Monday, December 17, 2012

“The Mini-Arnie”

By LtCol Walter F. McTernan III, USMC (Ret.)

After I retired from active duty I went to work for our Uncle Sam in a civilian capacity. My clothing changed, but my duties – not so much. One of my main assignments was to serve as a liaison officer (LnO) between “OGA” and deployed commands in the Balkans and Southwest Asia. Most of those great experiences were with largely U.S. Army commands. In the Balkans on multiple tours I served with IFOR, SFOR and KFOR (which had me often asking why for?). As the main thing I miss about the Marine Corps is being around Marines, serving with the relatively few Marines in those joint-combined commands was a truly great experience which I will always treasure! One of the most memorable Marines I served with in Bosnia was a young man and a great, representative U.S. Marine Corps non-commissioned officer who by his very presence added to the laurels of our Corps among his Army friends, colleagues and comrades. His name is Rob Townley. At the time we first met Rob was a Corporal of Marines.

Unknown to many is the point of fact that military retirees are still officially members of their parent services, but on the “Retired List.” The phrase “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” is a bona fide truism! This largely unknown and ignored personnel fact rarely matters to me, but has on occasion been of benefit to a young, junior active duty Marine whom I have been able to officially assist in some small way in battling the bureaucracy. This was one such time.

Then-Corporal Townley was a PMOS 26XX “SigInt” Marine who was at HQ, IFOR as a member of a national level support group. He was the sole acdu Marine I knew at Camp Eagle, Tuzla, Bosnia at that time. Rob was perhaps one of the shorter Marines in physical stature that I have known, but he was a giant of a man nonetheless. He had the physique of a wrestler or weight lifter and exuded an aura of supreme self-confidence at all times. Cowed by seniority he was not; thoroughly professional and respectful he always was. In terms of military presence, he frankly put his Army NCO and SNCO counterparts to shame. He strutted around like a mini-Arnold Schwarzenegger or like a samurai among peasants in a rice paddy. He was supremely self-confident and was/is an all-around great guy too. It was quite obvious to me that his Army colleagues were not only jealous of him, but intimidated by him as well, though of course they would have been loath to admit it. So much so that the Sergeants First Class (SFC/E-7) in the J-2 Section looked for ways to put Rob “in his place”. That was no easy chore, let me tell you.

One day Rob approached me asking for some advice. By Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), Cpl Townley was armed with a M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife. Rob had been issued the latest style Kabar (a very cool weapon, I must admit). The Army NCO’s up to SFC/E-7 were, per TO&E, armed with the M-16A1 service rifle and bayonet. It obviously bothered them that a “mere” corporal/E-4 got to wear a pistol and Kabar while they, in their exalted seniority, had to carry an M-16 and bayonet, just like the junior soldiers-snuffies. Clearly they were jealous of this. And so they were messing with the Marine corporal, using this arming issue as their excuse to engage in “the seventh troop leading step” – harassment. Rob inquired informally, young Marine to old, how he might handle the situation.

So I did something I rarely ever did; I put on my “lieutenant colonel” cover and sent a letter to the J-2, an Army MI LTC friend of mine and a good guy, explaining that per Marine Corps policy, a Marine is to be armed for duty IAW the TO&E. That one each Corporal Rob Townley, USMC, was to be armed with an M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife, and that the opinions and feelings of the other NCO’s and SNCO’s were irrelevant. Marine Corps policy trumped Army NCO egos. End of subject; and so it was. So Rob continued the march with his pistol and ninja-looking Kabar (which on Rob looked more like a machete). He continued to rule the roost in J-2 like the “cock o’ the walk” and by his sheer force of personality and commanding military presence made Marines stand tall in the eyes of their countrymen in other uniforms.

