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1st Marine Division colors fly again in Iraq

20 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

The scarlet and gold of 1st Marine Division’s colors was unfurled and a new page in the history book was begun as the Camp Pendleton, California-based unit relieved the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division during a relief-in-place ceremony here March 20, 2004.

Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, 1st Marine Division’s commanding general, formally assumed responsibility of the Al Anbar and Northern Babil provinces from Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., 82nd Airborne Division’s commanding general.  The relief-in-place ceremony was held at the division’s headquarters in Ar Ramadi, about a two-hour drive west of Baghdad.

“Using our individual initiative, courage, moral judgment and battle skills, we will build on the 82nd Airborne’s victories,” said Mattis, who led the division during the fight to Baghdad and subsequent operations in southern Iraq last year.  “The soldiers with the 82nd Airborne have been magnificent.”

The 18,000 soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division making up Task Force All American, based out of Fort Bragg, N.C., served in Iraq since the middle of last year and accomplished a multitude of operational achievements.

According to Swannack, the unit conducted nearly 600 company-size or larger operations resulting in the capture of more than 30 high-value enemy targets. The division also trained and equipped 10 Iraqi Border Police battalions, six Iraqi Civil Defense Corps battalions, and nearly 5,000 local policemen. Almost 24,000 jobs were created for the citizens here in order to ease chronic unemployment issues.

“The soldiers of the 82nd Airborne along with our Iraqi partners have helped to shape Iraq into a sovereign country with strong economic growth,” Swannack said. “First Marine Division is just as committed to building on the relationship we have made with the Iraqis.”

Addressing the Iraqi leaders who attended the ceremony, Mattis added Marines have “come to listen, to learn and to assist the people here, especially the civil defense and police warriors.”

He reassured the audience of Iraqi government and military officials as well as sheiks and prominent civic officials that anyone who attempts to thwart 1st Marine Division’s plans to help the people here will “pay severely.”

“Working in conjunction with fledgling Iraqi Security Forces,” Mattis explained, “we will move precisely against the enemy elements and crush them without harming the innocent.”

Most of the Marines from the “Blue Diamond” were here in 2003 during the war and are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Mattis said his goal is to maintain the friendly relationship with the Iraqis in order to secure the country’s future and, more importantly, the future of Iraq’s children.

He closed his speech by saying, “The division is ready to carry out any and all orders.”