‘I’d Never Been Embarrassed of My Country Before’: A U.S. Marine’s Letter to Joe Biden

Dear Mr. President,

On the 20th anniversary of that very dark day for America, I’d never been embarrassed of my country before.  I had in fact, never been more proud of my country until a few weeks ago.

My father was a Marine Corps veteran of WWII, Korea, and two tours in Vietnam. I remember his return in 1972 as a 7th grader where he and other veterans were spat on when they came home.  My mother spent 5 years in the Marine Corps as well, and I had never been embarrassed of my country after that war.

I witnessed Iranian terrorists overtake the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 while still in college and the subsequent 444 days of American hostages, and was not embarrassed of my country.  I watched Operation Eagle Claw’s failed rescue attempt of those hostages that cost 8 American lives and felt pride that our brave & selfless military had even endeavored on such a monumental task.

I proudly joined the Marine Corps in 1981, witnessed the Beirut Bombing where we lost 241 American lives to terrorists, boasted with pride in our military and country in Grenada & Panama. 

I served as an Infantry Officer for 31 years on 6 continents, in 48 countries, having deployed 7 times in my career, including Iraq and Somalia.  My proudest, most significant moments and years were serving with the most remarkable men and women, the cream of the crop, those that are cut from a different bolt of cloth.  Selfless, confident, brave almost to a fault, intelligent, dedicated, those that epitomize the best of America.

I was taught to respect those I had the privilege to lead, to never put myself ahead of the Marines that it was my privilege to lead.  I don’t doubt your grief Mr. President, but I do doubt your ability to respect those that you have the privilege to lead.

I was taught that if I was ever inclined to put anything ahead of those Marines, except mission; those magnificent people, who ask so little on foreign shore & give so much; and if that ever changed or I couldn’t commit to that ideal, then I should leave the Corps immediately!

I was taught to never look at a military operation or military requirement worrying about politics over the overall good of the operation.

I was taught to never, ever treat my Marines with less dignity than they deserve.

I was taught to accept responsibility and accountability for those Marines “outside the wire” facing the enemy in close combat, who don’t get the full credit they deserve and to always put my Marines first. 

You may recall, Mr. President, the accident off of San Clemente Island in July of 2020 that claimed 8 Marines’ & 1 Sailor’s lives.  After a 7-month long investigation, all of those in the chain of command were relieved of duty.  Everyone from the Platoon Commander, a Lieutenant, the Company Commander, a Captain, the Battalion Commander, a Lt. Colonel, the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) Commander, a Colonel and the Commanding General of the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force), a Major General.  All relieved of duty “due to loss in trust and confidence in the ability to command.” 

My question to you Mr. President, is what is your responsibility and accountability in this complete catastrophe of an “exit” in Afghanistan?  I sir, have lost any trust and confidence in your ability to command. 

If you were advised to conduct this NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation Operation) in this manner, sir, where are the resignations of our military leaders?  I’m not talking about the actual combatant commanders on the ground; they were given an extremely difficult mission with one hand tied behind their backs. I’m talking about your Secretary of Defense, your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

This has been a debacle, national humiliation, and a disgrace, and the proper response is to clean out our leadership and military like we did after Bay of Pigs and make sure they are replaced with people who know how to do their jobs.  When will your investigation, Mr. President, begin to unravel the complete disregard for “those magnificent people” whom you have the privilege to lead?  Now at least 13 Americans are dead, not while fighting a war, but while trying to leave one.

I was taught to never send a force into harm’s way unless they are organized, equipped, and trained for the completion of the mission.  This is the greatest loss of equipment in military history. The Taliban now has access to more than $85 billion worth of U.S. military equipment abandoned by the Afghan army, including 75,000 vehicles, more than 200 airplanes and helicopters, and more than 600,000 small arms and light weapons.  “The Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85 percent of the countries in the world,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind said.

The American people demand that we be the premier fighting organization on the planet.  Not a “nation-builder.”  There is a difference between wasteful nation-building and a small residual force mostly comprised of advisors as opposed to just giving up.

Every Lance Corporal knows how to extract from a firefight; first, you evacuate your wounded, then your equipment and the last to go are your gunfighters.  It sounds easy, but it is not.  To impose a different set of rules on the combatant commanders on the ground is criminal in my mind, sir.

This has been a very hard several weeks for American veterans. Old wounds burn, old scars are torn open again, old memories resurface of the men and women who, instead of building up this country’s future, were flown 10,000 miles to the far side of the world — and then flown home in flag-draped coffins.

We cannot undo the pain we have caused to so many, but we hope the dead might rest easy knowing that they served their country when asked and there is no dishonor in that. Now, when we who remain are ourselves called, no matter how hard it is and how much it takes, we too must answer. This is our sacred duty now.

Whatever your views on the war in Afghanistan, we probably agree on one thing: it should not have ended this way.  My flag remains at half-staff through this 9/11 anniversary. And I am saddened to say, that I have never been embarrassed of my country until this pathetic display of my President a few weeks ago.

Respectfully,

M. P. Chené

COL USMC (ret)