All posts by Walker Mills

Where is the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command?

The following article originally appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Capt. Walker D. Mills, USMC

In recent years, the Marine Corps has become obsessed with naval integration, and that’s a good thing. Former Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller called for greater efforts at naval integration, calling it “Green in support of Blue.”1 In his Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Gen. David Berger echoed that call and labeled naval integration “an imperative.”2 The new Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, in his confirmation hearing, said that “there is no daylight between us,” referring to himself and Commandant Berger in response to a question about the Marines’ push for closer integration with the Navy. So, with all the calls for integration, where is the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)? After all, the Marine Corps itself is a naval expeditionary force according to the Commandant.

You might be asking, “What is the NECC?,” precisely because it is missing from most Marine Corps commentary and thinking. If you were to Google it, you would find it below Northern Essex Community College in the search results. Despite the relative lack of renown, the NECC is and will be essential for emerging and future Marine Corps concepts like Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). NECC, established in 2006, is the type command on which the Navy puts the responsibilities to man, train, and equip most of its functions that are not performed on ships, submarines, or airplanes. It is operationally controlled in combined task forces that consolidate the Navy expeditionary combat force (NECF) under a singular command in each theater.

These forces include the Seabees: naval construction units that are similar to but distinct from the Marine Corps’ engineer community and have more capability. The Seabees are the go-to naval unit for building and maintaining runway and port infrastructure, hardening bases, and constructing expeditionary facilities.

The Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group is also part of the NECC. Responsible for “providing expeditionary logistics capabilities for the Navy, primarily within the maritime domain of the littorals,” it is a key part of any maritime fight that needs fuel, ordnance, or cargo sustainment.3 It is also responsible for expeditionary communications.

The NECC also contains the Coastal Riverine Force, which is responsible for port and harbor security—defending high-value assets like amphibs and aircraft carriers during strait transits and maritime security. In addition, the NECC has cognizance over explosive ordnance disposal units, which play a critical role in both mine countermeasures and dive and salvage operations. They are optimized for inshore and offshore littoral operations—operations in the very zone that the Marine Corps has identified as an essential part of its future. The NECC is rounded out by the Navy Expeditionary Intelligence Command and training and support elements. All told, it includes some 20,000 personnel, many of whom are currently deployed supporting operations around the globe.

Despite its capability, the NECC has largely been missing from commentary and discussion in and about the Marine Corps. The NECC has not been the focus of a feature article in Proceedings for years and perhaps ever in the Marine Corps Gazette. Most Marines do not know what it is or, more importantly, how it could support them. It has also been missing from published concepts and comments by senior leaders. It was defined in the appendix of “Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment” but never used, and in the 32 pages of the 2016 Marine Corps Operating Concept, it was mentioned once as part of a simple bullet without explanation: “Leverage the NECC.” Gen. Neller’s guidance was a short fragmentary order, but it also did not mention the NECC. Gen. Berger’s planning guidance, while never specifically using the terms NECC or NECF, openly asks the question of:

“whether it is prudent to absorb [some of the NECF] functions, forces, and capabilities to create a single naval expeditionary force whereby the Commandant could better ensure their readiness and resourcing.”

This question about potential contributions of the NECC to EABO should be front and center; the ignorance of what the NECC can do is a loss for the Marine Corps.

In the 2017 Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment concept, the Marine Corps identifies a list of “proposed capabilities.” Many of these capabilities are resident within the NECC, even though the command itself is not mentioned in the document, such as the abilities to:

  • “Establish expeditionary advance bases.”
  • “Conduct littoral mine detection, avoidance, and clearance.”
  • “Sustain distributed naval forces with precision munitions and sufficient fuel in high-intensity combat.”
  • “Rapidly establish mobile, clandestine expeditionary logistics bases to provide sustainment to afloat and expeditionary operating forces.”
  • “Conduct casualty and medical treatment and evacuation.