I next saw Rob at Fallujah in 2007, when I had the extreme honor to again serve with Marines in the field, this time as an OGA LnO to II MEF of MNF-West. By then Rob had risen through the ranks to Staff Sergeant of Marines, and switched his Primary MOS to 0211 (Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence) – the only Marine I ever knew who cross-decked from OccFld 26 (SigInt) to 0211. Rob was a great Marine and I was delighted to have the opportunity to serve with him once again. I wish him well, wherever he is.

MCLL: Don’t mess with Marine NCO’s!

Semper Fi!

Monday, December 10, 2012

“A Class Act”

By Lieutenant Colonel Walter F. McTernan III, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Holiday greetings from Kabul. I just started a fantastic new job heading an instructor team developing and teaching Intelligence courses to Afghan National Army Special Forces. One of my teammates is a crusty old Army Ranger-Special Forces first sergeant from Puerto Rico, home to so many great American fighting men. Working with “don Angel” has reminded me of a Marine SNCO from Puerto Rico whom I was blessed to serve with many years ago, a Marine who both personally and professionally was a real class act!

My company command opportunity occurred late in my captaincy. I was privileged to have as my company first sergeant then-First Sergeant Blas “Pete” Pedrero, USMC. Pete was a suave, sophisticated, urbane multi-talented Marine who was the best all-around natural athlete I ever knew in the Corps. I used to tease him by saying that he was in the Marine Corps on an athletic scholarship. He was a real people-person and I greatly admired him. In fact I still do. Eventually we each moved up and onwards in our careers after our service together. I lat moved to OccField 02 and PCS’d back to Washington, D.C. and Pete made Sergeant Major of Marines and PCA’d down to San Diego from Camp Pendleton.

In the ‘70’s I had had a unique tour as a military advisor in Thailand. While serving with JUSMAGTHAI I was befriended by a retired Sergeant Major of Marines named Bill Crabbe. SgtMaj Crabbe was a three war Marine (WW-II, Korea and RVN) who retired out of the Corps in 1969 and settled in Thailand. He married a Thai lady whose cousin was a Thai Marine I worked with. I learned a lot through my friendship with SgtMaj. Crabbe, with whom I stayed in touch after departing country at end-of-tour.

Several years later I received a letter from SgtMaj Crabbe informing me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and had to return to the U.S. for treatment at USNH Balboa in San Diego. He had not been back to CONUS since his last tour in ‘Nam, out of which he retired to nearby Thailand. He did not know anybody in ‘Dago, and he was clearly a bit concerned – and understandably so. So I got in touch with SgtMaj Pedrero to ask if he could assist SgtMaj Crabbe in any way. Pete told me not to worry about it, that he would look after SgtMaj Crabbe in fine Marine Corps fashion. And man, did he ever!

I learned the following later, after SgtMaj. Crabbe had lamentably passed away. When Bill’s flight arrived at Lindberg Field in San Diego, the aging, ailing sergeant major was greeted by SgtMaj Pedrero and a couple of young Marines, all resplendent in Dress Blues. They took SgtMaj Crabbe in a staff car to Balboa Hospital. There the group was greeted by the Marine SNCO Liaison Officer to the naval hospital. SgtMaj. Crabbe received the best of care possible medically and VIP treatment with lots of TLC, as rated by a three war Marine. Unfortunately, the ugly side of nature did what neither the Japanese, the North Koreans, The ChiCom’s, the Viet Cong nor the NVA could ever do – it took the life of a brave American and a great Marine. But until the day he died there, Marines in Blues came to visit SgtMaj. Crabbe in the hospital every single day, and the old sergeant major got to spend his final days among his younger brethren, importing the lore of the Corps via war stories and Corps stories. Not a bad way to go under the circumstances. This classic example of “The Marines take care of their own” was due to the good offices of SgtMaj. Pedrero – a class act if ever I knew one in our Corps. May God rest SgtMaj. Bill Crabbe, USMC (Ret.) and bless SgtMaj. Pete Pedrero, USMC (Ret.)

Semper Fidelis!

