This is the JoCo Unravelling podcast, Episode six with Darrell Cooper and me, JoCo Willink. So.
I'm coming home, leaving this place of turmoil and chaos that has escalated throughout my deployment in 2003, 2004 and on my way home actually was before I left my commanding officer, who I've read referenced a bit who I was friends with.
You know, he told me that his last mission as the commander of SEAL Team Seven was going to be to make me the admiral's aide.
And the reason that he wanted to do it was a good reason, primarily because I was a platoon commander that was coming off the battlefield in Iraq. There was. It for an a six month deployment, and so I was sort of. The most combat experienced lieutenant in the Navy that was available for that type of billet, so it's a good move, you know, let's get the boss, let's get the admiral.
Some guys that are a guy that's fresh off the battlefield, that's done a bunch of missions that can talk to him and and explain to him what's happening and give him the support that he needs.
And it was you know, it's a it's a it's a move that he wanted to take care of me, too, because when you're the admiral's aide, you know, you develop a relationship with the admiral and you meet every single other SEAL admiral and every single SEAL captain and every single SEAL commander. And so, you know, you build a bunch of really good relationships. You get to know people in the community and you get to see what the community is like.
So. So I imagine there was an element of, you know, he wants to help you out in your career, but also next time you go back to Iraq, he wants you in charge of more than a platoon.
Yeah, I'd say maybe, but I don't I don't think that was really what it was. I think he really just no one primarily he wanted to get me, you know, I'm a guy and, you know, I've sent you some things that we're not going to share of the kind of the I'm a I'm a direct.
I will not hold back. Right. I mean, if there's something that's happening that needs to change, I will state my opinion and I'll do it tactfully. And if you listen to me, that's great. And if you don't listen to me, I might not be so tactful. You know, I'm going to. I'm going to.
Yeah, I think, you know, you ever heard that cheesy expression speaks truth to power or the cheesy expression right now I have the receipts.
You do do that.
I that he wrote that in my evaluation, like speaks truth to power. Right. Because I would tell him with something if I didn't like something that he was doing and, you know, we had a good relationship, wasn't ever disrespectful about it. You know, we'd have good conversations and sometimes he'd tell me to shut up. And I'd say, Roger that, sir, and that's the way it is. But I would I would explain to him my viewpoint, treating him with enough respect to assume he wants the truth.
Yeah. And so he knew I would do that with the admiral. And so he gets me that job.
So I get home and take over as the admiral's aide. And let's see.
So I get home in April. It's like probably mid to late April. When I get home, I take over the job.
And almost immediately after I take over the job, a guy by the name of Brian Aulet, who was a SEAL, was was killed on May 29th, 2004 in Afghanistan.
And so one of my first jobs as the admiral's aide was to get the admiral out to Brian Alouettes funeral and.
So I knew I knew Brian Aulet and actually at this point, there had been Brian was, I think, the fifth seal killed.
So Neil Roberts, 50, was the first SEAL killed. And in March of 02 and I knew NileSat SEAL Team two with with Neal and then Matt Bourgois was the second SEAL killed also in Afghanistan.
And that was also in March of 02. And it was I was at team one with him, so I was like two for two or over two, depending on how you want to look at it.
And then Tom Retzer and and Dave Taproom were.
We're also we're also killed and they were killed in 03, so. And I knew those guys, but I didn't know them as well as I knew Neil Roberts and Matt Bajwa only because I had been at a team with those guys and I hadn't been on a team with Retzer or Tapper, but I knew him just from being around.
And I remember my parents asking me, you know, every time a SEAL would get killed, they'd say, Did you know him? And I'd say, yes.
And it was very strange that all that I knew Brian Aulet as well. And I had gone he was a couple of buds classes ahead of me.
And so I knew him from that. And then we went through a calm's are like a two month calm school together and we hung out a bunch during that. He was just a just a straight up, you know, stereotypical New Englander from from Needham, Massachusetts.
And, you know, he had a great accent and the great attitude and he was, you know, boisterous and funny and all those things. And when he got killed, so I knew him. And when he got killed, you know, the admiral's aide and we're going, you know, we're going to the funeral and.
He had his mom, his dad, he had six brothers and he was six brothers and a sister, and they were lined up like to shake hands with people and.
You know, it was like you were looking at just clones like that, his dad looked like Brian or Brian looked like his dad and then his all brothers looked the same.
You see him lined up and almost got their own platoon. Yeah, he almost got his own platoon. And you just you just could feel the the just absolute, you know, heartbreak.
And I hadn't been to I hadn't been to any other, you know. Any other funerals like that, so that was kind of my welcome aboard to working with the admiral was was helping him, supporting him as he was seen off, you know, the the the first seal that he was going to lose under his command. You know, as as the admiral. So. There was a couple of things to that, that as we went forward, there was another.
Prisoner abuse scandal that happened, and it was with SEALs, actually, and what happened was SEALs had taken pictures and some one of the guys in the platoon posted them on some kind of photo sharing site and the photo sharing site wasn't protected or got hacked or whatever.
Whatever happened, happened.
But all of a sudden these pictures became public.
And this is what this is when I thought about it was a good job for my commanding officer to have put me as the admiral's aide, because when this unfolded, there was a lot of these pictures that they actually if you interpreted them correctly, then they actually made sense. And so there were several multiple times where, you know, I would be looking at these pictures that the public was seeing and they looked awful. And my boss, the admiral, had to answer to, you know, the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations.
