USS NASSAU (LHA-4), Underway -- Less than a week after ground actions commenced in Operation Iraqi Freedom, members of Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines ("The Warlords"), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) received orders to go ashore in Kuwait and proceed north to Central Iraq for combat operations as part of the Marine Corps' Task Force Tarawa.
The orders came as a surprise to the unit, whose members were seven months into a routine overseas deployment, having been extended once already past the normal six-month rotation. Marines and Sailors in the unit were making preparations to sail home when the orders were received.
The 24th MEU had honed its skills prior to entering Iraq, during a rigorous pre-deployment training program and during peace support operations in Kosovo, live-fire exercises throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility, anti-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, and humanitarian assistance missions in Kenya.
After almost a month in country, The Warlords re-embarked aboard ships of the USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group and began the journey home. They had successfully conducted raids, convoys, civil affairs, and other missions during their time in Iraq.
On his first night back aboard ship, 1stSgt Paul Berry, of the battalion's Weapons Company, received an e-mail from his former battalion commander, who asked him to record his observations about the experience. What follows is his reply; the subject line for his e-mail read "From the Warlords."
These remarks were distributed widely and with surprising speed after being written. This version is an attempt to address a demonstrated desire for the information, while clarifying some areas in the text that might be difficult for non-Marines to understand. The remarks have been edited for clarity only.
The First Sergeant's observations reflect a common-sense - not a policy or doctrinal - approach. They reflect his main concerns as a Marine Corps Staff NCO - to care for his Marines and to ensure the appropriate use of force in country.
These remarks "From the Warlords" reflect the unit's overarching goal in Iraq: destroying the enemy while protecting innocent civilians during wartime.
First Sergeant, Welcome back. I tracked the Warlords closely during your stay
in country; dammed proud of each and every one of you. Would very much enjoy
hearing your thoughts and after action assessments as you sail home. You
guys are probably busy as hell right now, cleaning and packing up, and I know
a First Sergeant's work is never done. Please pass on my congrats to the team
for a job well done. I look forward to hearing from you soon. LDN
Sir, the WARLORDS are back-loading. We are bringing every Marine and Sailor home. I can't even begin to say what an honor it was to serve beside those young Marines. They did everything asked of them and asked for more. True professionals. No stupid mistakes. No stupid safety issues. Just good,hard execution at the NCO level. I am not worthy to stand in the same formation with these men. They all grew several years older in a matter of weeks. As we sort this out I will send some pictures of the WARLORDS in action. Someone was looking out for us on this one. Weapons Company's new motto is "no one works harder." Semper Fi, 1stSgt Berry
Sir, without making a big formal list at this time:
Start a sleep plan before you go ashore and ensure your Marines sleep. No vehicle accidents because we made Marines sleep.
Sapie (bullet-proof) plates in the flaks. Yes, they are heavy but worked.
Forced hydration works.
"Stand to" (initiate a heightened state of alert) morning and evening no matter what. Plan around these events if you can.
MOLLE (modular) LBV (load bearing vest) is crap. We put all of our gear on the flak jacket.
Know how to read and do everything off a 1:100,000 map or even Lat-Long.
GPS does work. Use checkpoints. We made maps of towns and routes by hand.
Several NAMs (Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medals) going to LCpl's (Lance Corporals) who drew copies of maps and routes at all hours. Great work!
Field Hygiene. Marines got sick. Some pretty bad. Look at your Marines daily if you can. Ask questions. Marines will not tell you they are sick until they go down hard. They are a proud bunch.
Know first aid. Make it a top training event. Get medical supplies and put them in each vehicle. We used an ammo can with pressure dressings and IV's. Teach your Marines how to give IV's.
Logistics drove operations. Ask the 4 (logistics section) before you do any event. We made some long moves, as long as 15 hours on the road at a time. Plan your supplies. Fuel was the key more than water. There is always room for some chow.
NVG's (Night Vision Goggles) work. Use them. All night devices worked great. Batteries can be an issue. Plan!
A combat load is heavy on the Marines and the vehicles. Take only what you need.