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Pearl Harbor Declassified"

Normally I review books and write for Leatherneck and Gazette, but today I veer slightly of my lane; our friends at the Military Channel asked if I'd review a Pearl Harbor special they're airing tonight

and I'd like to share my thoughts with you:

Today is the 71st anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack at Pearl Harbor, and Military Channel is commemorating it with a most extraordinary special “Pearl Harbor Declassified.” (10pm E/P)

While there have been many Pearl Harbor documentaries produced over the years, this one is different in both tone and imagery. Written and produced by Creative Differences Erik Nelson for Military Channel, “Pearl Harbor Declassified” approaches the fight on a forensic-history basis in which he’s used state-of-the-art image-stabilized technology to enhance the original black & white footage into HD – with stunning results.

This is Nelson’s 6th Pearl Harbor-related film, a topic he approaches scientifically. As the producer of the popular “Unsolved History” series, Nelson uses both art and technology to illustrate what actually occurred, making “Pearl Harbor Declassified” a most interesting documentary.

While the attack lasted close to two hours, Nelson demonstrates how most of the damage was done in the first fifteen minutes. Coupling his computer-generated imagery with rare Japanese aerial footage of their attack, Nelson shows how the Japanese attacked in waves, with torpedo bombers launching the dreadfully effective “Long Lance” torpedoes, while minutes later high-altitude bombers were dropping battleship-killing 1,750 lb modified 16” naval shells from 10,000’. His sand table-style graphics bring the viewers into the fight as they follow the initial waves of Japanese planes over Wheeler and Hickam Fields in order to first destroy the expected American fighter defense, and then attacking Battleship Row.

“Pearl Harbor Declassified’s” graphics shows the effects of the multiple torpedo hits on the outbound-moored battleships, with the USS Oklahoma slammed by nine-to-eleven before she capsized. Especially poignant are the final minutes on board the doomed ships; with Nelson enhancing the old Japanese imagery the viewer sees the still-lit movie screen used the night before on the USS Vestal, as well as the canvas awnings erected on the USS Arizona for the Sunday morning church services never held.

Most painful is the footage shot during the attack by Army Doctor Eric Haakenson. As fate and history would have it, Haakenson was filming the USS Arizona from the close-by anchored USS Solace as a single 1,750 lb armor-piercing bomb penetrated deck and exploded in her forward magazine. As the Arizona disintegrates in a huge fireball, the newly digitized and HD-upgraded footage shows the force of the blast that blew her 30’out of the water.

Just prior Haakenson filmed the Japanese air armada as it flew overhead, potentially taping the bombing run that destroyed the proud ship. “Pearl Harbor Declassified” reveals the force of the explosion caused a 10’ tidal wave to slam into Ford Island, creating even more damage as the aviation gas storage tanks caught fire and began to burn.

By focusing on the initial 15 minutes of the attack, “Pearl Harbor Declassified” shows the ferocity and effectiveness of the attack in a detail never before revealed. While the fight continued with the arrival of a second wave of Japanese planes, it was within the first minutes the majority of the ships were sunk and sailors and Marines killed.

Powerful stuff, and well worth watching; I think you'll agree.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Do We Need Amphibious Capabilities? At What Cost?

 Lt Col Frank Hoffman USMCR (Ret) and Col Pat Garrett USMC (Ret)

These are valid questions of prime importance.  The National Security Strategy is less specific on the “who” or “where” but it does mention that challenge of access in the 21st century and it does define of role of global leadership and global interests that need to be secured.  

The supporting defense strategy in the Quadrennial Defense Review and the more recent strategic guidance of February 2012 are all consistent about the impact of regional powers acquiring capabilities that appear to be designed to target U.S. naval and aerospace assets and their supporting bases with greater precision and lethality.  The implications of such anti-access strategies were not lost on the Pentagon, as they undercut our conventional deterrence and our ability to reassure allies and appear to limit our ability to project power.  As noted in the last Quadrennial Defense Report in 2010, “In the absence of dominant U.S. power projection capabilities, the integrity of U.S. alliances and security partnerships could be called into question, reducing U.S. security and influence and increasing the possibility of conflict.”

