Via Amy K., below is the latest letter home from Marine Colonel Tucker. I have posted a few of Col. Tucker's speeches and letters before. It's been almost five months since Colonel Tucker last wrote an update. Read on and you'll why he's been too busy to write...
17 February, 2005.
It has been 4 months since I have written. Much has passed in those months: a time of great victories, an election, the emergence of a competent, professional Iraqi Army and Police units who stand to their tasks, and a tipping point in this battle against terror and evil.
I believe that my last letter was dated 18 October 2004. On 21 October under cover of one of those dirt-fog nights unique to Iraq; with drivers barely able to see the edges of their hoods---the RCT Command Element moved from Al Asad to Camp Baharia, a protected FOB about 5 kilometers east of Fallujah.
TF 1/8 joined us two days later; BLT 1/3 a few days after that. We added 2d Recon Bn to the mix, assumed an area of operations south of Fallujah, and between 25 October and 6 November conducted a series of operations in the vicinity of Fallujah designed to force the enemy to show his hand.
Meanwhile, back in Al Asad, the Command Element of 31 st MEU assumed command of operations in our old AO. TF 1/7 remained in place vic Al Qaim. TF 1/23 remained in place vic Hit-Haditha. And 3d LAR, for a time, remained in place in Korean Village near Ar Rutbah. As plans developed, the 3d LAR HQs, one LAR Company, and B Co 1/23 would eventually move east and join RCT-1.
On 5 November, TF 2-2, a U.S. Army Mechanized Bn joined RCT-7. At 1900 on 8 November, the RCT crossed the line of departure north of Fallujah, By 2200 all three battalions were through the breach and fighting in the city. There followed 30 days of intense infantry combat fought in houses, tunnels, spider holes, and underground complexes against an enemy who routinely feigned surrender, feigned injury, used women and children as shields, booby trapped his dead and fought to the death from fortified and mutually supporting positions. The actions and courage of your Marines and Sailors were aptly captured in the media and I have neither the time nor adequate words to describe their actions here. History will record their deeds with an honor due their forefathers.
We pulled out of Fallujah on 8 December, and assumed an area of operations around the city. BLT 1/3 remained in the city with RCT-1. TF 1/8 and 2d Recon Bn joined the RCT in the outlying area of operations. In January 2005 TF 3/8 replaced TF 1/8. And on Feb 5 th 2005 the RCT returned to Al Asad, leaving Fallujah and environs as the safest place in the Sunni Triangle. We relieved 31 st MEU on 8 Feb, and once again assumed control of our old area of operations. As I write both 3d LAR and B Co 1/23 have returned to us and the RCT team is whole again.
Al Asad is crowded. We are beginning the RIP with RCT-2 and 2d MarDiv; their advance parties and lead elements are flowing into theater and into our AO. 29 Palms units will start flowing home soon, with CSSB-7 leading the way towards the end of this month, and then your husbands, fathers, uncles, and sons begin flowing in a steady stream of homecomings that will happily consume the month of March. Still work to be done here. But we are anxious to come home.
Okay, just one picture today. [Blackfive note: click on the thumbnail for the larger version.] And there is a story to go with it.
Election day. RCT-7 is assisting the Iraqi Security Forces and IECI at two polling sites located within 10 kilometers of the city of Fallujah. Much work and preparation has gone into this day---a strong effort to ensure that those Iraqis who chose to vote can vote in safety. Polls open at 0700. At 0915 I am at the easternmost polling site in my AO. And not a single voter has come to the polls. At 0930, a man, two women, and two children walk up to the security gate, into the polling station, and then depart. As they are leaving the man walks up to the Iraqi Army Colonel standing with me and tells us that there is a group of people gathered in the nearest city who want to come vote, but want to be reassured it is safe. He informs us he is going to go tell them it is safe. 20 minutes later, 1500 Iraqi men and women come over the hill and take their place in line. For the next 7 hours, the scene in this photograph remained unchanged as 5000 people from the surrounding community walked over the hill and into history. Over 7000 voted in the city of Fallujah itself. 12,000 in an area that 3 months before was the hells acre of terrorists and vicious criminals. It is now the safest area in the Sunni Triangle. And it will remain so.
Twice in the course of this day the enemy fired mortars at the polling station. In both cases the mortars flew harmlessly overhead and impacted as duds in the field beyond. The women prayed, the men held their children close. But they all calmly held their places in line, and they cheered when we located and killed both mortarmen.
Women cried as they walked out after voting. Both women and men walked up to and hugged the Marines as they walked out of our perimeter. TF 3/8 was holding that perimeter, and had been in Iraq for less then 2 weeks.
But the Marines from my Detachment have been here for a year. Cocky, confident young men. Men of 19 and 20 and 21 who have fought their way through 4 major battles, traveled over 30,000 miles on some of the most dangerous roads in Iraq, 10 of whom have been wounded and returned; young men who have handed candy to children, painted schools, pulled children out of the line of fire, played soccer with their Iraqi peers, and helped farmers pull tractors out of the mud. And they watched. And waved. And returned the hugs. They stood there with an air of accomplishment and satisfaction that cannot be described in words. About 1300, as the line showed no sign of diminishing, one of the Corporals walked over to me and said "Sir, we knew they would come." And we did. Those of us here knew they would come. You don't often get a chance to see a nation show its courage. On 30 Jan 2005, the people of Iraq reminded us of the virtue of self-determination. We continue to win. Little by little, success comes until it tips inexorably towards victory. And it has tipped. There is much to do still. But it will be said---of those who have fought this last year for the future of Iraq and the destruction of the terror that threatens our nation---it can and will be said that they ventured into hell, and did not return with empty hands.
Share your courage. We will be home soon.
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps