The 2/2 is coming home. JHD sends the final letter, which I am reproducing in full. It's long, but worth your time.
Hello again Warlord families!
As I began this final letter to you from Mahmudiyah, Iraq, it is fitting that I do so on September 11th. That day and the tragic events that were the catalyst that brought the Warlords to this troubled land will forever be etched in our minds. It will not only be a day that we always remember where we were, but also a day that we remember as the day that so many of our country's citizens were lost to terrorism and also remembered as the day when so many stood up and said "enough!" Your Warlords were some of those who said "enough!" Accordingly, I consider it a singular honor, on this day in particular, to pass on to you some of the things that your husbands, sons, brothers and fathers have done since I last wrote you at the end of June.
I related to you at the beginning of the last letter that we had moved again (for the fifth time) and returned to our original location in Mahmudiyah where we relieved four Army battalions that had been conducting operations in this area while we had been in Al Kharma, Fallujah, and Zaidon. Upon returning to Mahmudiyah, the Task Force immediately rolled up its sleeves and reasserted its presence in the area with an aggressive series of actions that ignored the sometimes 140 degree temperatures. Those actions seized and maintained control of nearly 22 miles of six lane highway that had become one of the most volatile sections of road in Iraq, and put the terrorists on their heels within a nearly 800 square kilometer area of operations. Combined with those offensive and defensive operations, we rekindled old friendships with local leaders and families as the battalion assumed control of those civil-military actions designed to rebuild the infrastructure here in the Mahmudiyah area.
Unfortunately, the level and type of enemy activity in our absence spiked to a degree that made our final three months in Iraq less characterized by actions that would exemplify the "No Better Friend" portion of our mission, and more consistent with the "No Worse Enemy" angle. As has been their custom, your Marines and Sailors responded to this challenge and performed magnificently. The three rifle companies found themselves rotating through stints providing fixed site security along the main supply routes strategically supporting the links to Baghdad and Fallujah, providing security for other key infrastructure, conducting patrols to deter enemy activities designed to disrupt the functioning of the Iraqi National Conference and conducting raids and searches in the dead of night that kept the enemy looking over his shoulder and
wondering where the Marines would come from next. At every turn, the Marines of Easy, Fox and Golf and their assigned snipers met the enemy on his home ground with raids, cordon and search operations and coordinated stay-behind operations designed to ambush the insurgents … and on every occasion when he chose to challenge the Warlords, he was defeated decisively. There was no doubt in the mind of these cowards that there was a "new Sheriff in Town."
While the rifle companies asserted their presence with these missions, Weapons Company's 81's Platoon not only kept the enemy at bay by providing "spot on" counter mortar fire but continued their role as the Battalion's Combined Action Platoon helping to train the fledgling Iraqi national Guard. Capitalizing on the foundation they built during our six weeks here in March and April, they transformed a ragtag group of Iraqi soldiers into a Battalion that now regularly patrols and operates alongside their Marine counterparts. This is a singularly impressive accomplishment because not only did they keep their fighting edge, but they also overcame the language barrier and cultural differences to teach these Iraqis the basics of warfighting and provided them the foundation to begin assuming responsibility for security in their own country. Simultaneously, the Red, White and Blue Sections of the CAAT Platoon continued to earn their reputation as the workhorses of the battalion by conducting operations twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with mobile patrols, escort duty for our Explosive Ordnance Disposal heroes, and aggressive actions designed to hunt down and kill terrorists with their hard-hitting firepower. Again and again, the enemy engaged our CAAT's with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's), direct fire and indirect fire in order to try to shake them from accomplishing their mission. No matter the method the enemy tried to use, the Marines of this platoon stood tall in their turrets fast in the face of daily attacks against them and kept the pressure on. Incredible courage and attention to duty are the two phrases that most come to mind when I think of their daily ability to be "in the enemy's face" and defeat his best efforts.
