The nearly two-decade war in Afghanistan has cost the United States $2.26 trillion, according to a new analysis by Brown University.
But even after the last American service member leaves Afghanistan later this year, as the Biden administration has pledged, the costs will continue to rise, according to Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
In its Costs of War report released Friday, the Watson Institute tallies the staggering expense of the nation’s longest war, as the Biden administration prepares to withdraw the last few thousand troops from Afghanistan no later than Sept. 11.
The analysis collected the estimated congressional appropriations for the war, including operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The greatest single expense – $933 billion, or 41% of the war effort’s total costs – came in the Defense Department’s Overseas Contingency Operations spending, the report states. The controversial OCO budget, which was used to pay for war efforts, was unaffected by budgetary caps imposed on the rest of the department and grew significantly over the years.
But the DoD’s base budget also saw its own war-related increases, apart from the OCO budget and the costs of actually waging war in Afghanistan. The Watson Institute said the military’s overall budget grew by an additional $443 billion, making it the third-largest cost of the war.
The interest costs, totaling $530 billion, from borrowing money to pay for the war, make up the effort’s second-biggest expense.
The study said that the US has also spent $296 billion to care for veterans of the Afghanistan war.
The State Department’s own OCO war budget cost $59 billion, according to the report.
But these costs are not yet done accumulating. The Watson Institute said its analysis did not include the costs of lifetime care for war veterans or future interest payments on money the US borrowed for the war.
The report estimates that up to 241,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a direct result of the war.
The war cost the lives of 2,442 US troops, six DoD civilians, 3,936 US contractors, and 1,144 allied troops, the report states. Between 66,000 and 69,000 Afghan national military members and police, as well as another 9,314 Pakistani troops and police, also died.
More than 71,000 civilians – roughly 47,000 in Afghanistan and 24,000 in Pakistan – died, according to the report. And more than 51,000 opposition fighters died in Afghanistan, as did another roughly 33,000 in Pakistan.
The report said that about 136 journalists and media workers, and 549 humanitarian workers, also died in the war.
Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, completed boot camp with four male and two female platoons, the Marine Corps announced Wednesday. Coed companies have been training at Parris Island since 2019, but this was the first time men have been assigned to 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
It was also the first time male drill instructors were assigned to the historically all-female battalion.
Marine recruits training at Parris Island were for decades segregated by gender, with women traditionally assigned solely to 4th Recruit Training Battalion. Papa Company completed their training and graduated from boot camp March 26.
The Marine Corps has since begun training Parris Island’s 15th coed company, said Capt. Bryan McDonnell, a spokesman at the depot.
Capt. Adan Rivera, the company commander, said in a Marine Corps news release that assigning men to 4th Battalion demonstrates that recruits are held to the same standards, regardless of gender.
When a male recruit was told he’d be making history after being assigned to 4th Battalion, he said he didn’t think “anybody grasped what was going on.”
“We’re here to train, let’s train,” he said in the release.
Both female and male recruits have now been assigned to all four of Parris Island’s recruit training battalions.
McDonnell said the 4th Recruit Training Battalion squad bay is smaller than some of the newer living facilities at Parris Island. The Marine Corps tends to see more recruits reporting to boot camp in the summer months following high-school graduations.
With fewer arriving in the winter months, McDonnell said they had the right number of male and female trainees to assign them to that battalion.
Men and women training in coed companies live in the same barracks, but have separate squad bays with different sleeping and bathing facilities. Training that occurs outside the squad bays is done together.
Platoons are still assigned drill instructors of the same gender as their recruits.
The men with 4th Battalion aren’t the only Marine recruits to make history at boot camp this year. Women are currently training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in coed companies for the first time in that base’s 100-year history.
The 2020 defense authorization bill directed the Marine Corps to make both of its entry-level training sites coed. The service was given five years to make training coed at Parris Island and eight years at San Diego.
The service selected Collins Aerospace, part of Raytheon Technologies, to design and develop a new wheel and brake for the bomber, and to retrofit 77 new brake and wheel combinations, including spares provisioning, the company said Wednesday.
To increase the brakes’ wear life, the company will use its carbon heat sink material known as DURACARB, which provides “increased thermal absorption” as the aircraft slows and brakes on the runway during a landing, explained Matthew Maurer, vice president and general manager of military programs, landing and mechanical systems.
“Today, the aircraft uses the steel brake, and we’re going to be replacing that with a carbon brake,” Maurer said in an interview Monday.
