Sunday, July 08, 2007

The real Iraq from another Marine who has been there

[This is not the version of Iraq you will hear from the mainstream media who have a liberal agenda to push. It is a must-read for anyone who wants more of the real story of the U.S. role in that country.

As I was sitting at the laptop this morning in Breckenridge, CO, an email came from Nate. It was so compelling (and the fact Nate forwarded it showed he felt it was compelling, too) that I decided to post it first thing (it's 7:30 in CO). Read more about Lance Cpl. Nate Salatin in Nate's perspective: should the U.S. be in Iraq?
Back from war: Nate's perspective ("Nate's eyes still laugh")
Heard from Nate on Easter Sunday (and background posts.]

From 1ST LT Mark Matzke, Infantry Platoon Commander, Coldsteel 2, 1/6 Marines:

I am currently in Kuwait and will be flying home late tomorrow night. The first time I sat by a computer, my mind was still too numb to write anything of value, but I have since had time to think and was able to put pen to paper....

"There are currently forty-nine battle streamers on the Marine Corps colors, with two more being added in short order for the operations undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marines have never advertised any monetary compensation in return for service within its ranks. The rich history which is honored and revered, and more importantly its legends and heroes are used as the base from which it sets to inspire her men from which to uphold the esprit de corps.

The Marine Corps is a service which is on the cutting edge of change, today's modern fighting force. Throughout history, the Marine Corps has been willing to push itself to better develop the art of warfare. If the Marine Corps is willing to place its men, mission, and equipment in my
trust, I hope to be able to be a part of acquiring the Marines' fifty second battle streamer."

- Written by Mark A. Matzke requesting a commission in the United States
Marine Corps 27 November 2005
Sitting in Kuwait on my way home from an 8-month tour in Ramadi Iraq, two years later:

So much has changed for me since I last lay in this cot. Eight months ago I was in this same place cleaning my weapon and trying to imagine what was ahead of me. Would I have to take chances, make ethical decisions where the "right" answer could kill me? Would I have to look a young man in the face and tell him to keep pushing, even when bullets were flying? Would I react in combat as I always imagined, or break? I kept asking myself, am I ready? Smiling, I know now that no one is truly ready to pick up a weapon and head into harms way. My baptism of fire came unexpectedly three days after assuming a position on the eastern edge of controlled territory. The thrill of combat was as exhilarating as I had imagined, there is no prouder feeling than seeing the Marines perform their duties with no hesitation and a
ruthless vigor. I am left now with a sense of accomplishment. Our battalion went into the fight with an unorthodox strategy, and it proved successful.

At first the enemy had complete freedom of movement. They could hit us from one side and then, seconds later we would get hit from the complete opposite side. It was a nightmare having to go outside. My stomach would start to churn, as soon as I was told that I had to take my men on the next mission.

But we kept our heads about us and started to analyze the enemy. They were mostly thugs and criminals, bolstered by unemployed locals, and coordinated by foreign fighters, and some say military specialists from other countries.

After one month in Ramadi, the insurgents were still hitting us daily, at one point we were averaging 30 to 40 attacks a day. My platoon and one other were designated as the Strike Force. It would be our job to enter formerly uncontested territory and take it from the enemy. For five months we infiltrated into the center of the city and captured insurgents as they slept, seized weapons caches, and actively sought out the enemy for battle.

Through successes and painful mistakes we refined our tactics and began to take back the city. Every other night I spent sneaking into a house and setting up ambush positions. The families would all be herded into a center room and then we would go about fortifying our position. The house became a fortress. During the day, the enemy observed their areas of the city and look for anything out of the ordinary. If they thought we were in a particular location they would start by shooting into the windows. Then they would shoot rockets at us and if they could, they would sneak up under a window or close to the roof and throw grenades at us. It became a cat and mouse game to hit our targets and then get out quickly with random routes so
that the enemy couldn't ambush us on the way out.

The casualties we took were all horrendous, and I still think about them every day, asking myself "what could I have done differently?" The burden of command placed on young officers leading men in battle, forces us to make decisions with very limited information and little to no input from higher.

