Here's the latest update from the Commander of the USMCR 2/24 Marines (Chicago, Illinois). LtCol Mark Smith is a Indiana State Trooper when not commanding Marines in Iraq:
As usual, I am sincere in hoping that this week's update finds you in good health, high spirits and full of that good ole' Marine Corps motivation.
Many has been the occassion, too many, that I have dreaded typing on this computer on a Thursday night, knowing that I would be communicating to you the tragic loss of life of our Marines. Those occasions are branded into my memory, and will haunt me many a day and night. I will finish this update by coming back to that very point. But, on this particular occassion, it has been all I could do not to send the update early. I have eagerly anticipated typing this week's update and communicating with you the momentous events of this past Sunday. So, please bear with me, for this is a story worthy of being told, and then passed from generation to generation
of Mad Ghost families; for they should share a pride that both binds them and guides them for decades to come; decades to be spent in peace and FREEDOM.
To truly understand the significance of what occurred in the Mayhem AO on 30 Jan 2005, I have to give a brief history lesson, covering facts that I was not at liberty to divulge prior to the election. In November of 2004, the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) had made the decision that the S Baghdad District, better known to you as the Mayhem AO, would not have elections.
The IIG's reasoning was sound and their logic clear: it had no Iraqi Police, a fledgling Iraqi Army/National Guard and a violence level that was beyond acceptable. However, and not that it would have mattered one iota, 2/24 was not advised of this decision. All 2/24 knew was that we had a mission:
conduct security and stability operations in zone to ensure the conditions were set for the establishment of Iraqi civil administration. Now, please remember back to an earlier email where I introduced you to the Assistant Division Commander of the Fighting 1st Marine Division, BGen Dunford, and his remark that professional Marines do not "discuss exit strategies," they "achieve an end state." Well, our stated end state was simple: ensure the conditions are set to conduct elections in S Baghdad on 30 Jan 05!
For months, we executed our strategy to achieve that end state. We went into the "zip code offense." We seized the former and destroyed police station with Co F in Yusufiyah, an absolute stronghold of the Wahabists and Salafist terrorist networks along the Euphrates River. We sezied a former Iraqi Government building with Co G in Lutafiyah, an absolute stronghold of FRE, Ba'ath Party and opportunistic criminals. We took control of Mahmudiyah and Rasheed with Co E and their relentless foot patrolling effort. And, we had the monumental task of securing a 22 mile or so stretch of interstate closed to civilian traffic, and a high isibiIty/target rich environment for the enemy. In doing this, we deliberately chose challenge over simplicity, hardship over comfort, and taking the fight to the enemy over being defensive. It has been phenomenally challenging: from every aspect of Battalion Operations,
military operations/ information operations, etc, etc, etc. Just the sustainment challenge alone required the absolute OWNING of main supply routes (MSR). This was done by YOUR Marines living some of the most brutal conditions you can imagine. No, no Hollywood version of brutal, I mean real brutality. No showers, MREs day on stay on, and living under a bridge.
Yes, under a bridge. The Marines of Co G who accomplished this mission DESERVE your respect for not only their sheer physical toughness, but for engaging the enemy relentlessly and devastating his ranks to a level that their MSR is now open to civilian traffic! The next challenge was to own one of the alternate supply routes, which was harassed daily by the insurgents, and challenged our sustainment effort. Well, it was time for the Iraqi National Guard to step up. At this time, I was reading much press in the US about the absolute failure of the ING. I did not believe it then,
and I KNOW for a fact I don't believe it now. Our magnificent engineers from Va, supported by our outstanding Marines from Truck Co, PA, set about to move the materials required, and in less that 5 days total time: built 2 bridges and 3 Iraqi checkpoints, all under the watchful eyes and lethal skills/firepower of our Mobile Strike Teams from Weapons Company. Since that time, the ING have captured some of our most high value targets, and now routinely conduct offensive raids against insurgent forces. They are not US Marines, nobody is but US Marines, but they are a viable security force, operating efficiently, and OWNING the streets of the towns in our
zone, along side, and more and more, independent of their Marine counterparts. The efforts of Captain Guillermo Rosales, and his unbelievable Marines from 3rd Plt, Co G, who have served as our combined action platoon (CAP), living, mentoring and training the ING have been phenomenal. A book should be written about them and how to conduct CAP.