According to the Navy and Marine Corps’ new concept, EABO will involve employing “forward arming and refueling points (FARPs) and other expedient expeditionary operating sites for aircraft such as the F-35, critical munitions reloading teams for ships and submarines, or … expeditionary basing for surface screening/scouting platforms” in “austere, temporary locations.”4 In brief, that is a lot of what the NECC does. Seabees can build and repair the runways and facilities at FARPs and build expeditionary basing. Naval Expeditionary Logistics Groups transport (and are developing the internal capability to reload) munitions on planes, ships, mobile land-based launchers, and submarines. But to leverage the capabilities of the NECC, Marines first need to understand it and account for it in new plans and concepts.

There has been some progress. Marine engineers and Seabees have been working together to repair and refurbish the “Airport in the Sky” on Catalina Island as part of the DOD’s Innovative Readiness Training Program—a task not unlike what they might be expected to perform on other islands in the Pacific in wartime.5 More recently, exercise PACIFIC BLITZ, which was held across Southern California, included multiple units from the NECC and I MEF, though not necessarily integrated.6 The East Coast planning efforts for the upcoming Large-Scale Exercise 2020 features an “expeditionary syndicate” led by Expeditionary Strike Group 2, II MEF, and NECC co-leads.

During my own time in the Corps, I have spent significantly more time training with partner militaries than I have with the sailors or soldiers in our own military. I cannot remember a training event where I ever worked with sailors from the NECC. This results in myopia across the force at a time when naval integration is becoming increasingly central to our core responsibilities and future vision. Our lack of engagement with the NECC might be the worst example of this myopia, but it extends to the other services as well. Until I attended the Defense Language Institute on an Army installation, I had never met an officer in the Army or Air Force in a professional setting. Sometimes I wonder if there are Marines who think we can defend the Pacific by ourselves, ignoring that the Army alone has more than 80,000 soldiers based in the Pacific and continues to expand their roles.7 I am not arguing that Marine Corps leadership is unaware of the NECC or our sister services, but it is important that the whole force, from top to bottom, has a strong understanding of the NECC’s role and capabilities. The NECC is perhaps the organization that the Marines will work closest with when executing EABO; the NECC will help enable EABO. It is also not the only organization Marines should expect to fight beside. The Army possesses over 100 seagoing vessels that will likely be used for intratheater transport in the littorals and be key to any future Pacific campaign because the Marine Corps and the Navy do not have the same capability. New Army multi-domain task forces will also be present in theater, and the Air Force will likely deploy small units built around its “Rapid Raptor” concept. Marines need to understand these capabilities and train with them in a joint way.

In his paper, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College professor Milan Vego writes that “littoral warfare requires the closest cooperation among the services, or ‘jointness.’”8 That cooperation is rooted in understanding and fostered by joint training. If Marines do not understand or discuss the NECC, it is because they have not been adequately exposed to it. The NECC, by name and definition, is, like the Marine Corps, a naval expeditionary force. The command has the capability to support EABO in everything from running decoy FARPs to maintaining and building fuel sites and repairing port facilities. In order to validate and implement future and emerging concepts, the Corps needs to seek out more opportunities to expose itself to and train with specific partner forces and units. The Marine Corps must increasingly seek joint training opportunities with the units in other services it is most likely to work with and must work to highlight that training and increase Marines’ exposure to the NECC.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously authored commentary for CIMSEC, the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, West Point’s Modern War Institute and Defense News.

Notes

1. U.S. Congress, Statement of General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, Concerning the Posture of the United States Marine Corps on April 30, 2019, (Washington, DC: April 2019).

2. Headquarters Marine Corps, Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, (Washington, DC: July 2019).

3. Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, (U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command), available at https://www.public.navy.mil.

4. Headquarters Marine Corps, “EABO,” available at https://www.candp.marines.mil.

5. Luis Sahagun, “Marines Invade Catalina Island to Fix Crumbling Airstrip at Airport in the Sky,” LA Times, (Los Angeles, CA: January 2019).

