1 January – The strength of the U.S. Armed Forces was 1,462,779 of whom 177,030 were U.S. Marines.
5 January – Marines, sailors, and airmen were included in the definition of “soldier” Time magazine editors announced after “The American Soldier” was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2003. According to the popular magazine, soldier was used in the most general of terms to mean anyone serving in the armed forces.
8 January – A Las Vegas reservist was charged with making false statements after his claim of hunting down and shooting an Iraqi soldier in the back of the head following a grenade attack on him and his unit during the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom was investigated and determined to be false. The charges stem from an interview the Marine gave on 23 April 2003 after returning from Iraq. Initially the investigation was to determine if the Marine’s supposed actions constituted war crimes. He later pled guilty and forfeited half of one month’s pay as punishment.
14 January – The first step of the massive troop rotation in the Persian Gulf region for the next major phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom began as the combat gear for the deploying Marines got underway. Marines were set to replace returning army units and assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. Thousands of Marines from both the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and II MEF were scheduled to deploy to the conflicted region by February 2004.
22 January – Four Camp Pendleton Marines, who had recently returned home safely after tours in Iraq, were killed when their UH-1N Huey helicopter crashed in the isolated Talega Canyon during a nighttime training mission in California. Capt Adam E. Miller, Lt Michael S. Lawlor, and Cpl Joshua Harris died on site. SSgt Lori Anne Privette died later from her injuries. It was later determined that a loss of situational awareness by the aircrew caused the helicopter to strike a high-tension power line transmission tower and crash.
27 January – The preliminary hearing for three Marine reservists accused of brutality towards Iraqi POWs at the Whitehorse detention center outside of Nasiriyah, Iraq, opened at Camp Pendleton, California. The Marines, members of 2d Battalion, 25th Marines, supposedly beat and kicked prisoners and two of the three Marines faced negligent homicide charges after an Iraqi POW was found dead following the alleged treatment.
28 January – Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee addressed the House Armed Services Committee and stressed to the congressmen that the Marine Corps was heavily committed to the war on terror. He went on to note the various locations the Corps had deployed to and praised the Marine participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
3 February – The Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), headquartered at Indian Head, Maryland, responded after a postal worker at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., found highly toxic ricin in a mail sorter the day before. For the first time since the 2001 anthrax attacks, CBIRF searched several buildings in proximity to the Senate building, including the Capitol and Library of Congress. No other contaminates were found.
6 February – Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Service Support Group 24 formally activated at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in a brief ceremony. The unit next joined up with its parent command, the 24th MEU, 18 February when the 2,200-strong MEU assembled to begin its six-month pre-deployment training cycle.
9 February – The Korean Defense Service Medal was authorized for any service member who served in Korea for 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days after 28 July 1954 to a future undetermined date. MARADMIN 120/04 spelled out all qualifying criteria for Marines as well as the procedure to acquire the medal.
11 February – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) announced his intention to create a task force to investigate the run of recent AV-8B Harrier accidents despite assurances by the Marine Corps that the attack jet was safe. The Harrier’s 32-year history has seen 45 Marines die in 148 non-combat accidents and the loss of more than one-third of the fleet. Although the AV-8B production line was closed last year, the Harrier was scheduled to fly for more than another decade.
12 February – The first wave of Marines from the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) departed from their home station of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in California. Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps SgtMaj John L. Estrada was on hand to see the Marines off and to offer his thanks and best wishes on the coming deployment.
17 February – The 22d MEU deployed as part of the USS Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2 from Norfolk, Virginia, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf region. It was the first ESG from the East Coast to be deployed and included 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (reinforced) as well as the command section and MEU Service Support Group 22.
18 February – A program to give enlisted Marine and Navy aviation mechanics industry standard certification, an Airframes and Power plant (A&P) license, was created through the partnership of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The program allows those who meet basic eligibility to earn the A&P license at no cost and to use military experience and on-the-job training towards certification. Previously, military experience was not widely recognized by the FAA, significantly decreasing a Marine’s marketability in the civilian sector.
