SAN DIEGO, September 2, 2016 – Deployed troops with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) have been assisting and advising Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) – forming crucial alliances to help them win their war against ISIS. Marines know that as they interrupt the insurgents’ plans, ISIS will terrorize fewer victims and claim less territory.
Colonel Jason Bohm, Commander, 5th Marine Regiment, was quoted saying in early 2015 that SPMAGTF- CR-CC’s planning for the fight in the Middle East took place for months. Since the first 1900-strong unit was activated in October 2014, there have been four rotations of the SPMAGTF-CR-CC. The first rotation under Col Bohm was added to in March 2015 with the second rotation, comprised of the 7th Marines, commanded by Colonel Jay Bargeron.
Task Force Al Asad (TFAA) opened under Bohm, and Task Force Al-Taqaddum (TFTQ) opened under Bargeron, and both operated concurrently. Public Affairs spokesperson, 1st Lieutenant Matthew Gregory, informs that both TFAA and TFTQ fall under a coalition called Combined, Joint, Force Land Component Command-Iraq (CJFLCC-I) and are heavily supported by SPMAGTF Marines for security, logistics, communications and more. Gregory further clarifies, “The SPMAGTF mission and the TFAA/TFTQ missions are separate.” There are plenty of tasks to fill defeating ISIS.
In answer to ‘what are US Marines doing’ in Iraq? They are leading and training Iraqi Security ground forces to fight their own fight. Are they in danger? It’s a war zone. Are they interrupting ISIS plans? Christopher J. (C.J.) Douglas, Task Force Commander for TFTQ, seems to think so.
Leading Marines through the sting of terror
A storied leader, Douglas leaves a trail of advising and building indomitable forces, including serving as a commanding officer of Company Fox (F), 2/25 Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003. He conducted combat operations and ongoing security operations in An Nasiriyah, Iraq. From 2004-2006, he assumed command of Company Kilo (K), 3/25, leading counter-insurgency operations in Al Anbar Province – a hellhole that featured heavy urban warfare and claimed many US lives. This left a bitter taste in the mouths of many against US Iraq involvement.
In March 2006, he returned home to attend a year-long military education program, followed by serving as a commander and an executive officer in various ongoing assignments. In 2013 he assumed duties as a senior advisor for 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon his return, he facilitated the transition of Advisor Training Skills to II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF).
No stranger to the steely grip of leadership, and battle-tested alum of the first Iraq conflict, Douglas was selected as the Senior leader for the 23D Marines in September 2014. The third rotation of 1st Marines to deploy to Ramadi in October 2015 would happen during his watch.
Growing up in the 80’s, Douglas wanted to serve his country and planned to go into military service right out of high school. Instead, he attended Marist College, where he played Division III football. In 1990, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Throughout college, he served in the US Army Reserves, and then the Marine Corps challenge, ‘Try to be one of us’, caught his attention.
“There was just something different about Marines,” said Douglas. After joining, he was convinced he wanted to be an Infantry officer and lead Marines. As a college football placekicker Douglas relates, “I was protected by ten other guys.” A Marine’s ethos is hauntingly similar, ‘You depend on the service member on your right and left.”
“What’s important here [in Ramadi] is the coach,” said Douglas, “While the coach isn’t on the field, he’s using his expertise and slightly wider perspective of the action on the field to advise his players.” Assisting ISF to be better is his game plan, sending the Marines’ battle skills taught to Iraqi soldiers to the fight.
“There’s no time outs, no referee. We have the rule of law. Mistakes and losses have real consequences,” he added, “We’re giving them the best advice and support we can, because their success is ultimately why we are here.”
Ramadi counts then and now
In Al Anbar province, where Douglas and his SPMAGTF Marines are working, success was once hard won in cities like Ramadi. Starting in 2004, the center for the Iraq insurgency was in Ramadi and in 2006 the Islamic State of Iraq claimed it as their capital. The city was under siege with corruption, lawlessness, street battles, and had no functioning government.
Millions of Americans were going about their daily lives, while service members like US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle were protecting Iraqi civilians and Marines and soldiers engaged in heavy urban warfare. In his book, American Sniper, Kyle stated that an Army analysis concluded there were three terrorist groups stirring the hornet’s nest in Ramadi – hard-core Islamic fanatics associated with Al Qaeda, semi-fanatical locals who wanted to kill Americans, and criminal gangs looking to score from the chaos.
The ‘Battle of Ramadi’ ran from April to November 2006, leaving more than 80 US troops dead and hundreds injured. More than 1000 Americans were killed in Al Anbar Province – considered a most dangerous place. The costly victory was entangled in a controversial firestorm at home, as US troops were withdrawn from Iraq, leaving them to maintain security. In 2015, shocked service members and their families saw the defeat of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, and the black flags of ISIS flying over the city.
