The future called the Marine Corps. It refused.

Summary: The Marine Corps is trying to reform, again. After 9/11 they had an opportunity to become great but refused. Now they are on a dead-end path. As America’s institutions fall like dominoes, each will face a similar difficult choice. Their leaders’ choices will determine if who has a good future.  (This is an expansion and update of a post from 2013.)



The Marine Corps, like most of America’s institutions, is suffering from senescence – unable to adapt to a changing world. Here is a story of the Corps’ attempts to modernize. It is a typical story in 21st century America.

The US Marine Corps, like the Army, remains mired in first-generation (WWI era) personnel management and military operations. A group of junior officers wrote the Attritionist Letters, published anonymously in the Marine Corps Gazette, describing the horror of life in an organization devoted to obsolete methods. Also see Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps.

William Lind has long followed the USMC’s attempts to modernize its methods. He explains the Marine Corps’ strategic problem, which they hope to solve by becoming better than the US Army.

“Since sometime before Caesar was a lance corporal, the United States Marine Corps’ greatest fear has been becoming “a second land army.” It has long believed that if the country perceived it had two armies, it would require one to go away, and that one would be the Marine Corps.”

In this article with Daniel R Grazier (Captain, USMC) at the Marine Corps Gazette, he describes one of the Corps’ attempts to modernize.

“In the early 1990s, the United States Marine Corps officially adopted maneuver warfare, also known as Third Generation War, as doctrine, in a movement led by then-Commandant Gen Alfred M. Gray. The Corps issued a set of excellent doctrinal manuals …. With Gen Gray’s retirement, that is where the effort largely stopped. …

“Attempts to move forward since that time, such as the Jaeger air experiments sponsored by Gen Charles C. Krulak when he was Commandant, began with promise, but received no long-term support. {E.g., see this article.} …

“I recently encountered a horrifying example of {this failure} at the Marine Corps Command & Staff School at Quantico. At the end of this academic year {2004}, the Command & Staff faculty simply got rid of 250 copies of Martin van Creveld’s superb book, Fighting Power. This book, which lays out the fundamental difference between the Second Generation U.S. Army in World War II and the Third Generation Wehrmacht, is one of the seven books of “the canon,” the readings that take you from the First Generation into the Fourth. It should be required reading for every Marine Corps and Army officer.

“When I asked someone associated with Command & Staff how such a thing could be done, he replied that the faculty has decided it “doesn’t like” van Creveld. This is similar to a band of Hottentots deciding they “don’t like” Queen Victoria. Martin van Creveld is perhaps the most perceptive military historian now writing. But in the end, the books went; future generations of students at Command & Staff won’t have them.”

Now the Marines are trying again: “New Marine Corps Operating Concept Emphasizes Maneuver Warfare” in the US Naval Institute News, September 2016. Third times the charm! In his June 16 column, Lind gives the good news.

“The indications that the new Marine Corps Commandant intends to get serious about maneuver warfare are proliferating.  Serious plans for genuinely free play training are being made. The latest issue of the Marine Corps Gazette is mostly devoted to the history of the maneuver warfare movement that culminated with the Corps formally adopting the concept as doctrine under Commandant General Al Gray. Training and Education Command at Quantico is talking about maneuver warfare.”

The Marines are preparing to re-fight WWII. But the past 70 years shows that the US Army adequately deters conventional warfare by great powers and aspiring regional titans. A better USMC would be nice to have, but it is not essential. Meanwhile, America is fighting fourth-generation wars that require a new kind of elite soldiers.

A missed opportunity for the Marines

The Marines had an opportunity for greatness in the 21st century, as Lloyd Freeman describes in “Can the Marines Survive?” in Foreign Policy, March 2013. Freeman is a foreign service officer and retired Lt. Colonel in the USMC. He served two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

“Following the 9/11 attacks, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approached the Marine commandant and asked if the Marines could take on a special operations role within the Department of Defense.

“For the secretary, it seemed logical. The Marine Corps is designed to operate independently when necessary; it can sustain itself with a well-oiled logistics organization, and it even has its own air wings. At the time, most special operations forces resided in the Army and in Navy Special Warfare and there was an emerging shortage of operators. The Corps could have filled the gap in special forces that existed right after 9/11.”