20 February – Hovercraft and helicopters began unloading hundreds of Iraq-bound Marines and their gear into Kuwait from Navy ships. Marines from I MEF sent advance troops for on-the-spot lessons from the leaving Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and set the groundwork for the rest of the unit which was set to arrive a few weeks later.
23 February – Fifty Marines from a special detachment of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) landed in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to secure the U.S. Embassy and help evacuate American citizens from the strife-torn country. Six days later, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and President George W. Bush ordered more U.S. Marines into the country to be the leading element of a multinational interim force.
24 February – Boeing and Textron Inc.’s Bell unit was awarded a contract worth an estimated $849.3 million by the DoD. The contract was to purchase the materials necessary for the initial production of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft which had a projected completed date of October 2007. Eight of the Marine Corps’ MV-22 version were included in the production plans.
__March – The Marine Corps announced the decision to launch a program to replace its heavy-lift helicopter fleet with a redesigned version of its CH-53 Super Stallion. The decision replaced the initial plan to extend the life of its current CH-53 fleet by replacing engines, rotor blades, and cockpits. The new plan called for the purchase of 154 new CH-53s from manufacturer United Technologies’ Sikorsky Aircraft over several years.
1 March – Additional Marines from Camp Lejeune as well as other multi-national peacekeeping forces landed in the capital of the troubled island of Haiti and were cleared to use deadly force if necessary to restore order as part of Operation Secure Tomorrow. Six days later, U.S. Marines were forced to use their weapons for the first time since arriving in country when a sniper opened fire into a crowd of mostly peaceful demonstrators.
5 March – Marine investigators concluded that pilot errors and poor mission planning were to blame for the 22 January 2003 collision of two AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters that killed four Marines, including the unit commander, during an anti-drug Border Patrol flight near the Mexican border. The pilots were reservists serving with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775.
10 March – Four Marines assigned to Marine Corps Air Bases Western Area died when their twin-engine UC-35D transport jet, typically used by military VIPs for traveling, crashed while on an instrument landing approach to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, following a routine training mission. The incident was under investigation.
11 March – The I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group completed the longest convoy in the unit’s history after traveling over 800 km from staging areas in Kuwait to Forward Operating Base St. Mere, Iraq. The trek to the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division’s area of operation took three days. Marines were scheduled to replace the departing Army units in safety and stability operations in Iraq.
16 March – A military investigator recommended the charges against two of three Marine reservists facing punishment in the death of an Iraqi prisoner be dismissed or reduced. The findings were forwarded to Camp Pendleton’s commander, MajGen William Bowden, although he was not required to follow the recommendations. Three weeks later, it was announced that the most serious charge of negligent homicide had been dismissed, but that Maj Clark A. Paulus and Sgt Gary Pittman were still to face court-martial on several other counts. The charges were completely dropped against a third Marine.
17 March – The Marines of the 22d MEU, as part of the Wasp ESG 2, entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations when they transited the Suez Canal. A few days later, the Pentagon announced the Marines were to join U.S. forces already in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Two thousand Marines were already in country prior to the deployment of the 22d MEU, including 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, which had been in Afghanistan since late 2003 conducting operations as part of the coalition forces’ continuing effort to destroy terrorist cells, provide humanitarian assistance, and bring stability to the country.
17-18 March – The Marine Corps suffered its first casualties in its second Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation when three Marines were killed by enemy forces in the Al Anbar province in Iraq.
20 March –Marine Major General James N. Mattis, commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division, formally assumed responsibility of the Al Anbar and Northern Babil provinces from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The relief-in-place ceremony bequeathed to the Marine Corps the majority of the volatile Sunni Triangle region north and west of Baghdad, an area where American forces had been under nearly daily attacks from insurgents. Nearly two-thirds of the 1st Marine Division Marines were also part of the original invading forces a year ago but had a new mission the second time around. The new mission was to help the fledgling Iraqi security forces and build upon the humanitarian efforts of the departing Army unit.