The Lieutenant knows his commander's intent and is expected to make decisions as best possible to affect that outcome. Most calls I made were correct and enabled us to get the edge over a quick enemy, resulting in a decisive end to the engagement. I made mistakes and am still coping with the knowledge that my decisions have had second and third order effects
reaching into the personal lives of many. I acknowledged these to my Marines and will forever be guided by the harshest lessons I have ever learned.

The last two months of the deployment were spent working with the Iraqi Police. We took over from an Army run program that had soldiers thrown into a leadership and management role for which they were not trained for, and it showed. We revamped the IP management and projects. First we secured the city by establishing Joint Security Stations, which were small strongholds all throughout the city, where Marines and IP lived and worked together.

We made sure that the local populace saw the IP trucks and the IPs. Then we broadcasted Information over loudspeakers every other day, in which we thanked the locals for giving information which lead to the detainment of named individuals and the seizure of weapons. This caused the insurgency to collapse onto itself in a frenzy of "security leaks." They didn't know if
someone had talked or if the Marines had somehow intercepted information. These broadcasts drove a wedge between the people and the insurgents. Our next step was to feed the people through food drops using bags filled with enough supplies to feed one family for a week. The Marines made themselves invisible and let the IP do all of the face-to-face work.

After a while the locals felt secure knowing that the IP were finally here and not corrupt. The Marines then passed information to the Police and let them do the detaining of insurgents. With each detainment, more information was gleaned and two more snatch missions would be organized. Eventually the local collaborators fled along with the foreign fighters. The people of
Ramadi literally partied on the streets. Within a week, there were more people coming into the city than were leaving. This was a good sign, because it showed that the security situation had stabilized itself enough to allow the locals to return to their homes.

Now we had security and basic necessities taken care of, and a plan to employ people so that they could make money had to be started. We began by hiring 10 workers and giving them shovels and a wheel barrel. People peered cautiously at the ten men cleaning up an alley for three days. Then we set up a large table outside and I made a big show of counting out cash for
everyone to see. These men had just earned three hundred dollars a piece for three days of honest work. This may not seem like much but the insurgents only paid one hundred dollars for emplacing an IED. So we literally made it more profitable and safer to earn a living by working on our side. The next day, over two hundred people were lined up outside the
joint security station to work. We planned a multi staged project to clean every street in our area. The workers all had to sign up on a master list and they were rotated on a three day cycle. This practically made it impossible for any type of racketeering or abuse of the workers by foremen, that is so prevalent in Arab societies.

When the Marines of Coldsteel 2 left Ramadi two weeks ago, people cried and begged us to stay. I felt as though we had made a difference. When I hear people saying that we are losing this war, or that we should never have gone in in the first place, I get disgusted. As one of the most powerful nations in the world, we are obligated to act and not stand idle while people are
oppressed. Democracy is not for everyone, all cultures are different. But all human beings have the right to live without fear. The truth is that the insurgency, or what is left of it, was a monster created by the media and some intel-types in the military who were seeking to label our enemy in order to make it easier to define a mission. Our enemy today is as
intricate as ever, they are mostly disjointed thugs and teenagers who, just like any adolescent boy, are seeking for ways to prove their manliness. Neighboring countries fund and encourage the insurgent movement to keep the area unstable, because it is in their best interest to keep the United States occupied.

I am proud to be a leader of Marines, and am prouder still of my own Marines, who have throughout this deployment kept me safe when I needed to be protected. Time and time again I was amazed at the actions of individuals during the most intense combat situations imaginable. When most people look at these fighters, they see an eighteen or nineteen year old kid that smokes too much and at times can be very vulgar and loud. I ask, that the next time you see one, take a second and remember that they have a certain swagger to their step, a crude way about them, because they have, and will continue, to go into harms way and fight an enemy steel on steel and flesh on flesh, so that you may sleep with the knowledge that tomorrow will be as safe as today.

I look forward to returning home and having the opportunity to speak with all of you once again.

Respectfully yours,
1ST LT Mark Matzke
Infantry Platoon Commander
Coldsteel 2
1/6 Marines

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