Saturday, January 21, 2012

Getting Serious About STOVL

Thom Shanker from the NYT reports this morning about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's decision to take the F-35B Lightning II off of probation. The B variant is a short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) jet capable of taking off from short landing strips or the deck of an amphibious ship (as opposed to a catapult-assisted launch and an arrested landing on a full-sized carrier). The Marine Corps' story is that STOVL is needed for (a) use in amphibious scenarios and (b) expeditionary scenarios where landing sites are limited. Shanker alludes to this in discussing "the importance to the Marine Corps of coming up with a replacement for its Harrier jump-jet, which has proved its value in countering insurgencies and terrorists in rugged, remote areas."

Friday, January 20, 2012

PME for Peace?

We are at risk of being blind-sided by peace. With the end of the Iraq War and the gradual end to the Marine involvement in Afghanistan, more heads are turning towards the future.  Future threats, flashpoints, and theaters of operations are thrown about in policy papers and casual conversation.  A new Pacific-centric posture has been laid out with a new Marine Corps outpost opening in Australia.  In the military blogosphere, pundits argue about the death of COIN, the lessons learned from the Long War, and the looming budget cuts. However, as an institution, are we adequately preparing ourselves for the impending peace?  Simply put, I am not sure.  This blog post is not to offer the best solutions but to identify an issue and stimulate conversation with like-minded professionals to determine our options.

Like many readers of this blog, I joined the Marine Corps after September 11th and have no operational experience with that murky concept called “peacetime.”  You would be hard-pressed to find a captain or sergeant, even staff-sergeant, who experienced the peacetime Marine Corps.  Almost our entire cadre of company-level leadership is used to a wartime footing.  Beyond stories of the Officer Clubs, which apparently were not always a dying institution, and golf, I am not sure what to even think of the peacetime military.

Like many things, the Marine Corps has been at this crossroads before.  However, there seems to be little institutional knowledge of how we transition to peace.  Marines are familiar with our past exploits from 1775 forward, but who knows how the Marine Corps handled the transition to the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in the 1970s?  How did we handle racial integration, the incredible budget cuts of the Eisenhower Administration, or even the brief peace after Desert Storm?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fitness and PT: The Problem with CrossFit

CrossFit Trainer Certification, 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)
Here are two videos: One is a CrossFit demonstration of explosive lifts and one is by Coach Hatch who coached the 2004 USA Mens Olympic Weightlifting team.

The CrossFit video shows horrible weight lifting technique. The Coach Hatch video has great technique.

Bad technique is just one reason CrossFit is bad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Continuing in the vein of making the Marine Corps a lighter, meaner force with a more sustainable budget, I want to share some half-formed thoughts I have about the structure of the Marine Corps. Matt Mackewich mentioned this idea in the above linked post.

First, this blog is not the only place where the need to modernize the Marine Corps in the face of changing budget realities has been discussed. LtGen Richard Mills, CG MCCDC, spoke recently to the Surface Navy Association about this very topic. In his presentation, he focused on the programs and the capabilities that the Marine Corps would need to retain or expand in the future. We will need to retain bone and expand muscle but at the same time we need to take an e-tool to the fat.

Some of the fat is so entrenched that we can’t even see it. One form of fat I’ll refer to as legacy organizations like regiment and division staffs. Although the existence of all four Marine divisions is codified in United States law, there is no clear operational reason for their continued existence as traditional regiments and divisions. The next time Marines are needed in division level strength, they will operate as a MEF.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Haditha Shootings

On Sunday an IED blast in Ramadi killed 10, and their deaths made front page news.

That’s quite a change from 2005, when some 12,000 Iraqi’s were killed, along with 942 Americans – that was 1,100 deaths monthly, or 37 every day of the year. Also in Sunday’s news was that SSGT Frank Wuterich’s trial had finally started, for allegedly shooting civilians in Haditha.

In 2005 the morning TV news reguarly blared “Marines killed in Anbar,” including that August day when a 6-man Marine sniper unit on the outskirts of Haditha was attacked by a large insurgent group and quickly overrun. The group’s website showed the body of a slain Marine with the insurgents claiming they’d slit the throats of some of the Marines they’d killed. Three days later the news was more horrific; an AAV hit a huge roadside bomb and was catastrophically destroyed, killing 14 Marines and their Iraqi interpreter. The lone survivor was blown from the vehicle.