And I was able to explain to him exactly what's going on, these pictures.
So a couple examples are one of them is, you know, a seal holding, a guy holding, you know, an Iraqi guy by the jaw and, you know, kind of around the throat, around the jaw. And he's got his pistol pointed at the guy's head.
And, you know, my bosses.
What's going on here? Well, you know, this is horrible. And I said, here's what's going on, sir. These insurgents do not want to have their pictures taken by us so they won't look at the camera, they'll look away. So a lot of times you've got to hold their head in position so that someone can take a picture. And in order to take a picture, you've got to have lighting. And the quickest available light that we all use is our pistol, the lights on a pistol.
We pull it out, you illuminate the guy. That's what's going on in this picture. OK, got it. Next picture, a guy with a sandbag on his head, blood dripping out of the sandbag. And, you know, OK, what's going on in this picture, sir?
In this picture, you've got an insurgent that was probably captured four minutes or ten minutes before this picture was taken. He resisted. That's what these insurgents do. They resist according to the rules of engagement. You can kill them when they resist. And what we try not to do is kill people if we don't have to. So this guy was probably hit with a couple of multiple strikes gotten. They got him under control. They put a bag over his head and he's bleeding from his nose or from his whatever his forehead from getting hit with a muzzle.
That's what the blood is. This is actually this this picture actually demonstrates the restraint that SEALs show on target because they didn't shoot and kill this guy. So those are the kind of questions that I was able to answer.
But nonetheless, you know, those pictures without context, they just look bad. And those added to you know, they added to the Abu Ghraib photos, they weren't as bad, but they weren't good either.
What was your impression of how Admiral McGuire responded to it? I mean, you respond to it like a great was who was a seal or not, you know, politician?
No, he was great. Good. He was great. He was a he was, you know, listen to what I had to say. He you know, we had discussions about it. I heard him explain up the chain of command. You know, he was he's a very you know, he's he's a he's a great guy. And he understood. And when I explained it to him, OK, you know, he's a SEAL. He understood what I was talking about it.
And he was able to articulate it even better than me to to his boss.
Was one of his congressional hearings when he was briefly the acting DNI. And he just seemed like a straight shooting guy. He to direct.
And and he's you know, he's a guy that he's a great relationship builder because he's a nice guy. You know, he's a guy that always cared about substance. You know, he always cared about sales. Always the the one of the biggest lessons I learned from him is he's going to his mission was to take care of facilities.
And there's plenty of people in the military and civilian sector where they lose sight of what it is that they're actually supposed to be doing as a leader.
And what he was trying to do was take care of competence, which is exactly what he should have been doing and and what we needed him to do. And what did that mean?
It means instead of you were there, it means that instead of trying to look out for, you know, some in trying to look out, instead of trying to look out for the officer community and how it's going to compete against Floetic, know, how does this help us the opportunity instead of looking at what about the acquisitions that are going to take place in the next four years? Can we get more money here? There. Hey, does it help us?
We'll put it. You know, he was concerned. And if it helped us to get that acquisition in four years or to build this officer structure certain way, he would do it. If it wasn't going to help the SEAL platoons, then he wasn't going to expend our resources on it because there's all kinds of things you can expand. Suzanne, you know, like and he would look at it and say, how can this help SEAL platoon? And by doing that, that's that's what we do.
That's what the SEAL teams that SEAL teams boils down to, a seal and the better supported they are, the better they can accomplish their mission.
And I think a lot of people have a misapprehension. They think of like a naval officer and it's like a guy with a cigar on the bridge of a ship. You're talking about an admiral that's just like a CEO.
You're running a gigantic organization. You know, huge amounts of money and personnel. I mean.
Yeah, and if you think that because you're a Navy SEAL admiral that you're out in the field with a machine gun, that's also not a good impression because that's not what's happening. And much of what the admiral was focused on was what's going to happen in eight years. You know what? Where are we going to be in 12 years? Where is our community community going to be in three years? You know, it wasn't you know, he obviously is dealing with stuff that's happening ongoing as well.
But in that position, you actually you train, equip and then send on deployment the troops. Right. You man train and equip and then they go on deployment. They're not working for the admiral when they're overseas. You're working for some, you know, special operations task force that's overseas or you're getting chopped over to some conventional units. So he's he's not doing that. He's a man trained and equipped. That was that was his mission. And he and he did it great.
And, you know, I was I was very lucky to to have that job and to work for a guy that was, you know, very willing to try and teach me as much as he could let me sit in every meeting, you know, I mean, I sat in meetings that, you know, the characters that that we're talking about, you know, we're sitting in meetings with Rumsfeld sitting, sitting like I been and sitting in those meetings, you know, as the not even close.
I was the most junior guy by, you know, by five ranks and and just sit there, you know, sit there in the back and and listen. And those were that was an awesome learning experience.
And those are things that gave me a much better understanding when I went to Ramadi, had a much better understanding of how these civilians interacted with our military. So we're very lucky to learn a lot from that. I want to hear about that.
I mean, expand on that a little bit. What do you mean?
Well, you know, when you're when you're at the building, as they call it, which is what the military folks call the Pentagon, they call it the building. When you're in there, you start to understand the interoperability and the chain of command and the politics that go on broadens.
