Ten years after the initial invasion of Iraq, veterans who served with 11th Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to reunite and commemorate the anniversary of the major operation.
The regiment hosted a 10-year anniversary of the push to Baghdad for veterans to speak with those who now serve with 11th Marines. Veterans also learned about the new weapon systems used by artillerymen in combat today and reunited with the comrades they haven t seen since the war.
Most of the guys have either gotten out of the Marine Corps or have moved on, so I m pretty stoked to see them come back, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Thomas, the 11th Marine Regiment Target Acquisition Platoon commander and native of Morgantown, W.Va. We lived out in the dirt and slept in holes, but I had some of the best times of my life out there, and I served with some of the best Marines in Iraq.
The former corpsmen and artillerymen toured Camp Las Pulgas throughout the day to see how much their old stomping grounds has changed over the last decade.
They were also able to see the M777 Lightweight Howitzer, M-327 Towed Rifled Mortar Weapon and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The new capabilities and technology of these modern weapons werent available during the Iraq War.
As the veterans learned about the weapon systems, they also interacted with the Marines who operate them.
It s amazing how fast time flies, said Michael Williams, a retired master gunnery sergeant who served as the operations chief of 11th Marines during OIF. It seems almost as if the war was yesterday. This event is a great opportunity for the veterans to interact with the Marines of today and share some of their stories and experiences with them. Thats the way the Marine Corps is and has been since 1775.
Learning the history of the battles in which Marines have fought is one of the many ongoing traditions the Corps uses to mold Marines today, Williams added.
It is important to take a step back and look at what we have accomplished in the past, said Williams, a native of Jackson, Miss. Back then, we didn t have a lot of the things that Marines today have, and we still had to accomplish the mission. You have to understand where you have been, and you have to embrace the lessons learned from these conflicts.
As the veterans spoke to the Marines, they found the two generations had much in common. While missions change and technology advances, one thing that hasnt changed in the Corps is the high caliber of its Marines.