Instead of taking this bold path to the future, the USMC continued its quest to become a second Army, putting their investment capital in projects such as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and the VTOL version of the F-35. The Marines canceled the EFV; the F-35 limps forward with costs skyrocketing and inferior performance (see “Marine F-35 Jump-Jet PR: Caveataxpayer Emptor“).

That those failed programs burnt much of the Marines R&D funding is less important for its future than their loss of the “elite ground forces” niche in the minds of the American public. The Special Operations Command accepted the challenge that the Marines declined. Now they make the headlines. This bumps the USMC decisively into the “second Army” niche. Their numbers have increased from 33 thousand before 9/11 to over 72 thousand now.

When budgets get cut, as they eventually will, the Marines will get cut hardest. Can the USMC recover from this? It will take more creativity and insight than USMC’s leadership has shown so far.

Destiny offered the Marines – and America – two choices.

After WWII, America led the creation of a new world order based on laws and the maintenance of order. It worked for fifty years. We were a hegemonic power unlike any the world has seen. It was the dawn of a new world

We faced a choice after 9/11. We could have pursued Al Qaeda for “Offenses against the Law of Nations” under Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution (details here). The world would have followed our lead. America would have stayed on course for a great future. Instead Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to implement his mad dreams of making America a neo-colonial power in the Middle East by invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then we have systematically dismantled the arms control treaties that have kept the world from burning for 55 years (details here and here).

It is probably too late for the Marines to reform. It might not yet be too late for America.

Two roads diverge

“The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost (1929)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This series about military reform

  1. It only takes the right leader” by the late David H. Hackworth (Colonel, US Army), July 2001.
  2. Fire the Generals!“ by Douglas A. Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired), April 2007.
  3. A Failure in Generalship“ by Paul Yingling (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army) in the Armed Forces Journal, May 2007.
  4. Powerful and insightful:The U.S. military’s marathon, 30-year, single-elimination, suck-up tournament” aka “How America selects its generals” – by John T. Reed (Captain, US Army, retired). He earned the Ranger tab and served in Vietnam.
  5. A Manœuvre Renaissance: Overcoming the attritionist tendency“ by Daniel R. Grazier (Captain, USMC) in the Marine Corps Gazette, June 2015.
  6. Overhauling The Officer Corps to build a military that can win wars – by David Evans (Lieutenant Colonel, USMC, retired).
  7. Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done – by Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired).
  8. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military – by G. I. Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired).
  9. How the US Army decayed. Does anyone want to fix it? – by Douglas Macgregor.
  10. About the US Army’s leadership problem – by Don Vandergriff.
  11. “The Core Competence of America’s generals.
  12. The Decline of Our Nation’s Generals” by Andrew J. Bacevich (Colonel, US Army, retired) at The American Conservative – “Once powerful titans of policy, today no one knows who they are. Given all the mistakes they’ve made, is it any wonder?”

Victory Is The Goal

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our generals, about our officer corps, about ways to reform the military, and especially these about our officer corps …

  1. Admiral Rickover’s gift to us: showing that we can reform America’s military.
  2. A path to desperately needed reform of the US military.

Essential reading for those who want to win, occasionally

See these books by Donald Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired). See his Wikipedia entry. See his posts, all well-worth reading by those who want to better understand our military and our wars.

The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs (2002).

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War (2006).

Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions (2008).

Coming in September: Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture.

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War
Available at Amazon.
Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow's Centurions
Available at Amazon.

40 thoughts on “The future called the Marine Corps. It refused.”

    1. Doug, your writings on military thought are as articulate and brilliant as any person’s writing I have seen. Please tell him your position,

    1. Charles Jannuzi

      However, I should also point out, now that the special ops forces have grown to 70,000 troops, they seem to have all sorts of mission drift problems too. Like trying to turn Seals into elite infantry squads or the POTUS’s hit squad executioners. I still can’t believe they let some of their assholes get away more or less with the murder of a Green Beret who was going to report some of them for misuse of funds. And then the war trophy convictions over incidents in Iraq. If there is 70,000 of the, how special are they anyway?