You just broaden your scope, you know, when you're out there. You know, when I was a commander, you know, my chain of command, you know, kind of stopped that my boss may be the just sort of commander. So my boss's boss is like, OK, I can kind of I can kind of grasp what's going on there.
And then once you see the other end, the most senior, you know, when you're sitting in a room with the, you know, the secretary of defense, you're starting to see the top down and you start to see what kind of things are are being thought about at that level.
And the other thing was, and this was this was purposeful.
You know, when I came back, I was a guy fresh off the battlefield. So I was a kind of a kind of a little bit of a zoo animal. Right.
For for the admiral and not just for the admiral. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but. But he had the opportunity to take a guy because, you know, going to brief. You know, the the whatever level of senior leadership you want to talk about, I've briefed them other than the president, I never briefed the president, but everyone else, like I sat in the room and briefed those people and explained to them what what was going on in Baghdad and what it seemed like to me and what we did and what our mission was.
And there was some of those meetings that he had walk away from those meetings feeling not too excited about some of the attitudes in some of the some of the questions that I'd be asked. There were some. So it was good. It was good for me to see that. It was good for me to have the opportunity to do that. And I ended up doing it again one year later when I got back from Ramadi. But I was very I got a great education from that job and.
He he had an attitude of, you know, not only getting me educated, but using me to educate other people in the chain of command, you know, about what we were doing and what was going on over there.
So. You know, the job itself, I think it was there for 13 months, I was. Like getting ready to transfer and go be a task unit commander SEAL Team three and you know, the new guy shows up and, you know, he's another, you know, junior or another lieutenant. And he I forget where he was coming from, the same thing. You know, he had combat experience coming back off the battlefield and he was taking over for me and a really great guy.
And, you know, he he says to me, um, what do you how does the Admiral Morat, how does the admiral react if you make a mistake? And I looked at him, I said, I don't know, because I really hadn't dropped the ball, luckily, and he just laughed and said all men can also so.
As we're completing the turnover, I think it's like literally the day that I say, you know, you got it, I'm out of here as this is unfolding. There's an operation that was taking place in Afghanistan. And we're right as we're wrapping up this turnover, you know, we have a.
Operation Red Wings happened and, you know, we got guys on the ground, the. The Q R.F. comes in on the helicopter, the the the helicopter, you know, gets hit, goes down, we lose.
We lose 11 SEALs, eight night stalkers on the aircraft as well, and, yeah, like just just absolutely horrible and.
You know, and I was I was there right as this was happening, like right as I was leaving, we were getting reports that they were getting radio, they were getting radio transmission. And it was Marcus was Marcus Luttrell, like I was hearing, you know, sitting in the room where they're telling the admiral, hey, we've got we've got radio traffic.
We think we think one of the guys might be alive and.
And I to be honest with you, I, I was thinking to myself, you know, had basically been like a day or two and I'm thinking, yeah, well, obviously some enemy is captured radio and they're doing whatever to to make us think a guy's still alive.
And by the grace of God, I mean, Marcus, you know, survived that made it out. And that was that was like. Right. That was right. As I turned over and and I remember the poor guy that took over for me as the aid, you know, the it's kind of like the first major thing I did was one funeral while his first major thing was just a complete disaster. It's a it's a nightmare. And and and then you couple that with the fact that at that time.
So now I'm checking in to SEAL Team three to take over as a task unit commander.
And one of the first things that we did as a task unit was go to the memorial service for these guys over in Coronado.
And, you know, it was just a total it was crazy. It was crazy to go to that. It was you know, obviously we are all now completely focused. That was in Afghanistan. We weren't really sure we were going. But we still we the the writing on the wall, we looked like we were going to Iraq, you know, that most likely. Well, either Iraq or some like like some noncombat deployment to PACOM or something like that.
But it looked like we would be going to Iraq. But definitely the way to do that was a that was a way to start a training cycle with tasking a bruiser.
That was very we were focused, you know, we were focused and like, you know, you talk about not watching videos. Well, like are we watched videos like our training.
Kadri would show us videos of, you know, mujahideen fighters going through our brothers SEALs gear. And, you know, it was sickening. And it's one of those things that I think mentally really got us, you know, focused on what we were had to do, not that we weren't focused anyways.
But trust me, that that ups the game. When did you find out what your mission would be?
So we formed up. We start our work up. And once we started our work up, there was actually some debate over who what task unit was going to go to Iraq.
And the debate was some guys hadn't been to Iraq yet. And some guys had been to Iraq, there was one task unit that had not been to Iraq and they said, OK, those guys are they needed to take to task units in Iraq. They took one of them and said, you guys didn't go last time. You guys are going this time. So now there was two task units left that. We need to decide which one of these two task units would go to Iraq, we my commanding officer actually called us back and said, OK, called me.
I had to go back for a meeting and said, listen, here's the courses of action we're thinking about. One of them is we kind of split up the task and we take guys that haven't been to Iraq before. We build a new task unit and those guys go to Iraq. And then the other guys that have been to Iraq already can just go to, you know, one of these noncombat deployments to PACOM, to the Pacific, and or we just go and see who performs better.
