Marine Commandants Change, But Corps Values Endure
By ARTHUR P. BRILL JR.
Arthur P. Brill Jr. is a frequent contributor to Sea Power.
Changing commandants is always special to Marines, but there is an added
spark this year. For the first time in 227 years, the Corps' helm turns
at the U.S. Naval Academy in an unusual winter ceremony. It comes in the
16th month of the open-ended U.S.-led global war on terrorism. It comes
as U.S. forces prepare to face Saddam Hussein's troops again in Iraq.
It also comes, fortunately, when the Marine Corps has never been in better
shape to help fight its country's battles. "We have as healthy a
manpower picture as I have ever seen," said Lt. Gen. Garry L. Parks,
deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.
People will always be the Corps' focus--and today's Marines are smart,
educated, and reenlisting in record numbers. While Marines still master
the basics, the Corps is changing "on the run" by adopting new
methods and technologies. The readiness problems caused by budget shortages
a few years ago have evaporated and no major Marine acquisition program
is currently at risk.
"To the extent that money can solve readiness problems, we resolved
them in the last two budget cycles," said Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus,
deputy commandant for programs and resources. "Afghanistan was a
massive obstacle to the Navy-Marine Corps Team. With the nearest Taliban
400 miles away from the Arabian Sea, few experts expected Marine boots
to touch Afghan soil. The historic landing there in November 2001 proved
that a self-contained Marine force can go just about anywhere from the
sea and stay indefinitely. It was like launching Marines from the waters
off Boston and landing and resupplying them in Washington, D.C."
From Unification Comes Power
Fresh from those feats, today's closer Navy-Marine Corps Team faces a
cloudy and more complicated world with a renewed expeditionary focus.
"On 13 January we will celebrate this coming-together at the Naval
Academy, not just intellectually, but culturally," said Gen. James
L. Jones, the outgoing 32nd commandant. "The two services have become
much more powerful by this new unification."
When Gen. Michael W. Hagee is sworn in as Jones's successor, the Naval
Academy's Alumni Hall will be packed with dignitaries who brave the 40-mile
trek to Annapolis from the nation's capital. Normally, those same people
would be sweltering in the humidity of late June at the U.S. Marine Barracks
in Washington. Jones's tour was cut short by five months so he could report
in as the senior U.S. combat commander in Europe and as NATO's supreme
allied commander. The dual assignment is a huge first for the Marine Corps.
Last January, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said that, "The
most important decisions we will make are the key four-star commands that
become vacant this year." The Hagee and Jones assignments are evidence
that considerable thought went into those decisions.
Hagee, a 1968 graduate, returns to the Naval Academy with impressive
combat, command, and joint-staff credentials. A warrior who cares deeply
for his Marines and their families, he is an avid leader and a thoughtful
intellectual with a solid background in electrical engineering who gets
things done. Hagee is not new to the Washington scene--nor is Jones, whose
many years there have served the Corps well. Jones took over a good Marine
Corps 42 months ago and has quietly made it even better.
"He has done as much to try to effect change in the Marine Corps
as any commandant I have ever seen," said Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon
Jr., commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "His
legacy is one of incredible change."
The Jones Legacy
Like his predecessor, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, Jones made a major impact
early in his tour. He urged his Marines to enjoy a more relaxed but competent
Corps in which their ideas, education, housing, and families mattered.
They received new "digital" camouflage utilities, a martial
arts program, heard "yes" more often in their career choices,
and knew they would be valued Marines forever, even in their civilian
Jones beefed up the operating forces, brought back brigades, consolidated
the Corps' antiterrorism efforts, and created a collegial "board
of directors" of senior leaders who had the ability to resolve key
issues and streamline a complex requirements system.
A "togetherness" person, Jones never forgot that Marines cannot
operate without the Navy and that the future of both services is "jointness."
"It's always going to be a joint fight," said Gen. William L.
Nyland, the Corps' assistant commandant.
Knowing that Iraq could be the next of those fights, Marines have been
preparing for months, honing their desert-warfare, urban-combat, and precision
close-air-support skills and training in hot and cumbersome protective
suits against the possibility of attack with chemical and biological weapons.
