On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, General James’ Mad Dog,’ Mattis issued a letter to the troops of the 1st Marine Division. Mattis limited his message to one page and wanted something his Marines could carry with them. It acted as the commander’s intent as well as a bit of motivation for those headed into the fight. I think everyone should read the letter, but it’s the end of the letter that has since become a part of the Marine Corps culture. At its conclusion, Mattis signs off with, “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.“
“No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” has since become an unofficial motto of the Marine Corps. In the wake of the U.S. military’s departure from Afghanistan, we saw the Marines live up to that motto rather well. We also saw tragedy, fear, uncertainty, and all the typical talking heads gnashing their teeth. Those are all subjects worthy of debate and discussion, but maybe for someone much smarter than me.
The No Worse Enemy part of the motto has been exemplified thousands of times. I, among hundreds of others, have written about the ferocity of Marines. From fighting Barbary pirates to routing the Germans In Belleau Wood and to the modern GWOT Marine who faced decades of asymmetrical warfare, Marines have proven themselves to be capable warfighters time and time again. “No better enemy,” then makes perfectly logical sense, but what about the first half of this saying?
To answer that question, I need to provide a bit of background into why Marines, America’s favorite warriors, could also be found showing such kindness to the innocent people of Kabul of the United States made its withdrawal from the nation.
Marines showed Afghans “No Better Friend“
When I heard that the United States was sending military personnel back into Afghanistan, I knew Marines would be on the way. Marines serve as America’s 911 force in readiness, with units prepared to head into the fight at a moment’s notice. A Battalion of Marines can be anywhere in the world in 96 hours. They seemed like the right warriors for the job.
The Marines weren’t the only Americans coming in hot, however. The Marine’s 24th MEU included 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, and a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, which included 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, CA. Alongside them were members of the U.S. Army’s famed 82nd Airborne, the nation’s premier airborne infantry fighting force.
But what we saw in the images flooding social media after their arrival wasn’t America’s warfighters squaring off against decades-old foes, nor were they grainy drone images of airstrikes from 20,000 feet up. The danger was clearly as prevalent as ever, but we saw something… different.
What we saw after the Marines landed wasn’t some kinetic invasion where Marines do what Marines do best. They secured the airport, and instantly we saw Marines make the shift to the “no better friend” portions of Mattis’ letter. We saw Marines in plate carriers, surrounded by assault rifles, cradling babies, sharing water and snacks, and rendering aid when they could.
A now-famed clip showed Marines retrieving a child by the arm over a wall at the airport. As the story progressed, it turned out the child was sick, and the Marines took the baby to a Norwegian-ran hospital inside the airport. After treatment, the baby was returned to his father. It’s one of the countless stories to come from these tragically difficult circumstances, and one of the countless examples of the troops on the ground adapting to the situation and making hard decisions in the heat of the moment.
In just a short period of time, the Marines and Soldiers in Kabul proved themselves to be exceptional.
From the Beginning
I felt a swelling of pride in my heart watching my brothers and sisters living up to being No Better Friend to the Afghan people. I think many Marines felt the same, regardless of their generation. From the very beginning of a Marine’s career, they are taught to be warriors, and as may come as a surprise to some, they are taught to be kind too.
Mattis might have immortalized the phrase “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy,” but the concept has always been around. I remember one of my Drill Instructors, Sergeant Butler, telling us over and over that, “Marines are benevolent conquerors.” The very concept of being the meanest good guy on the battlefiend is enshrined in our Marine ethics.
In the Ethics 1 and 2 Student Handout for Marine Officer Candidates, the Marine Corps values are explained in depth. Those values being Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Under Commitment, the handout lists several examples, including “Concern for People.” In that example, we see the following:
We are in the business of creating honorable citizens. Everyone is of value, regardless of race, nation of origin, religion, or gender. Concern includes a commitment to improving the level of education, skill, self-esteem, and quality of life for Marines and their families. On the battlefield, a Marine is the fiercest of all warriors and the most benevolent of conquerors.Marine Corps Basic School, Ethics 1,2 Student Handout
The difference between an armed mob and a squad of Marines is the moral courage to do what’s right. Being strong enough mentally and physically to fight is fine and dandy. Having the moral courage to do the right thing and the capability to fight is where the difference lies between that mob and a group of motivated Marines.
Strength isn’t just the ability to swing a sword. Strength is the ability to swing a sword and nurse a child with the same hand.
Warfighting and hope
Warfighting is the business of the Marine Corps, but so is bringing hope to the hopeless. These men and women exemplified that in Kabul. For just a second, a brief moment, maybe things weren’t quite so bad for some of those in Afghanistan because these men and women, wearing MARPAT and carrying assault rifles, were there to help. It isn’t help at the national or strategic level, nor did their efforts change the serious situation the Afghan people face in the years ahead… but for individual people, for young parents trying to do what’s best for their kids, for those kids with promising futures ahead, this long list of individual and group efforts may have forever changed their lives for the better.
Sadly, as well know now, the No Better Friend tactic cannot last forever. A fanatic with a bomb attacked the airport at Abbey Gate. The end result was the death of over 90 Afghans and 13 U.S. Servicemembers. But even as we mourn this loss, the kindness of these Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors should not be forgotten. Because in their final moments, they weren’t just heroes. To the people in need around them, they were friends.
These 13 Men and Women gave their lives in defense of others, of which there is no greater kindness.
- Lance Cpl. David Lee Espinoza, 20
- Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23
- Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, 31
- Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23,
- Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20,
- Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22,
- Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20
- Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20
- Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25
- Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22
- Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23.
- Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20
- Seaman Maxton “Max” Soviak, 22