      1. Charles,

        “they seem to have all sorts of mission drift problems”

        DoD is broken in a score or more ways, so Special Ops was destined to become dysfunctional at some point – to some degree. But it will still shine so long as it works better than the other ground forces.

        “If there is 70,000 of the, how special are they anyway?”

        “Special” is a relative term, and 70k is a dot in DoD.

    2. It became a combined arms force in one service unlike the other three. I was a Marine and would hate to see it go but I do wonder what it’s purpose is at this point. We can’t blame the Corps for doing what the nation/politicians asked it to do. If the marines had filled the special ops shortage or gap there would be people asking why we have to SOCOMs.

      So the question becomes do we keep the Corps and use it for expeditionary stuff and keep a small regular army with a huge reserve and NG for unlikely big war? Or no Corps and the army and SEALs fill in for the Corps?

      Personally, unified command based on marine corps organization and operating concepts is the way to go. Nothing says you can’t have the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade consisting of 1/1, 2/5, and 3/7 placed under the Army – happened before. 1, 2, and 3 meb. Drop 3/82, 2/25, and 1/2ID. Three brigades trained for amphibious warfare and other needs for the navy. You join the brigade, do a MEU(SOC) train up or something similar to RASP and earn your EG&A.

      1. Gute,

        “We can’t blame the Corps for doing what the nation/politicians asked it to do.”

        Pretty much every single article asking for reform of the military gets the rebuttal “it’s not our fault!” I suppose there are more daft excuses, but I can’t think of one.

        “So the question becomes do we keep the Corps and use it for expeditionary stuff and keep a small regular army with a huge reserve and NG for unlikely big war”

        Who is asking that question? Not in this post. Did you even read the post? You give no evidence of it in your comments.

      2. Larry I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that you just enjoy messing with me. It’s not a daft excuse – they did what was asked by their government. If they hadn’t done it who was going to fill those tours in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Army? All we heard was how the Army was broken. Douglas Macgregor thinks Freeman is nuts. I’ll take Macgregor.

        Then what is your point of the article? Maneuver warfare? A need for a corps? It’s role? Economics? If you get a chance read William Owens maneuver Warfare Fraud article. Lind gets a boner over the Wehrmacht and the Kaiser. Personally, I’m an American and they lost 2x. New book called Normandy 44 goes into this German love affair. You and Lind may need the little blue pill.

      3. Gute,

        You give no evidence of having read the post, and I’m not going to spoon-feed it to you.

        As for Macgregor, I suggest you ask him about this post. I have. You will learn something from his answer.

  1. Larry-

    I’ve been trying to understand why having lived through what you just described has made me very good in helping companies with business reform and innovation.

    First, you have to have a conversation on “where will we play?” and “how will we win?” As you described yesterday, if you are ignorant of the game and don’t realize that you’re losing, then you can’t effectively tackle these questions for tomorrow.

    Next, you have to rethink your business model and product vision / strategy.

    Business model, while hard, is the easier of the two. It’s the path to profitability. It’s the stuff that Douglas Macgregor is talking about now.

    Changing Product Vision / Strategy is the harder part because it requires a change to the company’s DNA. For some examples, see tech companies trying to move to the cloud. Previously, they lived by selling hardware and software licenses. Now, they have to define and implement a new vision around software as a service in the cloud. It’s typically a bridge too far done too late. I think 3GW and 4GW fit into this category.


    1. Mike,

      Given your broad experience in both the military and civilian worlds, how would you assess the Marine’s odds of successfully reforming, to become a solid stand-alone player in the future military – when the budget cuts come?

      1. Larry-

        From an investment perspective, If the budget cuts come, I’d bet long on SOCOM and short (bet against) the Marine Corps / Army / Navy. They simply have no path to profitability and have the wrong product, in the wrong market, at the wrong time.

        One way to look at this is through Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology- stuff like blockchain, AI, augmented reality. For reference, the Hype Cycle is horribly bad to predict the future, but it is good to give context on market timing.

        In this moment, let’s say DoD is entering what Gartner calls the “Through of DisIllusionment.” This is where I’m normally brought in to take new strategic plans and create and align to operational and tactical plans. The “Through of DisIllusionment” is a period where “Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investment continues only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.”

