The War on Terror continues and many of our country’s young men and women are working diligently to provide a part of the American presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan while establishing peace in the areas.
This is no easy task. For 1st Lt. Josiah Brand, a combat engineer platoon commander who recently returned from serving seven months with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in Iraq, the experience was one of personal growth.
Brand grew up in Fallbrook and graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2002. He played baseball for the Warriors and after high school went to college at the University of Pennsylvania.
Brand did not always feel the need to join the Marines; as a matter of fact, until his junior year in college, he was set on working in the field of finance.
“Then I just realized, essentially, that I can do finance when I’m 50,” Brand explained. “I decided I would join the Marine Corps now and let the financial part come later.”
According to e-mails Brand sent from Iraq to friends and family at home, his platoon traveled over 3,000 kilometers of Iraqi roads, completed 160 missions and had countless new experiences.
Brand’s platoon was attached to the Task Force 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines for the duration of the assignment and was successful in taking control of an area the size of South Carolina, consolidating 24 battle positions into four.
The battalion’s mission was to assist the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army in securing their portion of the Al Anbar Province in order to allow the provincial government to evolve into a body that could actually govern, which essentially positioned the Marines in Al Anbar as a “reactionary” force ready to step in if needed.
Brand returned to the United States with life-changing experiences, the most memorable of which being stepping “outside the wire,” or going on a mission outside of friendly lines.
“Just knowing that you are on enemy lines on their roads, that anything can happen at that point, is not something that can be replicated by anything in life,” Brand said.
Even though it was a difficult journey, Brand credited the Iraqi and US troops with substantial effort in working together to try and establish a country with a strong, developed government. Because of the hard work put in by both sides, Brand says that family and friends would be surprised to know how peaceful and calm his tour in Iraq was.
“They would be surprised at the lack of violence and that the Iraqi police and army are in this with the United States Marine Corps, trying to make the country better,” he said.
Even though his tour was relatively calm, support from home was always appreciated and looked forward to. Care packages that arrived with snacks, reading material, letters and photos allowed the troops to get their minds off what was going on around them and get a glimpse of what was waiting back home.
Magazines and books were always a hot commodity for the troops, and many said they loved receiving candy, but the items Brand enjoyed receiving most were Cheez-It crackers and cigars.
Now home, Brand said he feels more informed about Iraq’s potential as a country, but he is also aware of the factors that keep Iraq from having an established government system, such as religious and cultural divides.
Brand was only on a limited deployment and he knew that he would be coming home at the end of September. The time away from home with the military was a growing experience for this Fallbrook man, and he knew that much of that had to do with being in the Marine Corps.
“Friendships, hanging out and talking with friends are things you miss, but that’s a part of it. You have to live with those things, and I found that it was a positive experience,” he said.
Now, Brand finds himself missing parts of Iraq, such as preparing for a mission with his fellow troops.
“There is no feeling like preparing your gear and memorizing a plan alongside your brethren while having only intelligence reports and a mission statement to work from,” he explained.
The second thing Brand will miss is the responsibility that came with his duties: “Knowing that I was on the hook for every action of the 34 other Marines in my platoon made every minute exciting – some more than others.”
Finally, Brand will miss simply being in Iraq. He has a year and a half left with the Marine Corps and is in the process of transferring to Camp Pendleton to take a platoon of Marines overseas.
The past seven months’ experiences are something that Brand will remember for a lifetime. Surprisingly, though, the comfort of home was not something that he yearned for. It was something to look forward to.
“Beds, clean clothes and more air conditioning would have been nice, but had they been reality I would not be as excited to get home as I am now,” he said.