...,1st Draft

Chapter 15 – Elections, 15 October 200527 May

“This was a unique situation because the strategic goals and the tactical goals aligned. If we can defend this polling center, it will be a tactical win for us to keep this thing open. The enemy was trying to shut it down to prove that they had control to the populace. This was a very big victory for the Marines’ morale…” – Luke Larson

Two weeks after the IED attack which killed Bedard and injured Hendricks, an election was scheduled. The sweep was designed to clear the city in preparation for the election, which was a referendum to ratify the Iraqi Constitution. Lima Company, along with the rest of 3/7, was tasked with providing security for polling places through out Ramadi. If the sweep failed to achieve the desired tactical and operational objective, as Luke Larson argues, then the elections themselves would, predictably, meet with a similar fate. Ramadi was still in a phase of the counterinsurgency which Rory Quinn would characterize as a time when the majority of the Iraqi population supported the insurgents, although by this stage, there were signs that the Marines’ sheer endurance was outlasting their Al Qaeda opponents.

Within Lima Company, Lieutenants Larson and Larisy were warily welcoming a new Lieutenant-Platoon Commander, Mauro Mujica-Parodi. Quinn moved the new Platoon Commander into his role, by stages, fully aware that the other Lieutenants had been very close to Matt Hendricks, and that First Platoon would take time to become accustomed to their new leader. The major factor frustrating Quinn as a Company Commander, and Larson as a Platoon Commander was the apparent lack of coordination between political authorities and agencies who dictated the placement of polling stations without consulting the Marines as to the tactical situation in the area. At the same time, the so-called “escalation of force incidents” which required Marines to sometimes kill civilians caused ongoing tension within the platoons, particularly among the lower-ranking Marines, who were petrified that they had done something wrong when these incidents were investigated by military lawyers. Reports about the murder investigations of the Marines at Haditha had started to circle back to Lima Company through civilian media channels and the internet. The reports were incomplete, and the Lima Marines did not have all the facts. They only knew that, according to the press reports, Marines were being investigated for murder in a town not too far from Ramadi.

“The United Nations actually dictated where the polling centers were going to be,” recalls Larson. “They did not consult the military units. So, I am assuming someone with a map in a city other than Ramadi, said, we’re going to put a polling center at this school, this school, and this school. They didn’t contact the Battalion Commander to coordinate whether these areas were in secure areas or not secure areas. One of the polling centers that they dictated was going to be down here” — Larson scrolls down on the videotaped interview (Larson 5) — “at the Al Fatwa School. When they issued this message, they also told the Iraqi people, ‘This is where the polling center is going to be, so you can vote.’ This is great for the Iraqi people, but it is also great for the enemy because they know Marines are going to move in and occupy this school.”

In his novel, Senator’s Son, Larson describes the planning for the polling stations as follows, “During the planning the State Department did just enough to mandate several polling site locations. The planning had no coordination with the military, leaving the site considerations completely ignorant of tactical implications. Within the final 72 hours, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps quickly disseminated a semi-produced plan down to the battalion, company and platoon levels. The ground troops worked feverishly to produce some semblance of an execution plan.” Larson’s novel quotes Captain Quinn in the days leading up to the polling: “Gents, we have to jump through our ass to get this thing off the ground.” Quinn’s character in the novel continues his operations brief noting that Marine intelligence believes that the enemy will use 5 stolen ambulances as vehicle IEDs to hit the polling centers. Quinn expressed certainty that the enemy would hit the polling centers. Quinn summed up the importance of the mission as follows, ““If we can keep them open it will be a strategic win for Coalition Forces and Iraq. If they stay open regardless of whether the people vote, the enemy will know we can win.” This is almost exactly the same assessment that Quinn has of this phase of the counterinsurgency in his master-narrative, The War According to Rory Quinn, which we have been following in the chapters summing up Lima Company’s deployments.

“When we were moving down here,” continued Larson in his interview, “I remember thinking, we told the people where we are going to have the polling centers. That’s probably a pretty good indication that we are going to take contact because the enemy is going to know about it.”

