Skip to comments.Haditha Incident Commander Speaks Out for the First Time(Defend Our Marines Exclusive-Part II)
Posted on 07/24/2010 10:54:06 AM PDT by smoothsailing
by Nathaniel R. Helms | July 23, 2010
This is the second in a three-part series. Read part one of the interview here. The third part is coming soon.
Its hard to believe recently retired LtCol Jeffrey Chessani is the guy the United States Marine Corps spent millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man hours unsuccessfully trying to destroy. He just finished nearly five years in a living hell defending himself from a presumably overwhelming institutional attack--a Frozen Chosin in microcosm--with amazing cool aplomb.
Chessani spent most of his time in Marine Corps purgatory, in his case a windowless basement office in the bowels of Camp Pendleton, a pariah of sorts among the Marines who worked there. He was sent there for the infamous Haditha Massacre the most inane of labels for an event that never happened.
LtCol Chessani wasnt shunned during his ordeal, he said. He was received at polite distance and kept there. The officers and staff NCOs were sympathetic. They treated me very well.
One of the former Marine lawyers who worked the case said Thursday that senior Marines saw him the way whole people see warriors without limbs, a combination of awe and empathy, maybe even a little badly disguised pity.
To be sure Chessani didnt say that, hes a Marine through and through.
I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to be the best, he said. Chessani joined the infantry because it is the cutting edge, he said, where the action is. Most men cant run with 18-year-olds while in their forties. Chessani said he always sought the challenge despite the hazards. He loved leading Marines into battle.
His last deployment to Iraq was his finale. After the Marine Corps saw fit to relieve him the only thing he ever commanded again was his desk. Good Marines dont complain, however, they do what they are told, he said. Despite twenty years honing his unique craft he was told to stay in the basement and write plans.
I had a real job. I wrote plans, developed plans for the base, he explained.
Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller, one of the greatest Marines of them all, said great Marines always remain stoic in the face of terrible adversity. For that reason alone Chessani stands tall among the Corps many legends. He never said a public word about his situation for almost five years and even now he wont play the blame game.
Chessani would probably scoff at the notion he deserves any special mention. He calls it being prideful. He was decidedly uncomfortable when personal superlatives were tossed his way. He gave credit only to his young Marines. Chessani described himself as a good Marine officer on an ordinary career track toward retirement. By 2005 when he commanded 3/1 his aspirations included making colonel before he retired. He said it was never a sure bet. He still had to be selected and the jump from lieutenant colonel to full bird colonel was a wide, hard one. At best he hoped for an advanced school where he could come home at night to his family for a while.
I think they considered all that in the winter. Before we got home (March 2006) I had anticipated I would be considered, he opined. My Marines had done a fantastic job. We were denying them caches. We had found something like 450 caches that kept weapons away from them. My job was paying attention to the lives and welfare of my Marines. My goal was to bring all of them home.
We took away the enemies ability to attack my Marines and civilians
The battalion suffered four dead during his combat command. He reeled off the names of the decedents without hesitation, starting with 20-year old Lance Corporal Miguel T.J. Terrazas, the grinning kid in the Humvee that got blown in half at the start of the day-long fight on Routes Chestnut and Viper. He was the first to die.
Two other young Marines died when they approached a seemingly abandoned vehicle that turned out to be a car bomb. Three times Chessani said they made a terrible mistake. He thought he should have trained them better. In another incident a sergeant died. It was evident he still grieved their losses. The year before at Fallujah the battalion suffered 33 deaths.
There was so much going on all the time and it was so hard to keep track of the details, Chessani said. He had almost 2,000 Marines, soldiers and Iraqi units flung over an area bigger than Rhode Island. He said it was my responsibility to keep track of them all.
We worked closely with our Human Exploitation Teams (HET) and my S-2 (Captain, later Major Jeffrey Dinsmore) was a bulldog. I was so lucky to have him. He knew what was going on. We got those weapons. We took away the enemies ability to attack my Marines and civilians. The people were safer. Not even the insurgents wanted to kill civilians if they didnt have to. We took away the means.
That was about as verbose as the professional infantry officer ever got.
Major General Richard Huck and Colonel Stephen Davis, his commanding general and regimental commander respectively, rated Chessani among the best officers they had ever commanded. They said things like he Leads Marines from front in every operation. Demonstrates moral courage every day. Doesnt hesitate to report bad news fast or contest unrealistic plans/poor concepts, etc. etc. Both of them recommended him for a colonelcy and advanced schools.