The last QDR stressed the importance of overcoming the anti-access challenges.  In fact, in terms of priority it was listed as the fourth major mission area with the clear objective of being able to “Deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments.”  But while the priority of the mission may be clear, the programmatic solutions needed to ensure it can be accomplished have not yet taken form.

Likewise, the Joint warfighting community also addressed the importance of the problem in their assessment of the future in the last Joint Operating Environment.  That forecast concluded “the United States may not have uncontested access to bases in the immediate area from which it can project military power…. The battle for access may prove not only the most important, but the most difficult.” 

Most recently, this difficulty has been highlighted by Defense Policy Board member Dr. Andrew Krepinevich.  In his latest Foreign Affairs article, he stresses the need for the United States to focus its limited investment options on assuring access.  Much of this assessment is based on perceived impact of the growing anti-access threat in general and the diffusion of precision missile architectures in particular.  A future campaign against an adversary armed with precision-guided missiles, rockets, and mortars may more closely resemble the Normandy invasion and Iwo Jima than the relatively unopposed attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan.  We can hope that some form of secure access is granted by a host country, but that’s only part of a solution, and in any case, “hope” should NOT form the basis for U.S. strategy.  We should be generating real options, not wishing away risk.

We need to rethink the challenge of modern amphibious warfare and reassess the benefits that accrue to amphibiously agile states.  History, as Liddell Hart once intoned, suggests that this strategic capability has enormous strategic utility if not outright necessity.  DoD’s leadership has made it clear that the Nation faces serious future challenges in ensuring that U.S. security interests can be met far from its shores.  The Pentagon realizes that potential adversaries can easily acquire new systems or enhance legacy systems and platforms to radically enhance their combat power.  As noted in the QDR, we must expect that these capabilities will increasingly be used to deny us access to regions where our interests are threatened. 

We might be able to purchase or negotiate intermediate basing access in overseas theaters, and they may even be robust or mature enough to support major U.S. operations.  But ultimately, this holds U.S. interests hostage to the whims or internal political dynamics of third party states that may not consistently share our interests.  Ultimately, without the ability to project decisive combat forces into an area where its national interests are at stake, and sustain them there, the United States will not have an independent security strategy.

Does this mandate putting forces at risk in a contested landing?  This is a perfectly logical question.  Given the long-term fiscal pressures facing the Nation, U.S. taxpayers should not be expected to support missions and capabilities that do not have clear and compelling relevance to projected U.S. security needs.   Certainly, the Marines do not want to retain such a taxing mission merely for tradition’s sake.  The logic of our choices about strategic capabilities needs to get past the surface level.  We must explore the true historical record and look clear-eyed at the strategic implications of the decisions to be made.  Projecting combat power across a contested shore is not cheap, in treasure or potential human cost, but neither is nuclear war.  If capability investment is guided solely by the metric of low probability/high cost, we could just as easily discard Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, as neither of them has been used in anger for the past seven decades.  Yet the Nation is prepared to invest more than $100 billion to recapitalize a ballistic missile submarine fleet, a force which has a far narrower range of strategic and operational utility than our amphibious forces.   

Eliminating the modernization of our “boomers” would make a large dent in the Pentagon’s projected budget crunch.  But those capabilities are to be retained because they are presumed to have a strategic effect on the behavior of states and contribute to deterrence.  History is equally compelling in supporting this same argument with respect to our amphibious forces.  In addition to deterring bad behavior from potential aggressors, amphibious power projection capabilities reassure allies and would be partners, underwrite stability, and provide key options across the entire spectrum of crisis response challenges, from major wars to humanitarian and disaster relief. 
As the Under Secretary of the Navy so cogently noted in the Marine Corps Gazette in 2010:
…the historical evidence of strategic advantage that accrues to maritime powers with amphibious capabilities is significant across the full range of military operations.   Moreover, the strategic/political costs of allowing adversaries to prevent access or to be perceived as having created ‘no go’ areas for U.S. forces are high and unacceptable.