“I had a polling center here,” Larson points out a square building on his videotaped interview (Larson 5), “Kilo Company had a polling center here in this white building called ‘The Gym,’ This is route Sunset, down to Baseline [another Ramadi Road], which runs down to Checkpoint 342.”

“We moved in and I had third squad in this building [North West of the school], first squad in this building [North East of the school], and second squad in this building [South of the school], and we basically strong pointed the area around the Al Fatwa School, where we had an Iraqi Army company that was going to run the polling center. We were going to be in this area for over 48 hours. Anytime that you would stay in an area for over 48 hours, we would try to reinforce the buildings with sandbags to avoid taking casualties. We were hardening these buildings, and we were trying to get the Iraqis to harden the school.”

In his novel, Larson portrays his own feelings about the higher levels of the chain of command, both civilian and military as follows: “The higher powers that be could not seem to come up with a unified strategy, not only for the referendum but for the entire war. Despite the lack of plan the military forged ahead. Fractured from the top down the overall plan seemed to change weekly, daily and hourly. The changes were so drastic that each unit in attempt to make some progress, worth risking their lives, came up with their own plan that they thought best fulfilled the wishes of their higher. Implementing national foreign policy literally fell on the platoon level to decide what was important enough to make an effort.” In the specific mission to provide security for the polling station, Larson’s frustration came from the slow pace of the Iraqi Army unit in hardening the polling site. Through his interpreter, an Arabic-speaking Marine named Fallah, Larson encouraged the Iraqi unit to harden the polling site, which was essential to put an Iraqi face on the election. While his three squads of Marines hardened their positions, Larson also instructed them to stay out of sight so that the Iraqis could be the public face of the polling station.

Recounting the 48 hours that Lima 3 strong pointed the poling station, Larson recalls in his videotaped interview (Larson 5): “We had an IED blow up here. We had two RPG shots in here. We took mortars. One of the nights, and IED team tried to lay in an IED at Checkpoint 342 in order to disrupt logistics [convoys] that were going to Kilo Company’s side over here. One of the squads shot the IED team. We basically took 48 hours of sustained contact. To keep this polling center open.”

The following extended excerpt from Larson’s novel, Senator’s Son, gives some important tactical details about the IED attack:

[Larson] stood behind the truck directing the offload with the corpsman assisting him. He was pleased the Iraqis were doing their own work. He pointed to the truck and then…

BOOM!

An IED exploded five feet from their position. The blast from the explosion threw [Larson] against the court yard wall. He could not see anything, dust filled the air. He tried to gather his composure but all he could hear was PINGGGGG…

He had a very loud ringing in his ears.

[Larson] kneeled from being knocked down and felt out the corpsman. He grabbed him and looked him in the face as the dust dispersed slightly.

In slow motion [Larson] yelled, “DOC ARE YOU OKAY!”

The doc looked back at [Larson] yelled the same thing. Was he okay? He did not know. His back was wet with something. He reached back and felt warm liquid running down his spine He did not feel pain. Am I hit, thought [Larson]. He pulled his hand back wet from the warm fluid.

Water. His camelback had popped when he impacted the wall and had drenched the back of his cammie blouse. He wiped the dust off his face and tried to focus.

In that instance [Larson]’s instincts told him something that had sat in the back of his mind for some time.

[Matt Hendricks] hit two IEDs …back to back.

[Walt Larisy] hit two IEDs… back to back.

Every time an IED had exploded… there had been a secondary.

“Get back in the school!” yelled [Larson].

He winced in anticipation of the secondary blast that he knew was about to occur. He and Doc took off running towards the school. Then he stopped. He looked back…

CHAOS!

Through the lifting dust cloud he could see several jundies laying in the fetal position screaming as if they had been hit. He stopped, pausing to look at the Iraqis. Behind them the IED blast created a crater five feet deep and just as wide. The blast hit a water pipe which sprayed water out of the crater. The fountain rained down on the stunned jundies.