29 March –U.S. Central Command released its report on the 23 March 2003 incident where a ground-based Marine air controller summoned A-10 Air Force jets to strike suspected Iraqi positions in the city of An Nasiriyah that resulted in the “friendly fire” deaths of 10 Marines during an intense firefight. The Marine air controller was the only one found at fault and faced possible disciplinary action based on the report’s findings. Overall, Company C, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines suffered 18 killed and 17 wounded in the 23 March battle while trying to secure two bridges in the city.
5 April – Marines from 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, shut down access to the volatile Iraqi city of Fallujah in the opening days of
Operation Vigilant Resolve. The purpose was to isolate and seek out insurgents holing up in the city following the murder and mutilation of four American contractors. The bitter fighting throughout the month left numerous Marines dead or wounded and with no real peace after the Marines were ordered to scale down attacks and eventually withdraw from the city before an all-out offensive could be launched. Although a tenuous cease-fire was in effect for Fallujah, a cleric-backed militia began spreading violence to several other cities, including parts of Baghdad, Kut, Karbala, and Najaf, in an area known as the “Sunni Triangle.”
8 April – The Commandant of the Marine Corps General Michael Hagee and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps SgtMaj John Estrada paid a visit to the Marines serving in Iraq two days after visiting those serving in Afghanistan. Both trips were well received by the troops as the Commandant promised the entire weight of the Corps remained behind the deployed Marines and both offered thanks for a continuing job well done.
8 April – A construction contract for the National Museum of the Marine Corps was awarded to Centex Construction Company in a signing ceremony at Harry Lee Hall at Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia. The museum’s construction site is located just outside the main gate of the base.
14 April – The 22d MEU (SOC) completed its move into Afghanistan. The Marines came under operational control of Combined Joint Task Force 180 and were to assist in operations to help stabilize the country. Sadly, only ten days later, three Marines were injured when a roadside bomb exploded alongside their convoy near the village of Daylanor in the Kandahar province.
16 April – The 4th Marine Regiment celebrated its 90th birthday. The regiment was activated in 1914 at Puget Sound, Washington, but celebrated its birthday in its current location of Camp Schwab, Okinawa.
24 April – The Marines presented diplomas to the last class to graduate as part of the Georgia Train and Equip program (GTEP). Special Forces soldiers
started the program in 2002 and turned it over to the Marines later the same year. GTEP was established to help the former Soviet republic fend for itself and was used as a model for future military-building programs.
26 – 28 April – Firefights erupted once again in Fallujah and in Najah after insurgents fired upon Marines ringing the cities and a Marine patrol was ambushed. Most of the insurgents were members of the rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army and were using mosques to hide in. Warplanes and attack helicopters were called in to help destroy suspected strongholds that were not considered sacred sites.
29 April – The National World War II Memorial opened to the public. The official dedication took place a month later during Memorial Day weekend with thousands of veterans present to witness the historic moment and partake in the weekend’s events. The memorial was built in a prominent space on the National Mall, squarely between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.
3 May – Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England presented awards to three Marines from 2d Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton for actions during the initial invasion phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in early 2003. Sgt Marco A. Martinez received the Navy Cross, while SSgt Adam R. Sikes and Cpl Timothy C. Tardif both received Silver Stars. Secretary England also presented the widow of GySgt Jeffrey E. Bohr Jr. with a posthumous Silver Star.
6 May – Four Marines with 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, were presented awards by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, for their actions during OIF. Capt Brian R. Chontosh and PFC Joseph B. Perez received the Navy Cross and Cpls Armand E. McCormick and Robert P. Kerman received Silver Stars.
7 May – The Marine Corps suffered its first combat casualty in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001. Cpl Ronald R. Payne’s death came days after the 22d MEU pushed into a region south of Kabul that still harbored Taliban militia and established Forward Operating Base Ripley to support combat and civil-military operations primarily in the Oruzgan province.
13 May – Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John L. Estrada visited Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina, to fly on the MV-22 Osprey aircraft and talk with the Marines of Marine Tiltrotor Test and Evaluation Squadron-22 (VMX-22). After his flight, SgtMaj Estrada praised the aircraft he was once very skeptical about. His visit to New River came only two days after his whirlwind visit to Haiti to thank the Marines there for their service in
support of Operation Secure Tomorrow.
