Tag Archives: Marines

U.S. Marine [Expletive] No One Realizes He’s the [Expletive]

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here.

CAMP FUJI, JAPAN—U.S. Marine Second Lieutenant Chandler Weisenbottom graduated from a Division II school in the Southeast United States with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and was the sergeant-at-arms for his fraternity, all accomplishments that would grant him a modest head nod at any bar in America. Tragically, the Marine Corps has refused to acknowledge the depth and breadth of his brilliant capabilities.

“Listen, I took an Arabic studies elective sophomore year and learned as least three greetings. But when I showed up to the battalion, no one [expletive] cared,” said Weisenbottom as he was trying to figure out how to get the pin on his common access card (CAC) to work. Sources reported he had been at the computer for at least an hour even though he never went through the necessary check-in steps and therefore had not had his PIN loaded into the card. Weisenbottom stated that up until now he mostly used his CAC to get cheap booze from the package store on the base near his mom’s house while he waited to begin at The Basic School (TBS).

Weisenbottom was emphatic that his skills were being less than efficiently utilized.

“The semester after I came back from Platoon Leader’s Class I taught all my brothers how to lead a fire team attack on a Soviet machine gun nest so that we could teach those Delta Omega [expletives] a lesson,” said Weisenbottom, referring to the summer training program for officer candidates and a movie reference he doesn’t understand. “So I think I have some credibility when I am trying to teach my platoon how to interpret Clausewitz as it pertains to sexual assault prevention and response.”

“I mean why the [expletive] was I not put in charge of the battalion’s embedded training team? I have the cultural background for Christ’s sake—I got a C+ in that [derogatory]-studies class,” Weisenbottom cried after resigning from his attempts with the CAC. When questioned as to why the battalion would need Arabic cultural awareness when they were currently on a rotation to Japan, Weisenbottom replied “huh, well it’s still important and I need to get a [expletive] pump in before I punch out to 1STCIVDIV so I can get into finance.”

Weisenbottom’s platoon sergeant, Dave Smith, was resigned when questioned about his new platoon leader’s woes. “The LT is okay, he mostly sits around sucking up to the XO because they were in the same skull society or whatever the [expletive] at some college, so he doesn’t get in our way too much. It is problematic though when he wants to teach a class, since we have a pretty tight training schedule, and those stupid hip pocket classes keep the Marines from getting any time out in town to try and get some [derogatory] strange. [Expletive], it’ll be at most another week until some [expletive] gets us locked down again for [expletive] something up, so I better get laid.”

Captain Brent Duckler, Weisenbottom’s commanding officer, stated that the new lieutenant would be fine if “he quit [expletive] whining” about his cultural skills being misused and finished confirming “his [expletive] consolidated memorandum receipt (CMR).”

Weisenbottom was unavailable to respond to Duckler’s remarks and was  reportedly busy trying to set up a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) tournament that had registered only other new lieutenants.

Maynard, Cushing & Ellis is the repository of our anonymously submitted articles.

Not Like Yesterday: David Kilcullen’s Out of the Mountains

and into the Littorals

In a 1997 speech to the National Press Club that will be familiar to many Navy and Marine Officers, General Charles Krulak, 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, told the story of Roman consul Publius Varus. Consul Varus was a once successful general whose legions were decimated by Germanic tribes using what we might refer to as asymmetric tactics that left the Roman’s flummoxed. Varus’ last words were recounted as “Ne Cras, Ne Cras,” or “Not like yesterday.” The story presents a challenge to military leaders in our own generation to refrain from getting complacent in their own capabilities, and to continue to adapt their organizations to meet new and unexpected threats.

General Krulak’s went on to introduce the concept of an urban “three block war,” in which combat forces would simultaneously conduct humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, and high intensity combat operations in the space of three contiguous blocks of a complex urban environment. In many ways General Krulak’s words were more prophetic than he could know, as within six years U.S. forces were engaged against an irregular enemy in complex, densely populated urban terrain in Iraq.