Simultaneous with these efforts was the counter-insurgency fight! This was where the heavy lifting of the letter companies, E, F and G, supported by the Mobile Strike Teams, Artillery, Mortars and Combat Operations Center would earn their keep and truly see if they have what it takes to be Marines. The Companies set out in earnest, following seizures, on relentless and round the clock patrolling efforts. They learned every resident of every house and every owner of every store and every nook of every cranny. They learned the ebb and flow of the town. They knew when something was right, and when something was wrong. They knew who had legitimate business and who had insurgent business. And, as I expressed last week, they always carried the Flag of the US. They carried it in their spirit. To the legitimate and the oppressed, which was usually one and the same, they brought all the best our country has to offer: ompassion, concern, genuine caring and an attempt to solve problems and make life better. To those who had insurgent business, they brought violence. Often times this violence ended in enemy casualties, most times in incarceration.
While the Companies were doing this, the enemy did not sit idly waiting. He set his lethal IEDs, he fired his rockets and mortars, and on some occassions he attacked. On 12 Nov, he tried an attack on Fox Company, that to date, I can find no evidence of a similar attack anywhere in country similar to what he attempted on that day. But what he learned, was futility. Futility and the AWESOME lethality of the combined arms team of a Marine Rifle Company, fully supported by arty, air, mortars and a competent COC can bring. He has never again attempted that suicidal feat, though we stand ready for it, should he try. When he would fire his mortars and rockets, we would fire back. The Marines gained phenomenal skill in counter
fire drills and would routinely be firing back en masse in less than minutes, making the occupation of an insurgent mortarman a VERY dangerous profession. They studied his IEDs hard and learned his techniques, and adapted their movement methods to outsmart him.
We had casualties, you all know that. We suffered the sting of death of our own. But, YOUR Marines pressed on, and they pressed harder. They continued their relentless fight, and slowly but surely, the tide was turning. The mortars and rockets were less and less. More IEDs were being found and rendered safe than being detonated. And, hundreds, many hundreds insurgents were raided in the night and whisked off to Abu Ghraib. This was done because as the Companies were unleashed in their zone the intelligence picture was developed. See, the Marines would gather the information, and
the amazing Marines of the Human Exploitation Team and the Intelligence Section developed the picture. They learned the cells, identified the networks, put names with faces. In this counter-insurgency our goal is simple: give me two things, their name and where they sleep. If you are an insurgent and we know your name, and we know where you sleep, well, "it is game on for us, game over for you!"
Now, in our saga, we are approaching Christmas time, and we, as a Task Force, are switching from the Command of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit under Col Ron "Jawbreaker" Johnson, to the USA 2nd Brigade Combat Team under Col "Fightin' Mike" Formica. With the 2 BCT came added forces and a set of toys that allowed us to take relentless to a new level: sleepless pursuit of the enemy. For we were still seeking our end state. Then, like a slap in the face, we were hit with the news: no elections in our zone. People living in our zone would have to transit to Baghdad to vote. AGAIN, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT AT THE TIME THIS DECISION WAS MADE, IT MADE SENSE! We had no issue with the decision for its merit, only disappointment that we had achieved so much and felt as if we were facing failure. For Marines, this is the worst fear of all: FAILURE. But, just like every good story with a happy ending, this one was full of heroes. One of them was Col Mike Formica. Col Formica went to bat for the Mad Ghosts, and for his Troopers that had 13 months in country, were on an extension to assist us in zone, and had fought in Najaf, Mosul and Fallujah. He went to bat and made the argument that the Mayhem Battalion had achieved the conditions necessary for elections by reducing violence, and could make this happen. Next in the heroes, MGen Chiarelli, CG 1st Cav Div, who took the ball to the next level. Beyond that, I do not know the heroes, for they are far above my pay grade, but they said yes. They said yes on the caveat that the 2 BCT and 2/24 would have to do the hard work. We would have to establish and secure the sites that would allow for the workers to conduct an election.
Now, for the sake of brevity I will tell you this. Identication of, keeping secret until 48 hours out, seizing and establishing force protection of polling sites is not an easy task. It was days of meticulous planning, changes to the plan, changes to the changes, and then flexibility. But, here is what happened: 8 sites, 2 per urban center in the Mayhem AO were seized and secured. Force protection barriers and procedures were emplaced. Our Iraqi Army counterparts assumed the inner cordons and hundreds of Iraqi Election Workers and Officials were moved into the sites. Our Election Set was complete at 0700 30 Jan 2005!
What happened? Well, most of you have heard stories in the media and the internet. I will focus on our zone. What happened was a miracle! You can attempt to diminish it any way you choose, if you choose to do so. But for those of us that witnessed it, it was a miracle! Thousands of Iraqi citizens WALKED to the polls to vote! The walked to the polls, they waited in lines for hours, and they voted. They had been threatened with death if they did so, and they voted! They voted for the first time in their lives as FREE men and women. They voted among falling mortars. In Yusufiyah, 20 separate mortar attacks were attempted. Fox would identify the origin, and counter-fire. The enemy was highly ineffective because one, he knew Fox would shoot back, and two, he has been so shot up and decimated he is using his junior varsity, which with these guys the varsity is suspect at best.
