Editor’s note: Col. Mike Gallagher was scheduled to leave Saturday for deployment to Iraq. He will be writing an occasional column for The Tribune-Democrat beginning with the piece below, which was written before his departure. A native of southern California, Gallagher resided in Johnstown and Windber from 1993 until 2005 while employed by the National Drug Intelligence Center. A member of the Marine Corps Reserve, he has been assigned to corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the past three years. He is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and was in the Pentagon when it was hit by a hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001.

I have been ordered to Baghdad, and folks, I want to tell you, I will be serving among some of the best young men and women America has produced.

Before I continue, I must admit that these are only my observations from the perspective of a reservist headquarters “pogue,” assigned to the Pentagon the past three years.

A pogue is a somewhat disparaging reference to a rear-echelon troop; maybe the term has something to do with pogey bait (junk food), which is more easily obtained in the rear – though I do recall a buddy, an infantryman, who replaced his c-rats with pogey bait immediately following each pre-field-exercise inspection.

As I complete the mandatory predeployment training, I am reminded of the high expectations we, as a nation, have of our young service members. Though my observations are limited primarily to Marines, I believe these expectations cross service lines.

Our predeployment training included rules of engagement (ROE), escalation/de-escalation of force, cultural awareness, media engagement, casualty treatment, tactics and proficiency with an array of weapons.

We egressed from HMMWV (high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle, or Humvee) simulators after rotating twice and survived the ever-popular gas chamber.

The young combat leader must master all of these lessons, while I confess I am still confused by the technique of setting head-space and timing of the .50-caliber heavy machine gun. (I guess I am a pogue.)

This refresher training coupled with their other experiences is transforming our (your) Marines into “strategic corporals.” The strategic corporal is that young leader who must exploit perishable information and make the right decision in a dynamic, complex tactical environment.

His or her tactical decision may have a strategic impact. The right choice will gain the confidence of local citizens and deprive the terrorists of local active or passive support.

The right choice will eliminate horrific images of abuse presented to the international community and exploited by extremist elements.

Now picture your Marines maneuvering tactically with a combat load of 100 pounds, including weapons, ammo, helmet and the new tactical vests with Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or simply E-SAPI plates (which protect against the 7.62 mm rifle commonly used by our enemy)– while dodging incoming rounds, directing subordinates and hearing the scream of a fallen comrade.

These men and women have to be physically and mentally strong.

Your Marines are making the right choice 99 times out of 100, and we are striving to close that gap.

When you learn of tragic abuses, please attempt to balance your opinion with the 99 other choices that lead to the defeat of our enemy while liberating and creating new opportunities for our friends.

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