[Larson] looked back at the school then pivoted and ran towards the Iraqis.

“Get up, ta’al jundie syrah, ta’al jundie syrah, Come soldier hurry! Come soldier hurray!” yelled [Larson].

The Iraqis lay shell shocked not moving.

“Khatar Kumbalah ta’alu we ya yeh, Danger Bomb come with me” pleaded [Larson].

The jundies were paralyzed by the blast. Muddy rain came down on his face. You’ve got to get out of here, thought [Larson], that secondary is going to blow. He kicked a jundie in frustration. You’ve got seconds. God damn get up. His muscles tensed in anticipation of the explosion he was sure was about to go off. Get up, he thought just get up. His adrenaline was raced. They are not going to move.

He grabbed a jundie, drenched from the water, and threw him in a fireman’s carry. As he ran towards the school with the Iraqi soldier on his shoulder the corpsman ran out of the school.

[Larson] dumped the Iraqi next to the entrance of the school. He ran back to the IED blast site, where the secondary had yet to blow. Doc ran past him towards the school carrying a soaked jundie.

The Lieutenant and the Corpsman did the exchange another two times carrying all of the jundies into the courtyard. Inside the courtyard [Fallah], confirmed that none of the jundies were badly injured, just shell shocked.

The enemy intended the IED to blow up on a vehicle. They buried it very deep in the ground in order to force the pressure of the blast directly under a Humvee, as it had done with John’s vehicle. If the IED had been buried a foot shallower it would have killed the Lieutenant, his Corpsman and several jundies.

[Brad Watson] who was located with second squad overlooking the whole incident immediately called EOD and had them re-sweep the area. EOD found the secondary IED un-detonated, three feet from the crater. Sergeant [Brown] and [Watson] had been [Larson]’s guardian angels. As soon as the first blast went off they both immediately sent out fireteam satellite patrols from their overwatch positions. The patrols most likely deterred the enemy’s triggerman.

The above extended excerpt from Larson’s Senator’s Son illustrates several important tactical details about the polling center mission that Lima 3 conducted. First, the Marine platoon is taking the lead in accomplishing the security mission for the polling center. The Iraqi Army unit is relatively disorganized compared to the Marines. At the point where the IED goes off, the Marines have already hardened their positions, and the Marine Platoon Commander himself is leading the Iraqi unit in offloading supplies to fortify the polling center, where the Iraqi Army unit is supposed to be the face on the election.

Second, the enemy’s IED tactics — which had been effective on 8 April 2004 — have been negated to some degree by tactical improvement on the part of the Marines. While Larson and his corpsman are in the open, the Marines have posted an overwatch — known as Guardian Angels — to respond to an attack on the Marines in the open. This is one of General Mattis’ hard and fast standing orders, Guardian angels always. The overwatch responds to the IED by pushing out patrols immediately after the first IED in order to deter the triggerman for the second, follow on IED. Lima Company is adapting based on its organic based of tactical knowledge from the prior deployment to Husaybah, and on the tactical knowledge from the critical first 30 days of the Ramadi 1 deployment.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell outlines 3 major sub-themes, one of which is the Law of the Few. The Marines sometimes refer to themselves as the “few, the proud.” One of the topics under Gladwell’s Law of the Few is the “Rule of 150.” In human groups of 150, rules can be enforced by person to person relationships because of a feature of brain functionality which allows any one human to keep track of the relationships with and between 150 people. In a practical, tactical sense, here is an example of where the continuity of Marine leaders within Lima Company from deployment to deployment starts to make a difference in reacting to the same enemy tactics. In Lima 3 at the polling center on the 15th of October, 2005, there would have been several leaders who had served in the prior, Husaybah deployment, including the platoon sergeant, Sergeant Peter Milinkovic, the squad leader providing “Guardian Angel” overwatch, Sergeant Brown, and the Company Executive Officer, 1st Lieutenant Brad Watson, who had been hit by no less than 2 IEDs during his Husaybah deployment.

