Friday, February 10, 2006

A note from the CO - 10 Feb 06

Hi everyone,

The weather is clear in Ramadi today, and our flight should be a "GO"; there was a huge dust storm yesterday and we were concerned that we may not be able to get out of here on schedule. We are all running around, attending to last minute details, saying goodbye to the many folks here who made life bearable, taking pictures of things we do and don't want to forget. This will definitely be the last post from Ramadi. We are all ready to see you guys.

Lt Col Garay, the CO for Team Med-Fah (akaTeam Drifter), asked to post a note to you all here on the blog, which I now do with pleasure. Again, I will continue to post more pictures and stories about the deployment especially in the next month to come, but for the moment, here's the CO:

I have been silent these many months, because Major Erik Peterson has done an absolutely incredible job with the blog and keeping our friends, families and loved ones read in on the day-to-day activities of our lives. To him I owe a great debt.

Early on, as a team, we agreed to keep the blog light and airy so that all the folks back home could go to sleep at night comforted that we were well and fine; though, in reality, many of us worked through some harrowing events wondering if we would see the next sunrise.

I will break that silence only for a moment, to open the door to the “rest of the story.” However, as is now appropriate, Maj Peterson will share those details of our story and, ultimately, close the account of Team Med-Fah at a future time and date of his choosing.

We left in May 2005 and were whisked through a series of classes and events all deemed necessary for our roles as American advisors in Iraq. As with any government enterprise, some were useful; some not so useful. In the end, however, we boarded planes with gear and scholarly ideas of what we would accomplish; like so many generations of Americans who have gone to war before us.

In July 2005 we picked up our Iraqi battalion and began the process of executing foreign policy. Our mission, after much wrangling, arguing, and soul searching, we determined, was transition. Transition the fight to the Iraqi Army. Put Iraq in the hands of Iraqis. Not surprisingly, this is the theme of the President’s exit strategy, and the Iraqi Army is the crown jewel of that plan. Seems easy enough, until you bump into the trappings of language and culture. Soon enough, however, we realized we must try and view the world through the eyes of an Arab. We reached into the writings of Lawrence and Zinni for every nugget of information, applied our own recent experiences and good old common sense and proceeded to embark on the most difficult, trying, frustrating, harrowing, and emotionally draining experience of our lives. 11 Marines, among thousands, embarking on “our war”. In Habbiniyah we learned our craft, mentored our Iraqis, formed the bonds and trust that would carry us through our role in the fight. In Ramadi we applied our craft; we fought, bled, and watched many of our Iraqi brothers suffer great wounds and death. In Ramadi we witnessed our American brothers fall as well.

We learned a great many things in Iraq. Some, perhaps, we wish we had not. We learned how to deal with each other and Iraqis under the extreme stress of combat. I learned that your loved ones, husbands, sons, fathers, and friends are some of the finest men I will ever know. I know how they deal with stress, how they mentor soldiers through firefights (despite the threat to their own lives), how they react to sniper and small arms fire, mortars, and IEDs, how they help the wounded, and handle the fallen. For several months they saw the worst that this war has to offer. To a man, they acquitted themselves with courage, dignity, pride, and honor.

I learned that Iraqi civilians can cry tears of joy in the middle of company sized firefight; because Iraqi soldiers and their advisors came to their help, bandaged their wounds, evacuated them like brothers and provided them the best medical care the US can give. At no time in the past 30 years have they experienced a moment when they mattered; when they counted. Those events are not lost on the people and we will win this fight; one person at a time.

After our unit was attritted to less than 40% they had earned the right to “come off the line”. I am glad the last month in country was “an easier ride”; for my Marines and for our Iraqis. I am certain few Iraqi units experienced the casualty and attrition rate that ours endured. In spite of their quirks and shortcomings, our Iraqis mastered the tasks we put before them and they are well on their way to owning this fight and securing a peace on their terms. I wish them only the best that life can offer.

I also saw the goodness that can spring from all of this. I saw last year’s American high school graduates take the fight to an enemy who is determined and adaptive. I learned that America’s youth could have a good time in the worst of times. They can “escape” when necessary and snap right back into action ~ to fight the good fight, to help a brother, to help the unknown civilian. They can make sanity out of the insanity. The next greatest generation is being tested now ~ and I am sure, has earned the approval of their forebears who fought in Europe, the Pacific, Korea or Viet Nam. I do not worry about the future, because I have seen the best America has to offer and we will be in good shape.

It is now February 2006 and our tour is nearly finished. We have done our part and know our Iraqi battalion is better for having let us into their lives. In time, Iraq too will be better…for the same reasons. Soon this team of 11 Marines will return to their life’s pursuits, in and out of the Corps. But we will always be bound by our shared experiences. Experiences that will keep us together though time and miles will physically separate us.

Give a warm welcome home to your Med-Fah Marine. He deserves it. He has been through hell…but with good friends and in good company. I am sure he will return the sentiment. He knows that without your unfailing support and love none of this would matter.

Now…back to Erik.

LtCol Roger Garay, USMC
Commanding Officer, Military Transition Team
3d Battalion, 2d Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Team update - 08 February 06

Hi all,

Unbelieveably… incredibly… undeniably… this may well be my last blog entry from Ramadi, and from Iraq.

As mentioned earlier, our replacements arrived more than a week ago. There are 10 Marines and one Navy Corpsman. The head of the team is Maj David Richardson. Capt Leo Gregory, my replacement, actually knows LtCol Garay from when they worked together for PP&O at Quantico. They are not (almost) all artillery guys like we have been. A couple of artillery guys, a couple of infantry grunts, an amtracker, a couple of school trained intelligence guys. They all seem like great Marines and sailors, and I think we are leaving 3-2-1 in good hands. I am sure that they are ready for us to leave, too. Besides living four to a small room (imagine your college freshman dorm, but littered with rifles, pistols, helmets and flak jackets), they are ready to take the reins. And we are ready to hand them over.

I will tell you, it has been strange handing this mission and this battalion off to a new team, more so than I had expected. That is NOT to say that I am extending, or am interested in sticking around for another seven months. But we now have a lot of history and a lot of personal and professional pride in what we have done, and now we a handing the keys over to completely new guys. Strange.

From here, we will lift via CH-46 to Taqqadum (TQ), across the street from Habbaniyah, where this all started for us. After a couple of days there, it will be on to Kuwait and then to Cherry Point, NC and Camp Lejeune. Hopefully, we will only be there a couple of days, then it will be back to our families, back to our civilian jobs (for some of us), and back home. As far as the blog goes, I will maintain it for a while longer. Once everyone is home, and safe, I will post a few more stories of what we were up to over here. I will move from “G” to “PG”; you will have to hit your Marine up for the “R” versions of stuff. Our guys did do some pretty amazing things, and some things that we found to be “old hat”, you, gentle reader, would be probably be interested in.

It is now a beautiful sunny day in Ramadi. About 68 degrees, slightly overcast, light breeze. The flies aren’t out in force yet, the mud is drying up, the turnover is nearly complete. We ain’t home yet, but you can see it from here.

You want some funny stuff, you say? Hmmmmmm. Had one of the new lieutenants ask the other day, “Hey, sir, is that a Dagger (an IED clearing vehicle)?” “No,” I said, “that is a forklift.”

Ha ha ha ha ha! I thought that was pretty funny, but I guess you’d have to be here a while.

Look, gotta run. Still very busy. Will post again as soon as I can. I am having trouble posting any pictures from here now for some reason, but I will put some up as soon as I can.