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General James T. Conway Reflects on Four Years, Two Wars

ARLINGTON, Va. – In late 2006, the United States was engaged in a two-front war with Marines deploying every seven months. Their families were forced to deal with the high deployment tempo and the consequences that came with it. Some returned bearing physical and emotional scars, and were left to deal with their war wounds — alone.

General James T. Conway decided it was time to address those issues when taking the helm as the 34th commandant of the Marine Corps. He had many goals to support Marines in the long war. Increasing dwell time between deployments and wounded warrior care were among his many successful initiatives.

“For the entire time that I’ve been the commandant, we’ve been at war,” Conway said. “The number one priority has always been to win these conflicts and provide for the Marines at the point of the spear.”

Providing for those who served at the tip of the spear included proper medical care once they returned from the front lines. Therefore, under Conway’s instruction, the Wounded Warrior Regiment was created in April 2007.

“This Wounded Warrior Regiment takes care of our young Marines and sailors in a way that’s never been accomplished by this country,” Conway said.

The regiment provides wounded, ill and injured Marines and their families with support through recovery, reintegration and transition back to the fleet or the civilian world.

“We had a great first commander, Col. Greg Boyle, took over the regiment brought it to a plateau beyond where I had anticipated it could go so rapidly,” Conway said.

Although the regiment has been successfully taking care of service members for more than three years now, Conway encourages the Corps to strive for more.

“We continue to live off the regiment’s initial success and we continue to look at improvements,” Conway said. “How can we do more? What can we do better? We hope the day will come that the regiment is no longer necessary, but in the mean time there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I’d say they are doing it very ably.”

Throughout his tenure as commandant, Conway also focused on increasing post traumatic stress awareness, admitting that pride can hinder a Marine’s ability to recover.

“Marines are inherently tough and don’t want to admit to those kinds of things, so we’ve got to get the issue more out in to the open,” Conway said.

Recognizing the problem and seeking help became one of his talking points while traveling throughout the Corps and holding town hall meetings.

“The fact is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a non-visual wound, but it’s still a wound,” Conway said. “We have a responsibility to help them any way we can to adjust. There’s no stigma associated with that. The sergeant major and I have tried to hammer home that point from the very beginning.”

Marines are known for achieving victory through small unit leadership and teamwork. Addressing PTSD is no different, he added. “Seek help — we don’t do things individually,” Conway said. We do things as a fire team or as a squad so we are more effective when we work together.”

As the signs of combat fatigue began to affect Marines and their families, the commandant began an initiative to increase the size of the Corps to 202,000 Marines, allowing longer dwell time between deployments.

“It was not as difficult in the end as we thought it was going to be,” Conway said. “Some of my best advisers said, ‘you know you have to lower the standards; you have to go to the Department of Defense standards,’ and it was a tough call. I called out to speak to the recruiters and said, ‘hey gang, I don’t want to lower standards but we have to make these numbers; otherwise, our critics are going to say it’s not possible.’”

The recruiters answered as any Marine would. Without lowering the enlistment standards, the Marine Corps grew by more than 12,000 Marines in fiscal year 2008 with an unprecedented increase in enlistment and retention rates. The combined efforts between career planners and recruiters led the Corps to accomplish its 202k mission much earlier than anticipated.

“We had allowed ourselves five years for the growth, but in fact, these Marines started churning so effectively, we did it in about two and half years,” Conway said.

By growing the force, the individual Marine’s deployment rate decreased.

Although the Marine Corps grew, some households continued to suffer. Family readiness programs were established prior to Conway’s command, but the ongoing wars made strengthening them a priority for him.

The Corps needed take care of those families to ensure Marines were confident; ensuring, Conway said.

Through his unyielding support for the Wounded Warrior Regiment, 202K initiative and strengthening family readiness, Conway helped lead his Marines to victory in Iraq, a victory many Americans thought impossible.

Conway attributes his confidence in his Marines to an experience he had as a division commander.

“A young corporal on a training evolution noticed two trucks were going to collide,” Conway said. “He pushed a fellow Marine out of the way, lifted a Naval Reserve Officer’s Training Corps midshipman to safety, and was crushed to death — an incredible act of heroism, even in peace time.”