6. Gidget Fuentes, “Pacific Blitz Tests How Navy, Marines Could Fight the Next Island Campaign,” USNI News, (Annapolis, MD: March 2019).

7. Jen Judson, “Pacific Pathways in 2020 Lead to Oceania,” Defense News, (Washington, DC: October 2019).

8. Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review, (Newport, RI: Spring 2015).

Featured Image: 180419-N-NT795-642 SAN DIEGO (April 19, 2018) Electronic Technician 3rd Class Juan Britomora, assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) manned the .50-caliber machine gun aboard MKVI patrol boat during unit level training conducted by Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1 Training and Evaluation Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Boatswain’s Mate Nelson Doromal Jr/Released)

Integrate with the Marines…And Who Else?

CNO’s Design Week

By Walker D. Mills

“The proposition that the sea service of the United States should behave as complimentary parts of a national fleet is true to their several natures and functions. It need not provoke controversy.”Colin  S. Gray, 2001

In December 2019, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday, the released his FRAGO A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. The FRAGO harped on integration with the Marine Corps – mentioning it seven times over the course of the short, eight-page document. This is to be lauded, as General David Berger, the new Marine Commandant, has been pushing for integration as hard or more so from the green side. This naval integration is critical to the Navy and Marine Corps moving forward.

But there is still a piece missing – where is the Coast Guard? The Coast Guard has been increasingly asked to share the burden of maritime policing, presence, and security cooperation in the Pacific, and they have long supported those missions in other waters. The USCG has even contributed to U.S. FONOPS in the Strait of Taiwan. Despite this, the Coast Guard was not mentioned a single time in the document. As long as the Coast Guard continues to support Navy missions in the Pacific and elsewhere (and it should), the CNO should make it clear that the USCG is an integrated part of the nation’s maritime force structure. Not doing so only marginalizes one of America’s best tools for maritime grey zone competition and contributes to an overly narrow focus on conventional naval combat.

The most significant line of effort in the FRAGO is lethality. CNO Gilday makes it absolutely clear that lethality is the most important measure of the Navy, which is hardly disagreeable. But a single minded focus on “lethality” and “warfighting” ignores much of the reality in the Pacific. As the U.S. Navy prepares for the possibility of a conventional battle for sea control, every day a mix of commercial vessels, paramilitaries, and maritime law enforcement vessels tangle in constant competition. Admiral Gilday himself writes “We must also succeed in sustained, day-to-day competition, winning future fights before they become kinetic.” But this appears to be only an afterthought, a caveat to his focus on lethality.

The Chinese Coast Guard possesses the world’s largest law enforcement fleet, and by some counts their law enforcement fleet would be the second largest fleet in the world – after the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The U.S. Navy is meeting the simultaneous challenge of being prepared for potential conflict with the PLAN and countering day-to-day aggression by Chinese law enforcement vessels below the level of armed conflict. But it doesn’t have to go it alone – the Coast Guard can support these missions too. And perhaps better still – the U.S. Coast Guard can help U.S. allies and partners in the region strengthen and fortify their own coast guards more effectively than the Navy can alone. The Coast Guard is also integral to operations in the Arctic and the Middle East. They operate the only icebreakers owned by the federal government and maintain a permanent presence in Alaska. Cooperation and integration between the Navy and Coast Guard is essential for supporting an increased naval presence in the Arctic and protecting “increasingly vital” economic corridors like the Bering Strait. In the Middle East, the U.S. Coast Guard has maintained their largest detachment outside the United States since 2002 with 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

Some observers have raised objections to including the Coast Guard in the U.S. response to Chinese belligerence and encroachment in the South China Sea – it has repeatedly been a focus of commentary without generating a consensus. Generally, these objections are based on the small size and meager funding that the Coast Guard has and how the Coast Guard would be unprepared if a shooting conflict broke out in the region. Both of these are reasons why the CNO needs to plan for and mention the inclusion of the Coast Guard in his guidance to the force and make them a part of the larger conversation. Ignoring the Coast Guard, minimizing their potential contribution, or leaving them out of the discussion entirely would only serve to exacerbate these two issues. The Coast Guard is already supporting operations in the Southern and Western Pacific and it would be unwise to ignore this reality.

