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Lt. Gen. John E. Sattler
1st Marine Expeditionary Force
Somewhere near Fallujah, Iraq
Congratulations on your splendid Marines’ retaking of Fallujah last November. The mission was accomplished in the proud tradition of Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir and Hue City.
During the past four months, your force also cleaned the clocks of some of the baddest guys going in Anbar Province, one of the toughest killing fields in Iraq. I’m convinced that if other units mirror your performance and the American people hang in there, we’ll see light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel by the end of this decade.
But as you well know, armies are made up of extraordinary units, good units and a few sorry outfits that aren’t up to standards. It all depends on leadership. Good leadership means good units.
Regarding leadership in your command, I’ve recently received a sea bag full of letters from individual Marines and their families concerning a rash of injustices that violate everything the Corps stands for.
All those involved in this sordid mess are seasoned warriors who – when asked last year – volunteered from civilian life to rejoin the Corps as replacements from the Individual Ready Reserves. Read: They did not have to go. As a combat-veteran grunt Marine told me, “How could I say no?”
Last May, in one instance, 200 recently discharged Marines volunteered to re-enlist when asked, with the knowledge that they would be deployed to Iraq as “casualty replacements.” Those who qualified were promised promotions to sergeant.
A Marine’s mother says: “These brave Marines were all told verbally during the past nine months that they’d be promoted to sergeant. None of them has received his promotion, and they’ve been called by their battalion leaders undeserving and not real Marines. … We are prepared to barrage all of their superior officers and our own congressmen and women with all the facts and figures as soon as they get home.”
Another Marine mother adds: “My son is serving in the … battalion in Iraq. He completed his four years’ service in the Corps and was honorably discharged. Then after two years of re-establishing his civilian life, he volunteered to re-enlist for a one-year tour when his country asked him to serve to replace casualties in Iraq.” According to the mother, her son explained: “My country called. It was my honor to serve once again.”
In a nutshell, the Marines who were promised a stripe were met instead with two-bit chicanery: Their test scores, which in the USA were more than high enough to merit promotions, were tampered with once they hit Iraq by unit old-timers who altered both the scores and date of rank in order to put the replacements at the end of the promotion line behind all the connected, regular good ol’ boys who deployed with the unit. The volunteers were essentially made ineligible for those promised promotions.
As one parent puts it, “Many of the officers and NCOs apparently consider men they refer to as ‘temporary Marines’ as unqualified for promotion because they take promotions from enlisted Marines.”
Every letter we’ve received expresses great shock at these machinations. A Marine Vietnam-vet father says, “I know what the system does to anyone who rats out the chain of command.”
The families are understandably furious and ready to blow the whistle, except for the fear of retaliation to their loved ones. But expect that to change the minute their nearest and dearest step off the plane.
Your public-affairs officer has been e-mailed chapter and verse by Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth, a retired Marine who has also passed the word to fellow Marine Beltway staffers and warns that SFTT will drop the hammer on your command if this injustice is not quickly corrected.
To treat these hero Marines like boots and to fiddle with their service records stinks. While this type of abuse isn’t happening across the board in your command, it’s widespread enough to hurt the morale of too many of your outstanding young Marines.
Hopefully you’ll form a task force ASAP to nail the perps and make sure the victims get their stripes.
Semper fi, and keep up the good work,
Eilhys England contributed to this column.