        Right now, we have an asset bubble due to many of these start-ups having no path to profitability and the seed money from venture capitalist keeps coming in. Very similar situation.


  2. Being as how the US armed forces are operateing under third generation warfare, would it be applicable to somehow jettison the majority of it, while leaving the special forces, as they seem to be more apt to utilize fourth generation warfare?

    Also, several weeks ago, you did a post on mass shootings. I asked if it would help to enforce our existing gun laws but did not get a definitive answer as to my original question?

    PS are there multiple authors writing posts? I say this because sometimes I notice changes in style, position, and overall tone.

    PPS here is a study that backs up your analysis of trump being elected predominently over rebellion towards pc/ the elites.

    1. Issac,

      (1) “Being as how the US armed forces are operateing under third generation warfare, would it be applicable to somehow jettison the majority of it …”

      The bulk of the US military serves as a deterent to adventures by regional powers (e.g., Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait) and by other great powers. Probably it need not be so large, but it would be a mad experiment to do without it.

      (2) “I asked if it would help to enforce our existing gun laws”

      Good question. I have no knowledge about the degree to which our current laws are being enforced.

      (3) Thanks for the pointer to that study!

  3. I have read a lot of y’all s comments and hear that old voice of those who would like to see the Marine Corps disappear. The Marines will always be at the cutting edge of the fight! Always have been. Wrote the books on amphibious warfare , close air support, combined air/ground/water ops, wrote the books on special operations, ( Tripoli, Mexico City, 1860 Korea, and many more early long range ops!) SPECIAL MARINE Recon units were coming out of submarines in 1938 On recons of Jap islands, Force Recon developed many of the tactics use by green berets, rangers, seals, yea, trained green berets in 1962, trained the only real army LRRPS, in Nam 75th Rangers, and many, many more, always at the leading edge. When the President and Congress changes the Corps mission, they’ll change. It would take an act of Congress to disband The Corps! That’s not going to happen. Truman tried it😂 don’t take my word for anything. Do some real research on the history of the Corps. A lot of it has been overlooked discounted or ignored do to rivalry and politics!
    Rumsfeld was an idiot! Bush could have ordered the Corps to comply with him. Why didn’t he? I don’t know you, but I served in the Marines. Navy and Army! I love them all!!!
    You guys are never ready for the next fight. I believe in Special Ops, for the war on Terror. If you don’t think we may have to fight a real war in the future you don’t belong in leading our troops. But what would I know, never went to the war college. Just my opinion from one of the troops that learned OJT…

    SFC Paul Stevens USA Ret
    2 tours Nam
    OEF 6 months
    OIF 33 months

    1. Paul,

      “The Marines will always be at the cutting edge of the fight!”

      They are not today. Special ops forces are deployed in scores of fights around the world, the kind of 4GW that is the predominant form of war today. The USMC is deployed almost exactly in the same fashion as the Army.

      “Bush could have ordered the Corps to comply with him. Why didn’t he?”

      Presidents are not Kings. They have to deploy their limit stock of political capital wisely. The Marines have substantial political support; picking a fight with them is not to be done lightly. Also, the military often in effect ignores presidents’ orders. My favorite example is JFK’s 1962 order to institute Permissive Action Links on jour nuclear devices. DoD responded by seting the codes to a string of zeros. FU Mr. President! See the history of this here.

      That disobedience – on a matter of the highest national importance – shows the president’s limited ability to order the services to obey his will.

  4. The Man Who Laughs

    The Marine Corps that performed so magnificently in World War II was the result of Marine officers thinking hard about the kind of war they would have to fight before the war started. They knew they would have to take and hold Pacific islands for the Navy to use as bases, and tactics and organization developed accordingly.

    It seems to me that the Marine Corps circa 2000 was basically a slightly different answer to the same problem. It had less armor and heavy firepower than the US Army heavy division, but it could get there faster and it was easier to sustain. But when the Marines got where they were going, they were basically going to be facing a conventional opponent. And it’s not like we hadn’t already seen unconventional opponents in Lebanon and Somalia. So there was a real failure of imagination. Someone might have looked at Somalia and asked what kind of force, what kind of doctrine, what kind of organization and tactics would have served us better. Al Qaeda studied Somalia closely for lessons learned. We didn’t.

