House Panel Hears Commanders Laud Troops' Performance
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2004 Army and Marine Corps field commanders gave high marks to their troops' performance during a House Armed Services Committee hearing here today.
Junior officers, noncommissioned officers and newly enlisted soldiers and Marines drew praise not only for their courage and professionalism in combat, but also for their interactions with the Iraqi people.
Five officers testified:
- Army Col. Michael Linnington, who served as a 101st Airborne Division brigade commander in Iraq.
- Marine Lt. Col. Bryan P. McCoy, who commanded the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in Iraq.
- Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey A. Springman, who served in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 39th Field Artillery.
- Marine Capt. Morgan Savage, who served as a company commander for the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in two Operation Iraqi Freedom deployments.
- Army Capt. Patrick Costello, who served as a company commander in a 101st Airborne Division air defense artillery battery in Iraq.
"It was not uncommon for my soldiers to be rebuilding schools and medical clinics during the day and conducting mounted and foot patrols at night, or fighting insurgents in one part of town while assisting with elections in another," Linnington said. "In all of these operations, our soldiers performed magnificently with courage, dedication, selflessness, compassion and respect for the Iraqi people that made me very proud to be their commander."
Linnington said the brigade's junior leaders made him especially proud. "Our junior leaders displayed tremendous maturity in their leadership and tackled responsibility that is normally reserved for those much more senior in rank," he said. "It wasn't uncommon in my zone for young lieutenants and sergeants to be conducting traditional infantry tasks like raids, securing key infrastructure, and conducting foot patrols with newly trained Iraqi security forces."
The brigade's young leaders, he added, also conducted nontraditional missions such as supervising harvests, restoring key oil and water facilities, settling land disputes, retraining city and border police and helping with local elections.
The colonel cited Costello's air defense artillery battery as an example of how young leaders and soldiers adapted to what he called "diverse and challenging" tasks.
"Once we transitioned to stability operations," he said, "Pat became my Emergency Response Program coordinator, responsible for all the humanitarian and rebuilding operations in my portion of Iraq." Costello, he said, oversaw more than 700 projects valued at more than $7 million, all designed to improve the average Iraqi citizen's quality of life.
"Pat's unit of about 120 soldiers quickly transitioned from their air defense artillery tasks to convoy and fuel escort missions," Linnington said, "traversing hundreds of miles daily from the borders with Turkey to Baghdad and from Mosul to the western border with Syria, all helping (to) get fuel primarily propane and benzene to the families in the remote regions of that country."
The soldiers' interaction with the Iraqi people isn't limited to fighting insurgents, Linnington said. "Our soldiers are serving with compassion and respect for the Iraqi people," he said, "and genuinely care about the cultural sensitivities in this largely tribal environment.
"This relationship goes far beyond the things you might expect, such as respecting local customs and traditions," he continued. "It goes as far as coordinating delivery of donated school supplies from American families sent in the mail to needy Iraqi school children, or fixing playgrounds and soccer fields on soldiers' off time, or donating food and money for sick and poor Iraqi families.
"Acts of kindness both from and toward our soldiers (are) rarely reported in our news media," he continued, "but they're everyday facts of life in Iraq."
McCoy, now assigned to the National War College, commanded his battalion through both of its deployments to Iraq. He said the unit's young Marines were "amazing" in their ability to transition from combat operations to a "much more ambiguous" security and stability mission, noting that many of them "were last year's high school seniors."
"They instinctively knew what to do," he said, "and demonstrated great compassion on a people that had known only terror and fear."
Local Iraqi police stations were "weak, demoralized and easily intimidated institutions that did not hold the respect of their adversaries, the people, even of themselves." He said his Marines turned them into "confident, proactive departments that were respected and not feared by the average Iraqi citizen."
Marines also made great progress with the citizens themselves, McCoy said, especially with Iraqi children. "Perhaps the biggest impact we made was on the children," he said. "Marines and sailors love kids, and the relationship was an easy one to forge. The children are the future of Iraq. They no longer have to fear for their parents being murdered or raped by their government."
McCoy had high praise for Marines serving in Iraq. "Your young Marines have demonstrated incredible courage, endurance, will and compassion on a daily basis, all to make a better Iraq," he said. "And I believe we're being successful."
Springman, who now serves on the Army headquarters staff and spent more than a year in Iraq, commented on soldiers' dedication and versatility.
"Daily, I witnessed artillery lieutenants and sergeants leading patrols to the same standard as infantry leaders, and quickly switching back to their artillery duties without a misstep," he said. "These same leaders performed duties as civil affairs officers. Additionally, we have soldiers alive because their immediate leaders ensured they were properly trained and maintained uniform standards despite the extreme conditions."
Savage, now the academics officer at the Marine Corps' Officer Candidate School, served two deployments in Iraq, and echoed McCoy's high regard for the Iraqi police with whom he worked. They progressively took over more of the security responsibilities that coalition forces, and the Marines in particular, had been charged with, he said.
"They progressively put themselves in harm's way more and more to outdo our level of commitment," he added. "They took the task serious, and they took us serious, because we were committed to the task at hand, and our actions are what spoke to the Iraqi people."
Costello said that as well as his soldiers performed in both traditional and nontraditional missions, they didn't represent an isolated case. "My soldiers are just one example of the great work being done by our military on a day-to- day basis in Iraq," he said. "The missions that we completed are a testament to the flexibility and ingenuity of our soldiers, and I'm proud top serve with all soldiers."