“Going forward with the confidence that we recruited, trained and developed, those kinds of Marines never left any doubt in my mind as to how things were going to turn out in Iraq,” Conway said.

Conway also attributes the victory to the perseverance and resiliency of today’s Marines. Around 73 percent of eligible Marines have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“They’re incredible young men and women,” Conway said. “We’ve known that all along, but the fact is that they wanted to get to Iraq to fight for their country. A number have gone back four or five times, yet the dedication level, motivation level; the support from the families has just not decreased.”

Conway also said he’s confident that these Marines are ready and prepared for what they will face in the future.

“We have a lot of lessons learned that are being sent almost immediately back into our training and into our workup. We’ve have immersive trainers that put you into a combat environment similar to the ones our Marines are facing while deployed. Our intent for that young Marine who may be there for the first time is to say, ‘hey, this is not new. I’ve been here before and have done these kinds of things; it was back in 29 Palms, but the fact is I’m not surprised by anything I see here,’” Conway said.

The commandant believes this young generation’s experience will catapult Marines to lead a better Corps in the future.
“I think we’re going to have a heck of a Marine Corps 10 years from now. Our company commanders and battalion commanders know what’s important; they’ve seen their country go to war,” Conway said. “They won’t accept any nonsense that might otherwise restrict our ability to continue to do that.”

Looking toward the future, Conway trusts the Marine Corps will return to its amphibious roots in a post-Afghanistan era.

“We have grown very [armor] heavy. We’ve used the term ‘second land army’ and I think that gives sort of a visual,” Conway said. “We also believe we are the nation’s foremost expeditionary force. Our definition of expeditionary is fast, austere and lethal. And you can’t be fast if you’re also heavy.”

Out of necessity, the Marine Corps has increased the amount of armor Marines and their vehicles carry to deter an adaptive enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re going to have to shuck some of this armor that we’ve brought aboard to help defend our troops against the signature weapon of the insurgents — the improvised explosive device,” Conway said. “We’re going to have to accept some risk in doing that. But we believe that through maneuver, through surprise, through some of our old methodologies using combined arms, we can be very effective and not miss a beat.”

Conway said he is confident in the Marines of the present and optimistic for the Marines of the future.

“My most memorable day was the day that we took off from Al Asad airfield in Iraq. I realized that would be my last time in that country, and reflected back to all the great Marines and sailors that had been there — a number of which had given their lives. And yet, we were coming out successful in terms of what we were sent there to do. That was pretty memorable,” he said.

As Conway enters a new phase of his life, the Corps turns its attention to Operation Enduring Freedom, where the most combat-experienced generation of Marines since World War II are shaping a brighter future for Afghanistan.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” Conway said. “I will miss being around those great young men and women who are true patriots and American warriors who rushed to the defense of our country. That has been the pure enjoyment and what has made 40 years dedicated to the Marine Corps pass so quickly.”

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33 Responses

  1. KW says:

    Simply because a person is gay doesn’t mean that they have HIV, and simply because now troops can now openly discuss the fact that they are gay doesn’t change the fact that there have ALWAY been gay (LGBT) troops in the military.  All DADT repeal does now is let people openly talk about it.  The gay person next to you is still gay whether he/she says it or not, the DADT repeal just lets that person serve with the dignity and respect he/she deserves.

    HIV is a health concern for everyone – it does not know any sexual orientation boundaries and there are far more straight people who have it than gay people who have it.  If you want to fight HIV infection, get educated about the disease and take appropriate precautions – spreading fear won’t help – spreading condoms will.

  2. Sheryl says:

    I am a 68 yr old female American citizen, and proud of all our military has done. Gen James Conway is a good example of this. I worry now that DADT has been changed, What is going to happen regarding those who have HIV? Is there going to be a test to keep them out?

    Emergency and medical personnel, as well as law enforcement, wear gloves when dealing with victims who are bleeding. Will all the soldiers in battle be given gloves to wear?

    Imagine a situation in battle where a soldier with HIV gets wounded, and another soldier carrying him out is covered with the wounded soldier’s blood. Later on the hero gets HIV because of the blood from the wounded soldier that he rescued. Can the soldier contracting HIV sue the solider who gave him HIV, or can he sue the Federal government?

