Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad” in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

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VCJCS Admiral James Winnefeld speaking at the Association of the United States Army on September 12th.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter.

For John R. Deni, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, the answer seems to lie in the “Army-led military-to-military activities” which may provide stability in politically volatile regions “if only because most military forces around the globe are army-centric.”

Others beg to differ. Generals James Amos and Raymond Odierno and Admiral William McRaven seem to second Admiral Winnefeld’s claim when they argue that today “the need to conduct large-scale aid and consequence management missions, both within the United States and internationally, is certain to grow.” General James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, also recently echoes this view when he advocates a lighter but mobile Marine Corps because he believes tomorrow’s conflicts will likely involve “violent extremism, battles for influence, disruptive societal transitions, natural disaster, extremist messages and manipulative politics.”

However, if the United States Armed Forces is truly concerned about raising a cost-efficient and versatile ground force, it can merge the Army, the SOCOM and the Marine Corps into one unified service branch. This idea is not new. As far back as 1994, the late Colonel David Hackworth advocated the merger of the Army and the Marine Corps because their missions seemed to overlap. He went so far as to claim that the Department of Defense (DoD) could save “around $20 billion a year.” Nevertheless, absent in Hackworth’s column was a coherent blueprint for how the DoD could effectively unify its ground components into a cohesive service because Hackworth did not flesh out his strategic vision for what 21st Century wars may look like.

Which raises a very salient question as to what America’s strategic priorities should be. In a perceptive op-ed, Mark Fitzgerald, David Deptula and Gian P. Gentile aver that the United States must choose to go to “war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice.” To this must be added another imperative. The United States Armed Forces must prioritize homeland defense as its primary mission and rethink the mistaken belief that the United States can somehow secure its interests through “lengthy military occupations of foreign lands.”

Thus, this newly merged service must redirect its focus towards countering cyber warfare and CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and explosives) attacks and should work towards bolstering its counterterrorism (CT) capabilities. This is because, due to the convergence of the global community, the United States may be vulnerable to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures.

Reorientation of its mission focus may also require that the new service reconfigure its size. After all, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Washington should remember that the size of the armed forces is not the most telling metric of their strength.” One solution is to adopt the so-called “Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM)” centered around the combat group concept which may reduce the strength of the new service “yet in the end produce a force that has greater combat capability…[and] more sustainable.” This model may provide the United States with a deployable fire brigade in the event of a national emergency or an international crisis. Already, the bases from which to adopt this viable model exist in the form of Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) of various sizes.

Should the United States decide that it needs to project its hard power abroad to guard its interests, it could deploy the Special Operations Forces (SOF) components of the new service in tandem with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities. Moreover, doing so could minimize the risks inherent in power projection and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) missions which may potentially mire the United States in messy and protracted conflicts.

Marines from MARSOC honing their rifle marksmanship skills. Photo by MARSOC Public Affairs

Last but not least, this new service could buttress interoperability and capabilities of allied forces around the globe through military-to-military exchanges. Although Deni was referring specifically to the Army-led initiatives when he suggested this, he may be correct that military-to-military engagements may help to promote America’s image abroad as a trusted guarantor of peace. But even more important, such activities may “mean fewer American boots on the ground.” However, implementing what the retired Marine General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy” may be a better means by which the United States could “lead from behind.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Contrary to what many in the defense establishment believe, the austerity measures wrought by the sequestration have not been entirely negative. If anything, this perceived “crisis” has provided the much-needed impetus for innovative approaches to national defense. The proposed merger of the ground forces may provide the United States with most cost-effective and versatile service branch to defend the homeland and safeguard its interests abroad.



