Well, the new year is upon us...and it is my most sincere hope that this letter finds all of you in HIGH spirits for the blessings that surely will abound in 2005!
The new year was welcomed by the Mad Ghosts in BIG fashion. We were part of a Brigade size operation, with our "newest, best buddies" from the 2 Brigade Combat Team and Colonel "Fightin' Mike" Formica, as we forayed into previously uncharted territory along the Euphrates River. This was the largest operation to date for the Mad Ghosts and was a "full-up" round consisting of helicopter-borne assault, mechanized assault and motorized assault. It involved virtually every element of the Battalion. And, our brothers in the ING (Iraqi National Guard) were tasked, for the first time, to operate in a field environment for an extended period of time (a task they performed extremely well, I might add!) The mission was precise: establish a cordon of the area and locate Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF) and capture them, and to disrupt their seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition and explosives, with which they fight their cowardly war of IEDs and VBIEDs.
Now, with all the moving parts, there are about a gazillion things that could go wrong. NONE did! The Mad Ghosts and our Brigade partners were flawless in execution. They swept into an area, coming from 360', in the middle of the night, via helos, trucks, HMMWVs, tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and at H Hour plus 20 minutes, a stretch of land approximately 16 kilometers long by 10 kilometers wide was cordoned and owned by elements of the Mad Ghosts and the 2 BCT. Many Iraqis woke that day to a situation they had never seen! The systematic search was begun, and approximately 48 hours later, almost 100 insurgents had been identified and incarcerated and an unbelievable amount of cached weapons and explosives had been located and confiscated. Two VBIEDs were located that were in the process of being equipped with their explosives and were destroyed.
This was all accomplished through a massive "team" effort, and I would like to recognize some key players:
- The Marines of the Engineer Platoon from Virginia: they hunt weapons caches like a dog hunts squirrel. Their tenacity in search techniques has ensured hundreds of explosives that saw their life cycle completed through a safe and controlled detonation at the hands of the engineers, rather than at the trigger of a fanatical Muslim seeking a one way trip to Virgin-land. I will never be able to say enough about the performance of these Marines and the unbelievable amount of work they have accomplished for this Bn. And, more importantly, I will never be able to say thank you in any manner of sufficiency for the number of lives they have saved! But, you know what, if you could see the light in their faces when they find a cache...I think they get all the thanks they ever wanted.
- The Marines of the Truck Platoon from Pennsylvania: now understand, these Marines are from Truck Co, 4th MarDiv, and as such are designed to be a "tactical" asset used primarily to maneuver fighting Marines to the combat zone. However, reality of a counter-insurgency requires that they also be used in a combat service support role: picking up mail, repair parts, etc. These Marines have been tireless in their support and have logged some of the longest hours known to man. And for this operation, they seamlessly transitioned into Warrior mode, and delivered hundreds of Marines to the fight, at night, with night vision goggles (NVGs) and did so without incident. They also are on the LtCol Smith List of Never-Ending Thank You's.
- HET 9 (Human Exploitation Team) These Warriors come from all over the Marine Corps, active and reserve, and are the ones who do the field interviews of our persons of interest. Simply said: they are the best in the Marine Corps and all of Iraq. This group of Warriors has produced more intelligence, saved more lives (both in the Mayhem AO and outside) than any intelligence asset in the War. They are remarkable, sleepless, and define "dedication to duty." CWO2 Murphy, their OIC, was a casualty in October after being shot in the foot, and they have pressed on under the leadership of MSgt Ertz in a manner that is nothing short of inspiring. Please allow me one second to digress: Murph, you should swell with pride and tears right now, for YOUR Marines have been spectacular...and a testimony to your leadership and preparation. (Oh yeah, and don't think for a second you are not in for a rash of ---- about your letter home following your injury describing your "ambush dance"...skip, shoot, duck, shoot, hop, shoot, swim with the fishes, shoot, etc. etc. etc.)
- The COC Marines: COC stands for Combat Operations Center. These are the Marines that run the command and control systems. The radios and computers that on the modern digital battlefield are indispensable. Each of them does the work of 3 people, run long shifts and ensure the situational awareness and report/process execution that is critical in this counter-insurgency. For an operation like this one, I had both my forward COC and my Main COC in operation, and they were brilliant in their execution. They are and will always be the "unsung heroes" of the Mad Ghost deployment. (And for me personally, Cpl Kostyn and LCpl Blackford were a source of humor, the importance of which just cannot be understood unless you have attempted to command in a high stress environment; but for those who have, and for those who will, you will cherish the uncanny humor of such Marines...they helped to sooth the savage beast that is GySgt Engram!)