Always plan fire support. We held a major road intersection in the middle of nowhere. We used Mortars as security and out of the blue we needed Mortar fire. Plan for it. Lay guns in all four directions for 360-coverage. Plan on-call targets. Plan for and use illum (illumination rounds).
Training in combat? You bet. Talk through it, walk through it. Use sticks and rocks. Get the corporal up there to brief what is going on. He knows more than most. Immediate action drills for everything.
MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear is hot. Plan for it. Marines wore nothing under the MOPP gear to stay cool. Do NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) drills. Do NBC drills while driving.
Study Convoy operations. If you have CAAT (Combined Anti-Armor Team), JAV (Javelin Weapons Systems), or LAR (Light Armored Reconnaissance), put them in charge and have them run the convoy. You may be senior but they know how to do this and this lets commanders worry about the bigger picture. Brief your convoys. Never "just drive away". Give each vehicle a number, from 1 to the very end. Some convoys were big. We went from 1 to 75. Know the senior man in each vehicle. Know what is in you convoy. An Avenger has FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared scope). Use everything to your advantage. Forget call signs. Use the vehicle numbers. It worked!
Plan to have no air on station. We had none (due to the MEU's Aviation Combat Element being detached from the unit). Plan for 81's (mortars) hip shoots.
Plan for a react force for any major event. Have that reserve ready. We used it several times. CAAT, LAR, JAV, even 5 (five-ton) trucks of HQ type guys with SAWS (Squad Automatic Weapons) is better than nothing.
Plan for vehicle recovery and brief it. Get more tow bars. Use tow straps. Spread your MT Mechs all over the BLT (Battalion Landing Team). These guys saved us everyday.
Know how to re-trans VHF communications and plan for it. We talked 65 kilometers with it. Know HF and use it.
PM (Preventive Maintenance) everything as time permits. Our vehicles never ran better because the Marines did not want to get stuck on the side of the road. If a vehicle goes down in a convoy give them 5 minutes and after that tow it. If several go down, plan for multiple tows. If the situation is bad, plan to grab mission-type gear and radios and blow the vehicle. You can get another vehicle if it prevents a firefight.
Use panel markers, IR (Infrared) Chemlites and STROBES to ID your vehicles and positions. Saves lives.
Know how to enter and exit friendly lines on foot and in vehicle. With and without comm. 3X2 (signal system) with NVG's works.
Use the LEATHERNECK (all-hands message) to let friendly units know when fire is outgoing. This really applies to mortars. Marines get really jumpy when mortars start going off.
EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) is your friend. Don't blow enemy weapons on your own unless you have to. Mark it and get a grid and call EOD.
Plan for medevac. On foot, vehicles and air. Don't count on the air (as they may have other operational commitments). Look for LZ's (Landing Zones) at all times.
Get your Marines mail to them even if it means shooting your way to them with LAV's. They get mail and they will do anything for you.
Use the SAT Phone. Forget the cost. Grab a few young Marines when you can and let them call home. That Marine could lead the entire Bn. (battalion) after he talks to his wife after a firefight.
Never baby your Marines. Expect the world from them. Never back off. They want to show you they can do the job. When you think you need a SSgt. to do the job grab a Cpl. or Sgt. and he will do it better and faster.
NCO's run the fight no matter how much you get on the radio. Sit back and listen to them. You might just learn something from them.
LAV's rule the desert. Use them if you have them.
Big convoy on the hardball? At night? Turn the lights on and go as fast as the slowest vehicle. Point a few dozen machineguns outboard and drive like hell. LAV's and 7 tons can do 65 at night on the hardball. Tell your Marines to stay off the roads at night. Convoys will go by on short notice. It's better to be going fast and be able to see than trying to have 75 vehicles going 20 MPH on NVG's.
Driving or walking ensure you are looking up, down, left and right at all times.
A clean weapon is a happy weapon. Plan for it. Inspect them.
Strip everything off your vehicles that you don't need. Sandbag your vehicles. Carry as much ammo as you can. Strip highback vehicles down. Hang the packs on the sides and get as many rifles pointing left and right as you can. Take the doors off everything except hardbacks and FAV's (Fast Attack Vehicles). Never let the A-driver attach the handset to his helmet strap. You need to be able to get out of the vehicle fast. Pistols suck. Bring and use every weapon. Shotguns are great at close ranges.
