Family and Friends,
In less than 23 hours my tenure here in Iraq will come to a close. In less than a day I, and many others, shall board a transport and head to Kuwait and then ultimately back home to all of you.
To be honest it's almost surreal, all we've known for the last 15 months is this place called Iraq. We've experienced so many highs and so many lows. We've endured (regardless of locale) days on end of mortar and rocket fire. Countless days of "Big Voice" wailing "Incoming, Incoming, Incoming". Running for cover, waiting out the impacts, holding one's breath; listening for the sirens or yells of Medic. We've endured the almost constant thunder of IEDs, RPGs, Car and truck bombs, the staccato of small arms fire. If someone had asked me in June or July if th ere was any hope of turning this thing around I don't know what I'd have told them.
For those that traversed the roads, trails and fields of Iraq there was the constant threat of IEDs, RPGs, suicide bombers, small arms fire, land mines, Houses rigged to explode and all the indigenous people looking for a way to escape the violence, the sectarian murders, the foreign fighters, and the ever present criminal element.
Something happened in June, I (and many others) don't know what it was, cannot quite put our finger on it, but something changed. Good people in Iraq started to stand-up, good people began to join with us. The back of Al Qaida began to break. We achieved a tipping point of sorts, the Iraqi Security forces, long berated for a lack of ability began to take a pre-emptive role in security operations. Good people starting coming forward and telling coalition forces where the bad guys and their tools of war were hidden. We began to roll-up mid and high level AQI and Special Groups leadership, and the more we did, the more the good people of Iraq came forward with even more information.
There are countless thousands of Iraqis on the streets of the country from Baghdad to points west and north. 24 hours a day, seven days a week the people of Iraq provide us the freedom of maneuver we have been looking for in our effort to hunt down and capture (or kill) those that want nothing but chaos for this country.
Along the way, the manner and method our troops employed in the operating environment evolved as well. Instead of standing for anyone particular person and or group we began standing for everyone. We planted ourselves squarely in the middle of those who would do one another harm. We became the arbitrators and the honest brokers. We (the coalition), in the eyes of the Iraqi people, became the "go to guys". In their effort to end the violence and create an environment conducive to rebuilding and pursuing a "normal life", t he Iraqi people began a grass roots movement of running the evil out and governing themselves. There is a litany of things, large and small that turned the tide in our favor last summer, far too many for me to elaborate on here. Suffice to say it was all contingent on the efforts of our youth and the quality and character of our leadership.
Our men and women committed themselves to the fight every day. When they lost a comrade they mourned the same, donned their armor and weaponry and marched back out onto the streets and fields. While small when compared to previous conflicts, our losses where, in the end, debilitating. Our sacrifices took their toll on our soul(s); we will never be the same.
In our fifteen months we have lost nearly 900 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines; we've endured over 10,000 wounded in action. So many sent home for the last time, so many others sent home less than they left. And countless others that will bear the emotional scars of this war for many years to come.
Great progress has been realized over the past year. All attributable to the sacrifice, courage, devotion, persistence and spirit of the American Soldier and Marine. Many of us questioned the resolve, determination and character of our youth. Many of us wondered if we possessed the depth of moral courage to close with evil. Heck, there was a time when I wondered if we could find it in ourselves to simply squeeze the trigger. All those doubts have been addressed, every question answered. I truly pity anyone foolish enough to confront the might of our military and the resolve of our men and women in uniform.
Everything we have accomplished has been made possible by and through the support we've received from all back home. In ways too many to count, you lifted us each day, you sustained us; you encouraged us. You gave us something to set our sights on; the prospect of once again, coming home.
There is so much to say, so many people to thank, so many to give thanks for. To each of you who receives this you have either inspired me, taught me, led me, loved me, sustained me or thankfully made me laugh when I needed it. We, yes all of you included, have achieved a great thing here in Iraq. We shall talk of it for years to come and thank God it appears there will be time enough for it. For now suffice to say, I'm coming home and I owe it all to you.
With great love, respect and admiration,
Thank you, CSM Ciotola, and God bless.