Allcon- This was written by David at the end of his tour in November. I've waited to post it for almost three months. Several retired Marine Officers took this email in all its honesty and made sure the chain of command *cough*Commandant*cough* received it in early January.
I'm not trying to air the Corps' dirty laundry. We post AARs here from Marine Corporals occasionally and some have ended up as resources at Army Training Centers and for Commanders and Sergeants headed to Iraq.
It's long and valuable. And I've waited long enough to ensure OPSEC wouldn't be truly violated (this has been posted on some open forums already) and actions could take place. Thanks to several retired USMC Colonels (still mean, still green, just not as lean) and Corporal Seamus for sending various copies of the AAR.
...and, David, when your next tour in Iraq is over in 2009, look me up. I've got a job for you.
My name is Corporal David XXXX. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2004, and armed with a history degree took a job in Florida negotiating commercial property insurance claims stemming from Hurricane Charlie. I found success but little pleasure in it and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May 2005. I am currently assigned to TOW Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion, which I deployed with from April 6 - October 30, 2006 as a Humvee Driver, Dismount, and Turret Gunner. I deployed again with TOW Platoon April 20 - November 2, 2007 as a Vehicle Commander, Assistant Section Leader, and eventually Section Leader. My platoon provided MSR Security along a well known highway in AO Raleigh, in Anbar Province Iraq. Our platoon was divided into four sections of four Humvees (and later MRAPs), each composed of 14-19 Marines plus corpsman. Between the two deployments I have been on over three hundred combat patrols, and the issues I discuss below stem largely from these experiences. I am scheduled to finish my enlistment with a third tour in the fall of 2008.
There has been tremendous change in AO Raleigh (Fallujah) over the course of and between my 2006 and 2007 deployments. In 2006 my platoon directly encountered approximately 155 IED emplacements (found or detonated) over the course of our seven months in theater. In 2007, tasked with the same mission in the same AO, my platoon encountered about 15 IED emplacements. The concern of most Marine grunts headed to Iraq these days is whether or not they will get their combat action ribbon. I have been told that only about a quarter of the platoon commanders from a recently returning infantry battalion that was stationed in AO Raleigh received their CAR (Combat Action Ribbon). Although I would not argue that this metric from the officer perspective is indicative of combat intensity, it is certainly instructive. Marine grunts are largely getting put to sleep in Anbar, with interesting unexpected side effects.
Provisional Security Forces (PSF) work! PSF started showing up in our AO around mid to late may 2007 around one particularly well known access road off of the MSR we patrolled. They fashioned a checkpoint and began to check every vehicle coming through. This example spread quickly and suddenly there were checkpoints popping up everywhere being manned by locals whose sheiks were pro-Coalition. More than the language barrier, these men are from the areas that they police, and therefore know who should and should not be driving through their checkpoints. They are worth their weight in gold. At first PSF checkpoints would be rudimentary, with unshaven men wearing civilian clothes carrying rusty AK-47's milling about. Despite their appearance, the PSF managed to eliminate IED culvert bombs (thousands of pounds of homemade explosive [HME] packed under the road) completely from their immediate area. We saw the difference and quickly made it a point to introduce ourselves and give the PSF concertina wire, glow belts, water, coolers, and just about anything else we could steal. As the deployment went on, PSF developed started making checkpoints in conjunction with the IP's all over the AO, to the point that nearly every major access road leading to our MSR had a checkpoint. PSF acted as an amazing force multiplier that denied the enemy freedom of movement in a manner we could not. Areas in 2006 that were enemy safe havens have been taken back by the PSF. AQI's presence on the ground is no longer felt in most areas we operated, either by the Coalition, ISF, PSF, or Iraqi civilians.
Rules of Engagement/Escalation of Force (ROE/EOF) hinders freedom of action, is run by lawyers who do not understand the combat reality on the ground, but is absolutely essential to our COIN mission in OIF. I hate ROE and EOF. Every grunt does. Once a month we would have classes by our platoon commander and a Navy lawyer (a LAWYER!!!) telling us about different examples of when/what you can or cannot shoot, what constitutes Hostile Act/Intent, and the necessity of Positive Identification (PID). The RCT required us to carry a wallet-sized ROE/EOF card with us on combat patrols at all times, as if during a firefight I would consult it. The entire program is run in a somewhat demeaning manner toward the grunt that is allegedly too stupid to understand what is going on around him. Its presentation is so flawed that the underlying message is largely discarded by those whose reality it effects on a day-to-day basis. This is a shame because restrictive ROE/EOF saves civilian lives, and the war on the ground in Anbar now is less about killing the enemy than not screwing up and antagonizing the local population. We are in a war where an errant warning shot can ricochet and accidentally kill a sheik's daughter in the backseat of a car with dire consequences. It is important to show self-restraint. I remember reading an article by Nate Fick in the Washington Post along these lines. No one likes having a loaded gun pointed at them, and if avoiding accidents means I have to present my weapon, wave a flag, fire a flare, then a warning shot, then a tire shot, then a grill shot, and finally a kill shot, then so be it. But if you are going to insist on these rules, than accordingly it should be explained how in the long run they are actually benefiting that Marine who in the short term takes increased personal risk in showing restraint for the sake of the mission. Most Marines that I know are disdainful of ROE/EOF procedures because this benefit is not properly described. More importantly the long-term positive trends of the past year are sometimes difficult to quantify within the individual Marine's universe. We should be doing a better job of connecting the dots for those on the ground outside the wire between extreme self-discipline in a dangerous environment and the positive developments that such action allows...