In the US attempt to help Iraqi forces retake Ramadi, Douglas explained from his central command post at Al-Taqaddum Air Base, in spring 2016, that ISF are the ones facing Daesh (ISIS) every day. As ISF identifies a specific need, SPMAGTF-CR-CC will offer their expertise and experience.
Douglas explained, “My medical advisors have executed medical training to Iraqi medics. We saw them bring casualties in and utilize the techniques they had learned the week before.”
Douglas’ task force at Al Taqaddum conducted engineer training so ISF can breach mine fields. “Instead of dismantling one IED at a time, we’ve seen combined arms breaching – meaning they are able to breach obstacles and at the same time utilize fires – even direct fire (in the line of sight) and indirect fire (projectiles aimed using azimuth and elevation sights).” SPMAGTF has taught how to more effectively communicate with higher, adjacent, and subordinate units working together in the field.
Douglas’ advisors have worked with ISF’s artillery section. “We’ve seen an enhanced ability for them to get rounds on target, which ultimately gives them their own support in the attack and in the defense.” SPMAGTF assists Iraqi ground soldiers with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fires – including airstrikes. “It’s the ability to see and engage the enemy,” said Douglas.
“On a couple of occasions, Daesh has executed a well-planned, coordinated attack, but what’s important to remember is that ISF has stood strong. In some cases they’ve lost ground, however each and every time, they’ve retaken that ground and more. That’s what led to their securing of the city center of Ramadi and then the urban areas. We’ve seen the weakening of Daesh in the area,” stated Douglas, who further clarifies that outlying areas are still being cleared of IEDs.
Clearing will continue with the fourth rotation of 5th Marines, who replaced 1st Marines in March 2016. In the month following, another 2,300 rotational force (2/7) was deployed. Members of 2/7 will be the ground combat element of the task force working with 5th Marines lending logistical support.
First Lieutenant Christopher Harrison, a spokesperson for SPMAGTF-CR-CC, told Marine Corps Times, “The new rotation of the crisis response force will be tasked with rapidly responding to a variety of contingencies in the combatant command.” Contingencies include training, airstrikes, recovery of downed aircraft and pilots, and enhanced embassy security.
Futures for the Iraq investment
No country has given more to the cause of freedom than America. America has helped defeat imperialism, fascism, Nazism, and communism. When evil presents itself, threatening those who cannot fight evil alone – the US has been there.
“You have to look at how much time, money, and effort has already been invested here in Iraq, by not just the Marines, but us as a country with all of our service members and coalition partners in the past and currently,” stated Douglas. “If you were to talk to Iraqi Security Forces, they’ll tell you that they’re our partners.” Douglas informs they are there at the request of the Iraqi government and work with local governance who reiterate time and again how appreciative they are for SPMAGTF’s assistance.
“Ultimately by providing them with the advice and assistance now, instead of us being the ones doing the fighting – we’re increasing the chances for long-term stability, said Douglas. “ They’re the ones that are going to remain in the region maintaining security.”
Douglas talks about ‘a delicate balance’. “You always want to get in and get involved,” he said. It’s in the constant communications with higher headquarters and ISF partners, that SPMAGTF, as a crisis-response task force, finds that balance.
According to Douglas, once the Iraqi Security Forces establish security in Ramadi through military actions – that will set conditions for a political solution. “A political solution is the only thing that is going to prevent this from re-occurring,” he stated. “What we’re doing at Al Taqaddum is assisting them in setting the conditions for political action to take hold.”
Liberty or ISIS at home or abroad
History has proven that tyrants and dictators are notorious for crushing human liberty. They rule with fear and suffering – inflicting horrific punishments and death on the non-compliant. The big fight for America and globally, is to stop radical Islamic terrorists from forcing populations to be compliant to their version of Sharia law. The terrorists are spewing innocent blood and displacing families in their attempts to establish it.
Douglas assures that now, “The enemy knows they’re not just facing the US, they’re facing a powerful in-country force. It’s been a great experience working with members of the task force from all the services. We’ve got a generation of men and women who have answered a call to serve a higher purpose and right now that higher purpose is enabling Iraqi Security Forces to succeed in their fight against ISIS.”
The debate remains…are we safer at home because of our role in Iraq’s fight? “If they [ISIS] are no longer dominant on the battlefield here – that equates to a loss of assets, personnel, money. As their attacks are repelled and they’re experiencing defeat, that’s going to contribute to stability here and stability abroad,” remitted Douglas.
No life given for the cause of liberty is ever wasted. Fighting enemies of freedom was never easy, but US Marines repeatedly rise to the task. Inspired leaders inspire action, “We’re seeing the challenges as opportunities,” owns Douglas. “Every day is another opportunity to excel.”