In Lutafiyah, they tried to mortar and then escape, which is what these cowards do. Too bad for this mortar crew their route of egress was cut by a Mobile Strike Team. Well, suffice it to say, one of them will never be a mortarman or anything else ever again, and two were apprehended, and all of their weaponry and mortar tubes seized! They tried to mortar in Al Rasheed as well, and were attempting to use a four man observation team to direct the accuracy of their rounds. Seems bad luck was all-around this day for the insurgents as one of our Sniper teams put an immediate and permanent halt to that activity.
But, for all the precision and tactical efficiency of your Marines on this day, the miracle was the Iraqi people. With all the threatened violence, and most importantly all the REAL violence that was going on around them, they VOTED! They never broke and ran. They never hesitated. They stayed, and they VOTED. Why? Because, they had tasted the power of FREEDOM. They have had enough of the tyranny, the repression, the brutality, the sheer suffocation of other men telling them their destiny and the inner thoughts of their own minds and their own souls. And, as powerful as those emotions, those passions are; it requires strength to break the chains. Their strength on that day was YOUR Marines! But more than that, and please forgive me, on that day their strength was THEIR Marines!!! Now THEIR Marines and YOUR Marines are the same. YOUR Marines are the Marines that have lived in THEIR towns, have endured THEIR hardship and have striven hard, and given their lives for THEIR children. THEY recognized it. THEY appreciated it. THEY honored it. They did all of these things by standing side by side with YOUR Marines and offering the only resistance to the insurgency they have, THEIR FREEDOM! On this day they showed the world what they learned from YOUR Marines; that "it is better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees." And one simple question should come of their actions: where did they learn this courage? From a cave hiding Osama Bin Nothing? From a hate spewing and slithering snake Abu Masab Zarpunkery? From Sadam Hussein? No, they learned it from YOUR Marines! And, if you were to ask them, they learned it from THEIR Marines, THEIR neighbor Marines, THEIR caring Marines, THEIR freedom Marines, THEIR brother Marines!
Just don't know how else you explain a midget pushing his 70 year old father two miles under mortar fire so his father could know freedom and the power of the ballot before he dies!
Now Ladies, I do not know what will happen in this region of the world over the next decade. I suspect much violence. I know for us, our fight is not over, and has only intensified as we try to strangle the life out of an insurgency that will never quit and must be vanquished. It will remain for us mortally dangerous work until the day we depart. But, I know this: on 30 Jan 2005 a flame was lit that cannot be extinguished! A flame of liberty that is going to continue to burn until repressed and oppressed people are free of tyranny and terror. It will take a while and it will be bloody. But, such was the beginning of our Nation, and has been our history as we continue to seek the perfection of the human condition to the best ability mankind has to offer!
In closing, let me offer one last anecdote of our weekend. Hundreds of the Iraqi election officials were aboard our FOB, St. Michael, as we achieved election set. We closed our chow hall and turned it into a lounge for them.
Something occurred in that lounge that you all MUST know about. The Iraqis, as is their custom, set about drinking sodas, smoking cigarettes and talking in the loud and demonstrative tones they are accustomed to. Except for one spot. There was one spot in our chow hall where they would not smoke, they would not drink, they would not talk. There was one spot where all they would do is stand in silent reverence. That spot...our memorial table with the pictures of our heroic fallen. No, at this spot, they showed nothing
but respect and honor! This was not something they were told to do, it was something that came natural to them.
I have asked myself many times why that is, and I have come to this undeniable conclusion: for they were bound with those Marines who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefields of Iraq not by religion, not by race, not by color, not by creed, not by custom, not by culture, not by anything one can think of save one thing: they were bound with those Marines as FREE MEN AND WOMEN. And, you see, FREE MEN AND WOMEN can disagree, but cannot hate! In this simple truth is the cause of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In this simple truth, we press on. In this simple truth, Cpl Brian Prenning, Cpl Robert Warns, Cpl Nathaniel Hammond, Cpl Peter Giannopolous, LCpl Branden Ramey, LCpl Daniel Wyatt, LCpl Richard Warner, LCpl Shane O'Donnell, PFC Ryan Cantafio, and PFC Brent Vroman gave their lives. That in bringing freedom to the world, hate will vanquish, and YOU, the ones the loved so dear, will live on free: free of fear, free of opression, free of tyranny and God Almighty in Heaven willing, free of War!
To my 10 Heroes: mission accomplished. Be proud in your brothers, for they honored you. Be proud in your people, they supported you. Be proud of the Iraqis, they learned and they drew courage from you. May you rest with the Angels...eternally free of all pain and sorrow!
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