Just a few short years ago, the possibility of the United States Marine Corps presence in Iraq ending any way except in defeat was dismissed almost entirely by legions of doubters and naysayers whose skepticism and predictions of doom daily crowded TV newscasts, radio, and newspapers. Yet, there is news today that the remaining elements of II MEF are headed back to Camp Lejeune, NC, from a peaceful and quiet Al Anbar province. A small logistics element will remain for a short time, but the redeployment effectively ends seven tough years in a complex and fierce close-quarters fight against a determined and well-equipped enemy.
Back in January of 2004, as the First Marine Division was readying for deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom II, then-Division Commander MajGen J. N. Mattis delivered the following letter to his Marines:
Letter to All Hands,
We are going back in to the brawl. We will be relieving the magnificent soldiers fighting under the 82nd Airborne Division, whose hard won successes in the Sunni Triangle have opened opportunities for us to exploit.
For the last year, the 82nd Airborne has been operating against the heart of the enemy’s resistance. It’s appropriate that we relieve them: When it’s time to move a piano, Marines don’t pick up the piano bench – we move the piano. So this is the right place for Marines in this fight, where we can carry on the legacy of Chesty Puller in the Banana Wars in the same sort of complex environment that he knew in his early years. Shoulder to shoulder with our comrades in the Army, Coalition Forces and maturing Iraqi Security Forces, we are going to destroy the enemy with precise firepower while diminishing the conditions that create diversarial relationships between us and the Iraqi people.
This is going to be hard, dangerous work. It is going to require patient, persistent presence. Using our individual initiative, courage, moral judgment and battle skills, we will build on the 82nd Airborne’s victories. Our country is counting on us even as our enemies watch and calculate, hoping that America does not have warriors strong enough to withstand discomfort and danger. You, my fine young men, are going to prove the enemy wrong – dead wrong. You will demonstrate the same uncompromising spirit that has always caused the enemy to fear America’s Marines.
The enemy will try to manipulate you into hating all Iraqis. Do not allow the enemy that victory. With strong discipline, solid faith, unwavering alertness, and undiminished chivalry to the innocent, we will carry out this mission. Remember, I have added, “First, do no harm” to our passwords of “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.” Keep your honor clean as we gain information about the enemy from the Iraqi people. Then, armed with that information and working in conjunction with fledgling Iraqi Security Forces, we will move precisely against the enemy elements and crush them without harming the innocent.
This is our test-our Guadalcanal, our Chosin Reservoir, our Hue City. Fight with a happy heart and keep faith in your comrades and your unit. We must be under no illusions about the nature of the enemy and the dangers that lie ahead. Stay alert, take it all in stride, remain sturdy, and share your courage with each other and the world. You are going to write history, my fine young sailors and Marines, so write it well.
Major General, U. S. Marines
Commanding General, First Marine Division
What General Mattis expressed to his Division is true of each and every Marine unit who served there. To every Marine who played a part in the story of the Corps in Iraq, thank you. You did indeed write history, and wrote it extraordinarily well. Future generations of Marines will look upon your accomplishments in Naziriyah, Ramadi, Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and dozens of other places with the same reverence with which ours looks upon the Marines in Hue and Khe Sanh. Your country and your Corps owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. I am proud to have served with you and to have played my small part, as well. Semper Fidelis, Marines.