On the front page of todays’ Washington Post is one of the biggest shocks I’ve heard of so far in the war:
The Marine Corps relieved one of its top commanders in Iraq yesterday, an extremely unusual action, especially for a unit engaged in combat.
Col Joe Dowdy, USMC, was the CO of the 1st Marine Regiment which is currently engaged in combat in Iraq. According to the WP article, the Marines are being tight-lipped about the cause for the extraordinary decision, and that’s OK for the near term but not for the long term. His CO, the 1st Marine Division Maj. Gen. James Mattis will not doubt be called upon to explain his actions. It should be pointed out that this was most likely not a decision made lightly and that MajGen Mattis probably had at least concurrence with the Theater Commander before taking such a drastic step. Col. Dowdy’s career is now over, and that’s never a good thing for a Marine who has spent his whole life protecting out country.
Commanding troops in combat is the ultimate experience for a career officer, and it’s a terrific responsibility. It’s a juggling session between getting the mission accomplished (job 1) while minimizing US casualties (also job 1) and, in this war, minimizing Iraqi casualties and infrastructure damage (also job 1). Get all that done and keep your boss happy (the boss will be happy if you get job 1 done), then you’re OK. It’s possible one of these is what caused him to be relieved; it’s also possible it was personality, insubordination, or any of the myriad other human foibles. We don’t know now, and the Marines are not ever going to make a big announcement (unless they charge him with something); frankly, I can wait.
The big question I have is who commands 1st Regiment now? I sincerely hope their XO (Executive Officer, 2nd in command) is given the job, because he’s already up to speed on the situation on the ground and has a good functional knowledge of the subordinate commanders and their dispositions. That would be the best thing for the troops.
I know first hand how disruptive a CO’s relief can be, and we weren’t being shot at. Our Battalion (BN) CO was fired about 10 days before we deployed overseas for 31st MEU. The new CO was a good Marine and very sharp, but he was playing catch-up with a unit already trained and ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, our BN could have carried out any mission given it, but the communication that happens easily among people who have worked together for a long time wasn’t there.
Here’s hoping the 1st Marine Regiment is well led by their new CO. Certainly he’s aware that it’s not a permanent job.