CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- The 2nd Marine Division said farewell to a soldier who left its ranks recently, one who played a vital role in the unit’s efforts to counter insurgents attacks.
Army Lieutenant Col. Robert McLaughlin, a Lexington, Mass. native and fire support coordinator for the division left for his new duty station in Germany after three years of training and working with the Marines and sailors here. He is on his way to become the commander of an artillery battalion in the Army’s 2nd Armored Division, Forward in Garlstedt.
While serving with the division, he provided his expertise in field artillery and information operations to the Division Effects Coordination Center. He also left a lot behind.
“I think the biggest thing I’ll miss is the esprit de corps that Marines have,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, who is ranger qualified and formerly commanded a artillery battery for the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, made it his mission to serve the people of Iraq as well as the coalition forces. As part of the information operations unit, he would supervise and coordinate non-lethal counter measures to the insurgency’s terrorist activities by providing information to the Iraqi people about activities being conducted near their homes.
McLaughlin’s priority was to inform the people around the bases of what the Iraqi Security Forces and Marines are doing to stop the insurgency.
“It’s important to balance the mission to neutralize the insurgents,” said McLaughlin. “Most importantly, it’s our mission to create security for the people of Iraq. That’s why a mixture of lethal and non-lethal communications is key. It’s all about the people.”
Here in Ar Ramadi, named one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq, McLaughlin and his team also coordinated counter fire with artillery batteries emplaced nearby. His cell at the division’s combat operations center is the nucleus of counter fire activity.
The precision-fired artillery launched on insurgent targets is executed to protect the base camps in Ar Ramadi and outer lying areas in western Iraq. But it’s also to protect the Iraqi people, according to McLaughlin.
“My job challenged me to balance what we do against the enemy against what we do for the people,” said McLaughlin. “It’s the only way we can achieve an end state in this situation.”
“Firing back directly at the insurgents sends a good message. But we also fire non-lethal targets to communicate a message to the insurgents that we are ready.”
McLaughlin previously deployed with the division as part of Combined-Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, in Djibouti. His time there prepared him for Operation Iraqi Freedom, but he admitted OIF has been his biggest challenge yet.
“Getting ready for this mission and taking over for the 1st Marine Division was my biggest challenge,” said McLaughlin. “But in the end, I think my team was successful in getting the right message to the right target at the right time.”
McLauglin sent one more message before he left, this time to his family about his departure home. He will return to Lexington to his wife and five children who have supported him throughout the deployments with the division. There are others too, who have been supportive over the years and integral in his success as an Army officer.
“My dad, Robert Sr. and mom Adeline have taught me to always be faithful to my friends and team. Bill Tighe, my sixth grade football coach back in 1981 at Lexington High, is a former Marine and probably had the most influence on me.”
“Through their guidance I’ve learned a lot about life. The best I can do is stay focused and treat every day like it’s a new day.”