CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- A small group of Marines and sailors stationed here were in for a surprise as some of the Corps’ top leaders joined them for lunch Sept. 14.
Lieutenant Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general, U.S. Marine Forces Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force, along with Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, sergeant major of I MEF, and other Marine and Navy leaders took time to discuss issues ranging from military operations to career retention.
In August, Mattis assumed command of MARCENT and I MEF, a force of more than 45,000 Marines stationed around the world. He recently toured several locations throughout Al Anbar province, completing his first visit to the country since the changeover.
He spoke casually with the junior Marines and sailors at the table, sharing war stories from past deployments, as well as what he’s observed during this most recent visit to Iraq.
“The truth is, we’ve got to take better care of our enlisted,” said Mattis, who spoke, among other issues, on ways to reduce the threat of improvised explosive devices.
“The money we’re using now goes to the (conflict in Iraq),” he said. “We’d be shortchanging you guys if it didn’t.”
One sailor, nearing the end of his 7-month deployment, was appreciative of the visit and said he won’t soon forget it.
“It’s definitely been the highlight of this deployment,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis E. Sanchezcarranza, a hospital corpsman augmented to 2nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Platoon, 1st EOD Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd). “I can’t really put into words how honored I feel right now.”
At one point during the meal, Mattis asked those around him a peculiar question: “If you were general for a day, what changes would you make?”
The relaxed atmosphere played a large part in the candid suggestions that followed. The young Marines and sailors voiced concerns about curriculum deficiencies at military-occupation-specialty schools, the lack of enlisted clubs at Camp Pendleton and what vehicles should be used to transport troops and supplies in Iraq.
The general listened intently, and tasked his sergeant major with a few phone calls to address some of these issues. “It really made me realize that my input is important,” added Sanchezcarranza, a 23-year-old from Houston. “Everything we talked about… he’s going to try to change or make better.”