Recognizing the unique value that the Coast Guard can provide in support of national security missions is also valuable to the Navy. If the Navy believes itself to be undermanned and underfunded as its leaders have recently argued – increased integration with the Coast Guard can be a way to offload some missions and relieve a small piece of that burden. Arguments have been made for standing up a dedicated Coast Guard force for patrolling in the Pacific, which could serve as another means to reprioritize the Pacific over the Middle East where the United States has maintained a permanent USCG presence for almost two decades.

In keeping with the intent of the CNO’s FRAGO, one way the Navy can increase its focus on high-end lethality is to argue for an enhanced and interoperable Coast Guard that can absorb some of the lower-end missions. The 2015 joint Navy-Coast Guard National Fleet Plan, signed by the CNO and the Coast Guard Commandant, affirmed that “Navy and Coast Guard forces maintain a symbiotic relationship that benefits the nation as a whole. This relationship is most noticeable during ongoing operations, but it starts with conceptualization, continues through the planning cycle, and culminates during mission execution.” But unfortunately this sentiment is not captured in the FRAGO.

Conclusion

The CNO dedicated part of his FRAGO to guidance on building “alliances and partnerships” internationally – but it is just as if not more important to build partnerships and interoperability between sister services and other U.S. agencies. The CNO’s FRAGO is a far cry from the level of Coast Guard inclusion that permeated the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. While CNO Gilday obviously does not have the statutory authorities to direct his FRAGO at the Coast Guard – he can make it clear to his sailors that he views the Coast Guard as playing a critical role in the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard team. That would be moving toward a truly integrated national maritime architecture and force structure. This direction will be critical for preserving U.S. primacy at sea and enforcing rule of law in the global commons.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously authored commentary for CIMSEC, the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, West Point’s Modern War Institute and Defense News.

Featured Image: The US Navy (USN) Virginia Class New Attack Submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) TEXAS (SSN 775) sails past the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC SEA HORSE (WPB 87361) as it returns to Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard in Virginia (VA) after successfully completing Alpha sea trials. (PHAA Patrick Gearhiser, USN)

Missing in Action: The Mattis Behind the Mask

Jim Mattis and Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, Random House, 300 pages, $28.00/hardcover.

By Walker Mills

Jim Mattis’s new book, written with Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, is in many ways exactly what one would expect from the former Secretary of Defense and four-star Marine general. It is as if Mattis is writing with his uniform on, chock-full of the Mattis-isms that as a young Marine officer I grew up hearing and reading about. But Mattis doesn’t offer a deeper or more introspective side of himself. For those that have already been introduced to ‘Saint Mattis of Quantico’ and his persona, the book is not much more than a compendium of his “touchstones” and anecdotes combined with a single narrative arc. There are anecdotes that have been made famous by others – like Mattis walking the lines at night in Afghanistan as recounted by Nate Fick in his book One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, and there is his own recounting of the swift, combat relief of one of his own regimental commanders during the march to Baghdad in 2003 – elaborated on by Thomas E. Ricks in The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. But Call Sign Chaos fails to reveal anything deeper. It is not a tell all, and it takes pains to avoid painting people who served with Mattis in a negative light. It contrasts sharply with the recent book Holding the Line by Guy Snodgrass which touts an inside view. However, for readers who are unfamiliar with Mattis and his time in the Marines, Call Sign Chaos is an excellent introduction to Mattis and his philosophy, and an introduction to Marine Corps leadership writ large. The authors fulfill their intent “…to convey the lessons I learned for those who might benefit whether in the military or in civilian life.”

