HADITHA, Iraq -- The Marine Corps’ top officer recently stated he was confident Coalition Forces were going to win the Global War on Terrorism.
During a visit to Marine units throughout the Al Anbar Province of Iraq April 10, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, told Marines and Sailors of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, or “America’s Battalion”, that they “stepped up to the plate when their country needed them most.”
“I have never seen a better Marine Corps than I have today,” said Hagee, to the Marines and sailors on the top of the Haditha Dam, overlooking the Euphrates River. “You always accomplish the mission you are tasked with.”
During the visit, Hagee entertained Marines’ questions on a number of topics, to include the future of the Marine Corps and new guidance on earning the combat action ribbon.
Hagee was accompanied by the Corps’ senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, during the three-day tour throughout Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.
Per the General’s new guidance in a message to all Marines last month, Marines and sailors are eligible for the combat action ribbon if they are in a vehicle convoy that is struck with an improvised explosive device and they “take appropriate action during the detonation of an improvised explosive device.”
A recent debate regarding the combat action ribbon was sparked after thousands of Marines and sailors were denied the ribbon even though they were exposed to the roadside bombs, commonly referred to as “IEDs,” during combat operations.
Now, Marines and sailors who encountered IEDs in the past who may now be eligible can be submitted for consideration for the award. In the past, the award was given to those only involved in combat involving the exchange of gun fire.
“Either you initiate contact with the enemy or the enemy initiates contact with you, and you react properly,” said Hagee, speaking to hundreds of Marines and sailors. “Some Marines believe contact has to be initiated by rifle fire and you have to return rifle fire and that is not true.”
Hagee also spoke of a possible reduction of Marine battalions in Iraq as the Iraqi government continues to stabilize. A year ago, nine Marine battalions were deployed to Iraq, he said. Now, there are only six, due in large part to the progress Iraqi Security Forces have made and the combined efforts Coalition Forces have made to keep Iraq moving towards self-independence.
In Al Anbar Province, I Marine Expeditionary Force units are partnered with Iraqi Army units to conduct counterinsurgency and humanitarian-type operations in the volatile area. The Marines and sailors of “America’s Battalion” have spent more than a month now conducting joint operations to rid the area of insurgents.
Furthermore, the battalion’s Military Transition Team is advising and mentoring Iraqi soldiers in the region as they progress towards fully independent operations, which Coalition Forces say the Iraqi military will be ready for by year’s end.
“This is a tough fight and you are the center of it,” said Hagee to the Marines, referring to the progress they have made battling the insurgency.
Before departing, Hagee ended his visit by handing out several personalized “coins” to several of the battalion’s Marines and sailors who have made significant achievements during their deployment since the battalion arrived here last month. The general also took time to pose for photos with the Marines and sailors.
“It is an uplifting experience to see the Marine Corps’ senior advisors because it gives a chance for individual Marines to talk to him face-to-face about issues pertaining to the Marine Corps and the Marines lives,” said Cpl. Rory Chapin, a 27-year-old intelligence analyst from Waldwick, N.J. “Marines deserved to be recognized for their accomplishments when they are out here in the fight.”
The battalion is part of the I MEF, a force of 23,000-plus Marines and sailors deployed to Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. The Marines will return to their base in Hawaii in early fall.