13 May – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited with troops in Baghdad, Iraq, and four days later, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England paid a surprise visit to thank and talk with the Marines and sailors of 3d Marine Aircraft Wing in Al Asad, Iraq.
14 May – Two Marines from 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, Private First Class (PFC) Andrew J. Sting and PFC Jeremiah J. Trefney, pled guilty at separate court-
martials of abusing an Iraqi prisoner with electrical shocks in early April at a temporary holding facility in Mamudiyah. Both were sentenced to prison as well as reduction of rank to private, forfeiture of all pay, and a bad-conduct discharge. Two others were also set to be tried at a later date at special court-martials in connection with the same incident.
27 May – The Camp Pendleton-based 11th MEU headed to the Persian Gulf as part of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3. Commanded by Marine BGen Joseph V. Medina, ESG 3 was deployed nearly a month early in order to deliver the Marines to Iraq. The ESG 3’s early deployment was part of a growing trend as the Camp Lejeune-based 24th MEU was ordered on 4 May to prepare to leave two months earlier than planned and the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge was given unexpected deployment orders on 17 May to deliver about 650 Marines and its cargo of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to Iraq.
30 May – Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient Private Raymond Michael “Mike” Clausen, Jr. died of liver failure at the age of 56. Private Clausen heroically participated in the helicopter rescue of a Marine platoon stranded in a minefield on 31 January 1970 while he was serving as a helicopter crew chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263. He was buried in Ponchatoula Cemetery in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
___ June – The Marine Corps started rotating troops into Kuwait and eventually into Iraq for the next round of troop deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Several reserve units were tapped for duty as well as the 24th and 11th MEU which set sail for the region. The units were expected to be in the country for seven months.
5 June – Seven Kuwaiti Islamic extremists were convicted of involvement in the 8 October 2002 attack on Marines participating in urban assault training on the Kuwaiti island of Failaka that left one Marine dead and another wounded. None received more than 5 years jail time and the lightest sentence was probation. The actual gunmen were killed in the attack and none of those convicted were found guilty of the most serious charges of conspiring with the perpetrators.
8 June – Major Christeon C. Griffin was awarded the prestigious Leftwich Trophy for Outstanding Leadership for his actions as a captain with Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines during the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The presentation of the award was delayed until early 2005, however, when Maj Griffin returned from his second tour in Iraq.
9 June – Marines from Washington D.C., along with members of the other armed forces, accompanied the body of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, to the Capitol Rotunda where he laid in state until 11 June. President Reagan passed away 5 June at the age of 93 at his home in Bel Air, California. In accordance with his wishes, he was flown to D.C. for funeral services before being returned to California for private burial at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
12 June – Marines, according to military sources, killed more than 80 insurgents during a three-week assault in southern Afghanistan. The assault on the Taliban stronghold was a demonstration that there was no refuge for terrorists, especially on the eve of Afghanistan’s first free elections that were scheduled for late 2004. Only two Marines were wounded in the fierce fighting in those few weeks, however, less than two weeks later, two Marines were killed and another wounded in the eastern part of the country after they were ambushed during an operation near the Pakistani border.
25 June – Nearly 2,000 Marines, most from 3d Battalion, 8th Marines and its regimental staff, officially ended their peacekeeping mission in Haiti and began returning home to North Carolina after a U.N. peacekeeping force began arriving to take over. The Marines arrived in country in late February because of political unrest. Two Marines were shot and wounded during the mission.
25 June – The Pentagon gave formal approval to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program office to delay several milestones in order to provide more time to fix the aircraft’s weight problems. This pushed the expected first fielding date back from 2010 to 2012 for all interested services, including the Marine Corps.