American combat troops out of Iraq and on the cusp of departing Afghanistan. This makes it the perfect opportunity to examine old ideas about urban warfare with fresh eyes and look for  both the continuities and the differences resulting from a globally connected world and the proliferation of advanced weapons and technologies down to the sub-state level.

Dr. David Kilcullen, an Australian soldier and counterinsurgency specialist who advised U.S. leadership on strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, has taken a major step in this direction with his new book Out of the Mountains. Kilcullen’s new work analyses the major trends driving the future of conflict around the world. His findings will indeed have far reaching implications for the U.S. military, which has been focused for years on a rural insurgency based in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan. Conflict will not be as it was yesterday. It will be fought in major coastal urban centers amidst tens of millions of people, and it will span all domains including land, sea, air, and cyber. These conflicts will be complex and will almost never have a purely or even primarily military solution, but their intensity will at the very least require military force to protect and enable other forms of power and influence as they are applied in support of U.S. strategic goals. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will need to be adaptable and flexible in order to remain mission-capable in such an environment.

This article will examine the major trends that Kilcullen identifies, and attempt to delve deploy into their military implications. Dr. Kilcullen identifies four “mega-trends” that are shaping the future of humanity, and with it the future of warfare as a human endeavor. These trends include:

  • Increasing Population – The U.N. estimates that the global population will continue to increase, especially in developing nations, before leveling off around 9 billion people sometime in the latter half of the century.
  • Urbanization – For the first time in human history, more than half of the population worldwide lives in cities.
  • Littoralization – Most cities, and certainly the largest ones, are in coastal zones that provide access to seaborne transportation and thus access to the global economy. Kilcullen usefully defines the littorals as the portion of land and air that can be targeted by weapons from the sea, and likewise that portion of sea and air that can be targeted from land.
  • Digital Connectedness – Internet and mobile phone access are beginning to saturate markets worldwide, and in some countries access to communications technology outstrips access to sanitation facilities.

The first three of these trends are not news. Kilcullen notes that sociologists have been writing about population and urbanization for decades, and urban conflict was a major focus of military thinking in the 1990s. However, the acceleration of these trends, combined with the burgeoning level of digital connectedness not widely foreseen in the 1990s, means that urban conflicts will take on a new level of violence and intensity that will be broadcast around the world instantaneously. This will provide our adversaries with powerful commercial tools to enable command and control  (C2) of independent networked cells in a dynamic battlespace.

Operation Iraqi FreedomAt the operational level, planners can expect warfare to range from the multiple-battalion level assault on Fallujah at the high-end to complex “urban seige” attacks such as Mumbai and Nairobi in the mid-range to the persistent urban violence of the drug wars in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas at the low-end. In each instance, the enemy will be a small, networked, and extremely well-armed group. It will reside in a sea of millions of civilians and be able to call upon commercial digital networks from cell phones to Twitter to collect intelligence, post propaganda, and act as ad hoc C2 nodes to coordinate operations. It will also be able to draw on a massive global transportation system to transport people, weapons, and finances around the world in short order.

1127-for-webMUMBAImapfIn order to flesh out the capabilities of modern networked urban terrorist groups, Kilcullen analyzes in detail the 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Mumbai assault. LeT’s ground-breaking tactics, which displayed a level of free-flowing swarming ability that is at the very least rare for a sub-state actor, are worth examining. The attack was carried out by multiple cells of just a few individuals each who had conducted a thorough reconnaissance of their targets for nearly a year.  The attackers used maritime ratlines normally employed by smugglers to move from Karachi to the port of Mumbai, making landfall in a slum neighborhood with little police presence.  Once the assault began, their actions were coordinated via cell- and satellite-phone by a LeT command team operating their own combat operations center in Pakistan (likely with some support from Pakistani ISI). The team used broadcasts from CNN and other media networks to inform their battle tracking and develop an open-sourced understanding of the Indian police response. This allowed the LeT cells to remain several steps ahead of Indian security forces for several days, killing civilians at several high-profile public locations around Mumbai before they were finally surrounded and neutralized.

