[February 28, 2020] There is an old U.S. Army Engineer motto Essayons, a French word that means “Let us try.” It refers back centuries into the haze of French and English history, meaning that when things get tough, send in the Engineers. Another, more modern military one-liner meaning roughly the same thing is – put me in the fight.
Military units train to fight but rarely get the opportunity to use those hard-won skills. It is, therefore, not surprising that many soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Airmen are chomping at the bit to use their training and get into the fight. But, I have found they only want the chance to fight if there is a legitimate, legal war.
During the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, November, and December 2004, elements of my Engineer unit were sitting on the east side of the city waiting for U.S. Marines to begin their clearing operation. I was present when one of the Marine battalion commanders was speaking with the 1st U.S. Marine Division Commander. The battalion commander knew the upcoming fight would be tough, but he also knew his men had trained hard for the mission and wanted to get it on quickly. He said, “Sir, put me in the fight.”
We were cheerleaders for the Iraqi people. We saw how the population was treated, especially the Sunnis, Christians, and gays. It was common that these people would be thrown off a roof, burned to death, tortured, or disappeared. Although rare, we occasionally ran across a mass grave of buried men, women, and children who had been “eliminated” by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a Shia.
These people were the underdog, and Americans love underdogs. The underdog gives us a chance to help right a wrong, fix a problem that needs fixin’, or set the record straight by doing what is morally, legally, and ethically right. Seldom is the choice so evident in life. When you see people who have been mistreated, you know that right is on your side. I found the Marine battalion commander’s request solely for what it was. His request was to try to do the right thing, and regardless of the outcome, he and his men could live with the results.
The Second Battle of Fallujah was the bloodiest battle of the entire Iraq War. It is notable for being the first significant engagement of the Iraq War fought solely against insurgents rather than forces of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government. U.S. Army units sitting east of the city and acting as the anvil part of a hammer-and-anvil strategy had it easy compared to the Marines. The outcome, however, had been foreordained.
U.S. Navy Seabees (naval engineers) were a vital part of the fight, clearing mines and debris, cutting electrical power to the city, bulldozing obstacles, etc. There were no Coalition units that hesitated to be part of this fight, including Iraqi army forces. Put me in the fight was a common refrain in those months.