The Corner

The Supercommittee and the Darkhorse Regiment

The 2011 Budget Control Act signed into law by President Obama will break the Marine Corps if the Supercommittee fails in its mission to reduce the budget deficit.

According to a report by the House Armed Services Committee, the Marine Corps will lose 57,000 of its 202,000 Marines and would “require a significant re-evaluation of the Marine Corps’ missions.”

Not only will the Marine Corps shrink to post–Korean War levels, six of 29 amphibious landing ships will be decommissioned, modernization plans for short take-off aircraft shelved, and the reset of equipment for ground forces will be postponed indefinitely.

Before the congressional supercommittee hollows out the Marine Corps, they need to know the story of the Darkhorse Regiment.

For those unfamiliar with the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment — over a year ago 1,000 Marines deployed to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan and suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during ten years of fighting.

This week, National Public Radio featured the men, wives, and families of the 3/5 Darkhorse Regiment. This is how the Marines described their fight with the enemy:

Sgt. Daniel Robert describes it as “hell.” Lance Cpl. Jake Romo calls it “the Wild West.” Lt. Col. Jason Morris says he’d heard it described as “the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.”

The Marines of 3/5 lost 25 brothers while fighting in Sangin in Southern Afghanistan. In response to the mounting losses, the Obama administration’s first reaction was to quit. Then secretary of defense Robert Gates suggested that the Marines should have temporarily pulled out of the area:

The Marines’ top officer, Gen. James Amos, said “absolutely not.

“We don’t do business that way. You would have broken the spirit of that battalion,” Amos says.

Instead of pulling Darkhorse out, the military sent hundreds more Marines, as well as mine-clearing equipment.

General Amos was right — the Marines had to take the fight to the enemy in order to make progress. The results:

Two months went by. By January, things started to get better.

Capt. Chris Esrey remembers that getting “more boots on the deck really increased our patrolling,” while Sgt. Daniel Robert says it became easier for the Marines to get some rest.

The fighting let up. Morris says life returned: markets opened; children were on the streets.

Progress came at a price: 25 dead and 184 wounded, with 34 losing at least one limb over the course of the deployment. But the Marines say it was worth it.

“Every single Marine that was over there — and saw the beginning and saw the end — saw the 180-degree change in that place,” Morris says. “We changed it. We changed it completely.”

“It went from total war-fighting of three months to saving lives and rebuilding homes,” says Sgt. John Decker.

Even Lance Cpl. Baron, who lost one eye, one leg and some of his closest friends, agrees: “It was worth it. If I say it wasn’t worth it, what about my friends that died? I’m disrespecting them, like they died for nothing.”

The war on our enemies won’t be won by quitting, even if temporarily. And we certainly won’t win by hollowing out the Marine Corps while they are still fighting on the battlefield.

— Joel Arends is a veteran of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He currently serves as a captain in the Army Reserve and as chairman of Veterans for a Strong America.

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