3rd

Gold Star Ride

September 2013

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Three weeks ago, a good friend and former roommate, Major Jenn Marino, USMC (Ret), started on her cross-country bike ride to connect with Gold Star families. I mentioned this on a previous blog, but now the ride is a reality—she started it over two weeks ago. Jenn was a Ch-46 and Marine One pilot who started meeting and talking with Gold Star families while still on active duty. As she struggled with the question of what she could do to make a difference in the lives of these families, and how she could help, she came up with the idea for a cross-country ride. She decided that one way to honor those we have lost and the families they left behind would be to ride across the United States in honor of them, from Camp Pendleton to Camp Lejeune and ending in Quantico, meeting the families along the way. Over the 77-day trip, Jenn is conducting interviews with many Gold Star families, and is dedicating each day’s ride to someone else as she gets to know them through their survivors.

Her journey gives a voice to these families and to remind us all about what we have lost as a nation. She is also amazed, repeatedly, by how great loss can galvanize people to act, and writes about the people she meets most evenings after her day’s ride. She has a website, www.goldstarride.com, and a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GoldStarRide. She updates the Facebook page daily with stories of those she meets and those she rides in memory of. Please take the time to look through her sites, and to read about the families and sons and daughters they lost.

The enormity of this ride is humbling. Yet at the same time, the work she is doing is life-affirming, as are the memories she relays. Hopefully people will follow along with her on her journey, and perhaps show up along the route in support. She is planning to do two key legs during the last week of October: one in Camp Lejeune on October 23, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Beirut barracks bombing, and the final leg up to the National Museum of the Marine Corps on October 25. A ride like this will need all the support it can get.



I wrote this piece shortly after my first deployment in 2010, mainly to organize my thoughts and keep a record of my personal reflections. I captured what I considered to be the pertinent points of the experience and put the article away until I recently reopened the file for the first time in three years. There are a few parts that reflect the natural naiveté and pride of a first deployment JO, but I believe there is value in sharing the words as we continue to look back at lessons learned from various phases of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. Particularly, I hope others use the occasion to capture their own personal CAS/COIN lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan as we all return to more traditional, pre-9/11 mission sets such as counter-maritime, counter-air, etc. I haven’t made any edits to the original piece.

Carrier-based tactical close air support platforms have proven to be valuable resources for ground commanders and war planners conducting counterinsurgency campaigns

In a remote village near Herat, Western Afghanistan, a mounted convoy of Marines travels en route to conduct a Key Leader Engagement with the village elder and local leaders. The opportunity to discuss economic issues, insurgent activity, and security concerns serves as a keystone in the effort to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the community. As the convoy navigates the small, winding roads, the lead vehicle strikes an IED and insurgent gunmen open fire from behind the walls of a compound 300 meters north of the friendly position. What might have been the obvious response in prior years, an immediate strike on the enemy position executed by aircraft overhead, now requires much more consideration. Following the tenants of Counterinsurgency (COIN) Strategy, as detailed in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the collateral effects of the bombing, to include potential effects on civilians and major damage to infrastructure, would likely negate the hard-earned good will critical to a successful COIN strategy. Additionally, the unintended effects could harm ISAF efforts in the long term by fostering resentment and reducing the credibility of friendly forces, ultimately driving local support to insurgent fighters.

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There is something very wrong going on at the very highest levels of our uniformed leadership, they are not standing up for the honor and reputation of their Sailors, Marines, and our other brothers and sisters in the profession of arms.

This failure goes beyond individual failure; it is a systemic failure negatively impacting everyone from the deckplates, to the Beltway, to the post-active duty unemployment line.

I remain perplexed by the supine masochism displayed over and over in the face of weak-at-best accusations made against the culture, morals, and character of our military in the last year. Though even a cursory examination easily shows either the inaccurate, skewed, or downright malicious warping of data concerning sexual assault, suicide, and PTSD in the military – our leaders have surrendered the field without returning a single shot; accepting the agenda and smears of those who are focused on one thing; bringing down the level of esteem our nation holds the military and veterans in.

This should not be a shock to anyone, we have seen this movie before – and people inside and outside the military have been warning this would happen – again.

We saw it after the Vietnam War like in no other period, and again in a very political form following the glow after DESERT STORM. With the counter-culture reeling from the shock of the military being held once again in high regard, it was no shock that the usual suspects made the most out of the bludgeon we gave them at Tailhook to go after the military culture root and branch.