From a national security standpoint, a Marine unit often functions like a call option in finance. A call option is a derivative instrument, which means that it controls another instrument, such as a stock index. A call option is the right to buy a certain index at a certain price, on or before a certain date. A call option can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of the underlying index. For example, an investor can buy a call option for $500 that controls 100 shares of an index worth $8000. The typical image of a Marine unit is Iwo Jima or Inchon — an amphibious landing, which is, in effect, a call option on a piece of terrain. In finance, buying a call option by itself is a high risk-high reward trade. The $500 investment could turn into several thousand dollars — or it could go to zero. The landing at Inchon could turn into a war-changing, brilliant stroke that unhinges the enemy’s composure — or it could be a catastrophic failure. This is the normal image of the American public towards Marines — and perhaps towards derivatives.

But, in finance, derivatives can also be used to hedge, that is, to lower risk. In national security, Marines can also be used to lower risk in operations like the polling center joint mission with the Iraqi Army unit. The polling center mission on the 15th of October, 2005 is significant in Lima Company’s history of the Iraq War because it foreshadows a broader trend towards more joint operations with the Iraqi Army, and eventually, with the police. In finance terms, the very same call option can be sold against an index — a position known as a covered call. There are academic studies which show that this lowers the risk (the volatility) of the position, if done systematically and over time. A more enhanced version of this trading technique is known as a collar. The very same call option can be used in the collar. Academic papers show that the collar lowers the risk of the position even further. Similarly, in the mental arsenal given to Marine Officers, there are books like the Small Wars Manual, which show techniques like a combined action platoon, composed of a Marine Squad of 13 Marines, and two squads of native soldiers (the exact numbers vary). The history of the Small Wars in the 1920s and 1930s, as re-told in books like Mars Learning, and the experience of the combined action platoons in Vietnam as retold in West, The Village, as well as Krulak, First to Fight, suggest that the Combined Action Platoon is a technique that can promote stability. Larson’s Lima 3 could be an assault platoon on a beach in an amphibious landing, which would be more like buying a call option — but the same platoon could be a platoon used to augment an Iraqi Company (using the same ratio as a combined action platoon), which starts to be more like a collar position, designed to stabilize the situation.

As I write this book, my main goal is to make the techniques used by Marines more accessible to the majority of my college and graduate school classmates with no military service experience. I have 3 screens open to a draft where I am composing this book, to a copy of Larson’s manuscript for Senator’s Son, and to a video tape of his interview. At the same time, I have 3 screens open to my trading software, to quote software, and to a PDF of my client’s positions from last night’s close. I probably gravitated towards a career as an derivatives trader because of my life experience at the age of 21 to 25 as a Marine Officer. I recognize in the descriptions from Larson and Watson of Lima Company in Husaybah and Ramadi my own training by the Marines Corps in 3d Generation Warfare. The reason I like trading is the need to make decisions under stress — but I seek to lower the risk, and to improve on proven techniques (like the collar, discussed in academic papers). So too, what Lima’s leadership, like Larson, Watson and Link were doing in that mission at the polling center on 15 October, 2005, was improving on the Anbar-specific application of the techniques, tactics and procedures which had been used before in the jungles of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.

In his novel, Larson describes his own thought process after the IED attack: “If I don’t interject my force of will it will not get done.” Although the Iraqi Army unit was reluctant to continue hardening the polling site after the IED attack, Larson took a leadership role in pushing his counter part to finish fortifying the polling place. In his novel chapter re-telling the event, Larson cites a decision by US Ambassador Bremmer as a negative factor in the low quality of the Iraqi Army unit at his position: “Paul Bremmer, the first U.S. Iraqi Ambassador, disbanded the original Iraqi Army after the invasion. When the U.S. tried to rebuild the Iraqi Army the only people they could convince to join were the disenfranchised and uneducated Iraqis. These men were in such dire straits they signed their name to a death warrant by working with the coalition forces.” In frustration, Larson finally personally starts to offload sand bags from a truck to harden the polling site. Larson is joined by his corpsman and translater, Fallah. Finally, one of the youngest Iraqi soldiers — merely a teenager — joins the trio of Marines in offloading the sand bags, a small, inter-personal tipping point, but part of a trend towards joint Marine-Iraqi units that would expand in the coming months and years of Lima’s operations in Ramadi.