The one surprise in Call Sign Chaos is Mattis’s preoccupation with Iran. His narrative is bookended by Iran experiences. First, as a young officer he was part of a planned, but unexecuted, diversion in support of an operation to rescue the 52 American embassy hostages. And then later, as the Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) he was relieved because the Obama Administration regarded him as “…too eager for a military confrontation with Iran” according to Leon Panetta’s memoir Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace. Mattis’s bellicose stance on Iran is also seeded throughout the book. Mattis almost never passed an opportunity to rhetorically bash Iranian leaders as “zealots who needed a lesson in humility,” “cunning and hostile – a malign force,” and “radicals” who chant “death to America.” In contrast, North Korea barely featured, the Chinese not as much as one would expect, and the Russians or Soviets didn’t receive any nasty labels like the Iranians. It is perhaps ironic then that since his departure as Secretary, the United States has repeatedly moved closer to war with Iran and teaching those “zealots” a “lesson in humility.” As Secretary of Defense a large part of his legacy will be the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which purported to reorient or pivot the United States military away from the Greater Middle East toward “Great Power Competition.” But his own career and writing point to a near obsession with the Middle East and Iran in particular. Commissioned in the 1970s, Mattis does not write about the Soviet Union with a sour taste, even though by any measure the threats presented by the Soviet Union would have dominated his early career. Instead, he focuses on Iran, leaving the reader to wonder how Mattis would have shaped or handled recent Iranian provocations differently than his successors and making his work particularly relevant because Iran still features prominently in the headlines. It highlights one of the primary tensions in contemporary American foreign policy – the stated desire of multiple administrations to leave the Middle East tugging against the region’s strong geopolitical gravity.

Call Sign Chaos is generally organized into three parts that correspond to Mattis’s ascent through the ranks and corresponding leadership method – direct, executive, and strategic. It focuses on his time on active duty, predating his time as Secretary. Throughout the book, our narrator is General Mattis – he is never quite able to take off his uniform and step into the role of political appointee. Absent are the perspectives of Secretary or Professor Mattis. The book is peppered with history and with quotes from great leaders and the famous captains of history, but usually only as brief anecdotes. Mattis employs men from Xenophon to Churchill and Kipling to serve as background or signposts in his narrative. (Sadly, there are no women featured.) This is enlightening for the reader who is unfamiliar with the history of the Peloponnesian Wars or the Zimmerman Telegram – but the lessons are also disappointingly shallow, or as the Washington Post noted in their review – occasionally off the mark. They might remind the reader more of an overactive student in class hoping to impress a professor, rather than the musings of the professor himself. They also at time ring with a touch of hubris – Mattis is certainly aware of his cult-like following in the Marine Corps and feeds it with his juxtaposition of himself with men like Alexander the Great in Afghanistan.

The book will leave many readers disappointed. Mattis paints his own portrait somewhat stiffly, it doesn’t pierce his carefully curated persona or show the man ‘behind the mask.’ The mask is, if anything, enhanced by the addition of new material, like anecdotes about his youth in Washington state. He only teases the reader with the barest of information about his time as Secretary of Defense in the Trump Administration asserting “I’m old fashioned: I don’t write about sitting presidents.” There is no large reveal about his time working for President Trump. The most dramatic words to this effect are in his resignation letter, which has long been released. Call Sign Chaos is entirely about his time in uniform.

Ultimately, Call Sign Chaos is a primer on leadership from one of the most influential military leaders of the 21st Century. Readers will find Mattis’s story and his advice for young leaders written in a continuation of his persona. While never revolutionary or even radical, his advice is sound and well-grounded in study and experience. For a reader who wants to look behind the curtain or be taken in on a secret, Mattis and West will disappoint. However, they deliver clear and valuable leadership advice, in context – which as they write, was their intent.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine Corps infantry officer serving on exchange in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously published book reviews in the Marine Corps Gazette, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Small Wars Journal, the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, and Strategy Bridge.