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On August 6th, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a feature on the latest Japanese helicopter destroyer, the Izumo (DDH-183). CIMSEC contributor Miha Hribernik observed that the Izumo, which is supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron and boasts a 814 feet-long (248 meters) STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) flight deck, is “sure to cause concern in China…[since the launching of the ship] presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF.”

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Aircraft carrier classification and comparison according to globalsecurity.org

According to Business Insider, the launching of the helicopter destroyer “came in” shortly after China’s recent statement that it is in “no rush [to sign the proposed Code of Conduct] since [Southeast Asian nations involved] harbor unrealistic expectations.” Japan’s territorial row involving Diaoyu/Senkaku coupled with threats emanating from the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea) might have triggered increased defense spending. However, the two aims of Japan’s burgeoning defense spending, pre-emptive strike capabilities and the creation of an amphibious assault unit similar to the United States Marine Corps, have made its East Asian neighbors uneasy. As for America’s reaction, Zachary Keck believes that while it is “unclear” how the Obama Administration will respond to Japan’s pre-emptive attack on its “adversary’s bases,” the Obama Administration could become “vocal” should Japan act upon its “threats to review [its] past apologies.”

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Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters’ questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.

The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.

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U.S. soldiers board an Air Force C-130 as they depart Afghanistan. Image: U.S. Department of Defense

General Joseph Dunford, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, has recently told the New York Times that America’s “presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.” His reasoning was that although the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are bearing the brunt of fighting, “at the end of 2014, [they] won’t be completely independent” operationally and logistically.

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DOKDO and GWIn my previous entry on the U.S.-ROK naval strategy after the OPCON, I argued for a combined fleet whereby the U.S. and ROK Navies, together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Since I have been getting mixed responses with regards to the viability of the aforementioned proposal, I felt compelled to flesh out this concept in a subsequent entry. Here, I will examine command unity and operational parity within the proposed combined fleet.

First, as Chuck Hill points out in his response to my prior entry, should the three navies coalesce to form a combined fleet, the issue of command unity may not be easily overcome because “[w]hile the South Korean and Japanese Navies might work together under a U.S. Commander, I don’t see the Japanese cooperating under a South Korean flag officer.” Indeed, given the mutual rancor over historical grievances, and the ongoing territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima Island, both Japan and the ROK may be unwilling to entertain this this arrangement. However, this mutual rancor, if left unchecked, could potentially undermine coherent tactical and strategic responses against further acts of aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. It is for this reason that Japan and the ROK should cooperate as allies if they truly desire peace in East Asia.

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Posted by Jeong Lee in Marine Corps, Navy | 4 Comments
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Much has been said in this forum and others about the U.S. Navy’s rebalance to Asia-Pacific as well as current and impending fiscal constraints. Less has been said about how these two significant challenges might simultaneously impact the Navy’s operating paradigm and investment strategy. As the Navy rebalances, we face a challenge of simultaneously maintaining a forward and ready posture—where it matters, when it matters—while continuing to invest in the capabilities that are necessary for addressing present and future challenges to America’s national interests. This challenge is neither easy nor without precedent, but it is imperative as current fiscal constraints drive the Navy to be even more judicious in directing resources. To that end, an integrated and thoughtful force design is essential if the Navy is to invest in the force of tomorrow while ensuring our current employment is scaled and configured to affordably accomplish all of our missions today. I believe there are two primary pillars to this force design – creating an affordable operating paradigm for today’s force and investing in the force of the future. I would like to address here the first pillar under a concept I call tailored global presence.