That’s the environment in which Wuterich and his Marines lived and fought in Haditha.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

500 Words or Less

DOCTRINE  and the Tyranny of Words
Our doctrine is a collection of a relatively small set of universal truths about war.  Our doctrine is not a list of useful solutions to particular problems.  However, we as Marines often use the term “doctrine” to refer to more than these universal truths, these timeless principles we enshrine in our Marine Corps Doctrine publications. When a Marine uses the term ‘doctrine’ he often does so in reference to techniques and procedures, things that are not ‘doctrine.’  In the case of discussing techniques and procedures a Marine would be better served in using the term ‘convention.’

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jobs for Marines

For good or bad, the Marine Corps is downsizing. From 202K down to 185K is certain, and current rumors are swirling of additional cuts to 175K.

This is a difficult job market for those with prior civilian job experience; for those young Marines-soldiers and others the current unemployment rate exceeds 30% - that's an embarrassing rejection of those who served their country.

But maybe it's not as bad as reported - Marines, according to William Golden, CEO of, are the preferred branch of service for corporate America, who clearly recognizes and needs those unique Marine skills of leadership, assertiveness, and accomplishing the mission.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Middleweight Force? Relevant Force?

Today, I sat in on a discussion about the Marine Corps' future and how to define that role. (Disclaimer: I had exactly zero role in that discussion, but the thoughts represented here are my own as spurred by the topics they discussed.  I'm not representing anyone else's views here).  

While Marines feel that the Marine Corps is relevant, I don't believe there is agreement on how to define that relevancy.  A lot of the debate revolves around buzz phrases and what those buzz phrases really mean:  middleweight force, expeditionary force in readiness, nation's 911 force, forward deployed crisis response, amphibiosity/expeditionary, applicable across the ROMO (range of military operations), working in a ROMO sweet spot of crisis response, interoperability (with special operations, with coalition partners), etc.  I think that there is a sense that we need to fit the Marine Corps back into a box, and that box is defined roughly by amphibious lift capacity in terms of weight, cube, etc.  This box will also be defined by what the Corps sees as its relevant role in what it can deliver to the nation in the way of capability.  I have what is likely a contrarian view of this.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fixing Intel and Marine Corps Intelligence

In early 2010, General Flynn, the senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan released "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan". At the time, I was the intelligence officer of 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, which was preparing for Operation Moshtarak, the clear-hold-build of Marjah, Afghanistan. I was given a copy and read it with great interest, finding myself agreeing with many of the points the article made. However, since then I’ve read the article several more times and must say I like it less and less with each reading. The article has become so ubiquitous that it is the "go to" reference in articles about Counterinsurgency (COIN) and intelligence. This is unfortunate, as the article is deeply flawed and in reality will do little to "fix" intelligence.

Three things about the article stand out to me; the first is that it advocates a population-centric focus to intelligence operations. While this hardly seems like cause for concern, it is that if we only spend more time on the population vice the enemy that we will be able to connect the dots and figure out the insurgency. This is an unproven idea that does not fully embrace exactly what intelligence does, which brings me to my second issue – that intelligence serves its master – the commander. If the commander and his guidance are unclear, the intelligence will be unclear as well. Finally, the major changes identified in the article have long been identified – in fact, the Marine Corps identified these issues nearly two decades ago, which leads me to believe intelligence education outside of the MOS is sorely lacking.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Foreign Policy For Asia; "Soft Power" Gets It Done

America finds itself in a different world today.

We possess an Army and Air Force of unquestionable conventional superiority that found itself stymied by Talibs in sandals. We’ve got the largest economy in the world, but are becoming hobbled by servicing the world’s largest outstanding debt. We complain that China is one of our largest creditors, yet their purchases of our debt are funded by our insatiable purchases of Chinese goods – which also enables them to expand their military at breakneck speeds. Allies like Japan, S. Korea, and India look askance at the superficiality and dearth of foreign policy consideration in the current American primaries and wonder if we can be trusted to remain a viable partner. Pax Americana seems to be unraveling daily.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Security Cooperation - Understanding Our Partners

Lebanese soldiers conduct marksmanship drills under the
watch of U.S. Marines during a security cooperation event.
Security cooperation is much in vogue as we transition from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In security cooperation, we seek to both prevent conflict by helping to build capable and responsible militaries, while also building partners' capacity to take up the fight with us or for us if needed. This is all well and good if we maintain attainable expectations, but when we imagine that we can take our partners places they won't go, this leads to frustrations on both sides and vast misspent resources on our side.