And whoever performs better goes to Iraq. And, you know, obviously, my immediate thought was, yeah, we whoever performs better, we go. And if my task unit doesn't perform better than the other task, we don't deserve the war in Iraq and let them go. No, that's the best man win. The other task unit commander is more like, hey, maybe it's the fairest thing to mix up the tank units. I went back and went back out to the desert because we were in the middle of training and I told my guys what the options were and I told them what I thought.
And they were like, we're sticking together, of course. So we pushed back to just stick together. And the commanding officer said, Roger that best whichever task unit is, you know, performs best. Well, we'll send him to Iraq. And so we did. We performed really well.
And the other option was a noncombat noncombat deployments, because in both those task units are competing hard.
Yeah, it's definitely it's definitely a hard core competition. Every seal wants to go to war. Well, a solid 90 percent of SEALs want to go to war by 06. Every seal wants to.
Yeah, and that's the interesting thing. So we're forming this up as this is 05.
And you still have just by the nature of that very decision, you have, you have some SEALs that hadn't been to Iraq and in fact, a lot of SEALs hadn't been to Iraq yet.
You know, so I told you when I was deployed with the Navy, I was doing independent deployments, supporting and swift and SEAL operations, fighting Islamic insurgents down in the Philippines. A lot of people don't know this. There's a lot of stuff going on yet. Worlds. Yeah.
And those deployments, those, you know, nothing against those deployments. Those are necessary deployments. They're doing good work, as you just said.
But, you know, doing doing what those guys were doing, they're there, which, again, outstanding, you know. Thank you. A necessary and important missions for freedom and democracy, but.
We all want to go to Iraq, we want it we want to do more and as much as we possibly could, so we want to go to Iraq. So, yep, we get to Iraq. I actually did a pre deployment. So we do our work up. We get selected to go to Iraq. We. Go on, I go on a pre deployment. Site survey PDF.
And when I go over, we go to Baghdad, I meet to the task unit commander that's over there in Baghdad, they're doing almost the exact same thing that I did on my first deployment, which was direct action missions. They were the big difference was they were working with partner force. You know, I didn't do any partner force with Iraqi soldiers in 03, 04. These guys are doing everything with these highly trained Iraqi soldiers called the ICTV. So they're running operations.
They're doing direct action. They're capturing bad guys there. I went over there, went out on a couple of missions with them. You know, straightfoward, I'm like, oh, yeah, we got this. This is this is good to go. They had good assets. They had you know, it's nice. They had a ton of Iraqi soldiers. So you had a pretty good footprint to get out there. Looks solid. So that was probably, you know, whatever, a month before deployment.
So I come back kind of give everyone the gouge. So what we're doing, you know, what we've been training for. We're going to Baghdad. We're going to work with his partner force when we do doing direct action missions. So cool, high five, everyone's pumped, everyone's psyched and everyone goes on leave, pre deployment leave. And I didn't go on leave, but I'm going to work. And one day my boss comes in and says, hey, there might be a change.
And I say, this is interesting. Ramadi had backpedal a little bit, Ramadi had been had it was now the new hotbed like I it had been the new hotbed since Fallujah ended, when Fallujah when the Fallujah takedown was over, the big Marine Corps, November 04, when that was over, it took about another month where everyone said, OK, this is Ramadi now. So Ramadi started heating up. And the intel reports and the after action reports and the incident reports were in the SIGINT reports they were all now looking at Ramadi, capital of Anbar Province, the capital of Anbar province.
So now at some point, I put on the task unit Bruiser door for three or four days. There was a little sign that said, you know, mayor of Ramadi or something like that, like I was going to go be the mayor of Ramadi. I want to go to Ramadi. But but that that was early. It was early on. And then it was a joke that lasted five minutes and then it didn't talk about it again. Matter of fact, it was Laith who reminded me of that later, like you remember saying that you were going to be the mayor of Ramadi.
And I was like, oh, yeah, yeah, we had a little sign up or whatever, so.
So now what had happened was there was a they wanted to align, there was so now there's two SEAL teams in Iraq and they wanted to align geographically, more geographically, align the two SEAL teams that are in Iraq, and that meant the west of Iraq.
So Fallujah, Habbaniya, Ramadi would be West Coast SEALs and then like Baghdad and wherever else, the eastern eastern Iraq was going to be a different SEAL team. So the only switch that it took to make that happen was Ramadi. That was the only one that was for some reason, however, it got sorted out before you had Ramadi. And that was that was an East Coast SEAL team.
And and the other Fallujah and Habbaniya were West Coast, I think.
But anyways, I don't I don't remember 100 percent, but I know that there was Ramadi was the key component that needed to switch. And so my boss said, hey, what would you think about instead of going to Baghdad, you went to Ramadi? And I was like, you know, I'm like, yes. So absolutely. It was my immediate thought.
It was clear at this point that this is a whole different type of mission. No.
So I'm but I just know that there's more bad guys and there's a lot of bad shit going on there. And what I want in my life is bad shit to be going on in Ramadi.
You had a nightmare at that point. I mean, this is the capital, not only of Anbar province. This was the capital of. These, yeah, they're supposed to be the capital of the caliphate. That's what it was, that's what was hoped to be.
So I remember I I utilized this request to make some deals with my boss to get you know, I said, I need this, this and this. I said, I'll go to Ramadi. I need this, this and this. And it was like random things, like I needed some you. Well, you may or may not. So there was some there was some satellite Internet system that we didn't have allotted to us.
