Iraq: What Could Have Been

July 22nd, 2014
By James Zumwalt

In the aftermath of the ISIS advance through Iraq and into Syria, the question has been raised in the media as to whether the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq would have made a difference in stopping such a determined enemy or just delayed the eventuality of its ultimate success.

That question called to mind a speech given by then Lieutenant General John Kelly, U.S. Marine Corps, on November 13, 2010.

Kelly shared the story of two junior enlisted Marines in a speech “Six Seconds to Live.” The two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale, 21, and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, were standing guard duty at the main gate to the Joint Security Station Nasser in Ramadi, Iraq, along with their Iraqi security counter-parts. Inside, a mixed force of U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers were still sleeping in the early morning hours of April 22, 2008.

There was a long alleyway leading to the entrance. A truck turned into it and began racing towards the gate. We will never know what the final thoughts of the two Marines were that morning but they may well have instinctively been reflecting upon the tragic 1983 Beirut Marine Barracks bombing that claimed 241 American lives. These Marines were just as determined to stop the truck from breaking through the gate to repeat that carnage as was the driver to cause it. The question was, whose will would prevail?

Kelly had viewed a salvaged security video leaving no doubt what the actions were of Yale and Haerter who, although coming from different units, acted in unison without any coordination that day. Their initial attempt to avoid shooting the driver by waving him off proved futile. As Iraqi security personnel ran for cover, Kelly described, second-by-second, how the two Marines stood their ground.

It was clear at no point did the Marines consider their own safety. Every last second of their lives was committed to protecting those inside the compound. As the Marine guards opened fire on the driver, killing him, the truck blew up, short of its objective. The Marine Corps lost two heroes that day as Yale and Haerter were instantly killed.

Both Marines were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

Kelly has eloquently observed:

“This is not a criticism, but those with less of a sense of service to the nation will never understand it when men and women of character step forward and look danger and adversity straight in the eye, and refuse to blink or give ground even to their own deaths. The protected can’t begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at night. What they are missing, what they will also never understand, is the sense of commitment, joy, and honor of serving one’s country in uniform…”

“The young people I work with every day and serve the nation in the armed forces, in general, and the Marine Corps, in particular, have broken the mold and stepped out as men and women of character who are making their own way in life while protecting ours. Young people who, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, have a religious faith in self-reliance, hard work, and making it on their own. This is who they are, and it is this philosophy that came to them through their families.”

Interviews with the Iraqis who had survived the ordeal shared their disbelief and admiration at the courage the Marines exhibited that day even as those who should have had a greater interest in standing their ground in their own country failed to do so.

It was undoubtedly a difficult speech for Kelly to give, not only because of losing two fellow Marines but also because, with two sons serving in uniform, he had lost one just four days earlier on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

In an earlier era and in an earlier war-Vietnam-a senior U.S. military commander who also had two sons serving in the conflict, one of whom would later be lost to war-related causes, was unabashedly told by a South Vietnamese general he was surprised to see the sons of senior American officers volunteering to serve in the war as most senior Vietnamese fought to keep their own sons out of it. The son that was lost was this author’s brother.

It is a sad commentary that the latter part of the 20th century and so far the early part of the 21st have born witness to the fact our allies may not be as firmly committed to the fight as we are-even though it is their land and not ours for which we are both fighting.

But there should be no doubt among critics that whenever and wherever American forces are serving, even though outside their own borders, they will defend the land upon which they stand with their last breath.

This warrior creed-so courageously lived to their deaths by these two young Marines six years ago in Ramadi-represents an ethos America has instilled within the character of her fighting forces. Had U.S. forces been left in Iraq long enough for its own army to learn it, the situation on the ground would be much different today.

Read more: Family Security Matters
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Comments are closed.