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.
A quick review of history shows that the Marine division has long been on the way out for a long time. The First and Third Marine Divisions last fought as divisions in Vietnam. Third MARDIV left in 1969 (forty three years ago) and First MARDIV left in 1971 (forty one years ago.) The last time Second MARDIV fought as a division was during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, a full sixty seven years ago. If we plan to fight as MEFs in the future, we don’t need a division staff.

Unlike divisions, the regiments have and continue to deploy as regiments. However, the Marine Corps is more focused on deploying regiments as either MEBs (Marine Expeditionary Brigades) or RCTs (Regimental Combat Teams). The trend is clear: Marines deploy as a combined arms team, as Marine Air Ground Task Forces. MAGTFs are more flexible, more capable, and better suited to respond all along the range of military operations. Marines have a combined arms mindset, are comfortable with task organizations, and are used to the MAGTF concept. Regiments and divisions are no longer a good fit for the Marine Corps or how we operate. To trim some fat, the functions handled by the regimental staff can be taken over by the MEB staff.  

I’ll take it one step further than saying regiments and divisions are unnecessary. They’re actually detrimental. Not just in terms of wasted manpower and resources, but in the confusion utilizing two different forms of organization creates. Every Marine has heard the phrase, “We train like we fight,” ad nauseum. Thing is though, we don’t. The only time Marine units train as part of a MAGTF is during pre-deployment training just prior to a MEU deployment. All other fleet training is conducted under a system that we stopped using in combat operations decades ago. We train like we used to fight. The most insidious effect of this state of affairs is the stovepiping of combat arms units. (I wrote a little about this issue in the September 2010 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.) At Camp Lejeune, 10th Marine Regiment sticks to N Street, the infantry regiments keep to their regimental areas, and the air wing is not even on the same base. We deploy Marine units as combined-arms task forces under the MAGTF concept, but we only train that way a portion of the time. We preach training like we fight, but we flat out do not practice it.

What about the company level? In recent years, two company-level concepts have emerged: Enhanced Company Operations (EBO) and Enhanced Battery Operations (or Split Battery Operations). In short, the Marine Corps has found the legacy company organization unable to cope with the realities of modern combat. In an “enhanced” company, the Company Level Intelligence Cell (CLIC) and the Company Level Operations Cell  (CLOC) are added to deal with the increased need for intelligence and operational coordination at the company level. On the artillery side, the combination of technological advancements and large battle spaces have caused artillery batteries to disperse down to sections (an artillery section consists of two guns) that operate independently of each other but retain the ability to coordinate. The traditional battery Table of Organization is insufficient to man six guns in dispersed positions 24/7. (I wrote a little about this in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of the Fires Bulletin.) Traditional-minded Marines will hope that these two concepts are simply temporary expedients, but we should know better by now. It’s the new normal.

The trend should be clear by this point: The old ways of organization are no longer viable for the Marine Corps. Divisions and regiments are vestigial and the company is not standing up to 21st Century warfare and thus must change. Fortunately, we have a fully tested, developed, and existing concept for organization: the MAGTF. Once the five planned standing MEB staffs are stood up, we’ll be one step closer to this truly embracing the concept.

Finally, there is another major benefit to fully embracing the MAGTF organization. Both General Conway and General Amos have voiced concerns about the Marine Corps being viewed as a second land army. There is probably no better way to forestall this than to stop looking like a second land army. If we’re going to be a middle weight force, we shouldn’t do things exactly like SOF does and we shouldn’t do things like the Army does. We should be, well, in the middle.

There are some challenges in this plan. First and foremost is the Congressional mandate to maintain four Marine Divisions and four Marine Air Wings (three active and one reserve.) Congressional and Marine leaders will need to come to an understanding and the law may need to be changed to reflect a move to division-sized units (MEFs) that are not called divisions. (Or, just change the name of the MEF to a Marine Expeditionary Division. Words mean things, but they are just words.) Second, removing the vestigial division and regimental staffs will have two effects. All of the existing functions performed in garrison by these staffs will need to be taken over by the MEBs and potentially a small, standing MEF staff. Additionally, there will be less opportunity for senior officers to get command “checks in the box” for promotion. Frankly though, if our personnel policies are driving our organization rather than our organization driving our personnel properties, we’ve got far larger problems to worry about.

Reorganizing the Marine Corps in order to fully, finally, and truly embrace the MAGTF concept is a gargantuan challenge. It’s understandable that we have yet to make this step considering the hurdles involved. It makes sense for a large organization to hold off on drastic reorganization until outside stimuli forces evolution. The combination of falling budgets, expanding requirements like deployments to Australia, and new strategic guidance mandating continued focus on irregular warfare all points the Marine Corps in one direction. There’s no time like the present. 


  1. Mr. Friedman,

    Sir, you said this: At Camp Lejeune, 10th Marine Regiment sticks to N Street, the infantry regiments keep to their regimental areas, and the air wing is not even on the same base. We deploy Marine units as combined-arms task forces under the MAGTF concept, but we only train that way a portion of the time. We preach training like we fight, but we flat out do not practice it.

    The fact is that 29 Palms is one of the best and only places to get the realistic training necessary to synthesize all the various elements of the MAGTF. If you tried this at Camp Lejeune, in any way other than a 'simple' beach landing, you'd increase the training-isms to such an unbearable extent that the training would come next to useless. The only benefit would be on the planning side, and not on the implementation.

    We can only work with what we have.

    In order to integrate, you have to first be segregated. If the artillery doesn't know their job, we will fire long or short and kill a few grunts in training. If not that, at the very least artillery training will take a long pause to sort things out, will further injure its reputation, and decrease the training value of the combined arms exercise.

    The same goes for any supporting arm. Incompetence will breed distrust, and disuse. Integrated training is not the time to begin your technical training.

    This is all not to mention that you only examine east coast units.

  2. The Marine Corps should actually downsize, and focus more on highly skilled, small unit expeditionary warfare similar to SOF with a "get in - get out" mentality. Let the US Army occupy foreign countries. The Marine Corps should be used for shock troop style operations.

  3. That's a great point, Camp Lejeune is a dismal place to train. But there should at least be a dialog between units. A full on CAX will never happen at Camp Lejeune. However, if the units are talking, we can do some cross-training. It wouldn't take much for a few infantry guys to join the arty guys on the hill and call in some 155. There used to be set relationships between certain infantry and artillery units, but we've forgotten them. Camp Lejeune is just an example and I used it because I've been an East Coast guy my whole career. I'd love to hear if this is true on the West Coast or not.

    As for being more SOF like, I think we need to move more in that direction while being careful not to become too much like SOF. It's just as dangerous as being too close to Big Army.

  4. "...if our personnel policies are driving our organization rather than our organization driving our personnel properties, we’ve got far larger problems to worry about."

    Bam. Right there is why things won't change. Our personnel policies ARE driving our organization (3 year tours, officers needing "check in the box" billets at each rank to stay competitive, etc). Reorganizing/task organizing entire MEFs into smaller MAGTFs would be far easier than doing the stubby pencil work that will throw entire occupational fields and grade structures into disarray for years at a time.

  5. The Marine Corps is a matrixed organization. The divisions and wings are the subject matter experts, trainers, resource managers that allow the MAGTFs to focus on mission. Lessons learned from mission execution feed back through Quantico to the divisions and wings. Don't fix what can always be improved but definitely is not broken