    This has not been addressed by those who are implementing the changes and it needs to be for the safety and health of our soldiers in battle.

  3. Dave says:

    Overall great Commandant, but seriously dude, give us our tattoos back. That was a dick move…

  4. Jason Jozwiak says:

    I served with Major Conway (Gen. Conway’s son) in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2006. If his father is anything like the leader Major Conway was, then the Marine Corps is in good hands!

    Semper Fi Brothers!

  5. Brian says:

    Great artical, as a Navy Seabee i have come to respect the Marines and always enjoyed working with and for them while on deployments. I think the Corp has a great General to look up to. Merry Christmas and God Bless!

  6. JS says:

    “As Conway enters a new phase of his life, the Corps turns its attention to Operation Enduring Freedom, where the ********most combat-experienced generation of Marines since World War II******* are shaping a brighter future for Afghanistan”

    Nothing but respect for those fighting in Afghanistan, but what about the generation that fought in Vietnam?

  7. Marneze says:

    Gen Conway

    You were the man I served under you and Gen Hagee. No offense Gen Hagee but Gen Conway you are the shit. I am so sad you are not our Hon Commandant anymore but I hope to see you in the political world leading us again.

    Semper Fi
    Cpl Dee
    MCAS Futenma
    Okinawa Japan

  8. Walt Asselin says:

    Sir, was good to see you down at Camp Lejeune last month (Nov). I hope the stress is gone and you can enjoy retirement. I know that your thoughts will always remain with the Marines as they continue the fight!!
    Semper Fi, Sir!!!

    W. A. Asselin,
    Master Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

  9. The Gunny says:

    General Conway,

    You’ve had one hell of a ride. I served with you in 2nd Marines at Camp Lejeune and also with you at 1st Marine Division. You signed my Promotion Letter and also awarded me the Navy Commendation Medal. I started my Career with you and ended my Career with you. It was, and always will be to have served with you DEFENDING THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. May you and your family enjoy retirement.

    Semper Fi

    GySgt Lovell

  10. David Russell Ohrn "DRO" says:

    General, Thank you for your Great Service to our Country. I know Marines have served with you in the Corps and all have positive things to say.

    Thank you for your service to our country Sir!

    US Army Veteran

  11. Jerry Belew says:

    Thanks to General Conway, one of our very best leaders of these times, and like General Mattis, a true warrior who TAKES CARE of our Marines for your service, leadership and support! A great job by a great man. God Bless General Conway and all our fine young men & women Marines! Keep the faith, Semper Fi! An old former Marine in TX! :)

  12. Jerry Campbell ('53-'57) says:

    Congratulations on your retirement. Once and always, a MARINE. Semper Fi

  13. Rudy says:

    In response to James, There is no such thing as a former or ex-marine. We are marines till we meet St. Peter. Semper Fi Till I Die.

  14. Rex McBee USMC says:

    Anyone, male or female who has worn the uniform of the United States Marine Corps honor those (past, present and future) MARINES. We thank you General for your service and your dedicated leadership to our beloved Corps. We honor those who have died serving our nation and brotherhood, proud to be a Marine.
    Commander American Legion, Lexington TN – 3 Tours Vietnam 68-71

  15. Keith Arch says:

    The General was my CO when he was a Capt. at the Sea School @ MCRD San Diego. He was well respected and liked then and now.

    I wonder if he still has his green MG Midget. Never did figure out how he squeezed himself into it; he goes about 6′ 4″.

  16. Jeff Jackson says:

    Thank you Sir for your years of leadership to our beloved Corps. You have been an awesome inspiration to me and all brother Marines. God speed and Semper Fi!

  17. Brian M Hovey says:

    Thank you General Conway. You were my Battalion Commander of 3/2 in Desert Storm. Thank you for all your years of service and looking after all of our well beings

  18. Robert Britting says:


    Thank you for your service. Although my active duty in ended 1972 I am as proud to be a United States Marine now as I was then. Marines such as youself have made certain the United States Marine Corps has remained rock solid all these years.

