HIGHS AND LOWS… I just returned from a week with the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines in the city of Fallujah. The dramatic, enduring impression I am left with is the mental toughness required (and exhibited) by all of our troops to deal with the emotional highs and lows that occur on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. These Marines work so hard, regularly 18 to 20 hours a day, day after day to make a difference in their area of operations (AO). These differences are sometimes small; a stretch of road that hasn’t been laced with IEDs for several days or a family that returns home because they feel safer due to the Marines’ presence. Sometimes they are large; the capture or elimination of some of the terrorists who are causing all the suffering in this city of 350,000 or the furthering of effective relations with the local police who ARE the long-term solution to peace and stability in this area. Marines allow themselves a small mental celebration when these positives occur… because you have to. Psychologically one has to believe that all this effort is having an effect, or you would go crazy.
Marines planning a route on top of a humvee hood during night ops in Fallujah.
The trouble with the mental highs, however brief or humble, is that they set you up for the lows. The greatest low is when you lose a fellow Marine. By historic standards, the losses in this conflict have been small. By human standards, every one is huge – and devastating. Each Marine, and particularly each leader, can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something they could have done to prevent the loss. Of course the answer is no. Given the ruthlessness of the enemy and the determination of the Marines to be out making a difference, only supreme effort and Divine intervention have kept our losses as low as they have been.
What is most remarkable is the ability of Marines at all levels to “shake it off” and keep going. They mourn quietly, inside… and drive on. I can’t fathom how they do it… but they do. Supreme credit should be given to these young warriors for the way they carry on with their mission each day with an incredible sense of professionalism. Their restraint, their discretion and their courage each day are amazing. What they are being asked to do is harder than the “kinetic” types of combat operations they have been trained to do for most of their careers, but they are carrying out these more subtle and delicate missions with incredible effectiveness. When they get back home, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate what they have done.