Digital connectedness is also allowing insurgent groups to expand their presence into the global information space that was once the sole purview of states and large corporations. Regular readers of this blog will likely remember that al-Shabaab live-tweeted the recent Navy SEAL raid in Barawe, and after the special operators withdrew, were able to claim victory before Western news outlets even knew the operation had taken place. The militants then followed up by posting pictures of equipment that the SEALs had left behind during their extraction from the firefight.  While seemingly trivial, this allowed al Shabaab to stake its claim to the information available on the attack, and perhaps shatter some of the aura of invincibility surrounding the SEALs since their assault on Osama bin Laden and rescue of Captain Richard Philips from Somali pirates.

It is beyond the scope of a single blog post to analyze all of the future trends that Kilcullen examines in detail. Indeed, the book itself is likely just the first of a great deal of research that still needs to be done on the future of urban conflict against evolved irregular or hybrid adversaries in mega-slums and other dense and highly complex urban environments. Much of that research will, of necessity, have to focus on non-military aspects of conflict prevention and mitigation, due to the unavoidable fact that future urban conflicts will be driven by sociological factors inherent to the urban systems where they are being fought. Under Kilcullen’s formulation, urban design and development will in many ways become as important to American policy as foreign aid, governance and economic development, and security sector reform.

The implications for military doctrine and organization will be significant as well. It will impact Naval doctrine, organization, and ship-building plans even as Navy leadership seeks to focus its efforts and budgetary priorities towards AirSea Battle. The same is true for the Marine Corps’ efforts to reposition itself as the nation’s amphibious crisis response force following a decade of warfare in landlocked environments. In following articles, we will examine these implications in depth, and attempt to achieve a better degree of resolution on the future of urban littoral combat and the steps that the Navy and Marine Corps will need to take to remain mission-capable in that environment.

Dan Dewit is a researcher with the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. From 2009- September, 2013 he served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Game of Marines

The Left...
                                     The Left…

Pop culture cannot seem to escape the allure of dragons and white walkers, as HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT), based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by R.R. Martin, has enthralled millions. On the face of it the fictional setting of Westeros bear little resemblance to that in which the Marines traditionally operate (commercials not included). However, examining that world, and in particular the fate of two of its warring factions, provides interesting insights for current Marine Corps issues. Both groups, despite their seemingly polar opposite nature, are at critical junctures and face decisions as to how they will conduct operations in the future – offering alternative frameworks that I believe improve upon the “middleweight” force that the Corps seeks to become.

House Greyjoy (motto: “We do not sow”) could reasonably be classified as Westerosi Marines. They are a small, intensely martial, and overwhelmingly amphibious force that has little trouble succeeding tactically, but do not always employ their forces with deep strategic foresight. They are relatively poor when compared to other noble houses, and, without large lands to farm or grow on, rely on their raiding abilities and superior military skills. The correlation with many current and historical USMC trends is readily apparent. Importantly, the “Ironborn,” as they are known, make several strategic errors when they decide to stretch their force and capabilities over a large band of conflict by taking large fixed defense castles while simultaneously raiding along the coastline.

A different group from the series is the “Brotherhood without Banners,” an insurgent group made of deserters, POWs, and other flotsam from the horrible conflict driving the story’s main narrative. These men and women unite under a radical new philosophy that rejects many of the “truths” the lands’ lords hold. They are quite successful at insurgency using methods that refuse to acknowledge the rules governing other forces’ military action, and are keen trainers of indigenous forces. Their doctrine comes only from what they have learned by blood and conflicts with the conception of warfare held by elder kings and knights. They have skills of proven utility, but it is unclear as the series now stands how the brotherhood will parlay those skills into victory in a changing conflict.

