Ar-Ramadi, Iraq -- The Marines here in ar-Ramadi are continuing a 200-year-old tradition in the United States Marine Corps -- fighting terrorists. The Corps' history of fighting terrorists dates back to 1804, when Marine 1st Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led his men to defeat the Barbary Pirates. In more recent history, Marines have battled terrorists in Tehran, Kuwait, Madrid, Beirut, Bogota, San Salvador, Frankfurt, West Berlin, Riyadh, Dhahran, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Aden, to name just a few places. Marines also have the honor and responsibility of providing security at U.S. embassies around the world, a favorite target of terrorists.
The creed under which they work is Semper Fidelis -- "Always Faithful." Faithful to their commanders, their mission, their nation, their fellow Marines with whom they are currently serving, and the example of Marines who served before them.
During a morning ceremony earlier this week, 20 marines received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. Those injuries resulted from some of the toughest battles and firefights we've seen in over a year when Marines were marching to Baghdad. More than 116 Marines in this unit have received the Purple Heart so far and over 70 of them have decided to stay in Iraq, fight with their units and accomplish the mission rather than return home, even though, by consequence of their wounds, they can do so.
I asked Lieutenant David Dobb, who sustained injuries to his hand, why so many of these young men decided to stick it out even though they'd been hurt. "This is what these Marines signed up to do," he told me, "and we're going to see this mission through until the job's done the way it is supposed to be done."
Sergeant Kenneth Conde, a squad leader with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, was leading his platoon in a nighttime raid this week when insurgents tried to ambush the platoon, fighting broke out and he was hit in the shoulder. The enemy didn't last long, however, because Marines own the night. Their remarkably sophisticated night vision equipment and training give them a significant strategic advantage. During nighttime missions this week, Marines have made significant progress de-arming the enemy. They've collected ordnance, mortar rounds, and artillery rounds and improvised explosive devices.
After Conde was hit, he continued fighting and ultimately, in addition to the weapons, six terrorists were captured and taken off the streets of ar-Ramadi. Conde, because of his grievous wounds, could have had a ticket home, yet he decided to stay with this battalion as a squad leader. I asked him why. "There was no other choice for a sergeant in the Marine Corps," Conde explained. "You have to lead your Marines."
But it's not all fighting here in ar-Ramadi, the provincial capital of the largest province in Iraq. In fact, the Marines are doing all they can to avoid it. They take to the locals the message that when dealing with the Marines, you can have "no greater friend, or no worse enemy." All week, Marines have conducted information operations designed to remind the people of ar-Ramadi that we are here as friends. The information operation was an exchange with the locals about water purification systems, electricity and improvements for schools. It also resulted in locals giving the Marines more information about terrorists in the neighborhood and their hideouts.
Jeffrey Craig, a platoon commander, said the reason for these operations is "to speak with the people who don't normally want to talk to us and give them information about why we're here, what we're doing, and reasons to believe in the coalition and the future of Iraq."
Another Marine told me he believes that as a result of the information operations, there are Iraqis who are friendlier to the United States. "People come out of their houses, they smile at us and they say things like, 'Hello, America.'" It's a mission to instill in the people of Iraq a hope for freedom and a belief in the chance for democracy.
By day, Marines are conducting these information operations, playing soccer with Iraqi children and helping the locals in ways that they can. By night, they go back into neighborhoods where they've been hit before, armed with intelligence, and kick down the doors of bad guys house. It's a gut-churning experience because you don't know if the guy on the other side of the door is going to meet you with an improvised explosive device or an AK-47.
But the Marines do it -- far from home, in the dark of night, after working all day, and while everybody else is tucked safely in bed. These 18, 1, and 20 year olds, who are part diplomat, part warrior, are taking the terrorists off the streets one by one. They have already seen more death and destruction and have had more responsibility than their civilian peers will ever have. And they do it all with grace, modesty and courage.
After one raid this week, I asked PFC Thompson, an 18-year-old hero, if he was worried going into the raid since it was in a spot where two Marines were previously killed. "A little bit," he said, "but I knew that with my Marines by my side, that everything would be OK."
It's the kind of wisdom and confidence that some of our liberal political "leaders" in Washington would do well to display from time to time.