Larson’s novel continues to describe the banter between himself and Link, his platoon sergeant, and Sergeant Brown, one of his squad leaders. The more experienced NCOs had been wounded and received purple hearts. They rib Larson about “getting your cherry popped,” and take credit for preventing a second, follow-on IED through their “Guardian Angel” overwatch. A machine gun burst from the school pulls their attention back to the present. A jundie (Iraqi soldier) has fired his PKM machine gun at two men, about 150 meters South of the school, one carrying a RPG, and another carrying a Dragunov sniper rifle. Larson congratulates the jundie, and relays the information to the three Marine squads surrounding the school in their overwatch houses. Larson orders his Marines off of their rest cycles, and to 100% alert.

In his novel, Larson observes, “Most leaders [platoon commanders and squad leaders] stayed awake and maintained their stamina through Red Bull, nicotine, occasional jitters and sheer force of will.” In his best seller, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell notes that the optimal range of heart rate for rational decision-making for police officers in shoot-or-no-shoot situations is between 115 and 145 beats per minute, with “an absolute break down in cognitive processing” above 175 beats per minute. The lack of sleep and use of low-level stimulants like Red Bull and nicotine should be noted as one of many factors — including the heat — that would challenge any human to make consistently good decisions under that level of stress. But, having past the 30 day thresh hold, Larson, Link, Brown and the other Lima 3 leaders would also have their experience to aid them in processing a chaotic situation. Author Larson describes Lieutentant Larson on that October day: “[Larson] plopped down next to third squad’s radio watch looking forward to a minute to gather himself from the morning’s excitement.” At that moment, Larson heard another explosion.

One of the Iraqi soldiers was hit by a RPG. Larson organizes a casualty evacuation for the injured Iraqi with a radio call to Watson. Watson responds tht Lima mobile [one of the other platoons in Lima Company] is enroute. Larson thinks that it will be a easy evacuation, but then mortar rounds start to land around the polling center. The enemy has coordinated his attacks on the polling station: a RPG attack causes a casualty, and the enemy covers the predictable casualty evacuation with mortar fire — which is precisely what happened to Lima 3 on 14 April 2004 in Husaybah. In his novel, Larson recounts the situation: “All of a sudden explosions started raining down from the sky, 50 feet to the north of the school. Three mortar rounds impacted on the road. The jundies, seeing the explosions directly in front of them, shrunk back into the school, disappearing from sight. The enemy was trying to force the Marines and the jundies to close the polling center by the continued attacks.”

Larson coordinates with the Lima Mobile platoon coming to evacuate the Iraqi. He directs the hummers to stop at the location of one of his Lima 3 squads. Small arms fires goes out from the courtyard of the school — the Iraqi army is firing on the insurgents. Then, second squad from Lima 3 returns fire. One of Larson’s squad leaders notes the severity of the Iraqi soldier’s injuries. Time is of the essence or the man may die from his wounds. The Marines and the Iraqi Soldiers argue about how to transport the wounded man to the position where the Lima Mobile hummers are waiting to evacuate him. One of Larson’s squad leaders volunteers to carry the injured Iraqi to the evacuation vehicle. Larson reports on the radio: “‘Gents we have mortar’s coming inbound, they are 82 millimeter mortars, so they are probably about two clicks out,’ said [Larson], ‘I haven’t heard the thumps of the rounds dropping but keep you’re eyes peeled for their forward observer.'”