I highlight these two fictional accounts to bring to light what I consider to be the main challenges facing the Marine Corps. Will the Corps steam fully ahead into its self-proclaimed “middleweight” future and retain the hard-won lessons of 10 years of insurgency combat? Will it regain its slightly rusty amphibious roots to meet the strategic needs of our Nation? Or, will it just be a group of raiders who have little ability to affect change across the shoreline? These are all questions the Marine Corps is currently grappling with, and I offer a few observations within the GoT analogy.

Both the Brotherhood and Ironborn suffer – not when they leverage their core competencies, but when they venture outside of them. The Ironborn repeatedly face disaster when they decide to commit to larger, set-piece battles with land powers where they incur strategic losses. The Brotherhood would be better served by raising indigenous forces that can help give those who have suffered the most from war a chance at self-security rather than relying on the major houses to try and supplement their fighting abilities, as they try to do as they move south. The Brotherhood is also at risk of a lack of a coherent strategic vision, fighting only against what exists rather than spelling out a vision of their own.

Back in the real world, the Marine Corps is progressing back to its Ironborn origins by returning to its amphibious roots. This return is irrefutably necessary as the worry of many Marines is that recent events have turned the Corps into a second land army. But many of its junior leaders are equally worried the lessons they paid for in blood will be forgotten as they were after previous wars. Vital capabilities to train indigenous forces, conduct preemptive counter-insurgency (COIN), and use a light footprint to get to the “strategic left side of boom” will increasingly be at risk as more Marine Corps “meat and potato” deployments take the place of COIN operations. Our advisor capability (read: Brotherhood without Banners) is unlikely to go away completely, but it is not likely to receive the same emphasis it has had over the past few years.

Likewise, the stretching nature of a “middleweight” force seems to necessitate straddling a larger spectrum of conflict than focusing on one or two Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEB) denied entry operations. Middleweight fighters are multi-use. But they are also slow when going up against lightweights and unable to throw knockouts against heavyweights. By shooting for the gap between “small” SOF and “big” Army are we searching to find a rationalization instead of focusing on what we have done successfully? I see this problem as similar to the Ironborn deciding to commit to taking the stronghold of Winterfell and other lands, while still conducting coastal raids, and thereby doing neither well.

...and Right Sides of "Boom."
                      …and Right Sides of “Boom.”

I propose that the Corps refocus on amphibious operations, but primarily towards kinetic denied entry operations at the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) level or higher. With this capability available, our secondary effort should be towards robust engagement vis-a-vis security cooperation, advisor capability, and retention of the lessons from COIN. A “middleweight” force is inherently focused on numbers and end strength – but this is only one consideration of organizing for future conflicts. An alternative framework would be to focus the Corps’ composition on time-based crisis response, with advisor formations to prevent conflicts and larger elements strictly focusing on highly kinetic operations at the beginning of those conflicts that do erupt. This framework would allow Marines to better focus training, equipment tables, and procurement. Operational units would be designed for long-duration advisor missions or kick the door into highly kinetic situations before letting larger Army units take over. Many might say that is or should be USMC doctrine, but a look back at the past ten years of war contradicts such a statement.

I highlight again the faults of the Ironborn in focusing on the tactical considerations of what they could capture and how, and not paying attention to the political aspects of the conflict around them. One tactical commander, Theon Greyjoy, thought that by taking Winterfell as quickly as possible his force would secure a great victory, when in fact they only rushed themselves into a strategic dead-end. A di-polar force that is focused on when to respond in a crisis allows us to focus on our historic strengths while not losing our recent capabilities. The Marine Corps must strive to think of innovative approaches to these challenges so we do not become the tactically successful, but strategically insignificant Brotherhood, nor, the operationally brilliant but strategically harebrained Ironborn as we navigate our real-world military problems in light of a coming fiscal winter.

Capt Christopher Barber is an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who has deployed twice to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The views expressed above are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or the Center for International Maritime Security.