Thursday, June 24, 2004
Instead of describing more about this target, I wanted to share some observations about how the Marine Sergeants make these kind of operations go. On this particular mission, try and imagine the Sergeant's thinking as he has just spent hours/days in preparation for the operation, stressing to his Marines the sensitive nature of what they are going to do and all the do's and don'ts on objective. Once he finally gets his Marines on the objective, he is non-stop positioning and repositioning the men, keeping civilians at arms length, watching the detainees and coordinating his tasks under the search, knowing that one small mistake could get someone killed or will at least be fodder for the insurgents continued message of fear and hate.
It is about 110 degrees outside, he has had about 3 hours sleep the night prior and he is wearing about 75 pounds of body armor, weapons and ammunition. By the way, he is listening to at least one radio constantly and is controlling around 10-15 guys while coordinating with his adjacent squad leaders and platoon commander.
As all of this is going on, he watches weapons and propaganda being taken from the mosque and maintains his and his Marines' humanity toward the detainees and local civilians. He stays on the objective as long as it takes in the hot sun, treats the Iraqis fairly and firmly while he constantly moves among his Marines and checks their position and ensuring that they are watching their sector. He waits for an RPG to come whistling in or an automatic weapons to open up on his Marines at any time. He is also thinking with every tick of the clock, some guy may be out there right now digging in an IED on his exfil route or laying in an ambush so even as he leaves the target, his Marines remain at significant risk. They are not "safe" until they get back to their patrol base. Even there, mortars can be expected around their position daily.
The mission lasts for hours. He gets all of his Marines back safely where he is responsible for checking to make sure everyone is healthy, all gear and weapons are accounted for and everyone is cleaning their weapons while the squad is debriefed. Once the debrief is complete and the weapons and equipment is cleaned he might get a chance to sit down in the shade for an hour or so until he goes over to the platoon command post and gets his order for that night's patrol. From that point on, it is back to work. You rarely will catch this guy saying anything negative (when he does so, he is careful to do it to his peers or maybe the Staff Sergeant or Lieutenant but not in front of his Marines). He is 23-27 years old and has been a Marine for about 5-10 years.
Call me weak, but that is not a position I'd like to be in. Thinking of the stress those guys must be under makes the stress caused by deadlines for a traffic study seem pretty damn pathetic.
I want to close by sharing with you that the coalition put a real hurt on the terrorists and criminals this week. I know it is horrifying to see the hostages killed on television but without being able to go into detail, the coalition has compromised and successfully attacked a number of senior terrorists this past week. While this is going on, the men are training new Iraqi soldiers and police officers and continuing to reach out to the people. The young Marines that are doing the work over here are committed young men who believe that they were doing the right thing. There were losses that are tragic. Losing Marines is a profoundly personal thing to their buddies and fellow Marines. However, I have yet to see the young men's will waiver. They just continue to go out there every day and do their job. Like I said before, it is humbling be around them.
Don't trivialize the war or 'our' being there. These guys are sacrificing so much for us. I offer my thanks to them.