One could almost hear Chessani shrugging through the phone when his efficiency report was mentioned. He dismissed the superlatives Huck and Davis used as ordinary hyperbole for end of tour officers. He said so in a soft, reasoned voice bereft of guile. When explaining complicated matters he often referred to spiritual examples; he had plenty of time to contemplate them. When Chessani said I learned to trust God instead of men it was a telling moment, the only flash of pain he revealed.
Chessani he prefers Jeff now told his story calmly. His stoicism reminded this observer of stories about Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Lockwood; a brilliant, unassuming infantry officer who led Two-Seven Marines at Toktong Pass in Korea. It was the key to the 20,000 man reinforced 1st Marine Division surviving the onslaught of 250,000 screaming Chinamen. Lockwood managed to complete his mission without any histrionics. Like Lockwood, Chessani said his first priority was completing the mission. Saving his mens lives was second; sparing the enemy was never even mentioned. That is what Marines do, he added without apology. It was an important insight into understanding Chessanis thinking in the aftermath of the Haditha debacle.
I was humbled to command these men
Chessanis career path before the Haditha debacle was a primer for successful Marines. Now 46, he was raised in the small town of Rangely, Colorado, where he graduated from high school in 1982. He went on to receive a B.A. from the University of Northern Colorado in 1988. During his military career he participated in the 1989 Operation Just Cause (Invasion of Panama), the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Chessani did three deployments to Iraq, the first time as a major and Executive Officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and the second as the operations officer of Regimental Combat Team One, RCT-1. As such he helped plan both operations into Fallujah in 2004 where 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines made a big name for itself. He didnt anticipate he would one day command it, he said.
The second foray in Fallujah was the most desperate fight Marines had been in since Hue, South Vietnam in 68. The Thundering Third, arguably the most ferocious infantry battalion in the fight, led the way.
I knew what 3/1 did at Fallujah, especially the second time. When I put in my package for a battalion I didnt know I would get it. I was humbled to command these men. Sometimes I didnt feel adequate for the task, he said.
Chessani continued that narrative with words like remarkable and profound. He said the young Marines he commanded were the best and bravest in the world. He was unabashed about it....
Please continue reading at Defend Our Marines
May “LARDASS” Murtha have a special PLACE in HELL, for inflicting such HARM to our Great SOLDIERS.
is Red Rover OK?
He’s fine, Chappy. His work keeps him very busy, but I’ve been in contact with him the last couple of days. He may pop up here if he gets a chance. :-)
I really respect the work he did here. Let him know what’s he’s done didn’t slip by unnoticed.
This part by Helms is plenty sad, in my opinion. In the last part I heard a sadness in Chessani about the betrayal by leaders....something he didn’t say but I sensed.
In this part, I hear more pain about a betrayal by the Marine system that he knew as well as anyone.
I’m fearful that the next part will echo pain about a betrayal by a nation of Americans at the Mall.
My military experience says it’s clear that Chessani could have been a heavyweight some day in the Corps. You don’t command a 3500 man task force as an LTC and not have earned a lot of respect someplace for your abilities.
I’ll let Red know of your kind words. I think you’ll like Part 3, it will turn in a new direction. Expect it to be posted next week.
thank you for posting this.
the end of this article scares the beejeebers out of me.
Thanks for posting these updates. It is important to do everything possible to avoid allowing this shameful episode to be swept into the memory hole.
As a personal observation, it is also been sad to witness here on Free Republic in these threads the discouraging number of active-duty and retired military Freepers who simply either don’t get it or are in deep denial regarding the gross injustices done these men and the depth of corruption in their revered “military justice system”.
In thread after thread I have watched them respond to the overwhelming evidence that these men were railroaded for a political agenda with the smug assertion that “the system worked”, which was based solely on the fact that eight of the nine were finally “acquitted” (no matter the personal anguish and financial devastation they and their families have suffered).
To me, the most important component of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) is, or at least should be “Justice”. Those who keep stubbornly insisting that “the system worked” are wrong - it merely operated, and it didn’t deliver them “Justice” - merely verdicts.
It brought to mind another excellent post from Part 1 of the Chessani interview that was posted on that thread Thursday...
FTA: By then he knew that the brotherhood which ostensibly binds all Marines together apparently didnt include the generals and colonels who were supposed to watch out for the welfare of their men.
Here's a quote from Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins as told to Tony Perry of the LA Times:
"The Marine Corps is an institution and a brotherhood. The institution will sacrifice one of its own to save the institution. The brotherhood will sacrifice itself to save one of its own."
Lt. Col Chessani and Sgt. Hutchins are truly part of the Brotherhood!
Thanks so much for posting!!!!
info ping to LtCol Chessani, part II
Tell him he's going to have to buy the 1st round when he gets back for making us worry