In Blink, Gladwell notes that physical violence, especially with guns, is a very rare experience, often over much more quickly than is portrayed in the movies. This episode involves not just rifles, but rockets with shaped charge warheads, and mortars, which are fired from a tube. It is in a situation like this where the sights, sounds, and all the sensory inputs from an experience like going through a Company-level attack at Range 400 will come into play. A platoon commander like Larson may have seen the Marines’ 60 millimeter and 81 millimeter mortars impact from a distance of several hundred meters (“danger close” in the language of Marine combat arms). The Marines’ 60 millimeter mortar is roughly the equivalent in range to the Russian 82 millimeter mortar which was likely being used. Larson, Link, Brown, Watson, and the other Lima 3 Marines would have known to look for a “forward observer” — any person with a radio or cell phone, possibly adjusting the mortar rounds onto the target. In his other book, Outliers, Gladwell notes the importance of a culture in cultivating success. One of the rules of thumbs in Outliers is that it takes 10,000 hours to gain mastery of a certain subject. In a tactical situation like the polling place strong point, the net effect of Marine combat training — from Recruit Training, School of Infantry, and then unit training like Range 400 — all come into play as the Lima 3 Marines understand the threat posed by the snipers, RPGs, and mortars — and respond to it appropriately.

One of Larson’s squad leaders carries the injured Iraqi soldier from the school, which is under mortar fire, to the Lima Mobile hummer, where Lieutenant Mujica-Parodi, now in command of 1st Platoon, is waiting. The squad leader is not only under mortar fire but small arms, rifle fire as he carries the wounded Iraqi soldier to the waiting evacuation hummer. Mujica-Parodi helps the Lima 3 squad leader in carrying the wounded Iraqi to the evacuation hummer, all the while under gun fire.

Meanwhile, one of Larson’s Marines from second squad spots the enemy forward observer. Larson’s description emphasizes the discriminate use of force: “During the excitement a Corporal from second squad’s position spotted a man with binoculars and a cell phone on a roof. The Corporal coolly aimed in on the man while the last mortar rounds fell near the front of the school. Aiming through his scope he lined the reticule pattern up on the man’s chest and took two deep breaths. On the second exhale of the last breath he slowly squeezed the trigger dropping the enemy’s forward observer.”

In his videotaped interview (Larson 5), he scrolls out on the Google map, summarizing the net effect of the operation, “We basically took 48 hours of sustained contact to keep this polling center open. We had one civilian vote, and we’re fairly certain that it was an insurgent casing out the joint, so no civilians voted at that point. In Iraq, in the South, the Shia people came out and voted, so we viewed the Referendum as a success. This was a unique situation because the strategic goals and the tactical goals aligned. If we can defend this polling center, it will be a tactical win for us to keep this thing open. The enemy was trying to shut it down to prove that they had control to the populace. This was a very big victory for the Marines’ morale, to go down there. If the enemy is going to attack us, they have to come to a known place, and a known time. So, when we did the mission for the elections, we took some contact, but it was almost like it made sense because we thought the mission was important, and what we do at the tactical level will help out a strategic goal.”