Dig holes, dig many of them. Use demo if you have to. Dig down at all cost. Can't dig down? Use as many sandbags as you can to build up.
Look at your sectors of fire. This really applies at night. Even if it is only two guys with pistols you need to ensure full coverage.
Use snipers. They saved us many times. Give them a mission and let them go.
If you have to stop and get out of the vehicles, find or make cover. Vehicles attract bullets.
We had no problem with Marines using lights at night because they did not use them at all. They will learn to do everything in total darkness.
Even in combat you need to use ground guides around friendly units. Even if it is an emergency! We had no close calls because of this.
Everything you put on a map or write down is classified. Burn it when done.
Burn your trash when you leave a position. Put it all in a fighting hole and put fuel on it and leave.
Remember all the call signs. Remember every net ID. Know the call signs and net IDs of higher units. If other units are in the area but not part of your MEU, ensure you can talk to them. Go through great pains to do this. It prevents accidents.
Kids were everywhere. Don't throw anything out of the vehicles. Bring OC (pepper) spray, yes even to combat. Works great on dogs, kids and POWS. (It's for their protection. It's better to spray them than be forced to take more extreme measures in extreme circumstances.)
Know how to do a real vehicle checkpoint. Stand off distance. Wire, obstacles, sandbags, dig holes. We used everything we could get our hands on. We used old cars for cover and used a forklift to move them. Cover your checkpoints with heavy fire. Know what to do if you suspect an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) on a vehicle or person. Marines are now experts at checking vehicles.
Know how to search a vehicle and people day and night.
Get the chaplain to your pos even if you have to fight your way to him. We did Easter service after stand to at 0300Z.
Ensure you brief any attachments on everything that is going on. Nothing is too small to forget. Assign them holes.
No one has too much rank to dig. (I saw the Lt. Colonel and Sergeant Major digging all the time.)
Plan for where you put your heads (toilets). It's a big deal with over 200 Marines in a matter of hours.
Talk to any units in the area. Ask questions. You will learn so much from them. Talk to the Army. They do good things also.
A can of dip, cigar, pack of smokes and a handshake go along way. A cup of coffee helps. Make a cup if you can and give half to a young Marine at stand to and he will remember it.
Watch your Marines eyes. They tell you everything. Look at your NCO's eyes and you know what is going on.
Buy a short-wave radio and get the news. Write it down under a poncho at 0200. Get the baseball scores out to the Marines and you are a hero.
Have all the e-mail addresses of your Marines' wives. Get to any HHQ (Higher Headquarters) and send a blanket e-mail to all of them.
It's OK to allow the Marines to take their blouse off if it is hot. Their skin gets tough really fast. If it's really hot, they can go around without blousing their boots. Don't worry Sgt.Maj, they won't do it in the rear.
Promote your Marines on time if you can. We promoted a Marine in 81's (Mortar Platoon) to Meritorious SSgt. in the field a few hours after a firefight. Can't begin to put
a price on that.
If nothing is going on, make the junior Marines sleep and you watch the radios for a few hours.
Every Marine is a driver and should have a license. In Weapons Company that needs to be every Marine from the CO down.
Know what a "short count" (coordinated vehicle start-up and shut-down) is and demand you use them.
Ensure your Marines write letters on anything they can get their hands on. MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) boxes work great. I put an ammo can on my vehicle for outgoing mail. Get the mail out. There is always a way. Pass if off to other units if you have to. Find a helo and give him your mail. Give him a can of dip to do it for you.
Know how to do a range card on a piece of MRE box. Use the GVS-5 (laser range finder). We got a distance to everything. Get the word out. If you stop to fix a vehicle close to a town get a distance to a few points and get the word out. You will hear Marines making adjustments on their sights. Only hits count. Know how to estimate range day and night.
Sir, sorry for going on and on but there is so much more. As a 1stSgt, I only paid attention to the little things.