Featured Image: AL ASAD, Iraq – Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, speaks to the Marines of the maintenance section from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121 on the Al Asad flightline, May 6, 2007. 

No Decision

Fiction Week

By Walker D. Mills

February 8, 2040.
Senate Chamber, United States Capitol Building.

Chairman: Madam Commandant, we have asked for you to come here today to testify about the role the Marine Corps played in the Pacific War. As you are well aware, the future of the Marine Corps is now in question and we wanted you to justify for us the Corps’ continued existence as a separate entity in the Department of Defense. We will start with five minutes of questions from the junior Senator from Wisconsin.

Senator: General, do you feel that the service was prepared to meet the challenges of conflict?

CMC: First, thank you for the question and for inviting me here today. The attacks on Taiwan and Okinawa caught us in the middle of a transformation – a shift from decades of counter-insurgency warfare to great power competition. When the war broke out we were making changes to facilitate the operationalization of our concept Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and acquiring new systems to better address the emerging threats of China and Russia. We had also begun to realign our education programs more closely with the Navy, adding a maritime focus.

Senator: General – how long have you been, as you put it “in transformation”? Secretary of Defense Mattis declared that the military was transitioning to great power competition in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. That was two decades ago.

CMC: Yes – well, the thing is, after the release of the 2018 NDS it took us a further five years to write new concepts. And then another five years to realign our acquisition priorities. After we realigned our priorities it took five more years to design and prototype our news systems, and we’d only just begun to field them operationally when the war broke out. Likewise – between a comprehensive curriculum review and redesign it took over a decade to shift our professional education and training away from a counter-insurgency focus and back to peer-competition.

Senator: So, you’re telling me, after twenty years you are still transitioning?

CMC: Yes – but it hasn’t been in a vacuum. We’ve had Marines engaged all over the world advising foreign forces, and conducting counter-narcotics and humanitarian missions. In fact we’re very proud of that. We have significantly expanded our humanitarian and disaster relief capability in the last several years and have been deploying our Marine Special Operators and Marine Advising Regiment almost non-stop. We have teams still operating in Africa and in the Middle East.

Senator: General, do you remember what the mission of the Marine Corps is?

CMC: The mission of the Marine Corps?

Senator: Yes, according to Title 10, United States Code.

I’ll read it for you, in case you have forgotten.

“The Marine Corps shall be organized, trained, and equipped to provide fleet marine forces of combined arms, together with supporting air components, for service with the fleet in the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign.”

General, would you say that the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases in support of a naval campaign was the primary focus of the Marine Corps before the China Sea Conflict? How do foreign internal defense missions in central Africa and the Middle East, or counter-narcotics missions in South America support the prosecution of naval campaigns?

CMC: Yes sir, but I would add that Title 10 also says that we are responsible for “whatever other duties the president may direct.” We are staying relevant to the nation – we call ourselves the “First to Fight,” meaning we execute what operations come our way instead of waiting on the sidelines for operations specific to our mission.  

Senator: Let me continue. I’ll read the sentence after that.

“However, these additional duties may not detract from or interfere with the operations for which the Marine Corps is primarily organized.”

With that mission in mind, General, was the Marine Corps ready for the Pacific War?

CMC: Ready – I was actually hoping you would ask about readiness. Our readiness prior to the outbreak of the war was actually higher than it has ever been in our history. And that is readiness across all categories, Senator – maintenance, medical, dental, annual training– it was all green across the board. We were almost 100 percent deployable across the board. As an example, in I MEF, we didn’t have a single Class 4 dental Marine or Sailor. For III MEF, we were deployable across the board – no issues whatsoever and –

Senator: General, I mean what specifically had the Corps done to get ready for a great power conflict in the Pacific – with training, acquisitions, concept development or anything else related to warfighting?