28 June – The commander of Marine Aircraft Group 31 ordered a safety stand-down of all F/A-18 Hornets flying out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina, after two crashes within 48-hours. Captain Franklin R. Hooks II, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 (VMFA-115), was declared missing at sea after his Hornet crashed into the eastern Atlantic on 26 June. Two days later, a Canadian Armed Forces pilot on exchange with the U.S. Marines crashed on the runway of the air station. Captain Derek Nichols, who was assigned to VMFA-122, died later from his injuries.
28 June – The U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty two days early to the interim Iraqi government. The surprise early handover was done in the hopes that it would decrease insurgents’ chances to sabotage Iraq’s step toward self-rule. Two days later, Marines raised the American flag over the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, marking the first time the American flag has flown there in 13 years.
1 July – The Department of Defense announced the status of an Operation Iraqi Freedom Marine, who had been missing from his unit since 19 June, as captured. Cpl Wassef A. Hassoun was depicted in a video tape showing him being held against his will by masked captors and threatened with beheading. Three weeks later, Cpl Hassoun turned up at the U.S. Embassy in his native Lebanon safe and sound despite rumors that he had been killed. The incident was investigated and closed.
9 July – Marine Corps LtGen James Cartwright assumed command of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) marking the first time a Marine general has held the position. USSTRATCOM was created on 1 June 1992 with the command position traditionally rotated between the Navy and the Air Force.
9 July – Marine MajGen James N. Mattis bade the Marines of 3d Battalion, 4th Marines farewell as the unit brought its deployment to Iraq to an end and prepared to head home to the U.S. Throughout the month, families welcomed loved ones home from other units returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom, including 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.
16 July – The Marine Corps celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Ch-46 Sea Knight helicopter at a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. The very first Sea Knight was delivered to New River 10 July 1964 and since then has participated in countless combat and combat support missions, along with humanitarian efforts.
17 July – Colonel Timothy W. Foley retired as Director of the United States Marine Band after 36 years with the organization and was replaced by LtCol Michael J. Colburn. The Band also saw two firsts in July as Michelle A. Rakers became the first commissioned female officer and the first female assistant director in the band’s 206-year history. First Lieutenant Rakers formally assumed her position as assistant director the same day Col Foley stepped down.
21 July – Two Marine reservists were killed when two F/A-18 Hornets collided during a training exercise over the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon. Major Gary R. Fullerton and Capt Jeffrey L. Ross, who were flying the two-seater variant of the jet, were killed while the pilot of the single-seater version survived the crash. It was the third fatal accident involving the Hornet in less than a month and only a few weeks after officials at MCAS Beaufort lifted the grounding order of all Hornet flights following two fatal crashes in late June.
22 July – Marines of the 22d MEU (SOC) pulled out of a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan after completing one of the most successful offensive military missions since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit spent nearly four months in the militia-controlled provinces conducting both combat and civil military operations before beginning its retrograde out of the area. The Marines were expected to return to Camp Lejeune in mid-September.
23 July – Six Marines from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, completed the first combat high altitude high opening parachute drop in the history of the Marine Corps. The parachute insertion occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom as an alternate to the highly visible ground insertions that were
drawing a lot of attention and fire.
31 July – The Camp Pendleton-based 11th MEU assumed operational control of the An Najaf and Al Qadisiyah provinces in Iraq as part of the security and
stabilization phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Marines initially worked under the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central South, but were quickly shifted to 1st MEF on 8 August. Early in the same week, the last of the Camp Lejeune Marines of the 24th MEU arrived in country and began operations in the province of North Babil, Iraq.
___August – Numerous aviation units returned home from Operation Iraqi Freedom throughout the month of August. Included were Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466, Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, Marine Air Control Squadron (MACS) 2, Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 273, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261 and Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 2.
5 August – A cease-fire signed in June between members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Muqtada Militia and Iraqi officials in Iraq ended when the militia launched attacks against Marines with the 11th MEU and Iraqi security forces in Najaf, Iraq. The gunmen violated international laws of war by using the Imam Ali-Shrine and neighboring cemetery to strike against the Marines and Iraqi National Guardsmen. Within a week, Marines had surrounded the captured mosques and continued to increase pressure on the entrenched militia. Fighting in the city finally ended on 28 August.