    You write a lot about military reform. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t, but the thing that worries me is that the problems in the military are, I suspect, mostly symptoms of a larger problem in our government and society, and we won’t be able to fix the military at all unless we fox other things first. Sir John Hackett’s quote about a society getting what it wants from it’s military, no more and no less comes to mind.

    1. The Man,

      “but the thing that worries me is that the problems in the military are, I suspect, mostly symptoms of a larger problem in our government and society”

      The specifics in your comment say the exact opposite of that. As do most of the posts in this long series about military reform (most of which was written by veteran officers).

  5. The Man Who Laughs

    “The specifics in your comment say the exact opposite of that. As do most of the posts in this long series about military reform (most of which was written by veteran officers).”

    I think the we’ve gotten by and large what we’ve selected for, and as you point out in your previous post, a lot of that seems to be skill at PR. I believe some time back you ran a post about Marine Lieutenant Colonel whose career was cut short by a remark that offended someone’s delicate sensibilities We’ve got the military the Smart People In Charge chose to have, for reasons that seemed to make sense to the Smart People In Charge at the time. The military might be in urgent need of reform, but reform won’t come until other institutions get reformed first. Until then, even a major battlefield defeat probably won’t change al that much.

    I just got done reading Conquered: Why The Army Of Tennessee Failed by Larry J Daniel. It’s a detailed study of a massive, prolonged military failure. Repeated battlefield failure didn’t produce improvement, because a lot of the problems were with the people in charge. I think we may in similar dire straits. I should like very much to be proven wrong.

    1. The Man,

      “The military might be in urgent need of reform, but reform won’t come until other institutions get reformed first.”

      I still don’t see why that is the case. Most of the problems are internal factors totally under the control of the military. Expecting Congress or a President to get involved in such internal dynamics is unrealistic. In a decentralized system like that of the US, much of the responsibility is decentralized as well. That gives the system greater stability, but is a dysadvantage when internal units break. The State Department broke in the 1950s, and has never repaired itself.

  6. In a free market the organisation has to adapt to market changes or it revenue tends to fall off, steadily until it either reinvents itself or dies.

    By the nature of Government funding is budget based and failing to adapt is not punished with falling income, but often with increased income as in something as vital as the military you can’t loose.

    Therefore, the point that the wide society and government needs to be re-invented and re-organised to push through reforms has some validity.

    As the West moves behind America into a new face off with Iran, while facing off China in the South Sea, we are borrowing more money than we need to, if we used the funds much more efficiently.

    I can see the waste in education (where I work part time), compared to Property Development where I have a small company/ business. The waste and large inefficiency drive the situation where as many as 45 – 50% of new High School graduates are functionally innumerate and illiterate (this is Australia, but I doubt it is so different in UK or US), more then has to be spent on education in the armed services to get them up to speed in a world that needs more education to start with. Then there is fitness, I watched a TED Talk by a Marine General in training , where he talked about the increased injuries in training now compared to the 1980’s when he did his training, why – poorer fitness and more overweight recruits. Some injuries like hip damage rare in the 1980’s were 6 or 7 times more common now and required medical bills as high as several $100,000. That is a lot of your budget, he talked about pre-selection training, with diet, exercise, a form of fat camp for some – called warrior Training, who once they lost the extra weight and gained fitness went on to pass the selection well.

    A military cannot be funded by results, as it is in retreat it has half its staff sacked allowing the enemy to conquer you even quicker or funding increased only after you win a war, these would be madness, but the organisation is over managed (officer ratio), wasn’t the call of a Chrysler CEO years ago the best way to save the company would be to get rid of the 13th floor. Middle managers not good enough for Senior roles, too old to have the drive of the younger Managers and playing “Yes Minister” politics that stop the young with drive and obviscate the push for change from above.

    1. Just a guy,

      “the point that the wide society and government needs to be re-invented and re-organised to push through reforms has some validity.”

      No, it doesn’t. History – including US history – overflows with sector reforms (eg, the military) done without “reinventing” society. That’s a recent affectation. Among our limitless array of excuses for our apathy, it’s in the middle of the absurdistan scale.