***

In Outliers, Gladwell argues that success is a function of culture. Success in health in a village is due to the culture of the village, which emphasizes certain behaviors. Success among New York lawyers is due to common cultural traits, some having to do with Jewish heritage, some having to do with the generation into which a person was born, and the career opportunities that the timing granted the individual. History is the religion of the Marine Corps, it has been said. If that is so, then a high priest of the Marines is a long-term historian like Bing West, who served as a Marine Officer in Vietnam, and who published the definitive work on the Combined Action Platoon in Vietnam, The Village, but who has also published perhaps the definitive trilogy about the Marine Corps in The Iraq War, The March Up, No True Glory, and The Strongest Tribe. West’s biography suggests one particular aspect of the culture of the Marine Corps which has made it particularly effective in Small Wars. West was educated at Boston College High, a Jesuit college preparatory. Other Marines, like John Toolan, a graduate of New York’s Fordham University and one of Mattis’ key commanders in 2003 and 2004, were products of a Jesuit education. Mauro Mujica-Parodi, one of Larson’s fellow Platoon Commanders in Lima Company, attended Jesuit Georgetown Preparatory, and Georgetown University, both of the Washington, D.C., area. Dan Wagner, a graduate of Saint Ignatius Preparatory of Chicago (and the author’s Basic School roomate), served as a civil-military affairs team leader in support of Lima 3/7 in Ramadi 1, and credits his Jesuit education with his future military career which includes graduating from the Naval Academy and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Like the Jesuits — sometimes called the Pope’s Marines — the culture of the Marine Corps is expeditionary. The Marine Corps is the most Catholic of the services. The collective good signified by Corps — from the Latin for body — suggests a common ethos with the Catholic idea of Corpus Christi, or collective participation by the membership in the body of Christ. The Jesuits were known as the Pope’s Marines because they became the preferred missionaries of the Catholic Church. Jesuits like Xavier traveled to far-a-way continents like Asia, making inroads into Hindu and Sinic cultures. Webb’s Born Fighting — about Scots Irish culture — acknowledges that the Jesuits were able to make inroads in taming the Irish tiger to the Catholic yoke by learning their language and culture, thus leaving Irish Catholocism with a large dose of the Celtic pagan tradition. Webb — from his fictional characterization of Hodges in Fields of Fire, to his non fictioin account of Scots Irish culture in Born Fighting — has argued that the culture of the Marine Corps is Scots-Irish. One of the defining characteristics of Scots Irish culture is that it is expeditionary, and many of those Irishmen carrying Scots Irish culture around the world are Jesuits. One of the trends that we will start to see in the coming chapters — and which is hinted at in Lima 3’s actions at the polling center on the 15th of October 2005 — is a willingness and ability of the Marines to engage in foreign cultures through learning the language and cultural patterns of their battlefield allies. Larson and his Marines learn enough Arabic to communicate with the Iraqi Army Company on their mission. Even though Larson estimates that only 1 Iraqi voted — and he was likely a terrorist — Larson counts the mission on that date a success. One measure of success is that the discrete action at the polling station in Ramadi is part of a national referendum. Even if Sunnis voted only by exception, in the South, Shias voted in larger numbers. Larson’s Marines have contributed to the larger, strategic mission of American forces on that day. Too, Larson’s Marines are making expeditionary, cultural progress in working closely with an Iraqi counter-part unit. This theme will be the path towards ultimate victory on the level of Marine Rifle Company, Lima 3/7, in Iraq.

For my part, I am the graduate of a Jesuit preparatory, Saint Ignatius Prep of San Francisco, I took classes at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology while in college, and I taught at Bellarmine Prep of San Jose. Nassim Taleb — not a Marine, but a trader-author whose works I reference often — credits the influence of the Jesuits through his parents for his wandering intellect. There is a fine line between an expeditionary mindset, shared perhaps by the Marines and the Jesuits, and a wandering intellect. But, when one finds the same idea in two best selling works of non-fiction and in an unpublished work of fiction, one sits up and takes note. That idea is the tipping point, the name of a book by Malcom Gladwell, and an idea which Taleb defines in Chapter 10 of his book, Fooled by Randomness, as follows, “a small input can lead to a disproportionate response.” This idea also goes by the popular title, “chaos theory.” Interestingly, General Mattis — one of the universally respected Marines in Anbar — chose as his radio call sign, Chaos.

While writing my own book about Lima 3/7 in Anbar, I also kept Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and Gladwell’s The Tipping Point close at hand because I am a derivatives trader and those are useful references both for trading and for marketing. Then, while drafting this chapter on Larson’s platoon strong pointing the polling station, I came across the following passage in Larson’s book, Senator’s Son, which shows both how much the Marines at the lowest levels were aware of tipping points, and how much they strive to bury overly intellectual reflection beneath practical considerations.

“Do you know what Chaos Theory is?” asked [Larson], sparking up a smoke.

“Yeah, I saw it on Jurassic Park,” said [Link], “A butterfly flaps his wings in the Bahamas and it causes a storm in New York City or some shit.”