Equally impressive were the efforts of our Combat Engineers and Counterintelligence Marines. The Engineers continued as the most productive platoon in theater finding dozens of enemy caches, adding to the survivability of our Marines on fixed site security missions with their construction skills, and as always adding their considerable infantry skills to an already deadly team. Their search methods are now used as the template for the entire Division. Complementing their actions were the warriors of our Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Exploitation Team (CI/HET) who continued to rack up the most significantly actionable intelligence of any team in theater. Their efforts alone, when combined with the rest of the Task Force's combat power was specifically responsible for the detention of dozens of high value terrorist personalities operating within our Area of Operations and some whose influence was international in scope.
A significant and welcome addition to our Task Force came with Artillery Marines from both the 11th Marine Regiment and 10th Marine Regiment as we returned to Mahmudiyah. Sixteen indirect fire attacks during our initial return here highlighted the need for a more robust counterfire capability. With that in mind, RCT-1 and later, the 24th MEU provided the Warlords with a split battery of 155mm howitzers. As a result, any time the enemy was foolish enough to engage us with indirect fire, the canoneers fired with responsiveness and pinpoint accuracy that in once case, forced the enemy to leave his position so quickly that he left his rocket launchers and ammunition in place.
Finally our Headquarters and Service Company kept every conceivable aspect of the Task Force supplied, supported and operating like a well-oiled machine. Our Battalion Aid Station and its Corpsmen literally saved the lives of dozens of Marines wounded in engagements with the enemy. Often under fire, these Sailors not only took the fight to the enemy themselves but often found themselves shielding their Marine brothers as they rendered lifesaving medical care—proving once again why a Navy Corpsmen will never buy a drink when there is a Marine infantryman present. As Corpsman triaged our Marines, our Motor Transport Marines drove thousands of miles supporting every combat need, and worked around the clock and with the enthusiasm of a well-practiced pit crew conducting "triage" on vehicles that if back in the states, would have been relegated to the dump. They worked around the clock installing life-saving armor, ballistic windshields and keeping our vital rolling assets in working order proving once again that "the pride don't ride without Motor "T!"
The Marines and leaders of the Communications Platoon continued to stretch the limits on every piece of equipment the battalion owned in ensuring timely and reliable communications across this 800 square kilometer area of operations thereby allowing the battalion to respond with devastating effects. The Communications reliability and versatility of this Task Force has literally become the envy of the Division because of their efforts. Other standouts include our Supply section, our Armorers, the NBC section and our administrators. Each Marine, in addition to their "day job" of keeping the battalion supplied, paid, and our weapons and chemical gear in top condition, also found themselves as the primary security for multiple tasks supporting the battalion's myriad missions. Each has proven unmistakably that "every Marine a rifleman" is more than just a catchy phrase.
A special mention during this letter must go to the Marines from H&S Company supporting us in the chow hall. Throughout the deployment, their extraordinary efforts, sometimes under fire, have ensured our Marines have had the best field mess support possible regardless of the conditions. Unlike so many other units, the Warlords maintained their own organic capability and these Marines worked twenty hour days consistently in 130 degree temperatures to make sure that the members of the Task Force were well-fed and able to enjoy the occasional special meal. Their commitment to their task added immeasurably to the morale of our Marines and Sailors.
As you can imagine, to try to recap all that your Marines and Sailors have done during the past two and one half months would be an almost impossible task from the standpoint of volume alone. To try to recall the hundreds of acts of heroism and compassion becomes and even greater task but one that merits some mention here as I try to share my immense pride in what these fine men have accomplished. As the commander of the Task Force I have had the privilege of reading the recommendations recognition for all of our Warlords. It is not uncommon for me to find myself up until the sun rises after I have returned from a mission, reading with great admiration and pride, the courageous acts of so many Marines and Sailors. I am not trying to sound melodramatic, but their deeds will now become part of the legends that make up the lore of the Naval Service as a result of their consistently selfless actions.