- The fighting Marines of Fox, Echo, Golf and Weapons: who take precision violence to the enemy, and a spirit for victory that knows no equal. H&S Co, who provides the security and support to all these operations, and conducts much of their own patrolling and "hunting" of the Muj, and who have taken our FOB and turned it into a fortress. The Marines of this last paragraph are the Bn proper, and no Commander has ever had the privilege of leading a better one. My duty is their mission accomplishment and welfare...and my duty has been my honor.
Now, with all of that said, let me finish by telling you the best part of the story of this Operation which was code named: Operation River Walk, for it goes without saying we cannot do anything without a "code name." It is just what we do...code names and acronyms. As successful as this Operation was, it like all others, shapes us for future operations. The hunt will go on and ELECTIONS WILL OCCUR.
I have stopped watching the news from the US totally. I no longer can take the maniacal rages it places me in as I swear ungentleman-like profanities at the TV in my dust covered cubby-hole of an office, directed at "pundits" and "experts" who do not, in my very humble opinion, have a single clue and who report every single incident that occurs here as if they are color commentating on a football game.
Well, I can barely fog a mirror intellectually, but I think I know a thing or two about this war thing, and the vast amount that I don't know, I have certified geniuses like Maj Dan Whisnant and CWO5 Roussell to teach me. And what I know...war is a slog. And a counter-insurgency fourth generation war is definitely a slog. The only weapon the enemy has IS the MEDIA, and the target is YOU! They are attempting to win this War by breaking your will.
I pray that will not happen. Because...and this is the moral of the story...the best part of the story of Operation River Walk is what we discovered about the people. You see, our belief going into this operation was that this part of our Western zone (which we had not been able to foray into much due to other commitments) was the heart of a massive AIF insurgency, replete with popular support and headed by Wahabiists (yes, the very people who brought you the slaughter of 9/11). We found many of the Wahabiists and their caches. They are now headed to Abu Ghraib and their caches destroyed. But the people...no, what we found among the people was MUCH support for the US and what we are doing here. We found a genuine desire to live free and to ELECT who they want, not who the Imams and terrorists want.
See, what we found is what we always find: a majority of people being intimidated, terrorized and oppressed by a radical, fanatical and clinically INSANE few. We found people who want us to finish this fight, no matter how long it takes, and who were genuinely appreciative of our efforts...a little different than what you hear out of NY and Washington News Rooms.
Gotta tell you, would love for my Marines to actually meet these "fighters who are resisting a foreign invasion of Iraq," because they might actually fight the way Soldiers do. NO, what we meet time and time and time again, is radical Muslim extremists whose sole goal is the defeat of America and the spreading of their brand of medieval thinking that abhors technology, enslaves women, cheapens human life and seeks the establishment of their brand of religion, or death.
So I say, let all the national media talking heads rave on.
- Rave on about every single act of insurgent violence and trumpet it as some massive blow to the MNF effort.
- Rave on about how we are losing.
- Rave on, as if you really care about any of what you are spewing.
Just, Rave On.
The ground truth is known by those actually on the ground. And for those on the ground, we will win, we will bring freedom and democracy to a land that has NEVER known it, and we will suffer and sustain the hardship required to do it.
We will do it, and we will take the time required for such a massive effort in a world that wants a "drive through window" war.
We will do it in the spirit and with the best example we have; the spirit of 1776 when freedom and democracy was also brought to a land that had NEVER known it, a land that would become known as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
We will win because although the violence is a huge part of what we do, ultimately this global war on terror will be won by ideas. And YOUR Mad Ghost, YOUR Marine is the best example of what the best idea in the history of mankind has to offer. Their never ending decency and compassion has lit, and will continue to fuel for the people of Iraq, what freedom is truly all about: respect, dignity, hope, love and a personal quest to find meaning in YOUR OWN WAY!
For this, 10 of my most prized possessions and reason for my existence gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefields of Iraq, and for this, WE rave on!
May God Bless and Keep the families of 2/24...and may we all offer a special blessing on the families of our fallen heroes...and those of our wounded who struggle daily, particularly Regina Simon as she prays beside the bed of SSgt Chad Simon, and is a beacon of strength and grace for us all. God especially be with you Regina, and your wonderful husband Chad.