And I was like, I need that. I need this other thing. I need more people. I need this. And my boss kind of laid it out and used that as bargaining chips with the other commander and sorted it out. And I got basically everything that I wanted and I got to go to Ramadi. So.
So you're why the 5th Fleet Navy lost all its Inmarsat connections?
It might be. It might be. Yeah. Like that kind of thing. It was beautiful. And so I when I said I was super excited, I didn't show my cards. I just was like, well, you know, we could do it. Let me look at, you know, well, let me look at what I've got. Let me look at what's on the ground over there. Let me see what I need.
Like Jocke. You have a boner. Yeah. Yep, yep.
So I so that's what happened. So I actually I don't remember if I called the guys and let them know. I mean I know I called the key leaders and said, hey guys, we're not going to get any more on Ramadi. I don't think I even called the the dogs. You know, they were they were on leave and they don't care and they don't care. They didn't discriminate. They're kind of like me. You know, you asked me if I knew what the mission was going be totally different.
I didn't think the mission was going be totally different. I just thought there'd be more action. I didn't know that we would do something completely different.
And you didn't know what would be riding on it. Like, did you have an idea that.
No, no. I just knew there was more bad guys there. And that's where I wanted to be. And that's what I wanted. I that's where I know everyone in my task unit wanted to be. So that's where it kicks off.
We we were there about thirty, thirty five of you guys.
Yeah. There's so there's technically there's thirty six guys in the task unit, you know, two sixteen man seal platoons and a headquarters element. But then so that's the, that's the SEALs. And then there's another I think my, my, my count normally in camp was around 100. So the support personnel.
So Radioman Seabees, Armory guys, supply guys, we had a we ended up having a couple of Marines that ran radio.
Like we said, we had to put about one hundred guys, you know, 40 or so support or no sorry, 60 or so support, 40 or so seals, something like that is generally what it looked like.
Did you understand at least that this was a city that. It's not quite right to say we had no presence in, but I mean, we were. As I've heard it from some journalists and from people who were over there, we were you were going into a city that there were parts of it where the civilians may not have seen an American uniform in eight, 10, 12 months.
Absolutely. I mean, our people were basically sitting in static defense positions, occasionally running out on patrols and getting shot at the entire time. I mean, this is a city where that the insurgents largely controlled. The insurgents control a lot of it.
And when we got there, it was the two to eight was the Pennsylvania National Guard that was on the ground. And to say that they were sitting behind, they were out getting after it, and they were they were pushing hard. They were pushing really hard and they were very experienced. You know, they'd been on the ground. I think the numbers 14 months. I always say 14 months. I heard it from one of them at some point, but they'd been on the ground for a long time fighting hard.
So all of us seals that had been through Navy SEAL training or whatever, these guys had way more combat experience than we had. And, you know, we knew that as soon as we got on the ground that it was really obvious as soon as you get on the ground that this was not I mean, even even in comparison to Baghdad, I mean, you go out of the like we ended up in this little.
Little Saddam vacation house, I guess, is what it seems like, a small mansion on the Euphrates River, and you go out at night onto the onto the deck and look at the city and the city, you're going to see you're seeing explosions and you're seeing, you know, tracer fire like, you know, like a black wall of war movie. That's what it look like.
I mean, that you're getting a target and you're going after them in Ramadi. They're coming for you. I mean, this is a this is a city that they expect the insurgents expect to control and they are mounting attacks on our fortified positions, right?
Yes, absolutely. They are mounting attacks on our fortified positions. They have maneuver elements. They have kharif. They are using combined arms. They are using communications. They are on the attack, no doubt.
So you get your guys ready? Well, we show up there and the first thing we're doing is we're turning over with the guys that are there and they're giving us good, solid turnover of what they've been doing, how they've been doing it.
They had been continuing to focus on doing trying to do direct action missions, working with some of the Iraqi soldiers. That's what they had kind of been focused on.
They had been trying to still do unilateral operations, meeting operations where it's just seals. And they were getting shot down on that. And it took me three minutes to decide, OK, well, we're not going to try and do any unilateral operations because this was a time of by, with and through. Right. So the the the attitude had shifted that what we're trying to do is get the Iraqis able to handle security in their own country.
So if you go on a mission, you're taking Iraqis with you so that that's where these Iraqis coming from at the beginning.
In the beginning, they were they were they were army soldiers. But I mean, were the Iraqi army soldiers from this area going from almost all Shia?
OK, the vast majority Shia, occasional Sunni, some Kurds, but the vast majority Sunni in a position by this point in large parts of the country where if they showed up to a recruiting station, their families dead, if they show up to a polling station to vote in one of these elections in 05, they're dead. If you run for office, you're dead. Yes, AQI had consolidated control over the in the 05 election. I think there was two percent Sunni turnout.
I mean, people just couldn't do it.
You couldn't show up to work for the police. You couldn't be seen speaking to an American. Right.
There were a lot of people on the political side by this point who were like, this is over, you know, Ramadi is lost, Anbar is lost, and there is nothing we can do short of turn that place into a parking lot to get it back.
I remember there was I remember because it was on September 11th and it was the fifth anniversary of September 11th, 2006, a report that had been going around generated by the head of intelligence for the Marine Corps.