The new brake-wheel combination “is going to allow for longer intervals between brake overhauls or longer intervals between inspections on the wheels,” he added. “We anticipate being through the design and development phase and supporting flight testing by 2023, and then [retrofitting] the fleet by 2026.”
Air Force maintainers will work alongside engineers to learn how to change or update the system; Maurer said the service will run the schedule, choosing which bombers will receive the first upgrades. Collins did not publicize the cost of the contract award.
The Air Force already uses the DURACARB system on the C-130 Hercules, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle. The new wheel is rated for 12,500 miles, a major upgrade from just 1,500 miles for the B-52’s current brake system, Maurer said.
The Air Force is also nearing a decision on procuring new B-52 engines.
Three companies are in the running to replace the engines: Pratt & Whitney, which is a Raytheon Technologies’ company; General Electric; and Rolls-Royce. But while the Air Force issued a request for proposal, or RFP, last May, it has delayed issuing a contract award.
In 2019, lawmakers insisted that service officials nail down contract specifics before they would provide funding. That year, the Air Force estimated it would spend around $1.3 billion through 2024 on work related to the re-engining.
The RFP stipulated a total of 608 engines for its 76-aircraft fleet.
While officials have said there has been no delay, the service has still not committed to an official award date.
Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in February that it’s “too early” to determine whether the award will be announced in June – the original projected contract announcement time frame.
“We should have this summer the answers back from the competitors to be considered,” Ray said during the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “And so then, from that process, we’ll go from there.
“This is not being [dragged] out,” he said, as reported by Defense News. “It is on time. In fact, it is several years early.”
He said that digital prototyping, or simulating parts via computer models, has begun on the companies’ side, which could shorten the engine production time.
The planes are among the oldest in the Air Force. Three generations of airmen have flown the B-52 in combat, from Vietnam to Afghanistan; the final bomber rolled off the production line in 1962.
The B-52 has been prominent in missions such as Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Affectionately known as Big Ugly Fat Fellow, or BUFF, B-52s have been on rotation for the service’s Bomber Task Force, or BTF, missions over the past year, part of the Pentagon’s larger “dynamic force employment” strategy.
The Army just picked a new, multi-caliber sniper rifle. Now, it wants a new class of ammunition to make snipers deadlier and more destructive against enemy personnel and equipment.
Under its Precision Sniper Rifle, or PSR, effort, the service awarded a $50 million contract in late March to Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. for the MK22 Multi-role Adaptive Design, or MRAD, sniper rifle, which can be chambered for .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum and 7.62×51 NATO ammunition.
“A lot of the capability that we are looking for in the PSR is really resident in the ammunition,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kennedy, chief of the Lethality Branch at Fort Benning, Georgia, told an audience Wednesday at the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate’s Industry Day. “And while we are going to field [the MRAD] with commercial, off-the-shelf ammo, we are actually looking for a lot more capability, especially out of the .338.”
The MRAD will allow Army snipers to shoot out to 1,500 meters with the barrel chambered for .338 Norma Magnum. That’s 300 meters farther than the current M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum.
So as part of the new ammo effort, the Army is “going to be pursuing some anti-materiel [ammo] in the .338 caliber,” Kennedy said.
The service also wants “some improved performance rounds – think highly lethal against human rounds – in all three calibers,” he said, adding that it also will need new subsonic ammunition for suppressed sniper shots.
“I don’t want to say silent because nothing is silent, but some very quiet ammunition that is chambered on all three of those calibers,” Kennedy said. “We have done a lot of market surveys, the [product managers] looked around, and the stuff that we are looking for just doesn’t exist or at least we don’t know about it. So, there are some real opportunities if you are in the ammunition-making business.”
Army maneuver officials used the industry day to give defense firms an idea of what the service needs both in the near term and over the next decade.
In the short term, the Army will be looking for reduced-range ammunition for the Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, which will fire a special 6.8 mm projectile.
The service is in the final phase of evaluating NGSW rifle and auto rifle prototypes, which are slated to start replacing the 5.56 mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.
Textron Systems, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., and Sig Sauer have delivered prototype systems and ammunition for the competitive effort.
Each vendor’s design is unique and fires a different version of the common 6.8 mm ammunition, which is being designed to exceed the 600-meter maximum effective range of an M249 on point targets. The M4A1 has about a 500-meter maximum effective range on point targets.
The Army has no current plans to extend its marksmanship ranges, so the service will need a reduced-range training round chambered in the 6.8 mm, Kennedy said.
