1/25 Marine Commander:

'These young kids inspiring'
Nashoba Publishing
By Don Eriksson, Staff Writer

DEVENS -- When the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines marched onto Devens upon their return from Iraq, Lt. Col. Chris Landro, a regimental commander in Iraq and a 21-year Marine Corps veteran, led the column home.

After the deactivation of the Reservists was completed this week, Landro, a native of New Jersey, spoke about the regiment's seven months of service near Fallujah.

"The primary mission was to train Iraqi security forces while maintaining security and stability," he said.

Marines worked with the Iraq army and "fledgling" Iraqi police force to make sure they could work together to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign.

The mission went "extremely well," said Landro, but police in particular had trouble operating effectively. Iraqi police are Sunni. The army is Shiite.

"You do run the risk of someone undermining your efforts, and there was that sense that you could be shot or (hit with) some IDs (buried mines)," he said. "The Marines do feel they're doing something good and right. It's a combination of their desire to do and what's (actually) happening on the ground. The people we're fighting are a severe minority and an absolutely radical element.

"The rank and file of the army and civilians want to get on with their lives," he said. "They don't want us there, but they don't want us to leave until things are fixed."

Cultural elements affect the Iraqi takeover, he said, such as adopting western values and breaking the idea that rank is privilege.

"Under Saddam, rank meant privilege. When fighting counter-insurgency that's not necessarily the case," he said. "They're a very brave people and have a good military. They're not good at sustainment, but they're good fighters. Right now we have to do the sustainment."

Landro said his unit's morale was "amazing" and "never faltered, never wavered when there were casualties."

The official casualty list, in addition to the 11 Marines who were killed in action, includes 150 wounded. Of that number, about 90 to 100 are eligible for the Purple Heart Medal, said Landro. The military is tracking concussion injuries from IDs (booby traps or mines). Right now a grade-three concussion -- unconsciousness -- qualifies a Marine, soldier or sailor for a medal.

"We were there for summer and 125-plus degrees everyday. These guys went about their daily tasks without faltering," said Landro. "In the Marine Corps, air-conditioning consists of wrapping oneself in body armor and Kevlar and carrying 80 pounds."

There is still a fair amount of walking, he said, but Marines are acquiring many more vehicles these days, possibly more than the Army.

"We used a lot of urban tactics and dismounted patrols with satellite support," he said. "The (insurgents) didn't come out and fight as often as we liked because when they did, they were taken care of. We still call it cowardly to plant a bomb. They use 155 millimeter projectiles and Russian 122s with fuel accelerants to increase fire. They're amazingly good at it.

"Between that and snipers we felt vulnerable," said Landro. "They carried their dead and wounded away, but we did avoid the body count mentality."

The American military has learned a valuable lesson that began to manifest itself in Desert Storm that Marines, soldiers and sailors do their duty, he said.

"You swear the oath to defend the Constitution, and the president and Congress have the right to send them into harms way. That's what we support and defend," he said. "It's a national tragedy when you blame the military for a conflict. We pay the price, and we are the last ones who want a war."

Returning Marine Reservists don't have to participate in the annual two weeks of active duty for the first year home. Landro said new Marines are joining, and the Devens units are trying to get more "involved and relevant," specifically conducting mobility and force operational training with other countries' forces.

"These young kids are inspiring," he said. "They make leadership easy."

Landro's command ends in February. He is waiting for the results of a Colonel's Board to see if he will be elevated to the rank of colonel before he makes his mind up about the future. Landro lives in Kennesaw, Ga. with his wife, Penny, two daughters and a son he's never seen.

According to the regiment's information office, activities during deployment include rescuing three hostages associated with a key Iraqi government official, uncovering large weapons caches, capturing a kidnapper who held reporter Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor, capturing insurgent loyalists to al-Zarqawi, training and recruiting the Iraqi National Guard in counter-insurgency operations and re-establishing an asphalt factory in Fallujah to rebuild roads.

Hostile incidents affected 99 Marines who were returned to duty. Seven were sent home on emergency leave and 57 were injured by hostile action. Forty-four are still hospitalized, and 13 are recovering at home or in outpatient care.

Some 49 Marines suffered non-hostile injuries, 22 of whom are still hospitalized, and the rest are recovering at home or in outpatient care.

Eleven were killed in action.