CMC: We invested heavily in training before the war and sent Marines through multiple iterations of combined arms training at our Marine Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, California. As for acquisition we were watching a lot of Army and Navy programs closely – we don’t have as much money as the other services and so we can’t afford to go off and do things on our own as much. So, we were following the Army’s Long-Range Precision Fires, Future Vertical Lift, and their Future Attack Reconnaissance Helicopter programs, as well as the Navy’s mine-countermeasures and unmanned surface vehicle programs. But we didn’t have the money to fund these things ourselves.

Senator: General, in that same time period, the Marine Corps acquired over a hundred new CH-53Ks. You bought hundreds of amphibious combat vehicles and thousands of joint-light tactical vehicles. In the mid-2000s, you developed, fielded, and then scrapped your Expeditionary Fire Support System in only a few years, along with ammo and vehicles instead of purchasing existing Army systems. The Corps clearly had money to invest in unique capabilities but lacked the prescience to invest in the right capabilities.

Furthermore, why is it that your service’s most comprehensive training was conducted in the Mojave Desert – amongst terrain completely different from anywhere in the Pacific and hundreds of miles from the ocean?

CMC: To be honest sir, those programs are really holdovers from my predecessors, as was our training – I can’t bear full responsibility for that. When you start these programs you have to see them through. Back when we were fighting Afghanistan, we needed heavy lift helicopters to operate at high altitudes in desert climates. That’s also why we bought the joint-light tactical vehicle. And the amphibious combat vehicle was a much-needed replacement for our legacy vehicles. We needed something that can carry Marines from ship-to-shore and move them to the objective. We trained in the desert because it was easier than training on the coast.  It was also cheaper.

Senator: So, if I understand correctly, the Marine Corps acquired over 200 of the most expensive helicopters ever built to meet operational requirements from a war that ended in 2020 and to address terrain limitations that simply do not exist in the Pacific? And furthermore, despite the directive to increase lethality across the force, they are essentially unarmed?

Next, at the same time as we were trying to lighten the force and improve our capability to host air-mobile, forward-refueling points you replaced the mainstay tactical vehicle with one that is both significantly larger, heavier, and has less room inside. All to protect those Marines against a threat that we have not seen in the Pacific theater?

And finally, we invested in a new vehicle for ship-to-shore movement under fire after multiple Secretaries of Defense have questioned the relevance of forcible entry operations?

CMC: We made the best decisions we could with the information we had at the time.

Senator: General, you made no decisions. Under your tenure and the tenure of your predecessors, the utility of the Marine Corps withered. The Corps repeatedly invested in capabilities that were no longer relevant and legacy projects. Simultaneously, hard questions about the fundamental role of the force were ignored and unanswered. The Marine Corps shoehorned their own idea of what they should be and what they could provide into the Joint Force.

You went to war with lethal squads that were stuck in their barracks. You went to war with amphibious vehicles but without the amphibious shipping to put them on – the new L-Class ships don’t even have well decks for them to launch from. Your only contribution to the Pacific War was a few squadrons of F-35s, but limited by their short takeoff capability, they had to carry less fuel and ammunition than their Air Force and Navy cousins. You did not have the weapons, training, or concepts to defend our allies, or even yourselves. Marines were forced to fire cannon artillery at Chinese ships and landing craft because they had nothing else.

Despite the high levels of readiness you briefed, the Marine Corps was not ready for war. You were not even able to fulfill the basic mission of defending and seizing advanced bases. Therefore, I see no reason for there to be a Marine Corps.

I yield my time.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine Corps infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer with the Colombian Marine Corps. This short story is inspired by his experiences being deployed to the Western Pacific. He has previously written fiction for the Center for International Maritime Security and as part of the Krulak Center’s Destination Unknown Project and Marine Corps Post Mortem.

Featured Image: “Landing” by Charles E.J. Downing via Artstation