“We are really looking and saying how are we going to train this weapon?” he said. “We are not going to be able to go to a tank-round range to do live fires with these weapons all the time, so I am looking for something that has an [estimated range] that’s more like traditional 5.56 mm … but we can shoot it out of that new weapon.
“If not, we are literally going to be having to go to larger and larger ranges to do what the Army has traditionally done on a lot smaller ranges.”
Marines at a Southern California military base are being investigated for possible ties to missing explosives and ammunition.
A sergeant at Camp Pendleton is in custody and facing charges, and another service member is awaiting a federal hearing in connection to the case, said 2nd Lt. Kyle McGuire, a spokesman for 1st Marine Division.
Sgt. Gunnar Naughton, with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, currently is confined to the brig, McGuire said. Naughton faced an Article 32 fact-finding hearing on March 19 and has been charged with larceny and military property-related offenses, he added.
Charges also have been preferred against a second member of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, but an Article 32 hearing has not yet been scheduled. The Marine Corps declined to provide a list of the charges or any personal information prior to the hearing.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service is continuing their investigation into this matter, and I’m therefore unable to provide additional information,” McGuire said.
ABC 10News in San Diego, citing an unnamed source, reported that at least five reconnaissance Marines at Camp Pendleton are under investigation for possible ties to the explosives, and thousands of rounds of military-grade ammunition were found to be missing at their base.
One Marine, the outlet reported, allegedly tried to sell the ammo online, but was caught “in a sting operation that was set up by federal agents.”
A spokesman at NCIS declined to provide any details about the missing materials or reported sting operation.
“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on ongoing investigations,” Jeff Houston said.
Bethany Payton-O’Brien, a San Diego-based attorney, told ABC 10News she’s representing a staff sergeant who let another Marine rent space on his land for a trailer. The location was later raided, she told the station.
Payton-O’Brien told Military.com her client, Staff Sgt. Alexander Czub, was released from the brig on March 4 after serving a month in pretrial confinement. Czub has not been charged with any offenses relating to the missing ammunition or explosives at Camp Pendleton, she added.
“My client is not connected with the alleged conspiracy involving … Naughton or the attempted selling of government ammunition by [another Marine],” she said. “Based on the investigation provided to us so far by the government, there appears to be no connection between the 29 Palms case and Camp Pendleton Marines. The government has still not provided us with all evidence in this case despite numerous requests.”
McGuire said no other hearing or trial dates have been set in connection to the case. The preliminary hearing officer for Naughton’s Article 32 must review his case and make a recommendation to the convening authority regarding the charges. The convening authority on the case, or the officer overseeing the prosecutions, is Maj. Gen. Roger Turner Jr., 1st Marine Division’s commanding general.
Those steps will determine whether the case proceeds to court-martial.
“It is not uncommon for charges to change between an Article 32 hearing and subsequent court-martial,” McGuire added.
The US has the number of aircraft carriers it needs to meet requirements across the globe – unless “additional challenges show themselves,” the four-star admiral nominated to oversee military operations in the Asia-Pacific region said.
The 11 aircraft carriers in the military’s arsenal – as currently required by law – are what the force needs, Adm. John Aquilino said during a Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing. Aquilino has been nominated to lead U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
Aquilino was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., whether the Navy has enough carriers to deter China in the Pacific while still operating in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We’ve complied to the law [with] 11, but is that enough though?” Wicker asked Aquilino. “Just tell us – we need to know. We can change the law of the land if we get enough votes.”
Aquilino said carrier strike groups are a tremendous form of deterrence, but demurred on saying the Navy needed more.
“I think currently that the size of that force is correct unless additional challenges show themselves,” he said.
Navy aircraft carriers are in high demand across the globe, but the service faced criticism from Congress when leaders in 2019 proposed retiring one early to invest in new technologies. USNI News reported this month that Pentagon leaders are again considering a reduced carrier force structure as part of its upcoming 2022 budget submission to Congress.
Resistance from lawmakers is likely. Wicker released a statement Monday calling for a bigger Navy in response to growing presence at sea from Russia and China. He urged the Biden administration to embrace a military plan released under President Donald Trump to increase the fleet to 405 manned Navy ships by 2051.
“If we do not ramp up shipbuilding dramatically, it will be more and more difficult to prevent a future conflict with our adversaries,” Wicker wrote.
Bryan McGrath, a retired surface officer and naval consultant, said while he has great respect for Aquilino, he believes the admiral is wrong to think 11 carriers are enough for the Navy to carry out its global requirements. McGrath cited ongoing trouble with carrier maintenance, readiness woes, and the need for extended or double-pump deployments that have weighed on the force.