In the simplest terms, an amphibious forcible entry capability assures access.  We can hope that allies of long standing or other foreign governments will provide overflight rights or port and airfield access.  Yet as we have seen in recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are inevitable political dynamics at work that can constrain or completely eliminate access to countries and facilities when they are most needed.  

Some might contend that the United States need not risk its ground forces in contested zones, and that we should in the future rely on our extraordinary ISR and precision strike capability.  This would narrow America’s power projection options to “Stand Off Warfare.”  Some have alleged that with such powerful and precise strikes we can offset investments in littoral maneuver, and preclude the need to place our young men and women at risk in the “contested zones” of the world’s increasingly urbanized littorals.  True, laboratory and field testing suggests that precision strike can shatter the adversary’s networks and fielded forces with multiple kinds of kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, but these have yet to be proven as decisive in the absence of a combined arms approach.  Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya all bear witness to the tremendous impact of air-delivered attacks, but they also demonstrate the need for complementary capabilities.  Power projection cannot be just precision strike unless the mission is limited to punitive objectives and entirely short term (something we have had historically little true control over).  Enduring, decisive results emerge only from a combined arms approach that creates continuous operational and strategic dilemmas for our adversaries.  

Our amphibious capabilities provide the United States with a distinctly asymmetric and disruptive option all of its own.  Without such capabilities, no global power can exert its influence nor can its military leadership assure their policy masters that it can effectively gain access to and act promptly at some flashpoint where security interests are at risk.  If we allow ourselves to reach the point where we have to concede “no go” zones to other regional powers, that will be the day this country will have to admit that it is no longer a superpower, and is neither interested in nor capable of defending its allies and friends.

1.  Gates, QDR, p. 16.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sequestration - Not Necessarily the End of the World

With the election behind us, let’s strip the politics out of the sequestration debate and look at facts surrounding this idea of reducing the defense budget.
  •  If implemented, the budget will be reduced annually from 2013 to 2023, not all at once.
  •  Assuming the cuts are fully implemented, sequestration only reduces defense spending to 2006 levels – which was the highest defense budget in the history of the world…until the defense budgets of 2007…2008…2009…2010…

In short; sufficient money is available for a robust military- the question lurking under sesquestration is: what will it realistically cost to defend America in the upcoming generation?

“National Security” is a broad term. Defending America can include attacking Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11 or hauling our citizens out of danger as the 24th MEU did in 4 days during July 2006 when they pulled 17,000 Americans out of Lebanon - or their standing off the Israeli coast two weeks ago in case Americans needed to be evacuated. It also includes the long-term positive effects of providing humanitarian and disaster relief in areas ranging from Haiti to Japan to Staten Island.

The electoral sniping over defense spending ignored the facts that both the Navy and Air Force quietly maintain a huge global superiority with the Navy’s battle tonnage exceeding the battle tonnage of the next 13 countries combined, while the Air Force has a similar advantage. Worth noting is that the last eleven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that unlimited firepower could not quell an low-tech insurgency; it took a Marine-led COIN strategy of boots-on-the-ground engagement that turned both Anbar and Helmand Provinces.

Lost in the rush to prove one’s patriotism by increasing the defense budget is that the Marines and Army have been ordered to reduce troop strength by 20,000 & 80,000 respectively by 2014; most of those discharged will be their experienced combat veterans – leaving America’s national defense at the mercy of inoperable hi-tech weapons systems years behind schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.

To Defend Against…??
Short Term: Iran
Longer Term: China
Wild-card Opponent: the next Bin Laden

Iran: They are proud of their heritage and will fight if attacked; in the 10-year war with Iraq they viewed the invasion by Saddam as a war of survival, and despite Saddam’s use of poison gas they fought the Iraqi’s to a stand-still. Sending troops into Iran will make 3rd Bn, 5th Marines fight in Sangin look easy, while bombing them from afar will turn the world against us.

