MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Though highly successful, the way Marines were used on the battlefields of Iraq must not become the standard for the service, said the general who led the way to Baghdad.

The 600-mile push to the capital and cities further north from Kuwait stretched thin the Marine combat and support forces, prompting many to come up with innovative means to keep going, said Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Roughly 1,500 Marines, mostly officers, came to glean insight on what worked and what didn’t at the Operation Iraqi Freedom After Action Seminar held Tuesday and sponsored by the Marine Corps Association.

Conway peppered his briefing with humorous stories, such as seeing one Assault Amphibian Vehicle personnel carrier towing another as mechanics worked feverishly to fix the vehicle, all while traveling some 30 miles per hour up Highway 6 in Iraq. Conway’s initial reaction: “I said, ‘That’s a safety violation.’”

Despite his mostly jovial presentation, he grew serious when speaking about his No. 1 frustration on the battlefield.

“My biggest disappointment had to be blue-on-blue,” Conway said of friendly-fire casualties as he paced the auditorium stage. “It’s a tragic story … and we need devices out there that will indicate whether or not they are friend or enemy.”

U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq, is investigating all possible friendly fire incidents.

The Corps made logistics just as expeditionary as its fighting forces, Conway said, and stretched supply lines just as far and just as thin in order to deliver fuel, ammunition, food and other supplies to fighting forces. “Logistics absolutely performed miracles over those distances. We’re not built to do that.”

Successes stemmed from air superiority and close air support to emergency medical treatment facilities right there on the battlefield, and the flexibility of Marines to adapt to their varying environment and missions, said Conway and others.

Panelists included Maj. Gen. James Amos, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Air Wing; Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of 1st Marine Division; Brig. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade; and Col. David Reis, commanding officer of the Transportation Support Battalion.

“Every commander out there is envious of the MAGTF,” Conway said of the Corps’ combined approach of Marine Air-Ground Task Force, telling the audience he was quoting Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commanding general of coalition ground forces during the war.

However, the Corps, and the U.S. military in general, must improve communications with each other and coalition forces, improve integration of special forces with conventional forces and they must inform families more quickly of combat casualties, especially in light of the heavy media presence “embedded” with combat units, he said.

When Mattis spoke, he said if he could impart one piece of advice to Marines, it would be to begin building rapport and friendships with peers early, because one day, they just might run a war together.

“Given the option of going home and reading on a Friday night about a dead German, or going to the bar … and arguing about the latest [periodical] article, I’d suggest you do the latter,” he said, referencing the recommended officer enhancement reading list which includes books of World War II history and leaders.

“The bottom line, the friendships and the trust, the mutual respect between officers who served once together as captains and majors who went to happy hour together, there was a bond between those of us on this stage, that I don’t care what the enemy could have done, I don’t care what weapons they had … there is nothing the Iraqis could have done to break the bond and stop us.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now