    Did you serve as the Executive Officer of Headquarters Company, Fleet Marine Force Pacific located in Tweny-nine Palms in 1972. Major Rottsolk and Major Lucas were the Commanding Officers during this time.

  19. Henk Brunsveld says:

    Congratulations General Conway. My son served in 1/6 2004-2006 and I was in Camp Fallujah with you and your sons as the KBR Security coordinator.

    Semper Fidelis, SgtMaj Brunsveld, USMC Ret.

  20. Richard Garcia,Houston,Texas says:

    In response to the Virginia Gentleman. I couldn’t agree more. People have asked, “Are you an ex-Marine?” Some have responded, “There is no such thing as an ex-Marine!” Are we really “Former Marines?” My answer is, “No! We are just inactive Marines! If we were ever to be called back, the roads would definitely be jammed with Marines both young and old, disabled and able! For once a Marine, Always a Marine! Semper Fi Devil Dogs!”

  21. Cpl of Marines says:

    I served under General Conway in 2004 in Iraq, great leader and he will be missed

    Semper Fi Sir,
    Cpl of Marines

  22. Tim Trostel says:

    From a retired Squid, Semper Fi, and Fair Wind’s and Following Sea’s, Sir!

  23. Tamra Sheline says:

    Thank you to General Conway and his wonderful wife, Annette for their many years of service.
    Thank you Sir, for being a wonderful leader, as well as, thank you to you both for being an outstanding examples and inspiration to both the Marines and their spouses over the years.
    May you be richly blessed in the years to come and your endeavors.
    Very Respectfully,
    Tamra Sheline
    San Onofre, Camp Pendleton

  24. The Gunny says:

    The General is a Marines, Marine. What leadership in a very difficult time, and that is what Marines are made of…..thanks General, God Bless you, your family and our Beloved Corps. @ Virginia Gentleman….GREAT COMMENT…and I think it would be a long time before the roads were clear.
    Semper Fi,
    The Gunny
    USMC Retired

  25. Sgt Kiley says:

    Thumb straight along the hand Sir! Thanks for your service, its to bad they didn’t let you run the Afghan campaign the way you advised, we’d be out of that mess by now…

  26. Mark Fleener says:

    Siemper Fi, General.

  27. Anthony Padgett says:

    I hope to have that same priviledge one day. I am currently tryin to enlist to serve my country and I am goin through a little difficulty but I refuse to give up. It has been a childhood dream and I fill find a way to resolve my enlistment issue… There is no greater opportunity in the world to fight for the U.S as a marine and I will accomplish this through the graces of God. If anyone has it in there heart to help an American Son join please help me and email me at padgettboy_09

  28. James says:

    Fantastic article. As a very proud former Marine I always enjoy reading about how our Marine Corps is contiually going about its buisiness as the world most elite military force. It always allows me to feel confident that our way of life will be forever protected from outside forces.

  29. Raijin2004 says:

    This era of prosperity for our beloved Corps is all the General’s doing. He pushed us hard and he allowed us a great future to build on. God Bless General Conway and God Bless our beloved Marine Corps!

  30. Jim Goodwin says:

    Great article! I especially like how you allowed him to tell his own story…..

  31. Virginia Gentleman says:

    I have always believed that if any Commandant went on the national media and simply said, “I need all my Marines to report to the nearest facility. The nation needs us now and therefore I need you now,” the roads would be clogged for days with us as we answered his call.

  32. Donald Plunkett says:

    Dear General Conway,
    Thank you so much for your service to this Country and the Men and Women in the Corp. Although I have never served in the Military I do have a profound respect for everyone who has and is still doing so! For those who have paid the ultimate price; I’m sure our Lord Savior and Jesus Christ, would say “Well done my good and faithful Servant”! My God Bless and Protect each and everyone of you and your Families.
    Forever Grateful, and Merry Christmas to you all!
    Donald Plunkett

  33. paul enriquez says:

    hi every one, im a young reader and i like to read how our military is doing and like to be updated about it. i beileve this group that the general has improved is awsome, shows how a veteran can come home and not have to worry about being forgotten. i look into reading more about the marines/military. and hope to join some day.