Examples of some of the more than 150 recommended awards for valor include men who crossed fire swept terrain to save Iraqi families caught in deadly crossfire as terrorists used them as human shields, Corpsmen who protected Marines with their bodies as indirect fire landed around them, Marines who continued to fight after having been wounded, not willing to give up their positions for fear that their buddies would pay the price, admonishing themselves to "stay in the fight," maintaining their fire to protect their fellow Marines without the slightest regard for their own danger. Most importantly however I will remember the dozens of Purple Heart ceremonies where we recognized those who day in and day out, put on their gear, checked their ammunition and headed out to get the mission accomplished regardless of the dangers they knew were waiting for them. That my friends is courage—and that is why these Marines and Sailors deserve every accolade a nation can bestow. They have paid the price for freedom with their courage.
If you remember, prior to the deployment I wrote you that "Those who would challenge us have underestimated the capability and resolve of the Warlords. They do not know what you know … that these men are of the same stock that won at places like Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, Dai Do, Grenada, Kuwait and Al Kut. They are also men who are fathers, sons, brothers and husbands whose capability as warriors is exceeded only by their compassion and strong moral compass." I must tell you that those words were written based on my confidence in these men and what I had seen them do to prepare. I can tell you that that confidence was not misplaced. They exceeded my most ardent hopes and reminded me again what it means to be a part of a fighting unit like the Warlords of Task Force 2/2. Their actions are indeed the stuff of legend.
I will also tell you without reservation that much of our success is arguably the result of the strength we drew daily from your support. Your letters, your packages, your prayers and most of all your complete commitment to our mission here by your devotion to your Warlord gave us not only the focus we needed, but the promise of what we had to return to. In particular I must thank the Key Volunteers throughout the Task Force who consistently gave to us, and to each other, the support and sustained commitment that provided the foundation on which we succeeded. Your Marines and Sailors were able to focus on the mission because of the confidence they had in all of you at home to take care of each other when they could not be home with you. For all that you have done for all of us I will remain forever in your debt.
As uplifting and inspiring as the performance of your Warlords has been, each of you also know that those successes have not been without cost. Sadly, as the deployment comes to a close, I am reminded of each of the more than one hundred and fifty wounded and our six fallen. I ask that each of you continue your prayers for these men who gave so much in support of their fellow Marines and Sailors. Their names and their deeds will be remembered by each of us who were privileged to serve with them. But well after the welcome home celebrations are over, after Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II becomes part of the battalion's lineage, and after a new generation of Warlords carries the color forward, you must remember that the true legacy of their sacrifices will be revealed. First, their legacy will be in the gift of freedom and hope they gave to a nation ruled by a brutal dictator for four generations, and second, that legacy will live on in the example of courage and compassion that they gave not only to each of us, but to a nation. With that in mind, I ask that each of you keep the families of Sergeant Michael Speer, Gunnery Sergeant Ronald Baum, Lance Corporal Andrew Zabierek, Lance Corporal Bryan Kelly, Lance Corporal Nick Morrison, and Corporal Chris Belchik in your thoughts and prayers. They never broke faith with us or with you. I ask that you pray that their families are sustained and strengthened as their Marines sustained and strengthened us through their actions. Pray that their families and all Americans remember that it is in how they lived their lives that makes their memory the treasure it is, and the gift they gave so precious.
In closing, I will say yet again what an honor it has been to have been given the rare privilege of commanding such fine men under difficult conditions. They led, they fought for a nation and for a people, and they kept faith with each other and with you. They inspired the world with their example of what is best among the youth of our country and they have established a legacy of leadership and courage that will become the foundation for the leadership of the Naval Service well into the twenty-first century. As we reunite with our families and recall the moments of courage and compassion that changed our lives during the past seven months, I think you will see a change in these men. That change will reflect the special knowledge of what it means to have given freedom to a nation, hope to a people, and strength to each other during moments when the measure of a man's life is defined by his actions. You and they will find that those actions will stand the test of time and be remembered with great pride. Freedom has taken hold in Iraq and it will not let go because of what these brave men have done.
God Bless each of you, God Bless America, and Semper Fi from your Marines and Sailors in Iraq!