Commandant speaks to Iraqi Freedom veterans

17 Jun 2003 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

General Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, June 17 addressed Marines, sailors and soldiers assigned to the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

Holding court in an amphitheater near the historic ruins of Babylon, Hagee told the Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans he was proud of their accomplishments in liberating the Iraqi people and eliminating the Ba'athist regime.

"For the Marines, you've represented the Marine Corps very well," he said.  "And everyone has represented their nation very well."

Now that major hostilities have ended, the first priority for Marine forces in Iraq is to begin resuming the standard deployment cycle in order to be prepared for contingencies around the world.

"Right now, we're getting ready to reconstitute the force," Hagee said, "getting back to a six month rotation to Okinawa, six month rotations for the Marine Expeditionary Units, and handing over what you do to coalition forces.  It's event-driven.  We want to ensure that we properly prepare the battlespace to prepare coalition forces for success."

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Alford L. McMichael, who accompanied the commandant, told the troops that people back home were proud of their service.

"If you think the Iraqi people are proud of you, it can't even come close to what the American people are celebrating," he said.  "I can honestly stand before you and say that each and every one of them keeps you in their prayers."

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps team in liberating Iraq is the pride of Marines throughout the Corps, Hagee said.

"Nobody can do what the Navy and Marine Corps can do projecting power ashore," he said.  "Marines went further and faster than ever before.  You've written new pages of history.  Everyone who wears the eagle, globe and anchor is proud of what you've done."

After the general and sergeant major spoke, the floor was opened to questions from those attending.  One question focused on the distinguished role of reservists in Iraqi Freedom.

"We mobilized about 21,000 out of 41,000 reservists," "And 75 percent of those served here in Iraq, doing - it seems to me - as well as any active duty battalion," Hagee said.

Before the commandant left, he remarked on the troops' living conditions at Babylon.

"There's nothing like living in the enemy's palaces," he said.