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A Marine Lieutenant Writes to the New Naval Academy Midshipmen

Via Seamus and and Col. (ret) Don Myers, here is a letter from a Marine Lieutenant and graduate of the US Naval Academy.  He has some words for the brand new Midshipmen arriving at his alma mater:

Subject: TO THE INCOMING CLASS OF MIDSHIPMEN, USNA

1stLT  John P McLaughlin, USMC
Class of 2005
2nd Bat, 4th Marine Reg, Special Ops
15th  MEU
Camp Pendelton, CA HOME FROM IRAQ!

September 13, 2006, I have been deployed as a rifle platoon commander for Echo Company, 2nd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment, the Ground Combat Element for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) MEU(SOC).  For those that are unfamiliar with the capabilities and requirements of a MEU, think of us as a readily deployable force in readiness, on call to respond to any situation anywhere in the world.  The difference between a MEU and a typical Marine Battalion that is deployed to Iraq is that we were not sure we were going to Iraq until about two weeks prior to beginning combat operations in country.  After a tough training/MEU workup period, we boarded the USS Boxer in September and haven't stopped moving since.  After some brief liberty stops in Hawaii and Singapore my company conducted a training exercise with the Indian Army in Belguam, India.  After this training exercise, about 10 November, we were given a 90% assurance that my company would be in Iraq before thanksgiving.  Our destination and mission was unknown.

A brief stop in Kuwait allowed us all to make sure our weapons were shooting straight and it was there that we were finally given our mission.  My company was to reinforce an Army Infantry Battalion that was struggling in the capital city of the al anbar province: Ar Ramadi, Iraq. After a surprisingly satisfying Thanksgiving meal, my platoon was ordered to occupy an observation post (OP) in the Jalayba (industrial district) of the extremely volatile city.  Within a few days of occupying this OP, known as the South House, I found myself leading Marines under direct enemy fire. The past holiday season was one to remember to say the least.  We remained at the South House until 23 December.  Though we trained hard and fought well, I consider my platoon extremely lucky in regards to the one single casualty we sustained throughout multiple engagements.  One of my Marines was shot in the butt.  He is ok and will rejoin the platoon once we arrive back at Camp Pendleton.

The bad thing about being a part of a MEU is the incessant uncertainty that plagues every situation.  We never knew when we would be done. We never knew when we'd be getting back on the ship.  Maybe and probably are words that I never want to hear again.  Initially, my company was probably going to get back on the ship on 30 December.  That didn't happen.  Our stay in Iraq was extended for 25 days, and soon after leaving the Industrial District, my company was tasked with doing a house to house clearance mission in another part of Ramadi; the Tameem District.  It took my company less than 6 days to clear this sector of the city, my platoon alone responsible for clearing almost 200 houses and detaining more than 20 insurgents.  At the conclusion of this mission, we thought we were done; operations complete, mission accomplished and ready to begin our retrograde back to the ship.  I was wrong again.            

Soon after our Tameem clearance, my company was again tasked to clear another city called Ar Rutbah, a city west of Ramadi and only about 45 miles from the Syrian border.  We were glad to be leaving Ramadi, but Iraq is Iraq.            

We were under the impression that once our clearance of Rutbah was done that we would be leaving Iraq.  Wrong again.  After a few days of clearing the city, we were told that not only had our stay in Iraq been extended another 45 days, but our entire deployment was going to be two months longer than expected.  We were supposed to be home on March 13.  I write this email on April 14.  Only today has the ship officially begun to move from the coast of Kuwait.            

The Marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 4th Marines sacrificed a great deal during the past 5 months.  18 Marines from this great unit will be awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds sustained in combat.  Also, over 30 recommendations for other combat awards have been submitted by myself and other platoon commanders in this company.  I can talk for days about the experiences I've had and the crazy things that my platoon and I have done over the past 5 months.  I am proud of them all and I am kept awake at night praying that they are proud to call me their Lieutenant.          

The Naval Academy is a difficult place to be, but please, while you are in Annapolis, don't ever lose sight of the fact that you are there to eventually lead sailors and Marines in combat.  Do something everyday to prepare yourself mentally or physically for the great challenges that await you once you are commissioned in 2011.  I have had the unfortunate experience of getting demerits and standing restriction for the better half of my firstie year while at the Academy.  A difficult time, yes, but that pales in comparison to the experience of seeing people killed while under your command.  Two of my Marines gave their lives for their comrades and their country on January 21st, 2007.  I hope you take your acceptance to the Naval Academy very seriously, for it is a serious job you will have upon graduating.  Think about the sailors and Marines that are deployed everyday of the year, because they are expecting to be led by the best.  You owe it to them, to the platoon that you will one day step in front of and say "follow me.".  I congratulate you on being accepted to the United States Naval Academy, however your acceptance is only the beginning of something much larger than yourself.  Good Luck and Beat Army.

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