17 August – The Marines of the Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii-based 31st MEU were issued deployment orders to the Middle East to support Operation Iraqi
Freedom. The MEU including 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, and HMM-265, departed Okinawa less than a week later. It was the largest deployment of Hawaii-based Marines in the Global War on Terrorism to date.
18 August – The redeployment of the 22d MEU (SOC) finally got under way less than a week after the unit was informed that its deployment was to be extended for another thirty days. The extension came only days after the Combat Action Ribbon was approved for the Marines and sailors of the unit who participated in combat operations in south-central Afghanistan from 25 March through 10 July 2004.
23 August – The court-martial of Sgt Gary P. Pittman began. Sgt Pittman, a reservist with 2d Battalion, 25th Marines, was charged with assault and dereliction of duty in connection with the treatment of prisoners at Camp Whitehorse detention center near Nasiriyah, Iraq. On the same day, Sgt Matthew K. Travis’ court-martial also began. He faced charges stemming from an incident in April where an Iraqi detainee was shocked with electricity while in custody of
2d Battalion, 2d Marines.
23 August – Commandant General Michael Hagee announced during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that the first deployment of the Marine Corps newly developed Special Operations Forces (SOF) Detachment One was going extremely well in Iraq with the SEAL unit it had been attached to. It was the first time that Marines and SEALs had been “specifically integrated” for the specific purpose of performing SOF missions under the operational control of Special Operations Command.
23 August – Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplane. The C-130 first flew in 1954 and has carried out numerous military and humanitarian missions throughout its lifespan. The plane was capable of day and night flying as well as flying in all types of weather conditions.
24 August – Marines with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 departed from Newburgh, New York, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was the reserve squadron’s third deployment since January 2002. A few weeks earlier in the month, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 also returned to Iraq as part of the scheduled rotation of forces supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
___September – Marines from 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, 3d Force Reconnaissance Company, 3d Radio Battalion, and 3d Battalion, 7th Marines returned
home after completing deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
2 September – Sgt Gary Pittman, a reservist with 2d Battalion, 25th Marines, was convicted by court-martial in connection with the death of an Iraqi detainee in 2003. He was sentenced to 60 days’ hard labor and reduction in rank to private, but was allowed to remain in the Marine Corps.
11 September – The 31st MEU arrived at the Kuwait Naval Beach after four weeks at sea. The Marines originally deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in July but left in mid-August for desert training in preparation to join coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The MEU consisted of Marines from 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, and MEU Service Support Group 31. Marines from Company A, 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance
Battalion and 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, also departed for Iraq in early September.
14-16 September – The Marines and sailors of the 22d MEU returned home to Camp Lejeune. The MEU had deployed in mid-February and spent the most of the next seven months in central Afghanistan tasked with securing major population centers before the 9 October elections. The push of more than 500 miles inland by the 22d MEU marked one of the farthest by a MEU in Marine Corps history.
20 September – Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 took possession of the first technologically advanced J model KC-130 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California. The Lockheed Martin KC-130J was very different than older versions, requiring flight crews to undergo months of training to become familiar with the more advanced defense systems. Eventually, all active duty Marine squadrons would switch to the newer models.
24 September – The 26th MEU officially activated at Camp Lejeune. The MEU would spend the next several months training before assuming its place among the troops deploying in the spring for the next rotation of forces serving in Iraq.
24 September – LtCol Asad “Genghis” Khan, commander of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines was relieved of command during an administrative session with the 22d MEU’s commander, Col Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. Few details as to why the popular commander was relieved were released, but LtCol Kahn had stated it was due to a “combination of events over time.” The dismissal came less than two weeks after the 22d MEU’s return from a successful deployment to Afghanistan.
30 September – Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 retired the original AV-8B Day Attack Harrier at MCAS Cherry Point. The original Harrier had been constantly improved over its nearly 20 years of use but the Day Attack Harriers had become operationally obsolete.
