Just before the 1st Marine Division advanced on the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, Maj. Gen. James Mattis pinned a star onto each collar of his assistant division commander, Col. John F. Kelly. He was now a brigadier general, and the first to be promoted on the battlefield since the Korean War.
Not far from there, another colonel in the unit named Joe Dunford was leading his regimental combat team.
By the end of the campaign, they had fought together in places like Nasiriyah, Al Kut, and eventually Baghdad. The division they were in — along with the US Army and UK armored elements — carried out one of the most aggressive, high-speed attacks in history, and 1st Marine Division’s ground march was the longest in the history of the Marine Corps, for which it earned the Presidential Unit Citation.
Those three officers went on to become four-star generals. Mattis retired in 2013 as the commander of Central Command, while Kelly retired as commander of US Southern Command in 2016. Dunford became commandant of the Marine Corps, and eventually chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he remains.
All three remain good friends. And if President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet are all confirmed, they’ll once again be serving together — only this time, it’ll be in the White House.
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