  7. The reaction to this post – far greater and more intense than in 2013 – is revealing. Almost all the replies ignore the contents of the post (most giving no evidence that they read it), and instead go off on largely unrelated tangents. In my experience (which is considerable after 16 years in this gid) this is a sure sign that worry that the message is correct.

    That is, they too worry about the Corps’ relevance in the 21st century – esp after the failure to win in the 18 years of the WOT occupations.

    “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

    Note there have been few comments posted here. Most of the replies have been on Facebook (mostly private pages) and via emails. I think that reflects their reluctance to publicly state what they know (at some level) is an unsupported, emotional, or even irrational position.

  8. Larry,
    Sorry if you have covered it; what is going with the Navy Seal? Too many deployments and stress, generational issues, or something else?
    “Navy’s top SEAL tells force ‘we have a problem’ and orders ethics review…

    1. Karoly.

      All good questions, but I don’t know much about the SEALs internal workings.

      Their evolution from divers (underwater demolition) into all-around special ops is an interesting story.

    1. Kyle,

      This is the second post of this article. The 2013 version received favorable comments from many in the military reform community.

      It got 32 thousand page views yesterday, and has already gotten 14 thousand today (day two). It has sparked intense discussion on several mil-blogs – focussing not on the Marine’s being locked into obsolete methods (almost everyone agrees about that – see the links provided for details), but about the potential for the Marines to reform in the future. That’s a matter beyond facts and logic, more a matter of faith.

      More importantly, I’ve gotten “I agree” emails about this from three of the top military reform experts in the US military community (two Army, one Marine). My guess is that they know more about the subject than you.

      1. Douglas C Rapé

        This is revisionary history that is inaccurate at best. From my first day at The Basic School we were taught to understand basic tactics as the common start point but that every instance was driven by circumstances, enemy, terrain and the need for flexibility. Shoot, move, communicate, use supporting arms, etc. We were failed if the solution was frontal assault. My tactics instructor was Maj Mike Wylie. At Amphibious Warfare School my tactics instructor was LtCol Mike Wylie. Our reading lists included Rommel, Guderian, etc. We read Boyd in 1974-75. Everyone knew what the OODA loop was.
        In 1976 my Brigade Commander during our NATO exercises was BGen Al Gray and we practiced maneuver warfare in every exercise. Our entire one year work up was maneuver warfare centric.
        You do not assault beaches with strong defenses unless you have no other option. You don’t assault into hot LZ’s unless you have no other choice. You do not assault into prepared defensive positions unless you have no other choice. You use fire support and Close Air Support at all times.
        A review of enemy casualties since 1939 vs USMC casualties will show a huge mismatch in favor of the USMC. Pick your circumstance…. even in the retreat out of Chosin or recapture of Hue City or defense of Khe Sahn the enemy took a horrible beating. I challenge any reformer or journalist or arm chair strategist to pick the force he’d like to serve with to face a Marine Division. Only a suicidal idiot would pick one.
        Let’s talk about psychological advantage. Any Force on earth say to themselves: “ Oh boy, US Marines. Piece of cake….” ? Nope. Generally the reaction is the opposite and later confirmed by the survivors.
        Any terrain the Marines wanted ever remain in enemy hands? Iwo Jima was the first Japanese soil to fall to a foreign invader in over 2000 years. The enemy had months to turn Fallujah into a suicidal fortress filled with drugged, homicidal fanatics. Within days they were crushed with virtually no survivors. The individual riflemen, fireteams, squads and platoons adapted and adjusted in the most complex of battle grounds and killed thousands and lost 83. And even that was not the Corp’s preferred solution. It was a politician imposed solution.
        Years early Mattis took an Amphibious Force a thousand miles inland just days after 911 and put the first conventional troops into Afghanistan and kicked the Taliban into the mountains. Had the political will held firm the US Army SOF, USA Airborne and Marines would have exterminated the Taliban by Dec, 2001.
        There is no shortage of good ideas. The Corps has restructured Infantry Bn’s at least five times in 40 years. As Weapons, communications and tactics change the structure changes. Currently the Corps is looking at changing the Infantry Squad in four different ways. Each is driven by needing an extra man to handle drones and fire support. Every weapon in the squad today has a laser sight which makes accuracy and engagement speed so quick it is almost incomprehensible. Marine Squads can easily take on units four to five times their size just based on marksmanship, body armor, training and fitness.
        The USMC is bigger than the entire British Army and in open combat would destroy it in 10 days. There are two Conventional Armies that could give the Corps a run for the money — Russia and China. That is the very reason that our enemies rely on insurgency type tactics where they can blend with civilians and take advantage of our often misplaced Rules of Engagement. Those rules are written for humanitarian reasons but mostly for the international media, lawyers and people who often care more for the enemy population than American fighting men.
        The US military does think, is innovative and adapts like few institutions do. Its problems lie else where. Politicians, political correctness, funding peaks and troughs, sexual politics, RD&A red tape problems, some toxic leaders, high turn over at the SECDEF, Service Secretaries and senior generals and officer careerism are problems. The Administrative tail is too large and the logistics tail too slow. But, it is not lockstep, robotlike tactics at the tactical level.
        I am aware of the reformers. They all agree that reform is required. There is little concrete agreement on what the reform might actually look like. I regularly write to a large group of military officers on reforms I believe are required. Specific recommendations. I base my recommendations on 26 years of active duty as a Marine Infantry Officer with Command at every level, 14 years of Executive leadership and a close observer of the 1st Armored Div from 2011-2014. Over my career I served 40 plus months on ships, 26 on an Aircraft Carrier, numerous schools to include as an honor grad (Highest Distinction) from the Naval War College, DSMC, three years with the 9th Infantry Div (Mtz), three years with the State Department, three years as the EUCOM Head of NATO and PFP Exercises and a tour at HQMC.
        I repeat: I know of no time that SECDEF Rumsfeld made an offer to the USMC to change their mission from that stated by law to become the DoD Special Operating Force.

