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Corps' top leaders visit Marines in Iraq

8 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines here heard it straight from the top.  Nothing is more important to the Marine Corps than the mission in Iraq.

"There is no more important mission in the Marine Corps than the one you're performing right now," said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Hagee, along with Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John L Estrada, visited Marines deployed here for Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"The entire Marine Corps is really proud of what you are doing," Hagee explained.  "You have unbelievable support... from the entire Congress and American people.  There is no disagreement... none whatsoever.  That's because the way you're accomplishing this mission over here."

Hagee's visit to the 1st Marine Division headquarters here came in the midst of the Marines' push into Fallujah, dubbed Operation Vigilant Resolve.  Marines battled against enemy forces through the streets of the Iraqi city for several days before the general visited.  The fight continued even as he spoke.

"We're at war," Hagee said.  "I know you know that."

Hagee told Marines he and Estrada visited Marines at military hospitals in the U.S. who sustained wounds from actions in Iraq.  He said those Marines remained in high spirits.  They didn't complain.  They didn't pity themselves. 

Their thoughts, he said, were with the Marines still fighting.

"One couldn't even talk," Hagee explained to the Marines gathered around him.  "They said, 'Tell them to continue the job, finish the job and kick butt.'"

Hagee promised the Marines the entire weight of the Corps remained behind them.  He said procurement efforts to provide armor for vehicles has been ramped.  Even short-term solutions, such as bolting on thicker steel plates, were stepped up and Marines here in Iraq should begin to see improvements soon.

"We're doing everything we can to give you the right protection," he said.

Still, he reminded Marines to remain focused.  He explained that their mission after the June 30th deadline for the transition of authority from the Coalition Provisional Authority to Iraqi control wouldn't diminish the need for Marines on the ground.

"What we're going to be doing here in July is going to be very similar to what we're doing now," Hagee said.  "We have to find those individuals that need to be killed and kill them."

The commandant acknowledged that many of the Division Marines were standing on Iraqi soil just one year ago to the day he visited, the eve of the one-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.  He said he appreciated the personal sacrifice and devotion they displayed.

"We're very proud of you," Hagee said.  "You are making a significant difference.  Last year, you freed 25 million people.  You are going to prevail.  You are going to tell your kids and grandkids... I prevailed."