Some headquarters elements and units were already deployed overseas at
the end of 2002, and others are poised to go if President Bush calls them
into action. "I am not at all concerned about whether Marines will
figure in this one," said Jones--"If it comes," he added.
Ironically, if it does come, Hagee's former command, I Marine Expeditionary
Force (I MEF), the Corps' West Coast air-ground-logistics team, would
undoubtedly play a major role as the warfighting MEF for Gen. Tommy R.
Franks's U.S. Central Command. As much as one-third of all Marine aviation
assets also could be involved in "the next fight."
Jones's most significant achievement may have occurred last year when
he and Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, changed the whole
expeditionary nature of the two services. "In 2002, we recognized
that sea control is not today's problem," said Magnus. "The
problem is striking enemy targets and supporting maneuver forces ashore,
sometimes really deep [inland]. ... That [has become] our relevance to
the combatant commanders."
When Clark concluded that today's U.S. Navy faces no major blue water
challenge, realigning the fleet became a six-month high-level Navy-Marine
Corps effort. Jones set the table by agreeing to a much closer integration
of Navy and Marine tactical aviation, resolving a difficult issue that
had been simmering for years.
Jones saw the benefits that would result and made it happen. Typically,
he first sought, and received, the concurrence of his senior officers,
including Hagee. Every few months, the Corps' four- and three-star general
officers discuss "hot" Marine Corps issues at off-site meetings
on various Marine bases. "I always try to build some consensus,"
Jones said. "A commandant can say 'We're going to do this,' but if
it's not a good idea the policy ends on your first day out of office."
The Wings of War
Tactical air integration (TAI) is primarily a money decision that will
save the Navy Department billions of dollars in the acquisition and maintenance
of aircraft. Ground Marines will still receive top-notch close air support
from Marine aviation and retain that special bond. On occasion, Navy aircraft
also will support Marines. Three expeditionary squadrons of Navy F/A-18
Hornets eventually will assume the unit-deployment rotations at Iwakuni,
Japan. "When ground guys want air support, they expect bombs to hit
enemy targets," said Hanlon. "They don't care if it comes off
Four Marine single-seat F/A-18C Hornet squadrons currently deploy aboard
Navy aircraft carriers each year, two on each coast. By 2012, that number
will jump to ten squadrons in an evolutionary process that adds four more
F/A-18C squadrons, trailed by two Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) squadrons.
Eventually, all of the Marine Corps' carrier squadrons will be flying
The Marine JSFs deploying on big-deck amphibious ships as the aviation
component of Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) will be built to a STOVL
(short-takeoff/vertical-landing) configuration. The decision on the exact
mix of the Marine JSFs destined to fly off Navy carriers will come after
Clark has no aversion to STOVL aircraft operating from carriers. Someday,
the Navy squadrons supporting Marines from Iwakuni also might be STOVL
units. "This makes the 'A' even larger in MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground
Task Force]," said Nyland, who supports the increased integration
of Navy-Marine aviation assets. "... This is going to be really good
[for both services]."
Closer "blue-green" togetherness abounds on several other fronts.
Clark has taken a keen interest in the Navy's amphibious ships programs,
for example. And, with Marine and Navy staffs in Washington also more
closely integrated, he decreed that Marine colonels will be eligible,
for the first time, to command a carrier air group.
This is a gigantic sea change for aviators. Moreover, when Hagee raises
his right hand at Annapolis, the commandant of midshipmen will be Col.
John Allen, the first Marine ever to serve in that prestigious assignment.
A major precedent was set in Afghanistan when the Navy named then-Brig.
Gen. James N. Mattis commander of Task Force 58, which consisted of two
MEUs and two amphibious ready groups (ARGs) sailing in the North Arabian
The ESG Combat Team
Perhaps the most exciting innovation will come later this year when the
first Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) sails from the
West Coast. Three-ship ARGs, with limited defenses, may never again deploy
alone with their MEUs. Future ARGs will sail in company with a cruiser,
destroyer, frigate, and submarine. The ships will train and deploy as
a more complete and more powerful combat team.
