“I’d Get a Static-Filled Line and a, ‘Hey Dad; I’m Not Dead’”

Memories from Iraq: Anbar Province WMD’s…Saddam…Marine Artillery turning the tide at An-Nasiriyah…Hillbilly armor…Ramadi…IED’s…Sheik Sattar. The academics and think-tank folks who study war from a distance will lecture about Operation Iraqi Freedom for generations; let’s talk instead about those who did the fighting and dying.

Over multiple trips from 2006-2008 I embedded with various Marine units throughout Anbar Province. I met Marines ranging from the commanding generals for Anbar Province, brave young LCPL’s who later burned in humvees blown apart by propane tank-enhanced IED’s, and a corpsman who took me under his wing because “Jeez Sir; you’re older than my dad.” I came back; Doc was later killed in a mortar attack while covering a wounded Marine with his body.

Ramadi stands out because it’s where the Marines recognized how this wasn’t a WW2-style conventional war; America invaded Iraq to ‘liberate’ it from Saddam – and once we deposed Saddam and didn’t establish the normal society we’d promised, the US morphed from liberators to occupiers. The casualty toll mounted hourly as America found itself entangled in a tribal vs. fundamentalist fight for control.

It was a combination of Sunni frustration and Marine initiative that turned the tide. When Sattar approached the Marines about joining together in order to drive out the mostly-foreign fundamentalist insurgents, they agreed; with Sattar providing his tribesmen to patrol their own streets and identify the bad guys, the Marines provided the weapons and training necessary – and the two groups were soon fighting side-by-side.

“It’s Clear-Hold-Build, but all done at the same time”, then-LtCol Bill Jurney (1stBn, 6 th Marines) explained to me one hot Ramadi night in October 2006 “The idea is to kill or drive out the bad guys, keep them out, and simultaneously provide the jobs, clinics, and schools that enables the locals to see the advantages of cooperating with us.” It worked; in September 2007 with half of Gen Petraeus’s ‘Surge troops’ still in America, the Marines and Sunni’s cooperated to run a 5-K race in the middle of Ramadi. As the Marines handed out water bottles and operated the time clock; 185 Iraqi runners participated. That’s success!

I also remember my son’s phone-calls during his 2nd deployment. In addition to participating in the March 2003 invasion and battle of An-Nasiryah, he shipped out again in 2004 to fight those pesky insurgents Sect Rumsfeld so wittingly called "dead-enders." Except those dead-enders could fight, and when the phone would ring at zero-dark-thirty I’d get a static-filled line and a ”hey Dad; I’m not dead; but let me tell you what happened this time….” That was in addition to learning how they searched for IED’s-they’d probe trash with their bayonets and hope nothing exploded. Too many calls like that.

It’s these lessons-learned in honor, courage, and commitment that I remember.

This post originally appeared on the Truman Project's "10 Years in Iraq Project."