As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began to wind down under the Obama administration so did the Corps’ deployments to war zones and the combat meritorious promotions that followed them.
But the sudden resurgence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is once again thrusting Marine combat power to the Middle East. With that has come a steady flow of deployments, combat experience and, now, the first combat meritorious promotion for the Corps since 2015.
On Thursday the Corps announced in a forcewide message the combat meritorious promotion for a Marine with the infantry squad leader military occupational specialty to the rank of staff sergeant.
The newly promoted staff sergeant earned his meritorious promotion while deployed to Syria as American forces in the region have been battling ISIS militants with the aid of a proxy force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The promotion is notable in that the Corps hasn’t dolled out a combat promotion for several years and it was awarded to a conventional infantry Marine participating in a fight largely headlined by elite special operations forces advising proxy militias on the ground.
The Corps has been engaged in combat operations in Syria, though the force has been tightlipped about its operations in the region. This also highlights the line that continues to be blurred between conventional and special operations Marine forces.
The Pentagon has been reticent about discussing details of American troops’ endeavors in Syria. Only recently has it come to light, from a Task & Purpose blockbuster story, of an insider attack against Marines at a remote outpost in Syria.
And only a couple of Purple Hearts for injuries sustained during combat in Syria have been made known to the public, with a small handful of lower precedence valor awards making the rounds in media circles.
But one of the more interesting facets emanating from the Syrian battlefield is the interplay between conventional forces and special operators and the near co-dependency it has displayed.
The liberation of ISIS’ self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, was made possible largely because of a Marine artillery battery shelling the city nearly 24-hours a day.
While SDF forces are being advised by American elite special operations forces, artillery, mortar and logistics support has been made possible by conventional forces and a small series of temporary American outposts that dot the countryside.
In early September, a company of Marines was rapidly inserted outside of a small garrison housing coalition special forces troops at At Tanf as the base came under threat by Russian and Syrian forces in the region.
The Marines carried out a show of force exercise firing anti-tank Javelins as they bolstered security for the small team of special operators living at At Tanf who are tasked with advising anti-ISIS partner forces.
While combat deployments for the Corps are fewer compared to the height of America’s participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Syrian battlefield has slowly been rebuilding the Corps’ drain of experienced combat veterans.