The 11-carrier requirement was made law at about the same time as the Navy’s 2007 maritime strategy, which enshrined a “two-hub” presence in the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean.
Eleven is the minimum necessary carrier count to support the two hubs with continuous coverage, McGrath added, given maintenance and transit-time requirements.
Whenever two carriers are needed in one of those hubs though – which happened last year in response to Iranian threats and again just last month in the South China Sea – “the brittle relationship between that number of carriers and that number of hubs comes into stark relief,” he added.
And today, the US is also now dealing with a resurgence from Russia in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic, McGrath said.
“The nation cannot ignore Europe as a theater for carrier operations, and in fact, it hasn’t,” he said. “And so for several years, we’ve taken the minimum number of carriers necessary to fill two hubs continuously and attempted to time share in a third, even as we desired multiple carriers in one or more of those hubs in this period.”
McGrath made the case in 2015 for a 16-carrier Navy. That many carriers could support continuous coverage of “three hubs indefinitely,” he wrote, “with little or no risk of gap.” He said he stands by that argument, adding, “if anything, today’s security environment is more pressing than when I wrote these words in 2015.”
Last week, Adm. Phil Davidson, who currently leads Indo-Pacific Command, told lawmakers there’s no substitute for having an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to counter China’s growing presence in the region.
The Navy is also still considering reactivating another numbered fleet in the Western Pacific, Davidson said. The Japan-based US Seventh Fleet currently oversees Navy operations all the way from India down to Antarctica and up past Japan to the Kuril Islands.
The US Air Force has begun constructing prototype shelters in anticipation of someday housing its next-generation bomber, B-21 Raider.
The service has erected a temporary prototype “Environmental Protection Shelter” at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, one of a few mock-up models that Air Force Global Strike Command and the B-21 Program Office are testing to find the most effective and affordable option for the Long Range Strike Bomber, according to release.
“Environmental Protection Shelters help extend the life of the aircraft and reduce required maintenance by limiting UV exposure, limiting snow accumulation and melt, and limiting icing/de-icing operations experienced by the aircraft over time,” Col. Derek Oakley, the command’s B-21 Integration and System Management Office director, said in the release.
“These shelters also help us generate sorties more quickly by eliminating the need to always have to move aircraft in and out of hangars,” he said in the March 3 announcement.
Air Force Magazine reported last week that the shelter is 200 feet wide and 100 feet deep, which is also big enough for the B-2 Spirit bomber. While the B-2’s wingspan runs 172 feet, it’s unknown how long or wide the B-21 aircraft may be.
The Air Force has said deliveries of the Raider, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, will begin in the mid-2020s. But the service has been careful not to broadcast details in order to protect its technology.
The Air Force is weighing just how many prototype shelters to place at each of the chosen B-21 bases. In 2019, the service named Ellsworth to become the first operational B-21 base; it will also host the bomber’s first formal training unit. Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, is the service’s preferred alternative.
The watchdog organization found that some enlisted women paid more than $8,000 out of pocket over the course of a career for clothing, while some men actually ended up with allowance overages they could pocket. The disparity, the GAO found, was largely the result of the higher costs of some women’s uniform items, and costs of essentials not included in clothing calculations that were higher across the board for women.
The investigation also prompted the individual military services to review their own policies and calculations. For the Marine Corps, this resulted in the discovery of inequity and a move to change.
“Beginning in fiscal year 2021, enlisted [Marine] males will no longer receive an annualized standard cash clothing replacement allowance for underwear, according to the officials,” GAO officials wrote in their report. “Currently, males receive an annualized standard cash clothing replacement allowance for their underwear, but females do not.”
The report added that there had been no annualized replacement allowance for female Marines’ dress pumps, even though they were listed as a required uniform item. Going forward, it said, there would be an additional replacement allowance, apart from the current $50 one-time allotment.
“According to officials, this was an oversight and the Marine Corps plans to fix this to ensure female enlisted service members receive an annualized standard cash clothing allowance for dress pumps,” GAO officials wrote.
A spokesman for the Marine Corps Uniform Board and Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, Master Sgt. Andrew Pendracki, told Military.com via email that underwear was issued to Marines in their initial sea bag and was considered a personal item to be purchased at the individual’s expense following recruit training.