      2. Douglas,

        Do you have anything to say that is relevant to this post? Your 873 word rant gives no evidence that you read anything more than the summary. A rebuttal consists of stating what the post said, and explaining why you disagree with its fact or logic.

        Also, I have received many positive reviews of this post – both this revision and the 2013 original – from prominent people in the military reform community (both Army and USMC). Including the first version, it has had over 50 thousand views – and sparked several debates at mil blogs. Your opinion is quite the outlier.

        The only specific you give is “I know of no time that SECDEF Rumsfeld made an offer to the USMC.”

        Why should you know? Were you best buds with Rumsfeld? I’ve heard this story from others, and its denouement – the creation of Marine Special Operations Command.

      3. Larry,
        My response focused on your allegation that:
        1. the Marine Corps must reform because it has become a moribund second land army unable to embrace reform. My response focused on the success of an organization you claimed cannot adapt. I specifically mention how early we embraced maneuver warfare, Boyd’s theories and what we taught and practiced. Al Gray formalized what had already in effect for 10-15 years.
        2. That the reformers are better informed by experience or better read than I might be.
        3. I know of no proof that Rumsfeld made this offer. Some have told you and no one ever told me. Rumsfeld makes no mention of it in anything I have read. Until I hear from some people I know personally, and would have been privy to the offer, I question its validity.

      4. DC,

        Thank you. That is succient and helpful.

        (1) “the Marine Corps must reform because it has become a moribund second land army unable to embrace reform.”

        That’s quite obvious from our long series of failed wars. Results in the field are definitive.

        AA defines insanity as “repeating the same actions, but expecting different outcomes.” That perfectly describes the US Army and USMC in our wars since 9/11. Scores of articles by Marines explain how the Marines have refused to learn as an organization. My favorites The Attritionist Letters in the Marine Corps Gazette (by several junior officers), and Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps.

        (2) “Until I hear from some people I know personally,”

        if that’s your standard of evidence, you can’t know much about what happens in the world.