30 September – Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), one of four VMFA squadrons assigned to the reserve 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, officially deactivated in Washington, D.C., as part of the Tactical Aviation Integration Plan implemented by the Department of the Navy in 2004.
___October – Marines from Company C, 4th Landing Support Battalion, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, and Company B, 3d Amphibious Assault Battalion returned home after completing deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 also returned from serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
2 October – LtCol Bradley L. Lowe, the squadron commander of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367), and Maj Nathan S. Cook, the unit’s executive officer, were relieved of command shortly after being deployed to Iraq. A written statement from the commander of the 3d Marine Air Wing said the decision was based on “the rate at which [the squadron] was losing aircraft and personnel from mishaps.”
5 October – More than 3,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops, including the 24th MEU, launched an offensive operation in the southern approaches to Baghdad and took control of a bridge across the Euphrates River. Numerous weapons caches were discovered and 35,000 pounds of explosives were destroyed.
6 October – This date marked the third year for Operation Enduring Freedom. Three days later, the people of Afghanistan voted in massive numbers in the country’s first democratic election.
7 October – The last Marine Reserve infantry battalion was tapped for deployment to Iraq. 3d Battalion, 25 Marines, headquartered in Brook Park, Ohio, was
scheduled to head for Iraq in early 2005, leaving the Marine Forces Reserves without any fresh infantry resources.
8 October – The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 was passed. The bill called for the increase in the end strength of the Marine Corps from 175,000 Marines to 178,000. The extra 3,000 Marines would be phased-in over three years and two-thirds of them would be used to bring the 24 infantry battalions up to full strength.
14 October – Marines launched air and ground attacks against an insurgent stronghold in Fallujah, Iraq, after peace talks were suspended. Two Marine battalions from the I MEF engaged in the fighting with the goal of disrupting the anti-Iraqi forces. The peace talks fizzled over the demand that the insurgent mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other foreign fighters be handed over to the authorities. On 30 October, heavy fighting in the area claimed the lives of eight Marines and nine others were wounded.
20 October – Charges were dropped against the former commander of Camp Whitehouse, the detention facility where an Iraqi detainee died while in Marine custody. No specific reason for the dismissal was sited. The former commander was a reservist from Pennsylvania. Charges were still pending against one Marine in connection with the same case.
29 October – The 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism) (4th MEB (AT)) activated a non-rotational AT Battalion. Unlike other traditional infantry units, the AT Battalion was permanently assigned to 4th MEB (AT) and exempted from the Unit Deployment Program rotation in order to concentrate on the battalion’s specialized mission of combating terrorism. When fully staffed, the battalion would have more than 775 Marines and sailors and consist of six companies.
29 October – Marines and sailors with 2d Force Service Support Group (2d FSSG), serving with the unit between 15 December 2001 and 1 June 2003, were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation Medal from the Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England for exceptional meritorious service during assigned duties in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
31 October – Marine Captain Mary Kate Sullivan-Bailey finished first among female competitors with a time of 2:48:31 at the 29th Annual Marine Corps Marathon. She was the first active-duty servicemember to claim an overall win in the race since 1979. Retta Feyiss of New York finished first among the men with a time of 2:25:35.
31 October – An advance party of Marines from 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, left for Afghanistan. The rest of the nearly 1,000 Marines would follow several weeks later, replacing Marines from 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
6 November – The U.S. Marine Band preformed following a wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesite of the band’s most famous director, John Philip Sousa, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
8 November – The largest military operation since the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway just after sunset as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops pushed into the insurgent-held city of Fallujah. The city had been in rebel control since April after the Marine Corps was instructed to halt all offensives. Operation Phantom Fury began the evening after the Iraqi interim president declared martial law on the city and surrounding area.
10 November – Marines around the world celebrated the Marine Corps’ 229th Birthday. The date also marked the 50th Anniversary of the construction of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The men of 1st Battalion, 3d Marines spent the day fighting against Iraqi insurgents in the embattled city of Fallujah, Iraq.
10 November – Major Clarke Paulus was acquitted of the two most serious charges of assault and battery in connection to the death of an Iraqi detainee at the Marine detention facility Camp Whitehorse in June 2003. He was found guilty of maltreatment and dereliction of duty. Sentencing was yet to be decided.
