- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By "Seth M."
Best Defense guest memoirist
Former 3/1 Marine and veteran of Fallujah II here. I’ll admit that the recent events in Anbar have been disheartening, to say the least. As you’re aware, the news of Fallujah, Karmah, parts of Ramadi, etc. falling into ISIS/AQI hands has been accompanied by a narrative that these events have somehow made the Iraq War not worth fighting, on balance, Paul Szoldra’s "Tell Me Again, Why Did My Friends Die in Iraq?" being the most prominent example.
I posted a comment to Facebook the other day, to the effect that it could be worse — imagine being a Vietnam veteran and seeing the fall of Saigon in 1975. Most of the comments from my 3/1 friends were of slight anger, to the cynical resignation of "I’m surprised it took this long." Then a hard-charging machine gunner from our company posted:
"You know what I hate worse? Being portrayed as some unfortunate creature because of this, the vast majority of us were overjoyed for the opportunity to get in a real fight. Stop treating us like weak little pussies in the media; we’re men, fighting men."
Going back to November 2004 this is true. Having sat in Karmah since June, taking mortar, rocket, and IED attacks on a near-daily basis, I Co. 3/1 knew that a sizable share of our enemy and his weaponry were coming from the city not 10 kilometers to the due southwest. Almost to the man, we were looking forward to seizing Fallujah (one guy from K Co. tried to shoot himself in the foot but only hit the webbing between his toes, an exception). As we got along in the seven-month tour, the biggest concern became that the battle would be postponed for this reason or that until January, after 3/1 rotated out of theater and we would miss it.
The battle for Fallujah might have been about the future of Iraq at the political/strategic level, or about stabilization at the operational level. But at the personal level it was never much more than a punitive mission, and one that we were eager to fight at that. We accepted this mission with a happy heart despite its costs. Current events haven’t changed that.
"Seth M." served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005 and deployed in support of OIF I and OIF II. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works as an analyst for the federal government. He harbors ambivalent feelings about the Iraq War.