      5. Larry, I believe I know the people the offer would have been made to. I have since reached out to a number of them to see if they are aware of or remember the offer. I’ll let you know what I hear.
        I too have remained in contact with many who were junior officers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mostly Army and Marine Corps to include both of my sons with a combined five tours in combat arms in both locations. I have also stayed in touch with many peers, former subordinates and former superiors. All have their own ideas for improvements and reforms but few specific to the Corps as a whole in its roles and missions.
        We may be a odds over terms. Specifically “Reform” which I view as significantly larger than “adjust, adapt, fix, replace, change etc at the tactical and operational level. To mix that in with a significant change in Rolls and Missions like the SOC proposal is to blur both.
        I imagine we probably will not agree on wars won and lost. In my opinion Korea was won. S Korea survived and thrived.
        Vietnam was won in 1973 and lost in 1975 and the military had nothing to do with that loss. Cold War won. Beirut intervention a complete disaster. Fault rests with National Security Advisor, USCINCEUR, ROE and failure to adapt the mission to changes in the environment. Balkans war won. Genocide stopped. First Gulf War won. Kuwait liberated and remains independent. Iraq and Afghanistan — jury still out. Might not turn out well for many reasons that are worthy of debate.

    2. Kyle,

      I got interrupted. Follow-up –

      Thank you for commenting. But this isn’t grade school show and tell, where you share your feelings and people applaud.

      If you have a rational objection to the facts and logic of this post, please tell us.

  9. donald desrosiers

    The marine corps is supposed to act more as a whole military within the military like a fast reaction response force to platform areas for wider conflict or to handle a smaller conflict with little help from the rest of the military from what I gather at least. Seems the way Its should be…

  10. This is a silly argument. You want to turn the entire Marine Corps into what? A special operations unit? The Marine Corps is a maritime expeditionary force at it’s core and those are the roots we are returning to. We don’t have the funding to do what you’re suggesting and those units already exist in the Army. So you’re suggesting the Marine Corps become a giant 75th Ranger Regiment? Doesn’t make much sense with our budget. Makes more sense to continue our focus on a highly mobile naval based autonomous assault force, which the Army is not.

    I just don’t get what you think the Marine Corps should be. We have Special Operations units already. We have an air wing already. Do you want to disband our air wing?

    1. Jst,

      I suggest you re-read it, more slowly and without the blinders. Then think about our wars since 9/11 – and how nice it would be to have a force capable of fighting and winning 4GWs.

      Then take a look through the links. Lots of ideas there.

  11. Ramon Reiser SFC USAR Ret, 11B4PCM,

    Much of the strength of the Marine Corp has been its area studies and appropriate behavior in ‘strange’ cultures.

    Gung Ho. The long march. 50+ year old rebels marching thru mountains 50+ miles a day with 50+ lb back packs. And with them were marine observers. And many more such intimate knowledges and experiences with unconventional forces and natives. Close combat learned with master local instructors.

    At Ft Bragg two green beret SFCs saw me perusing Black Hawk Down. Buy it and read it they told me. (I did.) “The Rangers and us came in to kick ass. The locals ate us alive. The Marines did not have this problem. They had studied the Somali culture and effectively and professional performed. The locals respected them and did not take them down.)

    Haiti intervention in the 90s. Army senior officers slept with local ‘peasant’ women. The marine officers did not. They told the senior army officers that their amazing sex peasant ladies actually were from 200 families that had survived by their daughters prowess ever since the defeat of the French.

    A certain colonel’s peasant mistress actiually had a doctorate in psychology from the Sorbonne and was also a French educated psychiatrist.

    An excellent marine CPT had a Harvard Masters degree in Haitian Creole Linguistics. His SSG had a bachelors in Haitian anthropology and was also fluent in Haitian Creole. I was giving them a two week refresher at Brigham Young in interrogation Chinese Mandarin. They were superb in that language as were their approaches.

    Let us continue to build on the rich and deep cultural knowledge of the best of the Corps.

    (America actually has still has a lot of good will in China due to our refusing to join the Europeans in bringing in opium to make up for the loss of silver due to European buying silk and tea.)

    To sum up. Let the Marines be specialists and their leaders have numerous officers and NCOs with intimate understanding of the locals. (Yes, Green Berets were also supposed to have that, but presidents and generals keep trying to make them long range rangers rather than force multipliers. And drinking songs are not adequate local language for force multipliers; although can be good for camaraderie

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