By Tom Squitieri, Talk Media News
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps raised a flag over a new base on Guam today for 5,000 members of III Marine Expeditionary Force set to relocate from Okinawa, Japan. It is the latest example of a physical and tactical alignment of the Corps on a mission to rediscover its purpose and prowess.
The Guam base is the first new Marine installation since Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany was commissioned in Georgia on March 1, 1952. Its opening occurs as tensions continue to heat between the U.S and China over Beijing’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea, along its border and movements toward South Korea and Japan.
It is also a physical and geographical example of the Corps taking steps so its future can result in operations as successful as conducted in the past.
Some military analysts wonder how the U.S. military can counter the many advantages China seems to have militarily in the region. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has declared the Marines will be the “eyes and ears” of a combined military effort against China — and the Corps is pivoting to achieve his vision as it moves to be tighter with a better punch, more agile, and much more maneuverable.
The Corps’ image remains somewhat singed from a less than successful attempt a few years ago to restore and reload its image of having mastery of amphibious warfare.
A much-heralded training exercise, Pacific Blitz, involved command and control of simultaneous amphibious and maritime prepositioning forces, distributed maneuver, fires, intelligence, and logistics in support of a maritime campaign. It received scathing reviews by many analysts and jolted the Corps into realizing changes had to be made for military realities and from a public and congressional relations and awareness.
And it left many asking why there should be a Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps receives about 7% of the defense budget, and all the changes will be made within its existing budget, Berger promised.
“We’re not asking for a nickel more and the Marine Corps is not asking for any end-strength increase any money increase,” Berger said in his remarks for the recent Modern Day Marine expo held from Quantico, Virginia.
Among the items going: tanks and other armored vehicles, most traditional cannon batteries, large size air tactical squadrons. Among items coming: a return to its one-time prowess in amphibious operations, new technology such as the high mobility artillery rocket system, new ground-based air defense help, and a new Marine littoral regiment built with a combat team, a logistics element, and an anti-air battalion.
Essentially returning closer to the historical, agile “every Marine a rifleman” manta the changes are aimed at the Marine Corps’ targets of taking the small islands, atolls, and manmade military challenges through the South China Sea and scattered across the Pacific Ocean.
The adjustments are expected to be honed over a three-year test trial, Marine officials said during the expo and on other occasions.
Current budget scenarios show reducing the active-duty Marine Corps down from 186,200 to 184,100 by the end of 2021. Future cuts, which Berger has suggested are possible, could make the Corps smaller than it was under President Obama, whose strength was 183,604 active-duty Marines in 2016.
There have been some surprises.
In September, 10 Marine fighter jets deployed not on a U.S. Navy ship but don the United Kingdom’s only aircraft carrier – the HMS Queen Elizabeth — as part of a multi-month training deployment.
There are also reports the Corps is considering closing its boot camps at Parris Island and San Diego to open a new coed boot camp in a yet undetermined location. Marine entry-level training is a long way off from being able to meet a congressional mandate to make gender-integrated training a reality within five years at Parris Island and eight at San Diego. That would be a huge change to the Corps’ legacy.