, I could talk about all of that, but all I would be doing is adding to the layers of such stories that you are innundated with everyday from the national media.
OH YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT, THEY RARELY TALK ABOUT THOSE KIND OF EXPLOITS!
No, they would rather tell you about every single IED or SVBIED that detonates.
They would rather tell you that Iraq is overrun with insurgents.
They would rather tell you that all is lost and hopeless and the only victory is in how soon we can get out of Iraq.
Well, I refuse to "tow that line." I refuse to tow that line because it is misrepresentation at best, and these American HEROES deserve better.
The other part of the media misrepresentation that really agitates me, now that you have spun me up, is the incessant undertone that the military senior leadership is either wrong or incompetent. This one agitates me like a Whirlpool 9000 agitates laundry. (I don't really know if there is a Whirlpool 9000, but if there was it would agitate laundry really hard!)
I have been fortunate to host several General Officers here at FOB St. Michael, and I can tell you, they are without a doubt the most intelligent, genuine, "lead by example" Warriors I have ever seen. They care deeply about the Soldiers and Marines, and do things for all the right reasons.
Now, before I am accused of "sucking up," rest assured, I have all the chance of ever making General as my beloved Cincinnati Bengals do of winning the Super Bowl. But, to make my point, let me tell you about our most recent General visit, which occurred on Wednesday. It was from Major General Dunford, Assistant Division Commander, Fighting First Marine Division. (As a side note, if you do a web search and study the exploits of Major General Dunford as Colonel Dunford, CO, 5th Marine Regiment during OIF, you would know the quality of leader, tactician and human being we are talking about: which on all counts is the highest caliber the scale can register.) The purpose of his visit was simple: he wanted to ensure the Marines of 2/24 that despite our current Tactical Control to the United States Army, that the 1st Marine Division would ensure that when the time comes for redeployment, the 1st Marine Division stood ready to ensure all our needs were met and that our redeployment would be smooth and seamless.
Now, for those with little military experience, this is not something that is even remotely required of a General Officer. And, if the General Officer does decide it is necessary, he can easily do it with a phone call or email. But no, not General Dunford. He conducted a 2 hour vehicular patrol from his FOB to ours, through high risk avenues of approach to deliver the message in person, and to get to shake some hands of the Mad Ghosts. THAT IS THE CALIBER OF OUR GENERALS.
No Ladies, rest assured, your loved one has the best Generalship in the World, whose passion is their Marines and whose focus is their Marines' success and welfare!
What General Dunford said to the Staff in his closing remarks was one of the most brilliant, and yet simple things I think I have ever heard and communicates what I have been trying to communicate to you, but without the requisite intelligence or prose. He said, and again I paraphrase, "you hear talk in the media and other places of an exit strategy. Usually communicated in the form of a question, such as, what is our exit strategy?
Well, professional Warriors DO NOT ESTABLISH EXIT STRATEGIES, WE ACHIEVE AN END STATE! And our end state in Iraq is a freely and democratically elected government in Iraq, sustained and protected by a viable, competent and professional security force.
Have we won?...NO, are we winning?...YES!"
Exactly, was my thought. No doubt it will take time. But if we remain WILLFUL as a Nation, if we deliberately and with cold calculation understand the cause, then the effort is required, the hardship endured, the VICTORY ASSURED.
Your Mad Ghost is the tip of the spear, but YOU are the shaft. The tip delivers the blow, the shaft provides the steadiness during the LONG flight to the target. So, as always, it comes full circle.
What is necessary is faithfulness...sound familiar?
Always faithful...always faithful to God, Country and Corps.
So again, and until next week, SEMPER FI!
NOTE: I was the recipient of a forwarded email from Regina Simon and her discussion of a surgical procedure Chad (SSgt Simon) will soon undergo. She signed off her letter saying, "I am scared." As I have said before, rational fear is understandable. And no person I know of has more reason for rational fear than Regina Simon. So, I would ask all the families of 2/24 to pray, pray hard and pray often for Regina and Chad Simon, because I know an entire Battalion of Marines that is.
And I know that with that much prayer, no matter what the Lord has in store for Regina and Chad and their family, I know fear will dissipate and peace will be found. Because in my heart of hearts I know in the darkest of times the refrain from a Hymn I often hear in my local parish reruns in my head over and over and over and over, and peace is found:
"the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid...of whom shall I be afraid."
God Bless all the magnificent families of 2/24.
LtCol Mark A. Smith, MAYHEM 6
CO, Task Force 2/24
"Mayhem from the Heartland"
or as the terrorists call us
"The Mad Ghosts"
2nd Bn, 24th Marines, H&S Co, Bn Cmdr