Every time I hear Ramadi mentioned on the news, I drop what I’m doing to hear the latest details. I have a very personal connection to that Iraqi city — there is a very precious piece of me there. My son, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Alan Lee, shed his blood on that soil, becoming the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq on Aug. 2, 2006.
I went to Ramadi and visited Camp Marc Lee eight years ago this week, becoming the first Gold Star mom in history to visit the combat zone where her son was killed. I walked where he took his last steps at 28 years old before he left on his final mission. I saw where he slept. I went to the roof top and gazed over the Euphrates River as it was lit up by the moon that night. I knew Marc had spent many nights on that roof top, many being fired upon by the terrorists. Ramadi mattered to him and to me.
Many battles have been fought for Ramadi, and as the capital of the largest province in Iraq, it is significant to the stability not only of Iraq but of the Middle East. Whether the terrorists who want control of it go by the name of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State or something else, they are focused on killing those who do not believe what they do, the “infidels,” and they must be stopped.
In 2007, we heard Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) announce before the nation that the war in Iraq was lost. In May 2015, when the Islamic State raised its black flag over Ramadi, Gen. Martin Dempsey, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to downplay the loss as not being significant or symbolic. It was devastating knowing my son Marc Lee gave his final breath in Ramadi. Our troops had won that battle, and now that place that had cost us so dearly, had fallen into the hands of the enemy again. Ramadi is significant.
In 2006, most of our casualties occurred in Ramadi, with many killed and critically wounded there. Marc’s SEAL team and their heroic actions working with the Marines and Army led to the surge in Ramadi. Many of our military leaders stated that Ramadi was unwinnable, but our warriors faced the unsurmountable and were victorious in Ramadi. The leadership of then-Army Col. Sean Macfarland, then-Navy Cmdr. Collin Green and Lt. Cmdr. Jocko Willink brought stability back to the region.
I saw the successes made by our troops on my first trip and then again in 2010 when I returned to Iraq. The Iraqis told me how grateful they were to have their city back. An Iraqi general told me that his people would never forget what the American people have done for them, and that they will “tell our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren and for generations to come what America has done. There is American blood poured out on our soil.”
Marc’s wisdom was revealed in his last letter home. In it, he predicted that it would take “longer than most think” to get security in Iraq, but that “we will get Iraq to stand on its own feet.”
To see the evil black Islamic State flag torn down over the government buildings in Ramadi last week brought justice and hope to my heart. It reminds us that good does triumph over evil. To learn that the Iraqis are taking the fight to the enemy shows our success of the training our troops are conducting.
I would never want another mother to have to experience the loss of a child in combat, but we are facing an evil and destructive enemy. They must be stopped before more Americans experience the loss of the innocent life in America of their son, daughter, husband, wife, mother or father.
Marc ended his last letter home with some thoughts on his mission and what American means.
“What I do over here is only a small part of what keeps our country great,” he wrote. “I think the truth to our greatness is each other. Purity, morals and kindness passed down to each generation through example. So to all my family and friends, do me a favor and pass on the kindness, the love, the precious gift of human life to each other so that when your children come into contact with a great conflict that we are now faced with here in Iraq, that they are people of humanity, of pure motives, of compassion.”
What a contrast to the way the enemy thinks. While we celebrate the victory of Iraq and coalition forces over the Islamic State in Ramadi, we must never forget the cost of our freedom and our troops who pay that price. Many, like my son Marc, made the ultimate sacrifice.
Debbie Lee is a Gold Star mother and the founder of the non-profit group America’s Mighty Warriors.