WATCH: Marines remember Operation Iraqi Freedom 20 years later
In 2023, the U.S. Marine Corps has some of the most experienced combat leaders it has had since the Vietnam War. This experience was gained through years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 20 years ago, the 1st Marine Division traveled 250 road miles over the course of 28 days from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad, Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist regime from power. The young Marines who fought during those four weeks are now senior leaders within the Corps and shared their stories about Operation Iraqi Freedom on the Marines YouTube page.
Just a few days before the pre-dawn invasion kicked off on March 20, 2023, then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis distributed a letter to the 1st Marine Division. "When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender," he wrote. "While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."
Following an extensive air campaign against strategic Iraqi targets, including those in Baghdad, Marines breached the berms and border defenses to begin the land invasion. Good illumination that evening helped the night operation run smoothly. 20,000 Marines and sailors, organized into three regimental combat teams, spearheaded the charge to the Iraqi capital. Light and self-sufficient, the RCTs conducted the longest sequence of coordinated overland attacks in the history of the Marine Corps.
Fighting on the road to Baghdad was fierce, with many Marines experiencing combat for the first time. The experiences gained and lessons learned during the opening weeks and through the rest of Operation Iraqi Freedom provided the Corps with the seasoned leaders that it has today. Operation Iraqi Freedom continued through to December 2011 with tens of thousands of Marines serving in support. Over 8,000 Marines were wounded in action and 1,023 made the ultimate sacrifice.
Feature Image: U.S. Marine Corps