"We are rearranging the fleet by taking one-half the surface ships
and submarines that normally sail with a carrier and giving them to the
ARG," said Magnus. "This ... [provides] a tremendous independent
operating capability. In addition to 2,200 Marines, we will have ships
with naval guns and Tomahawks, plus all the interesting things submarines
The first several ESGs deploying from both coasts will be fully combat-ready,
of course--but they also will be used to test various command relationships
and iron out some other kinks. "Marines will command ESGs, without
a doubt," said Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, commander of Marine Forces
The ESGs were Clark's idea, but Jones shepherded it through the Corps,
and the concept was eventually approved by Secretary of the Navy Gordon
R. England (who has been nominated to serve as under secretary of the
new Department of Homeland Security).
The Corps is getting closer to purchasing Blount Island (near Jacksonville,
Fla.), where it refits the ships of its three maritime prepositioning
force (MPF) squadrons. The target year for finalizing the purchase is
With the MPF ship leases expiring in 20092011, both the Navy and
the Marine Corps are getting serious about sea basing and the next MPF.
While planning is still conceptual, the high-speed vehicle (HSV) could
play a future role. Its speed and personnel/cargo capacity are strong
Last year, III MEF (on Okinawa) moved over 20,000 Marines and 14,000
short tons of cargo via HSV to support exercises and training in Korea,
Thailand, and mainland Japan. "I'm proud the HSV was born when I
commanded III MEF," said Hailston. "The concept has tremendous
value and is limited only by our imagination."
HSVs are intratheater vessels that could transport literally thousands
of Marines to their MPF ships to marry them up with their equipment. They
are not assault ships designed to go into harm's way.
Planners probably will first experiment with older ships before building
the first new MPF future ships, which may come in several configurations.
The Navy is likely to introduce the new ships gradually, combining them
initially with older MPF ships.
The Navy's plan to experiment in changing crews overseas without bringing
the ships back to their U.S. home ports gives some credibility to Krulak's
(and Jones's) vision of a future "lily-pad" sea base. Instead
of rotating Marines from the United States to land bases overseas, they
will go to floating sea bases in or near potential areas of crisis. "Sea
bases may include self-deployable oil platforms linked up by HSVs,"
said Jones. "I can see Marines arriving at the sea base and eventually
taking off in HSVs to train with allies."
Sea bases would leave "a much reduced footprint," he continued.
"We invest in the armed forces to win wars, but mostly we prevent
wars and stabilize regions so our economy and those of our allies continue
to grow." Jones predicts that the 2020 Marine Corps will be very
high-tech and fast-moving. Battalions will be smaller, but more capable
and more lethal. Smaller units, armed with precision weapons, will be
able to operate at greater distances. They also will have greater situational
awareness, thanks to the use of advanced sensors, as well as unmanned
combat and scouting vehicles.
The Osprey Outlook
On the aviation side, "It is technically achievable to produce a
family of tiltrotors," Jones said. "We are still very dependent
on foreign access to long runways."
The MV-22 Osprey fits into Jones's vision as the medium-size tiltrotor
aircraft needed to carry assault troops. A smaller tiltrotor would perform
command, control, and attack missions. A larger one, similar to a C-130
Hercules cargo aircraft, would do the heavy lifting.
"If we can do that, the U.S. military moves out of the helicopter
age into the tiltrotor age," Jones said. "My fellow service
chiefs are all supportive, particularly of the larger tiltrotor. The nation
produces a huge number of helicopters and has many open production lines.
Necking it down to a family of three vehicles for all of the services
is very doable."
What impact the MV-22 Osprey's fate will have on Jones's tiltrotor vision
remains a question. After being grounded for 17 months, the MV-22 resumed
test flying again last May at the Patuxent River (Md.) Naval Air Station.