“During the GAO audit, it was noted that male Marines were receiving an annual replacement allowance to maintain drawers as late as [fiscal year 2020],” he said. “A review of past annual Minimum Requirement Lists (MRL) indicated that the drawers have not been on the MRL for at least 20 years and, as such, a clothing replacement allowance should not have been paid.”
A similar allowance did not exist for female Marines.
The annualized line item for men’s underwear is not much: 72 cents, Pendracki said. It will be removed in the fiscal 2022 MRL, he noted.
The new annualized allowance for women’s dress pumps may make a more substantial difference to Marines’ wallets: Female Marines will now get $16.66 per year to maintain and replace their dress shoes.
In the GAO report, officials emphasized that the root issue was equity: equal pay for equal work.
“The equity principle also calls for the concept of equal pay for substantially equal work under the same general working conditions,” the report states. ” … Specifically, comparability refers to the specific items of basic pay, basic pay-related items, allowances, and benefits.”
The Pentagon is looking for a new way to screen social media as part of its background check process, in an effort to prevent extremist behavior in the ranks.
The Defense Department “is examining a scalable means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations,” Pentagon officials said in suggested training materials distributed for a stand-down to discuss extremism. The military-wide pause in operations was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The reference appears in a “common questions and answers” section, in which the Pentagon anticipated troops might ask about checking social media belonging to service members, civilian DoD employees and prospective recruits.
The suggested response notes that when service members and DoD civilians submit an SF-86 form to begin a background investigation process, they consent to having their publicly available social media information reviewed. The FBI now screens social media for extremism and criminal activity, the document states.
But Anthony Kuhn, an attorney with the law firm Tully Rinckey who specializes in security clearance issues, said in an interview Tuesday that the Pentagon’s statement indicates it plans to take a much more aggressive and methodical approach to monitoring troops’ social media in the wake of the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol by a violent mob.
The military doesn’t really have a formal process for doing so now, he said. Typically, a service member draws attention for extremist or other problematic social media posts after a third party sees them and alerts the military.
Kuhn said he represents several people who have had their security clearances jeopardized due in part to social media posts, so the military does look at it in at least some cases. But he added that the momentum for doing so will probably keep growing.
Troops are allowed to have and express their own political opinions, Kuhn said, as long as they follow certain guidelines, such as not doing so on duty or in uniform.
But the training materials spell out how service members’ activities can run afoul of the military’s standards, such as by advocating for violence or sedition against the government.
Service members are not allowed to “actively advocat[e] supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology and causes,” the training materials state. They also cannot actively participate in organizations that “advance, encourage or advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity or national origin,” or “the use of force, violence or criminal activity” to deprive people of their civil rights.
Extremist groups often try to recruit current or former service members for their skills and to gain legitimacy for their cause, according to the training materials.
“It’s about extremist ideology, and that can take many forms,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a gaggle with reporters Tuesday. “It’s not just about white supremacy, but about extremist ideologies, including [those of] a criminal nature.”
In the new Pentagon training materials, officials said that, while troops have First Amendment rights to speak freely and assemble peaceably, the military must still assess their character, honesty, discretion, judgment and trustworthiness when deciding whether they are reliable enough to have access to classified or sensitive information.
Actions that could disqualify service members include supporting, being involved or associating with, or expressing sympathy for those attempting, training for, or advocating sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism or sedition against the United States, the training documents state.
Those who associate or sympathize with people or organizations seeking to use force, violence, or other illegal or unconstitutional means to overthrow the federal or state government; prevent federal, state or local government personnel from performing their official duties; to gain retribution for perceived wrongs caused by the government; or to prevent other from exercising their legal or constitutional rights, could also find themselves disqualified, according to the training materials.
“Any doubt is resolved in favor of the national security,” officials said.
Kuhn said the Pentagon’s language suggests it might add social media checks to its continuous evaluation process, which already uses computers and investigators to track clearance holders and flag any financial trouble, criminal arrests, or emerging drug or alcohol problems.
Tracking violations of DoD regulations’ Guideline A, which requires “allegiance to the United States,” has been difficult to monitor, he said.
“That could be anything from liking a comment on a social media post that’s buried somewhere on the internet, all the way through openly advocating violence against the government or a government official,” Kuhn said. “They’re trying to figure out a system to track that kind of behavior, those types of red flags. Right now, there isn’t one.”
Service members who like and interact with posts by extremist groups such as the Three Percenters, a paramilitary organization that opposes federal government intervention in local affairs, could find that activity flagged by screening, Kuhn said.
Due process still applies, and the service member wouldn’t automatically lose their clearance, he said, but there would likely be an investigation.
