MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, visited the Combat Center June 12 to give a brief to all Combat Center Marines, Sailors and their spouses.
The issues the commandant addressed were the progress on the war in Iraq, the Haditha and Hamdaniya incidents in Iraq, the 231-year-old Marine Corps legacy and the expectations of Marines in combat.
Two of the briefs were held on the commanding general’s parade field for the I Marine Expeditionary Forces and for Headquarters Battalion, the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School and 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment who are currently aboard the Combat Center for Mojave Viper. There was also a brief for battalion commanding officers and sergeants major in the commanding general’s conference room, and a brief in the Officers’ Club for Marine and Sailor spouses.
The commandant began his brief to the I MEF units with his current feelings on Marine Corps efforts in Iraq.
“We’re at war right now,” Hagee said to the Marines who sat in a “school circle” in front of him. “I think the United States realizes that we are absolutely at war. I know the Marines realize that. And I’ve got to tell you… we’re doing a magnificent job. Whether it’s here in the United States or overseas, you make the difference. And you’re making really good decisions on a very complex and very dangerous battlefield.”
Hagee then spoke about the two controversial incidents in Iraq and the killing of non-combatants. On June 7, Hagee commented publicly on the allegations concerning civilian deaths in Haditha and Hamdaniya, Iraq, on the Pentagon Channel. He told reporters that he could not comment on the situation until the investigation on the incident was complete. He told Combat Center service members the same.
“I think there’s a lot of hyperbole in the papers right now,” said Hagee, referring to recent headlines in newspapers regarding the incidents. “I’m not going to talk about that because we have investigations going on right now, and we’re going to find out what happened. And if there are individuals out there who did something against the rules, regulations and our principals, they will be held accountable.”
The commandant went on to mention to the Marines that they set a high standard for other military services in the United States and around the world.
“You all set the standard on and off the battlefield,” said Hagee. “You set the standards on how you accomplish the mission. You are the gold standard. We should be very proud of that. I know I am. It is because of what every single one of you do every single day. You are the gold standard as far as performance in a military uniform.
“I’ve often wondered why we have a Marine Corps,” continued the commandant. “We have the best Army; we have the best Navy; and the Air Force is the best air force in the world. So, why do we have a Marine Corps? I’ve come to a conclusion that we have the Marine Corps for one reason. It is because the American people want it. They want an elite organization that they can be unbelievably proud of. They want an organization that has the discipline, that has the ethos, and that has the ability to make the right decision under very, very difficult conditions. I heard more than once, when the Marine Corps goes to play, the American people say ‘Aha! Now we’re serious.’”
Hagee left an impression on the Marines and Sailors who joined at the parade field for his brief. For most, the brief was very motivating, said Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy A. Staton, India Company gunnery sergeant, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
“When the Marines asked him questions, his straight-forward answers were extremely appreciated,” said Staton. “He gave us the non-political side of answers. The Marines who heard him speak probably left a lot more motivated and proud of being Marines. The history of our Corps was even better to hear coming from the commandant of the Marine Corps.”
The commandant’s message of the two incidents in Iraq was also very understood, said Maj. Michael P. Hubbard, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine’s executive officer.
“I believe the point he wanted to make, that we will all remember, is the [Haditha] situation is currently under investigation,” Hubbard said. Additionally, he said, we must allow the investigation to run its course. However, one message came through as unmistakable for the Marines and Sailors in attendance, “The commandant was very clear when he said if wrongs were made those individuals will be held accountable — in Iraq or at home.”