Second Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines (2/24) mobilized in June 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The Battalion trained at Camp Pendleton until deploying in August. 2/24 established headquarters in Mahmudiyah, (FOB St. Michael) in the North Babil Province, approximately 30 miles South of Bahgdad., in the area that came to be known as the "Triangle of Death."
Upon 2/24's arrival there were 12-18 violent attacks each day in their Area of Operation. Not satisfied that the battalion could properly patrol the entire area from a central location, Battalion Commander LtCol Mark Smith established what he called a "zip code offense." The Battalion's rifle companies established small FOB's surrounding FOB St. Michael, and began intensive patrolling operations.
Echo Company was the first to leave FOB St. Michael, establishing a patrol base in the vicinity of Mahmudiyah. Next, Fox Company departed St. Michael and after three days of intensive combat, established FOB Yusifiyah. Golf Company then established FOB Lutifiyah in a location that placed them between large Shia and Sunni populations. The Iraqi population became accustomed to seeing Marines on their streets regularly. Locals named the Marines of 2/24, "The Mad Ghosts;" due to the intensive patrolling operations.
Chief Correspondent John Burns wrote about the Mad Ghosts, in the New York Times:
"But one striking thing about life with the 2/24, as with other units struggling with inadequate equipment, was the absence of grinding complaint. These Marines have bolted the hardships of their deployment on the corps ethos of unremitting toughness, to the point that deprivation is less complained about than celebrated, as proof that the Marines can overcome. This ethos seeps into the weekly letters that Lt.Col Mark A. Smith, the 40-year old Battalion Commander, a State Trooper back home in Indianapolis, writes to the Battalion's wives.
'Ask Yourself,' he said in his letter last week, 'How in a land of extremes, during times of insanity, constantly barraged by violence, and living in conditions comparable to the stone ages, your Marines can maintain their positive attitude, their high spirit and their abundance of compassion?' Then he answered his own question, 'They defend a nation unique in all of history: One of principle, not personality; one of the rule of law, not landed gentry; one where rights matter, not privilege or religion or color or creed; where 'Chief among these are the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' They are United States Marines, representing all that is best in soldierly virtues. John Burns, Chief Correspondent New York Times, December 12, 2004
Fourteen Marines of 2/24 were killed in action during the deployment. Their sacrifices were not in vain and they will not be forgotten. 2/24 killed an estimated 400 insurgents and detained more than 1,200 others and maintained an extremely high conviction rate. Of those detained, 970 were placed in long term detention in Abu Ghraib prison. The 12-18 violent incidents per day was reduced to less than one per week by the end of the Mad Ghosts' deployment. Having arrived in late August, by January, 2/24 had reduced the violence to an extent that free elections were possible. 71% of registered Iraqis voted in 2/24's area of operation, in the January 30 elections.