“I think that’s going to be very common, moving forward,” Kuhn said.
This could mean automated scanning of accounts on Facebook or Twitter, or even sites such as Parler that do not ban users who post extremist content, he added.
And while the military could start by only periodically reviewing social media posts when troops need background checks, Kuhn said he expects that, before long, it would be expanded into a practice of real-time monitoring to catch whether troops are involved in emerging threats.
“They will be using whatever technology they have available to them at this point to be able to monitor, in real time, social media posts and groups they have concerns about,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve already started” working on a continuous monitoring system after the shock of the January 6 Capitol attack, and the apparently disproportionately large number of rioters with military backgrounds.
Kuhn also expects that background investigations or periodic reinvestigations for renewals of security clearances will include closer looks at social media.
No historical account of World War II would be complete without covering the Battle of Iwo Jima.
At first glance, it seems similar to many other battles that happened late in the Pacific War: American troops fiercely fought their way through booby traps, Banzai charges and surprise attacks while stalwart dug-in Japanese defenders struggled against overwhelming US power in the air, on land and by sea.
For the United States Marine Corps, however, the Battle of Iwo Jima was more than one more island in a string of battles in an island-hopping campaign. The Pacific War was one of the most brutal in the history of mankind, and nowhere was that more apparent than on Iwo Jima in February 1945.
After three years of fighting, US troops didn’t know the end was near for the Japanese Empire. For them, every island was part of the preparation they needed to invade mainland Japan.
The 36-day fight for Iwo Jima led Adm. Chester Nimitz to give the now-immortal praise, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Here are six reasons why the battle is so important to Marines:
1. It was the first invasion of the Japanese Home Islands
The Japanese Empire controlled many islands in the Pacific area. Saipan, Peleliu and other islands were either sold to Japan after World War I or it was given control of them by the League of Nations. Then, it started invading others.
Iwo Jima was different. Though technically far from the Japanese Home Islands, it is considered to be part of Tokyo and is administered as part of its subprefecture.
After three years of taking control of islands previously captured by the Japanese, the Marines were finally taking part of the Japanese capital.
2. Iwo Jima was strategically necessary for the United States’ war effort
Taking the island meant more than a symbolic capture of the Japanese homeland.
It meant the US could launch bombing runs from Iwo Jima’s strategic airfields, as the tiny island was directly under the flight path of B-29 Superfortresses from Guam, Saipan and the Mariana Islands.
Now, the Army Air Forces would be able to make bombing runs without a Japanese garrison at Iwo Jima warning the mainland about the danger to come. It also meant American bombers could fly over Japan with fighter escorts.
3. It was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the Marine Corps.
Iwo Jima is a small island, covering roughly 8 square kilometers. It was defended by 20,000 Japanese soldiers who spent a year digging in, creating miles of tunnels beneath the volcanic rock, and who were ready to fight to the last man.
When the battle was over, 6,800 Americans were dead and a further 26,000 wounded or missing. This means 850 Americans died for every square mile of the island fortress. Only 216 Japanese troops were taken prisoner.
4. More gallantry was on display at Iwo Jima than any other battle before or since
Iwo Jima saw more Medals of Honor awarded for actions there than any other single battle in American history.
A total of 27 were awarded, 22 to Marines and five to Navy Corpsmen. In all of World War II, only 81 Marines and 57 sailors were awarded the medal.
To put it in a statistical perspective, 20% of all WWII Navy and Marine Corps Medals of Honor were earned at Iwo Jima.
5. US Marines were Marines and nothing else on Iwo Jima
The US has seen significant problems with race relations in its history. And though the armed forces weren’t fully integrated until 1948, the US military has always been on the forefront of racial and gender integration. The Marines at Iwo Jima came from every background.
While African Americans were still not allowed on frontline duty because of segregation, they piloted amphibious trucks full of White and Latino Marines to the beaches at Iwo Jima, moved ammunition and supplies to the front, buried the dead and fought off surprise attacks from Japanese defenders. Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in taking the island. They were all Marines.
6. The iconic flag-raising became the symbol for all Marines who died in service
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi is perhaps one of the best-known war photos ever taken.
Raising the American flag at the island’s highest point sent a clear message to both the Marines below and the Japanese defenders. In the years that followed, the image took on a more important role.
It soon became the symbol of the Marine Corps itself. When the Marine Corps Memorial was dedicated in 1954, it was that image that became the symbol of the Corps’ spirit, dedicated to every Marine who gave their life in service to the United States.