Tailored global presence is an approach to how the Navy organizes, prepares, and deploys forces. The Asia-Pacific rebalance, already underway, is part of that approach: by 2020 the Navy will have rebalanced 60 percent of its forces to this critical region. As we shift the bulk of our forces to Asia-Pacific we will continue to maintain a robust capability in the Middle East with rotational deployments of aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups as a bulwark in this volatile region. In Europe the Navy will emphasize our unique contributions to the NATO alliance through specific capabilities such as maritime ballistic missile defense using our most advanced destroyers. In the Western Hemisphere our primary focus will be on lower-cost, small footprint missions aimed at protecting the approaches to the homeland. Innovative employment of inherently flexible ships such as Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and Joint High-Speed Vessels (JHSV) will prove invaluable to maritime security and cooperative efforts in Africa and South America – an alternative to sending large amphibious ships or destroyers.

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in March enroute to Singapore. US Navy Photo

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in March enroute to Singapore. US Navy Photo

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flexedarmhangLast fall, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced that starting in January 2014, as part of the annual Physical Fitness Test, female Marines would be required to perform pull-ups just like male Marines. The announcement was a long time coming and way overdue. (And no, I have no innate ability when it comes to pull-ups. On the contrary, my upper body strength is unimpressive, and as work and family demands have increased over the years, my interest in getting stronger regularly falls by the wayside, trumped by everything else that needs constant attention. A weak excuse, sure, but we’ve all been there.)

But PFT changes are way overdue, and adding the pull-up requirement is an honest start. It’s only right that as Marines, if we expect some to perform pull-ups as part of the PFT, we should all be expected to do them. The flexed arm hang is a poor approximation for upper body strength; I consistently max it and have yet to practice it. But critically, for a service that prides itself on its high standards, expecting—requiring—different outcomes based solely on gender creates more problems than it solves. The Marine Corps should expect all Marines to meet the minimum standards, not just some. Pull-ups may be harder for me to do than others, but I should be able to perform them as required. And I will, it’ll just take more work on my end.

So when I recently heard a rumor that the Marine Corps is reconsidering the requirement for women to do pull-ups based on low success rates and sub-par numbers, I slapped my forehead in response. It’s only been seven months since the initial announcement, and we’re already rethinking it? We’re talking about discarding the pull-up requirement before it even goes into effect? This bothers me on every level. To those making this decision: don’t take it back. To say to the women out there, “We were wrong, you’re not capable, go back to your arm hang and sorry we had you all worried?” Please, please don’t. Stick to the standard, keep the expectations high. Force us all, male and female, to hoist ourselves up to that bar. At least three times, and preferably many more.

The PFT has its share of problems: the different standards for men and women, the way it reeks of favoritism, how it diminishes us as Marines by expecting less, and the way the sliding scale also favors age (but no one complains). On one level, I get it: it’s a fitness test, and I recognize that we’re trying to measure a fitness level and not unambiguous strength in three areas. But we go about it wrong, resulting in a convoluted system that misses the boat. We were heading in the right direction with the pull-up change. Let’s get back to that.

Think about this. We’re only seven months into the change. Seven months doesn’t mean squat when we consider the weight of the preceding years and the different expectations many people face in high school and college. There’s a giant gulf between what is expected athletically of men and women from a young age. By my husband’s senior year of high school, he was required to perform ten pull-ups as part of his P.E. classes after years of preparation. By my senior year of high school, I was required, after building up to it over a year, to run a mile. One mile, that was it. Pretty sure we didn’t even have to run the whole time. There was no expectation for girls to do pull-ups, pushups, or any other strength training. Which one of us showed up better prepared?

Many of us have to start from scratch, or at least from a low standard. But we are talking about Marines; if we expect Marines to do something, they generally won’t disappoint. Give the standard time to work. Give Marines time to believe that we can all do it and then to act on that belief. We’ve got time: the requirement doesn’t take effect until next January. This spring, realizing that it had been years since I’d attempted pull-ups, I set up a bar in the hallway, jumped up there, and tried to knock some out. It was an epic failure. But after working on it, I’m there now. I can’t max it yet, but if I can haul my old, mother-of-three self up on that bar and make it happen, then so can anyone.

The point? This is about pull-ups, but it’s really about much more. Don’t go back to the ridiculous arm hang. Make us all work for it. Set the bar high, and Marines will reach it.



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