Redesigned with major safety "fixes," the aircraft is undergoing
a carefully planned and closely monitored "event-driven" 30-month
flight-test schedule. Experts are trying to make it more reliable and
Although not involved with the testing, Marine officials are optimistic
about the results thus far. "I am very pleased how the Osprey has
come back to flight," said Nyland. "Ultimately, I believe all
the services will fly it, and so will commercial aviation."
Strong Endorsement From Franks
The MV-22 flies twice as fast, five times as far, and carries three times
as much as the aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter it was intended to start
replacing this year. Because of the high altitude, Marines could fly CH-46s
only sparingly in Afghanistan. "We could have used the Osprey or
something like it," Franks told Congress.
Meanwhile, the Marines still have 228 CH-46E troop and five HH-46D search-and-rescue
helicopters, all of them assembled between 1964 and 1969. To keep them
airworthy until 2018, a number of funded programs are underway.
With the Osprey at least three years behind schedule, the Corps is looking
at expensive "just in case" alternatives. "They are all
bad because they're helicopters! It's 75 years of the same thing,"
said Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hough, deputy commandant for Marine aviation.
"It's like going to Kosovo with World War I weapons. Helicopters
don't cost $10 million anymore, they cost $50 million."
Generally, though, the Corps' aviation programs are in excellent shape.
Anticipating the years between 2005 and 2020 when Marine air will transition
all of its aircraft, Hough said he expects the aviation industry to produce
more reliable products. "We are going to fix the companies, not the
programs," he said. "Response time is key in war. We want to
get the bomb to the bad guy quickly. If airplanes don't break down, we
don't need replacement parts. That's expeditionary."
The Expeditionary Century
Jones calls the 20th century the "amphibious century," but
says that the days of Iwo Jima are history. Instead of frontal assaults,
future Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary forces will hit the enemy where
they are--inland, in most cases.
Eventually, the Pentagon must decide how many ready expeditionary forces
the nation needs. The U.S. Army is becoming more expeditionary. Additional
capability is clearly needed, but how much is too much? The nation also
needs fighting forces that can follow with a much heavier punch.
"The Corps is truly moving into the expeditionary century,"
said Jones. "We glimpsed it when Marines seized objectives with legacy
systems in landlocked Afghanistan. With our future technologies, we could
have avoided many of the intermediate staging bases."
The Marine Corps never stands still. Hanlon sent a talented Quantico
team to observe Marine units in Afghanistan and develop "lessons
learned" to prepare for the next fight. A similar team is in the
Gulf area. Following are some initial conclusions:
* Marine aircraft need better night-vision capability and the ability
to communicate better with joint and allied aircraft.
* Marines now carry packs weighing 100 pounds. Lightening their load
will require better gear plus faster and more reliable resupply.
* They also need a lighter combat vehicle, smaller than a High Mobility
Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, or "Humvee") that will
fit inside a CH-53E or MV-22 and can carry four people.
* Marines can use satellite communications in static positions, but not
on the move.
* A lighter, more mobile artillery piece also is needed. The 441 miles
from the Gulf to their objective area in Afghanistan prevented Marines
from taking artillery ashore. The lightweight 155mm howitzer under development
still weighs almost 10,000 pounds. Other more expeditionary options include
the 105mm howitzer and the 120mm mortar.
* A common operational picture is required so that everyone sees the
same friendly and enemy forces.
* More and better training with U.S. allies is mandatory. "It's
important to work with our allies in peacetime, so that it's a natural
fit in combat," said Hanlon.
Afghanistan proved once again the value of organic aviation, but Marines
did not have a single unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at their disposal.
If called, Marines will take their Pioneer and "backpack" UAVs
to Iraq. The Corps does not want to own the expensive but highly capable
Predator UAVs. When Predators fly overhead, down-link problems are preventing
Marines from using them; this is another problem that must be resolved.
"No regional combatant commander wants Marines to go into harm's
way without access to those kinds of things," said Hanlon.
A Realignment of Priorities
The tragic events of 11 September 2001 started the global war on terrorism
and precipitated U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. They also affected every
American, including Marines and their families. "It helped us refocus
on what we do for a living," said Col. Terry G. Robling, assistant
commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Miramar, Calif.