They’re trying to develop nuclear bombs, but equally important is their homegrown defense industry developing weapons to be used regionally. They modified the Marine-Navy LCAC and made it a high-speed offensive weapon capable to launching missiles. Iran can temporarily block the Straits of Hormuz and halt oil shipments and the likelihood is that the Navy will lose some expensive ships re-opening it.

China: They’re funding the world’s 2nd largest defense budget in order to dominate the Asian seas. Energy-short China is embroiled in disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan over control of South China Sea and East China Sea islands whose waters are rich in natural gas.

They’re in the midst of a huge naval build-up targeted to projecting power and influence into Asian waters; two weeks ago outgoing President Hu made a pointed reference to strengthening China's naval forces, protecting maritime interests and the need to "win local war”- which is how they view the South China Sea.

The Navy needing a rail gun to shell Chinese ships from beyond the horizon is both a waste of money and a mis-guided strategy. However the effectiveness of the Marine Rotational Forces-Darwin, coupled with 31st MEU’s reputation in the Pacific Rim for HA-DR and multi-lateral exercises such as Cobra Gold, should make the planners take a very hard look at the dubious effectiveness of the rail gun and such overbudget programs as the Littoral Combat Ship and instead concentrate on bringing the Gator Navy back to its required strength.

The next Bin Laden: From Yemen? Somalia? Nigeria? The population in the developing countries is growing exponentially. In many of them the populace is over-educated, under-employed, and led by non-traditional sorts ranging from Hezbollah-like religious zealots to warlords. As Gen Amos said last year “There will be places where clean, potable water will be as valuable as a gallon of fuel. I believe the world will be full of these nasty, difficult, unclear conflicts that are energized by poverty, by stateless borders and by the proliferation of state-like weapons in the hands of organizations that are not states. These places will be the Marine Corps’ backyard for the next two decades.”

He's correct, and hi-tech drones operated from Nellis AFB aren't effective; it's Marines and sailor training local security forces, conducting med-caps, or helping open schools who are.

Sesquestration cuts the defense budget across the board; it’s the Pentagon who plans the specific strategies and procures the equipment necessary. While perhaps a harsh medicine, finite budgets provide the opportunity to plan for the wars that will likely occur instead of the wars they hope will occur.

The Navy and Chinese won’t be fighting a 2015 Battle of Midway so the Navy needs ships capable of effectively projecting presence into small, shallow Asian ports. The Air Force won’t be carpet-bombing Russia, instead they need to plan how to airlift Marines, Soldiers, and HA-DR supplies quickly into a hot zone.

Cutting 10% of the Marine and Army’s combat veterans might address costs tomorrow, but if the money is then spent on more hi-tech programs that take decades to perfect, how has national security been improved if the recent call to evacuate American citizens from Israel had been necessary and the ships and Marines were unavailable to respond?

Unlimited funding doesn’t build a military capable of defending the United States – but careful planning and honest threat assessment does

Real Wars, Real Capabilities

Yesterday, a few people alerted me to this Time Battleland blog post, USMC: Under-utilized, Superfluous Military Capability, by retired US Army Colonel Douglas A. Macgregor. There’s not much to say, it’s an example of another Army take on Marine forces that simultaneously misunderstands both the Marine Corps and the Army.

Macgregor starts out with an old mistake: he assumes away an enemy capability. Avoiding this pitfall is one of the first things future military planners are taught at resident schools, like, say, the US Army Command and General Staff college, for example. Macgregor assumes that any enemy will not defend a beach because they will be blown up by US Navy and Air Forces, forgetting perhaps that well after the advent of aircraft and naval surface fires capable opponents could, and did, establish robust shore defenses.