Sure. You remember Colonel Peter Devlin. And this is the fifth anniversary of September 11th. And, you know, the 10th anniversary, 15th anniversary. We always have like this is going to be kind of the articles that come out in The Washington Post and places like that, which is where this is kind of setting the conditions. Where are we? Right. Tom Ricks put out he didn't have you couldn't published a report was classified, but he put out part of it.
It said, chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents. One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar Province, we haven't been defeated militarily, but we have been defeated politically.
And that's where wars are won and lost. Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said that it describes Anbar as beyond repair. A third said that it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar, these people said.
He reported that military operations are at a stalemate, unable to extend and sustain security beyond the perimeters of their bases. That's where you guys are going and you aren't being given a mission to go. Get us through the next six months. We've had a strategic shift where some of the people who are arguing for a more aggressive policy to actually try to turn things around are being given an opportunity to show that they can do it.
Yeah, that was some of the meetings that I went that I was in in the building when I was in admiral's aide, that's where I started hearing talk and and I started seeing I started seeing two sides of the story and two opposing viewpoints of what was happening.
There was a side that was trying to figure out how to win. And there was a side that was trying to figure out how not to lose. And, you know, trying to fight back by saying trying to figure out how not to lose, it's like how to get out of there, how to shut this thing down. How do we how do we get out of this without just, you know, without egg on our face?
And the other side of saying, how are we going to win and and there was surprisingly there was military and civilian people on both sides of that of those two divergent opinions of how we should move forward. The obvious one is President Bush.
President Bush wanted to win. He wanted to win and.
You could you you could sense that you knew that you actually knew that he wanted to win, you also could sense that there were people on civilian and military side that believed that report right there, which was we cannot win this thing. It's a quagmire, not not just Ramadi, but talk in Iraq. Ramadi was the was the was the exclamation point was the example of why we cannot this is impossible. This isn't going to work. That that that's that's the way it is.
So you definitely I definitely heard both sides of that of of of those opinions sitting in the Pentagon in in meetings as a junior guy, sit in the back of a room hearing discussions between high level people and. Yeah, so when we got out there, you know, we definitely knew that it was going to be bad and and for the most part, you know, what SEALs are looking at is like, you know, OK, how are we going to win, you know, our opinions?
How are we going to win? And it's it's even tighter than that. It's how are we going to win tonight? How are we going to win? What are we going to do today to make an impact, to make a difference. And unfortunately, what that can lead to and it's not just deals.
So you talk about any you know, any company and belo sized element, you know, whether it's a task, you know, whether it's a company, you know, any any small unit led by in 03 or below a platoon, they're looking at like, OK, what do I do today? How can I improve today and tomorrow? What can I do to fix this immediate problem? That's what you're looking at.
So when we show up there. There's you can you immediately know, I mean, there's there's memorial services almost every day and we're going, you know, we almost immediately we're going to memorial services for soldiers and Marines that are being killed.
The you know, there's like I said, there's more there's more. You know, we're getting mortared on base. And that's a pretty regular occurrence. There's firefights out in the city all the time.
And, you know, when you were in Baghdad. Like in Baghdad, first of all, Baghdad's huge I mean, it's huge geographically, it's more like L.A., right? Ramadi is a little tiny city. It's not a big place. So when there's a firefight going on and you're in an elevated position, if there's a firefight going on in Ramadi, you can see it like you can see any tracer you can you're going to be able to see it from an elevated position.
So that means any anytime you get on a rooftop at nighttime, you can see gunfire going on, especially when we first got there. There was a lot it seemed like the enemy was fighting during the night, a little bit more.
We they started to adjust their tactics.
I think it fight more during the day. And then we are just at our tactics to fight during the day as well. But we get there you go.
And you start your deployment in March. Right. When did you get to Ramadi?
Well, I got we started in April.
I went right to Ramadi, writes Ramadi, and I never left and started prepping for I believe the operation began in earnest in June.
You know, my goal was to start doing operations as soon as we got there. And we did. And I was like as soon as life showed up and Stoner, it was like strapping on boys. And, you know, I had I had told both those guys, the two platoon commanders that work for me, I will get my goal is to, you know, make you quit, get you so much combat that you come to me and say, JoCo, I can't take anymore.
And they said, bring it. And they said, bring it. And were you personally like, are you working for Colonel MacFarland? I'm working for.
So when I get there, it's Colonel Bronsky who was two to eight commander, and he was so I'm working for the special operations chain of command, which means, you know, there's my boss, who's No. Five, commander of SEAL Team three, and he's working for the suggestion of commander, who's a colonel in charge of all the special operations in the P&L. So so that's my actual chain of command, my relationship chain of command, which I have a relationship, obviously, my boss.
But I made a relationship with with the conventional commanders because it's their battle space and I want to help them win. That's my goal.
I mean, Ramadi is kind of spoken of as a pretty as an important battle and showing I mean, very innovative in how special operations forces and conventional forces work together, you know, in a way that hadn't really been achieved with that level of success before relationships and and humility.
Because, you know, when you when you roll in and you're going to go in and you're seeing these these kids getting killed, you are going to think, OK, what can I do to help?
And the last thing you're thinking of is, hey, I you know, you guys should listen to me. You're like, what can I do to help you guys in any way? What can we do?