The U.S. Marine Corps has not changed much since the terrorist attack,
but it has made some adjustments. Two examples:
--Providing protection for Marine bases and stations is now such an intensive
manpower requirement that it may require forming another military police
battalion. "We have always fought the 'away' game; now we have to
defend our home [base]," said Parks.
--Force protection is now a key mission and a 24-hour priority for Marine
Deploying Marine infantry battalions will be trained to perform some
antiterrorism missions. In addition, each Marine rifle squad will soon
have a "shooter" with sniper and antisniper skills.
The Marine Corps Reserve is now forming two security battalions, consisting
of 16 antiterrorism platoons positioned around the country. Skilled Reservists
also will augment the Corps' Chemical & Biological Incident Response
Force (CBIRF) in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Corps' primary antiterrorism (AT) unit--created by Jones shortly
after 11 September--is the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (4th MEB)
at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The new MEB boosts the Corps' end strength by 2,400
Marines, to 175,000 this year. The 4th MEB, which costs about $100 million
per year, already has earned a high Department of State award for securing
the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. "The 4th MEB is not a homeland-defense
force," Magnus said. It goes "wherever the president and the
combat commanders want force. ... If they need Marines in New York City
or in downtown Baghdad ... [the 4th MEB] will be there."
The SOCOM-USMC Connection
The 4th MEB is a unique outfit, though, so it could be assigned some
homeland-defense missions, along with Marine Reserve units, when Rumsfeld's
new Northern Command shakes out.
The MEB is forming another FAST (Fleet Antiterrorism Support Team) company,
giving it a total of 13 Marine FAST platoons. When the Aegis guided-missile
destroyer USS Cole was attacked in Yemen, two FAST platoons deployed there
immediately and took charge. "The FAST kids are ready to roll rapidly.
They are very capable," said Lt. Gen. Emil R. Bedard, deputy commandant
for plans, policy, and operations.
When their tours are up, FAST Marines are assigned to the AT infantry
battalion, which can carry out normal infantry jobs in addition to its
critical AT missions. To spread the Corps' AT expertise, the battalions
will rotate occasionally. "The AT infantry battalion takes over where
a terrorist act has occurred or a threat is high," Bedard said. "Those
Marines have refined policing and shooting skills."
The Marine Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa,
Fla., are now working together more closely. Marine Brig. Gen. Dennis
Hejlik's assignment as SOCOM's new chief of staff should help in this
area. Hejlik is Jones's former military secretary.
"We can significantly expand the special operations community in
the United States without spending any money," said Jones. A special-operations-capable
MEU already can carry out 75 to 80 percent of the SOF light missions.
An Era of Mutual Trust
In the personnel area, one major success story is the family housing
partnership between the Marine Corps and private companies. By 2007, an
estimated 95 percent of the Corps' family houses will be privatized, and
24,652 units will either be rebuilt or completely torn down and replaced
"The housing is a nucleus around gyms, schools, and child-care and
teen centers," said Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, the 14th sergeant
major of the Marine Corps. "General Jones's greatest legacy is putting
our families in quality homes."
Marines and their families also will remember Jones for his style. His
easy, positive, and trusting manner has brought the Marine Corps closer.
It also has made the Corps a more effective joint-world "player"
in a century in which difficult sovereignty issues will make naval forces
invaluable to the nation's security.
Jones is the first commandant to move directly to a joint command, and
the first Marine to assume the top U.S. military command job in Europe,
a post that still has a major international impact.
It may be long distance, but Hagee will have no stauncher supporter than
Jones as he inherits a humming, combat-ready Marine Corps with eager young
legs and almost full coffers. He also becomes a wartime commandant the
moment he assumes office. There is plenty on Hagee's plate, and many tough
decisions ahead. His leadership and his grasp of technology will help
the Corps prepare for the "Promised Land" era when the programs
initiated by Krulak and Jones start blossoming.
In any event, Hagee will clearly be his own man. Like his predecessors,
he will have his own style and will lead the Corps in accordance with
the lessons learned and experience earned during an already illustrious