"HONOR, COURAGE, COMMITMENT - not just a bumper sticker." I spent most of the past week with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines in their area of operations near Fallujah. My final interview of the week was with their Battalion Commander. In response to a question about his Marines and their actions and approach in the difficult area that they have been assigned, he described how proud he was of them. His comment that each day they prove that "Honor, courage, commitment (the Marine Corps' Core Values) are not just a bumper sticker" resonated with me based on what I had seen throughout my visit.
To put this comment in context, one has to understand recent history and the locale these Marines operate in. They have been assigned a rather large area situated between the two key cities in Al Anbar; Ramadi and Fallujah. Their area has likely been the unfortunate destination of many insurgents fleeing successful large-scale operations in both of these neighboring cities. As they have worked each day for the past several months to improve the security and quality of life for the local populace, they have been under steady attack by the terrorists who want desparately for them to fail in that mission. 2/8 has paid heavy toll during its time here, including 7 KIA and many more wounded. I was privileged to spend three days with the company that has been hit the hardest, losing 5 of their brothers during their time here. As I observed them conducting census operations in their area of responsibility; a painstaking and often dangerous undertaking which is vital to separate the innocent from the evil, I was amazed at the decency, bravery and professionalism exhibited by each Marine. (In other words: Honor, Courage, Commitment.)
Moving quickly through open areas to mitigate the threat of snipers (who have already claimed members of their company), they contacted each home in their assigned area for that patrol. As the Iraqis came to the door, the Marines treated them with unflagging courtesy and respect. The local citizens seemed to recognize and appreciate this, responding with cooperation and, in some cases, genuine hospitality. Children peeked curiously around parents and smiled shyly when one made eye contact.
Less honorable men wouldn't have the self-discipline to be so gracious toward a popuation that has, at times, harbored those who have killed their brothers. Less courageous men wouldn't have the heart to leave their hardened outpost each day to carry out this dangerous mission. Less committed men wouldn't have the resolve to carry out the complex and tedious jobs they are assigned each day. Fortunately for our nation and for the Iraqi citizens 2/8 has been assigned to protect, these Marines have Honor, Courage and Commitment to spare. It's not just a bumper sticker for them. It's their way of life.
I share this with you because I have seen it with my own eyes and because you will very likely not hear it anyplace else. If one of these troops was to make a mistake or to have a lapse in judgment, you would read it on the front page of every paper in America... that's the unfortunate nature of what we call "news." It is, by definition, the exceptional thing that is reported. The fact that these young men (and I mean young... when I looked at their memorial hall and saw high school graduation dates of 2004 and 2005 it put the youth of these Marines in the context of the students I have taught in my own classroom) make the RIGHT decisions a thousand consecutive times is not noticed or reported at all. But that doesn't mean it's not happening. I'm not exactly sure where we find young people who WANT to do this or how we prepare them to do it SO WELL... I'll just thank God that we do. Keep up the good work Marines. House be house, block by block, your ARE making a difference.