CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Lieutenant Gen. James T. Conway, commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton Calif., took time Jan. 21 at the base theater to speak to hundreds of camouflage-clad warriors here preparing to deploy to Iraq this year.
Introducing Conway was Lt. Gen. H.P. Osman, II MEF commanding general, who explained, "When the Marines head back to Iraq, I MEF will be taking the lead again with (II Marine Expeditionary Force) Marines and sailors to assist."
After Osman turned over the microphone to his west-coast counterpart, Conway began his speech by saying even though I MEF will be in charge of operations in Iraq, completing the overall mission will be a "Marine Corps-wide effort."
Beginning in March, Marines and sailors from around the Marine Corps will travel to the war-torn country to replace U.S. Army units. Of the 25,000 troops heading overseas, approximately 11,000 Marines from II MEF will augment I MEF during two seven-month deployments.
"Our mission is to assume responsibility in the (north western portion) of Iraq and to provide stability and security in the region to return Iraq to the Iraqis," said Conway, who led I MEF forces during the intense fight to Baghdad last year.
Besides providing stability and security, Marines and sailors will conduct information operations and civil affairs missions to accomplish the task at hand.
Conway said, "We're going to continue to focus on the kids. We want to get them back in school because the future of Iraq depends on them. If we make the kids happy, it's going to be very hard for the parents to be angry with us."
However, it will take more than making the kids smile to convince the Iraqi people that U.S. forces want to help. Conway asserted that the best way to win the hearts and minds of the people is to "treat the locals with dignity and respect."
Lance Cpl. Yowseph G. Tirfe, a legal administration clerk from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, agreed with the general. "This is the first time I've ever gone out of the country. People from my unit who have already been to Iraq told me that you have to be very friendly to the people or we'll offend them. If I see them on the street, it's polite to wave and say hello."
Conway added that while being friendly to the Iraqis is necessary for mission accomplishment, so are situational awareness and force protection.
"We want to make sure that we do no harm to innocent citizens," he said, "but if we are attacked, then we will react violently. Force protection will be alive and well; make no mistake about that."
During the hour-long event, Osman commented about sending his troops to assist I MEF. "I've known General Conway for a long time. There's no one else I'd rather see II MEF Marines and sailors go to war with."