And that was the attitude that I had to try and move forward and try and help the situation on the ground. Now, a few episodes ago, we talked about this this beautiful mind wall that I had built with all these targets on it, these link diagrams. So when I got to Ramadi, I there was another SEAL element in Ramadi, and they were. They. They were set up there, but they they they had a like a small command center there and they had guys working out of other areas.
And I knew the I knew the commander. He was a friend of mine. And so he had been in Ramadi for a while.
And I went down and, you know, like, you know, linked up with him and was just, you know, you know, we were we're friends, you know, and he was telling me what they've been doing.
And I was you know, he was giving me, like, a brief of what was happening, what to watch out for, all standard kind of turn over stuff. And his intel officer was actually the same intel officer that I had had at SEAL Team Seven, you know, was like, awesome. So and she was a female. And so, you know, I saw her and we started talking and she started kind of going through, you know, what they'd been doing.
And then she says, well, why don't you come in, you know, come to the intel shop and I'll you what we're doing. And so I walk into the intel shop and on the wall is this big giant link diagram. And it was basically the same thing that I had left, you know, two years earlier, you know, for the same big giant group of people, some little red lines through them, some little green lines through them, meaning they'd been captured or killed.
And I thought to myself, this is not a good sign because it's been two years. And even though there's some red lines, green lines here that this thing hasn't got any smaller. And that was my wake up call.
We were going to lose, like what we were doing is like a Hackworth situation for me where, you know, I'm looking at this going this is what Hackworth was thinking when he's coming to Vietnam and he sees the same battles being fought over and over again with nothing changing.
So I was looking at this going, wait a second, it's been two years and I'm just looking at a big link diagram that has the same number of people on it as it was. As it was when I left, this is not a good sign. I went back to my mum, to my tactical operation center. I pulled up the Internet and I downloaded the new brand new idea. I only think it was out yet. It was a draft version of the counterinsurgency manual that had just been written by Petraeus and all his crew.
He's got a whole crew of really, you know, the whole crew, McMaster, this whole crew of guys that had written this this form three to twenty four.
I downloaded and read it, sat there and read it. And I just thought, OK, what how can we change what we're doing? Because this is this is not. This is what we're doing is not working. This is a different situation than it was when I left.
This is an insurgency and we realize it's going to take more than kicking people's asses to win this. This is when I realized that we were in a counterinsurgency, that we needed to fight a counterinsurgency and.
That's what I started doing, Colonel McFarland, do that, so Colonel MacFarland had come from Tal Afar, so, so shortly after we got there, it was time for the two to eight to go home. Colonel Gawronski and all those brave souls from the National Guard and their adjacent units, awesome guys. And they gave us an incredible turnover.
You know, they they they they did great. They were just amazing. They were amazing soldiers.
I think most people can't wrap their head around that. And I think National Guard, they think like weekends, tents and a little bit of college money.
The idea that there are National Guard people holding the line in Ramadi for however long with them 13, 14 months is out of control and total professionals and saved our lives like they saved our lives with the information they gave us, with the lessons that they taught us.
You know, our our guys were like listening, you know? Yeah. It's like and and props to my guys, you know, like all my guys for not just saying our seals.
You know, we're no none of that. That was. Hey, what do you guys think of this? You know, what do you think of that? How do you how would you do this? What do you think of this route?
Like we're ready to listen, but it was time for them to go home. They've been there for 14 months. So now the one one aide comes in, one one eight armored division comes in.
Colonel Sean MacFarland at the time now he's general retired, but he really first so he'd come from Tal Afar and up and Tal Afar, he had relieved. McMaster So McMaster had run the the counterinsurgency model, the sees clear, hold and build the go out into the neighborhoods, form relationships. He'd run that model in Tal Afar and it worked.
It worked so well that by the time McFarlan got there, they didn't need a brigade up there anymore. All they needed was a battalion. And so and again, I might be a little bit off on these, but, you know, so they said, OK, you're going to leave a battalion up there to handle Tal Afar because it's all but good.
It's which was a nasty place, was a nasty place, and now it's all but tame. It's all but peaceful.
And McFarlan comes down and is is like he's he understands the plan that needs to be executed. He's going to mimic what happened up in Tal Afar because he got the good turnover. And McFarland's just a smart, open minded, humble guy that would look at problems and come up with an idea. And if someone gave him a better idea, he'd say, that's a better idea, let's do that instead. And so he had that attitude coming down. And and that's why, you know, when you went in earlier episodes, when you're talking about, you know, Brehmer and there's nothing that makes me sicker than egos, driving decisions and and people that don't listen, it just it's the worst possible thing, you know?
Well, that's why I always say when we'd fire a leader later on in my career, when we were running, when I was running SEAL training for four advanced, you know, four SEAL platoons until task units when we would fire a SEAL leader, the thing that we would fire the SEAL leader for is because he would have a big ego and was arrogant and wouldn't listen to people because that right there is what gets people killed when you don't listen.
And so McFarland was smart and looked at what McMaster done and said that looked like it worked to me. And now you will go do it down in Ramadi. And this is where we get to the point with what you were talking about, where people were saying this isn't going to work. Hey, it might have worked in Tal Afar, but this is different.
This is Ramadi. They've had years to consolidate this place. This is going to be it's not going to work.
