There was a time not very long ago that names like Al Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi were synonymous with futility and humiliation. But that was before a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. In late 2007 the Marines and our Iraqi Allies aided in large part by the “Anbar Awakening” where the Sunni in the province realized that Al Qaida Iraq’s motives were not in the best interest of the people gained the upper hand in a very short time. The success was heralded as part of the “surge” but was in large part due to the effort made by the Marines to be seen as something other than occupiers but allies in a fight against foreigners that would brutally kill Iraqis to achieve their goals.
I arrived in Al Anbar in August of 2007 and spent my tour as the Chaplain to the Marine, Army and other advisers in the province which at the time of my arrival were still very much in play. Within days of arriving at our base of operations I took part in a number of mass casualty situations at the Shock Surgery Trauma center at Ta Qaddum where I prayed for, anointed and looked after Marines wounded when their vehicles were destroyed by improvised explosive devices during combat missions. My tour was the highlighter of my military career. In my tour with the advisors as well as the Iraqis of the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army divisions, Second Border Brigade and Iraqi Police, Highway Patrol and even a reconstruction team or two.
During my time there I was privileged to serve with great Marines, Soldiers and even a number of Navy, Air Force, US Border Patrol and Customs personnel and contractors working with the Iraqis. The Iraqis in many cases were valiant men who while serving against the insurgency and Al Qaida knew that their families were in danger from retaliation as were their own lives.
While Marines and Army forces took the battle to the insurgents the Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Al Anbar suddenly turned on the insurgents and Al Qaida Iraq. Soon Iraqi civilians who had been either hostile or neutral towards the Marines and their own Iraqi Army and Police units turned on the Al Qaida and their allies. Suddenly violence began to subside; Iraqi civilians began to report insurgents, weapons caches and IEDs.
By the time that I left Iraq in February 2008 the situation in the province was such that the 1st Iraqi Division was able to be dispatched to Basra and Diyala where they in conjunction they would take the lead in driving the insurgents from these regions. Just before I left an Iraqi General, General Ali in Habbinya told me that I should come back in 5 years as a tourist because everything would be alright. Another Iraqi officer told me that if anything ever happened between us and “the Persians” that the Iraqis would be on our side. I knew when I left that Iraq would be okay in the long run and I still believe that to be true.
Thursday the Sergeant Major of what used to be Multinational Force West or MNF-West announced the Marines of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) would be conducting a transfer of authority for the American mission to the 1st Armored Division of the US Army as part of the US drawdown in Iraq without a relief in place. For most people in the United States this will be an event of little significance Iraq is now despite the continued presence of US forces has been forgotten by most.
Concern is now focused on US military actions in Afghanistan and the humanitarian relief operations in Haiti. However, it was in Iraq that an insurgency was defeated, the first time since the British defeated the Malayan insurgency sponsored by Chinese Communists, and the French had militarily defeated the Algerian insurgency before the French government under DeGaulle surrendered the hard fought success of the Paras and Legionnaires betraying them even as he looked after what he viewed as the future of France.
In the summer of 2007 Iraq was viewed as a lost cause by much of the American body-politic, politicians of both parties and the media. Now it is becoming a functional state, in large part due to the sacrifices of US Military personnel and the Iraqi Army and security forces. U.S. Forces are disengaging and exiting the country. While it is likely that and advisory and support mission will remain as the Iraqis continue to rebuild and their Army and security forces continue to expand their capabilities. The Iraqis recently showed their metal by facing down an Iranian incursion into Iraqi territory on a strategic oil field.
The text of the Sergeant Major’s message describing the transfer is posted below:
From: Carpenter SgtMaj Kiplyn (USF-W SGTMAJ)
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 15:55
Subject: FAREWELL OF THE MARINES FROM IRAQ
Please pass on,
SgtsMaj, MGySgts, CMDCMs, Marines and Sailors, Saturday, 23 January at 1100 will mark the end of the Marines in Iraq as an organization. II MEF (fwd) will conduct a Transfer of Authority Ceremony with the First Armored Division without a Relief in Place from any incoming unit. USF-W (formally MNF-W) will merge with USD-C (formally MND-Baghdad) and will cease to exist.
After 6 years, over 850 Marines and Sailors killed in combat and another 8800 wounded we have completed our mission. At our peak, we had almost 26,000 Marines and Sailors on deck, close to 200 aircraft, over 380,000 pieces of ground equipment, and were averaging close to 2000 significant events a month. We have added a whole new generation of Heros; and names like Al Nasiriyah, Fallujah and Ramadi will be added to our History books.
Words can’t begin to explain the magnitude of effort and sacrifice our Marines and Sailors have gone through to help the Iraqi people. Each year since the initial invasion, Marines and Sailors from all over the Corps have been a part of the revolving I MEF (fwd) and II MEF (Fwd) Commands. Each year has been different with its own sets of unique challenges and each successive year, the incoming organization has built upon the successes of the outgoing organization.
This year was no different, we didn’t have anywhere near the level of fighting that previous MEFs have done. However, we did conduct many operations, maintained security, continue to professionalize the Iraqi Security Forces, develop good governance and economics, assisted with the continued establishment of the Rule of Law and oversaw the peaceful transition of the provincial government. We also had one unique mission that we can call our own. That was to finally bring the Marine Corps home. Over the past year, we have simultaneously conducted the responsible drawdown of 24,000 Personnel, over 34 COPs and FOBs, including Baharia, Rawah, and TQ and sent six years worth of equipment out of theater.
For those of you who served with me this year, thank you. It was long and difficult at times, with our own set of challenges, but we did it.
It has been an honor to serve with you.
For those of you who have left your boot prints over here at least once during the last six years; thanks to you too. You set the stage for us to finish the job. It has been costly, it has been challenging, it has taken a while with quite a few dark days. But, in the end, it was worth it.
All Marines and Sailors, including those who remained stateside have contributed to the overall success of the Marines and Sailors in Iraq and; all of us have known someone who didn’t make it back alive or has permanent injuries. It is up to us to ensure that those who follow never forgot their sacrifice or what we did here.
Collectively, we have added another illustrious chapter to the successful story of our Marine Corps. One that all of us can be proud of.
United States Force – West, Iraq
(Previously Multi National Force – West) II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)
21 January 2010
I am proud today to have been part of a mission that appears to have ended in success, at least in Al Anbar Province. Semper Fidelis to the Marine Corps and the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen who served alongside of us in Al Anbar as well as the Iraqi Army and security forces who despite the odds set the stage for the Iraqis and US Forces in the rest of the country to begin to re-establish order and normalcy to a country that has known little but war, dictatorship and tragedy over the past 40 years. I look forward to going back to Iraq someday and maybe visit some of those Iraqis that I was privileged to serve alongside. May God bless all those who served honorably in Iraq and the Iraqi Army, security forces and the people of Iraq.