13 November – The U.S. military began an investigation into whether or not a Marine shot dead an unarmed, wounded Iraqi insurgent inside a mosque during the battle for Fallujah. The incident was captured on videotape by an embedded reporter and was being investigated to determine if the Marine violated any rules and should be charged with a crime.
14 November – Marines and Iraqi security forces overran the last center of rebel resistance in the southernmost section of the embattled Iraqi city of Fallujah. U.S. forces discovered an underground bunker and steel-enforced tunnels connecting several houses filled with weapons, medical supplies, and bunk beds. Eighty-three Marines and one Navy corpsman lost their lives with hundreds more wounded in the November fighting.
17 November – The investigation into Cpl Wassef Hassoun’s June disappearance while serving in Iraq was re-opened after some of his personal affects were found in “remarkably good shape” by Marines conducting operations against insurgents in Fallujah, the city he originally disappeared from. His military uniform, military identification card, and civilian passport were among the items found.
20 November – Marine Attack Squadron 542 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, after a six-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The squadron flew approximately 150 sorties a week to provide Marines on the ground in the vicinity of Fallujah and Ramadi with close air support.
23 November – U.S. Marines, along with British and Iraqi forces, launched a new offensive, dubbed Operation Plymouth Rock, aimed at regaining control of northern Babil province, a region just south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
30 November – Marines with the 11th MEU turned over control of the Najaf province to Iraqi security forces after three months of relative quiet. The 11th MEU also relinquished operational control of the Qadisiyah province to the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central South. Marines with the unit were re-assigned to another area of Iraq following the hand-offs.
1 December – About 40 Marines came under mortar fire while conducting a series of raids hunting weapons and suspected militants south of Baghdad, Iraq, along the Euphrates River. Helicopters and a tank eventually joined the fray before the hostile fire stopped. Only one Marine was non-critically wounded.
1 December – The Pentagon announced the number of U.S. troops in Iraq would be increased from 138,000 to about 150,000. The increase was due primarily to the need for increased security for the national elections scheduled for January 2005.
6 December – The Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU departed aboard the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard as part of the Expeditionary Strike Group 5. The 15th MEU, based at Camp Pendleton, California, was bound for the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf area.
7-20 December – Marines with the Okinawa-based 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Philippines. Two weeks of severe tropical storms in the region killed hundreds of locals and displaced thousands more. Because of the close proximity of the
3d MEB, the first wave of Marines arrived within 48 hours with food, water, tents, blankets, and medical supplies.
7 December – President George W. Bush addressed thousands of Marines at Camp Pendleton to thank them for their efforts and service in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. After having lunch in the mess hall, President Bush dismissed the media in order to be completely accessible as he visited with the families of the wounded and fallen Marines and sailors of I MEF.
7 December – Hamid Karzai took the oath of office as Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president.
9 December – Cpl Wassef Ali Hassoun was charged with desertion in connection with his 19 June disappearance and supposed kidnapping while serving in Iraq as an Arabic translator. The investigation into his disappearance re-opened after some of his personal items were found in Fallujah in November. The hearing on the case was postponed until 13 January 2005 after Cpl Hassoun requested a civilian attorney.
13-19 December – Commandant of the Marine Corps General Michael W. Hagee and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps SgtMaj John L. Estrada visited Marines at various locations, including Al Asad and Fallujah, throughout Iraq to bring inspiration and hope to those serving. Both also candidly answered questions and concerns posed by service members. A few days later, troops received another visitor as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also made a visit to nearly every major U.S. base in Iraq on 24 December.
21 December – The 11th MEU assumed operational control of Karbala province from the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central South. The Marines conducted security patrols, civil-military operations, and helped train, equip, and build leadership in the 401st Iraqi National Guard Battalion in the area southwest of Baghdad.
31 December – The strength of the U.S. Armed Forces was 1,451,277 of whom 177,207 were U.S. Marines.
USMC History Division