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.

Semper Fidelis,

J.N. Mattis

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.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, History, Marine Corps

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  • JV

    Here’s hoping that PC be damned and Gen Mattis is selected for Commandant. Gen Conway has done an excellent job, and I see Mattis carrying us to the next level. Mattis reminds me of Gen Gray but with a philosopher’s outlook. He is exactly what the Corps needs for the immediate future.

  • What a wonderful letter.

    Congratulations, and Welcome Home.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I have it framed on my office wall. A reminder of that place, those incredible Marines, and that leadership should inspire.


  • Byron

    I’m a stinkin’ civilian. When I heard Gen. Mattis last year speak at the Midway Memorial Dinner, I was ready follow him anywhere and do anything he ordered me to do. He is the uber-warrior/poet/knight. Commandant would be cool…POTUS would be LOT better!

  • robert palmer

    anyone who thinks this is any sort of victory in Iraq is fooling himself. I am glad our troops are coming home but we need to bring them all home from the middle east. over there , they all think of us as occupiers and hate our guts.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Well Robert,

    We were told that anyone who thought we would find Saddam was fooling himself.

    Anyone that thought we could transfer sovereignty back to the Iraqis was fooling himself.

    Anyone who thought the 2005 Iraqi elections would take place was fooling himself.

    Anyone who thought economic activity would ever match pre-war levels was fooling himself.

    Anyone who thought Iraq would avoid civil war was fooling himself.

    Anyone who thought Iraqis would recognize Al Qaeda as the real enemy was fooling himself.

    Anyone who thought that Al Anbar Province would ever be calm was fooling himself.

    Yet, here we are.

  • JBMarine

    Hey Robert,
    When was the the last time you had a conversations with all those people or perhaps just one of those people. Well I can tell you it hasn’t been that long for me and I helped close this door. I was never called an occupier, I was called by one couple that we where sent by Allah. The people in Al Anbar where gracious and polite, more likely to wave and offer tea then to act any other way. So before you speak know what you are speaking about.

    1000 Marine Infantry fired Zero rounds in anger and brought everyone home, during 7 months in Al Anbar that sounds a lot like success to me.

  • A Special Thanks To All The Veterans!!

    “Because Of The Brave”