There were high level people who thought that not only was were we going to fail, but we were going to go in there and get a bunch of our guys killed for nothing.
No doubt. No doubt. And Colonel MacFarland had a different attitude, which is like, OK, well, we're going to try and win. And he I don't you know, I wouldn't say that he looked at it here's our exact plan that we're going to execute. And I can tell I wish I could think of all the times I saw that guy pivot and change his mind and make an adjustment and and take input from his battalion commanders are taking from a company commander out there in the field and talk to him and say, what do you need?
And I'd say, I need this or we should do that. And he'd say, that sounds like a good idea. And he'd execute on it. I mean, he had it. He had that kind of mind. But the mind was I don't mean to interrupt mind was we're going to try and we're going to try and stabilize Ramadi.
That's a countries take over. When did this happen? I got there in April.
I'd have to do is about it was about three weeks to a month then.
So you got there, Eric, was there a shift that came down all the way to the troop level that people realized, like, OK, we're not we're going to start we're going to take this city?
Well, so there were some there were some units that stayed, so the first of the five or six was there and they they had been scrapping it out. The three Marines were there in downtown. They'd been scrapping out first to five or six was over on East Germany. They've been scrapping out. Those guys had been just in a dogfight.
But, yeah, it took a little bit of time to come up with, like, OK, hey, we understand we're going to do how long is this actually going to look like? And so it wasn't a shock to anybody, almost like, wait, what's happening right now? No, it was like, hey, this is what we're going to do, where to start, but we're going to start putting some some combat outposts in and throughout Ramadi.
I think a lot of people have, you know, from the outside have this.
It's really easy to get this idea of the U.S. military is just so advanced and everything is in place that once we decide we're going to take a city, it's like, all right, reach into the reach into the file, pull out, plan to alpha and now execute.
We had to, you know, think about a city with a half a million people in it that's been in control of the enemy for maybe up to two years. And now you got to go figure out how to take that city. I mean, that is a vast undertaking and a complicated one. It's not just military in nature.
OK, so let me let me let me go into a little bit more detail on this. So. We did know and as soon as I got there, you know, I knew that Ramadi was important, but when I got there, I realized that it was a strategic.
It was a strategic, decisive element of this war and we needed to win.
So what did that look like when we showed up there? This was going to be a this was going to be a Falluja style kinetic push through the city of Ramadi. That's what was going to happen. And we were going to do it. During the kind of during the turnover between the two to eight and the one one, and so we have double the forces that we need, we're going to. And for me, I'm like, awesome.
We're going to go there, guys. Get ready. We're getting ready to we're getting ready to smash the city. We're getting ready to do Fallujah. You know, it's going to be a nasty two months. Get ready. You know, that's what that's what everyone was thinking.
OK, well, in this time frame, we would have to check the notes on this one, but.
Maliki takes over, yes, as prime minister, do you have the dates on that? Do you know when that was April 22nd, right, when you dropped in?
So. He takes over, we're planning this big kinetic smash and he comes out and says no.
We're not doing it that way, and this was a very politically savvy move, politically savvy move, because what it would have looked like had we done it that way, it would have been the Shia government going out and destroying a Sunni city and killing a bunch of Sunnis.
And he didn't want to do that. He was smart. And so he said, listen, you need to secure Ramadi. You need to do it. With more with a scalpel, not with a hammer, that's what needs to happen and OK, so we one of the first missions that we did was. And this is just kind of tell you where things do get political sometimes, so we we chopped over to and this was this is when it was still Colonel Groundskeeping, the two to eight we chopped over to or we went over to the east side of Ramadi.
We're going to do a big push, like a three day push through this area called the Mahlab District.
And we were going to go in, take a bunch of take a bunch of city blocks, hold up for the night, move, you know, stay there the next night, take a bunch more city blocks, stay there until we got this whole area secure and almost like a Fallujah style type thing.
Right. So the battalion commander gets like basically shut down and gets told, hey, listen, we're not doing any. This was the limitations that got put on. We're not doing any we're not going to do any battalion sized operations, no battalion sized operations. That was the instructions. And he was like, OK, Roger that. So, like, he put whatever it was, four companies plus something like we had all the combat power we needed, but we didn't, you know, we weren't under battalion commander or whatever.
So those are the kind of adjustments that got made. And but that was sort of one of the initial operations that we did. But it wasn't the concerted strategy to hold. It was going to be a clear and then and that was actually, you know, that's the the blue on blue from extreme ownership is that first big giant clearance operation.
So once we did that and then that's kind of when the one one aide showed up and that's when this idea said it was, hey, you're not doing this, we're going to do it a different way. And McFarlane had McFarland had the plan, he start setting up cops around the city.
Yeah, that's the plan. If only it were that easy. Yeah, I say we just let this one run. I want to hear about this.
I mean, what are we at an hour, you guys are going to have to wait. Check.
Yeah, like I said, if only it was that easy.
Standby. You can also check out our other podcasts. I got a podcast called JoCo Podcast. I got a podcast called The Warrior Kid podcast, and I got a podcast called Grounded and Darrell has a podcast which is called Margeir Made. Then you can support all these podcasts by getting some gear from either the JOCO store, JOCO Store Dotcom or from Origin. Main Origin. Main Dotcom. Until next time. This is JoCo and Derrell out.