His evidence is a strange list of complaints:

First, like the Marines ashore, Army airmobile and airborne forces are “soft targets,” extremely vulnerable to long-range air and missile attack, as well as heavy weapons in the form of self-propelled artillery, mortars and auto-cannon.
I’m not sure if Macgregor realizes this, but that description applies to all ground forces. An M1A1 Main Battle Tank can take a few standard artillery or mortar rounds. But any advanced anti-armor indirect fire is just as lethal to an Abrams as it is to an infantryman, the tank is just easier to find. Citing susceptibility to indirect fire as the definition of a “soft target” applies equally to any ground force. It’s not called the “King of Battle” for nothing.

Macgregor gets a few things right. Namely, that future enemies will shy away from defending beaches and instead focus on counterattacking the beachhead. This is certainly right, but it’s also, contra-Macgregor, exactly what current Marine doctrine expects the enemy to do. We just do not plan on attacking defended beaches anymore, we plan on bypassing them and attacking forces inland before they can counterattack. The Marine Corps figured this out in the 1980’s and has planned accordingly since.

What Macgregor is actually arguing against, poorly, is light infantry; he just uses Marine and Army Airborne forces as marionettes in an attempt to distract the reader from his thesis. This is a mind-boggling argument after eleven years of light infantry combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if he does dismiss those wars. It does not change the fact that they were fought and any future war will have a stability operations component.  One wonders if Macgregor wishes to take armored divisions into sandbrick hamlets on cordon and knock operations during Phase IV operations since they are apparently the only “hard targets” our ground forces employ. Even in conventional operations, light infantry provides vital reconnaissance and screening functions to heavy armored forces, as per both Army and Marine doctrine.

The article also betrays a profound ignorance of the joint force. All of the so-called weaknesses Macgregor points out are directed at a Marine infantry or Airborne unit alone as if they will never be supported by joint assets.. His statement that “most of today’s Marine force consists of airmobile light infantry” is just factually incorrect. Subjected to Macgregor’s doomsday scenario, any lone combat unit would be hard-pressed to function. Of course, that’s why neither the Marine Corps nor the Army ever employs units as such. A Marine battalion ashore takes with it artillery, armor, and aviation units in direct support and under a single commander. It’s also supported by naval fire support and joint air assets. The use of a variety of forms of combat power is known as combined arms. Check out this U.S. Army Command and General Staff thesis for a good explanation of combined arms. The reality is that while the Marine Corps may be built around light infantry, it never operates with light infantry alone. Macgregor claims that “Marines cannot confront or defeat armored forces or heavy weapons in the hands of capable opponents.” This might be true if Marines didn’t, you know, bring armored forces and heavy weapons of its own as they always do. In wars against capable opponents, such as those Macgregor is focused on, Marine and Airborne forces will not operate independently, but in support of those heavy armored forces that Macgregor fantasizes can gain access and win the war by themselves.

Macgregor’s myopic focus on a conventional war with a peer competitor causes him to ignore the other functions that the US military provides to the nation like humanitarian aid/disaster relief. Marine units afloat are specifically trained to conduct HA/DR on short notice and are normally the first responders on the scene. If hurricanes and earthquakes ever begin to employ ballistic missiles and self-propelled artillery pieces, Macgregor may have a case that a MEU is anachronistic. Until then, the Marine Corps will remain the best placed units to provide aid to disaster victims.

This analysis might pass for compelling in the feverish fantasy of a young child playing with GI Joe figures on his parents’ living room floor, but that’s the only scenario where a commander of troops would employ forces in the simplistic manner Macgregor argues against. Even math is against Macgregor. I’ve cited this before, but combatant commander requests for amphibious forces are perennially unfulfilled. Less than half of these requests can be met with the current force. That’s not the definition of a superfluous capability, but an overstretched one. While it’s true that Macgregor’s Tarawa strawman is unlikely to occur anytime soon, his “future war with real armies, air forces, air defenses, and naval power” will still be fought, in part, by real Marines and real Airborne units. Not by Macgregor’s toys.