From their inception in 1775 during the American Revolutionary War to their current 21st Century presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the US Marine Corps has performed a great service to this country, a service that continues to provide a strong military back bone for the United States of America. This distinguished group of Marines has seen a number of significant changes over the years, and continues to be a strong force for the US Military. This article briefly reviews some of the roles and highlights of the US Marine Corps since the start of the 21st Century.
The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has US Marine Corps memorabilia throughout the museum. Their WWII gallery has a room dedicated to the US Marines in the South Pacific. This area, as is with the rest of the museum, not only houses memorabilia, but also an incredible amount of honor.
The USMC welcomed the 21st century with 171,154 enlisted Marines, of which 17,852 were officers. At the end of the first decade, the number had increased to a total of 204,153 enlisted of which 21,208 were officers. Below is a highlight of the combat operations of the US Marine Corps since January, 2000.
War in Afghanistan
One of the first missions of the US Marine Corps in the 21st Century was Operation Enduring Freedom, which was launched as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States. This incident caused the entire US military to focus on the defeating al Qaeda. Two months later, the US Marine Corps were the first to arrive in Afghanistan. Within a month of their arrival, they had captured the Kandahar Airport and converted it into the United States’ first command center in Afghanistan.
US military involvement in Afghanistan has led to a number of positive changes:
- Diminished violence within the country
- Construction of schools
- Distribution of financial aid
- First direct election in 2004
- First parliamentary election in 2005
Medal of Honor
In September of 2009, Dakota Meyer was a corporal in the US Marine Corps. His team, while in the Kunar Provence of Afghanistan, came under intense fire. Corporal Meyer took the initiative to mount a gun on a truck and recruit a driver. The two raced towards the ambushers. What ensued was a six-hour fight in which Meyer returned to the front on four separate occasions, single-handedly turning the tide each time. He evacuated a total of 12 wounded and provided cover to an additional 24 Marines and soldiers so they could escape. As a result of his heroic actions, Meyer received the Medal of Honor. He was the first living US Marine to receive this distinguished award since Vietnam.
In 2010, US Marines headed up Operation Moshtarak. The purpose of this operation, which was the largest military offensive since the inception of the war, was to recover a number of cities in southern Afghanistan from Taliban hold. Despite the advanced planning, Operation Moshtarak resulted in a number of displaced citizens leading to a food and medical supply shortage and overcrowding in refugee camps.
The US military presence continues in Afghanistan in an effort to further train the Afghan soldiers to defend their own national security.
US Marines in Iraq
As part of the United States “War on Global Terrorism”, the US Marine Corps became involved in Iraq in 2003 with the launching Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their first mission was to enter into Iraq and take control of its capital – Baghdad. Upon seizing Baghdad, the coalition forces officially declared an end to dictatorship.
In 2004, while Cpl Jason Dunham and his troops were in Iraq on a recon mission in the city of Krabilah, gunfire erupted close by. He and his men took on enemy fire as they moved in. Upon closer investigation, they noticed several vehicles attempting to leave the area. Cpl Dunham and his men stopped the vehicles for a weapon’s search, at which time an insurgent jumped out and began to attack Dunham. The insurgent eventually released a grenade, which Dunham quickly covered with his Kevlar helmet. The explosion killed him but saved two of the Marines from his squad. Dunham was the first US Marine KIA to earn the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
Operation Vigilant Resolve
In 2004, the US Marine Corps took part in “Operation Vigilant Resolve” – an attempt to capture the city of Fallujah. During this operation, US Marine Corps Major Douglas A. Zembiec became known as “The Lion of Fallujah”. Major Zembiec led the rifle company he commanded into the city of Fallujah. It was the first ground assault in Iraq. His bravery throughout this mission earned him a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device. The Major also received two Purple Hearts as a result of the wounds he received in action. At one point as the fighting escalated, Major Zembiec physically spread word for his troops to take cover. His efforts allowed his troops to reach safety, but the Major was killed by enemy fire. Despite his heroic actions, the first attle of Fallujah was unsuccessful.
US Marines Intervene in Libya
Operation Odyssey Dawn was the US military’s involvement in Libya in March of 2011 as part of an international military operation to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Their return to the “Shores of Tripoli” was an effort to prevent Muammar Gaddafi and his forces from carrying out airstrikes on Libyan rebels. What resulted was Libya’s deterioration into a civil war. At that point, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was sent to the area and sat just off Libya’s coast. Once the operation was officially underway, the US Marine Corps entered the area and enforced the no-fly zone area. They were also successful in conducting a number of airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces.
Today, the US Marine Corps still has an active presence in Afghanistan. While Operation Iraqi Freedom officially ended in September, 2010, US forces continue to assist the Iraqi forces with rebuilding their military and their country. The US Marine Corps combat involvement in the 21st Century is not the only area in which their presence has made a significant difference; they have also been involved in numerous other missions including the recovery of artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, assisting Tsunamis victims in Indonesia and their own US citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.