The Sergeant thought for a second.

“What are you saying Sir? The Iraqis are going to turn into dinosaurs, ha. Sir if that happens I’d say we’re gonna need some bigger fucking guns.”

The Sergeant laughed out loud. These guys are fucking ridiculous thought [Link], why don’t they just talk about finding the mother fucking enemy or something worthwhile. During the previous conversation, [Watson] explained pieces of the second law of thermodynamics and how entropy related to the amount of resources the U.S. was putting towards the war to achieve their overall strategic goal. Fucking Lieutenants thought the Sergeant, I’ll play along, but only out of sheer boredom.

“Everything tends towards disorder?” replied [Link], humoring his platoon commander.

“Yeah, Yeah everything goes disorder…well not really, I think the general belief is actually the opposite. Everything tends towards order,” answered [Larson].

[Watson] nodded his head.

“I think the biggest thing about the idea that relates to what we’re doing over here is that small changes can have large consequences. Basically very small events can have extreme ramifications.”

[Link] looked at the Lieutenant and shook his head.

“Like us holding this one polling center open could literally be the tipping point in the entire war. I mean its probably not that dramatic obviously, but what we’re doing here at the small unit level can have impacts far above what is normally associated with the shit at let’s say the platoon level and below.”

“I can kind of see your correlation here,” said [Watson], “Like had Arch Duke Ferdinand not been assassinated it could have changed the course of world history. I get what you’re saying about us having a bigger impact but I don’t necessarily see how that relates to chaos theory.”

[Link] could not believe they were having this conversation. He wondered if they actually knew what they were talking about and decided they did not.

“In its most precise rendering chaos can only arise when the possibility of any given state repeating itself is potentially zero, a situation in which the orbital…”

“For fucks sake! I’m not speaking in fucking literal terms,” interupted [Larson], cutting of the physics major.

“I’m just trying to make a damn point. [Watson] I swear, if you say anything about entropy again I’m going to punch you in the throat…”

The two Lieutenants then started to wrestle while sitting down.

“I get it,” said [Link] breaking up the Lieutenants scuffle, “It’s like the strategic Corporal or Sergeant. A Marine on patrol looks at a butterfly flap its wings, he isn’t paying attention and BOOM, he gets killed by an IED. The next day on a patrol his squad leader at the tactical level, revenge murders some innocent Iraqis, cause his buddy got smoked the day before. Then the shit goes sideways.”

“A reporter happens to be standing there and catches the whole thing on video tape. The tape then airs on mother fucking CNN and the excitement goes all the way up the chain. Everyone goes berserk with the story, the locals go nuts because the Marines murdered some innocent dudes and start rioting. Oh by the way, CNN happens to video all this as well.”

The above extended excerpt from Larson’s novel, Senator’s Son, shows how the Marine Corps idea of the Strategic Corporal fits with the idea of a tipping point in the bigger picture. Link is an exceptional Non Commissioned Officer, who was promoted meritoriously several times, and, as a Sergeant, was filling a billet usually held by a higher ranking Marine, a Staff Sergeant. Link would also be chosen to attend college and become an officer. Nonetheless, the passage illustrates that Marine Non-Commissioned Officers — Corporals and Sergeants — were aware of the strategic impact of their actions. In Link’s example, a Marine “revenge murders” an Iraqi, setting off a negative tipping point. Link understood that the tactical actions that he and his fellow Marines were engaging in could have strategic consequences. Yet, in the athletic, aggressive culture of the Marine Corps, indulging in such intellectual reflections for too long would be grounds for a beating to bring the offending party back to the present.

Sources:
Larson5.mov [to do: pick up interview again at 5:15]
http://lima37.com/Larson5.mov
Larson6.mov [to do: whole interview]
http://lima37.com/Larson6.mov
Larson7.mov [to do: whole interview]
http://lima37.com/Larson7.mov
Chapters in Larson’s book – we hold these truths – 9 votes and a siren

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About

This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.

About

This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.