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Springer Journal: The Few ... The Proud ... The Transforming Marines

Posted November 21, 2002

— The United States Marine Corps has a justifiably proud tradition of service to our nation spanning more than 225 years. Traditionally. this "separate service" has been tied organizationally to the United States Navy. It still is.

Traditionally also, the Marines who tout themselves as "the few ... the proud ... the Marines" have been recognized as an unbeatable amphibious attack force capable of ship to shore combat to establish a presence, defeat an enemy, and to establish a secure beachhead for follow-on combat operations. Iwo Jima in WWII immediately comes to mind.

This traditional amphibious assault mission on to enemy shores was relevant and important in the 20th century. It is less relevant today. In fact, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Jones, suggests it is time to shed this traditional thinking and move forward into the 21st century.

The Cold War is now long gone, and America stands as the world's only superpower with international responsibility for security around the globe. The 21st century's more clear and current danger is the threat of global terrorism.

The world has changed in many ways. Reflect for a moment on the recent military experiences in Afghanistan. This is a land-locked nation with no seaports, no coastlines and provided virtually no host nation support or infrastructure for America's armed forces seeking to find and destroy the Taliban and al Queda forces.

Everything that the United States needed to fight this unconventional enemy force had to be airlifted into Afghanistan. This included the traditional "beans, bullets and black oil" as well as such mundane items as drinking water.

The initial airlift support was by airdropping the equipment and supplies as no useable airstrips were available. The United States Air Force's Air Mobility Command's airlift forces did a remarkable job of getting what was needed to where it was needed.

In fact, on the first night of our bombing missions (October 7, 2001) USAF C-17's were also dropping Humanitarian Daily Rations in northern Afghanistan clearly signaling that America was not there to conquer, but rather to aid a nation under siege to terrorists. This humanitarian relief mission, spanning 9,000 miles and 12 countries, required multiple refuelings and more than 21 hours airborne.

But airlanding troops and equipment is always preferable to airdropping. It is more efficient; there is less damage; and the payload always gets to the proper user. Enter the United States Marine Corps.

I recently attended a symposium where I heard from Major General Jim Mattis, USMC commander of Task Force 58 with a mission of establishing Camp Rhino (as well as follow-on missions) in southern Afghanistan. Task Force 58 was comprised of Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Camp Pendleton, California.

With this operation the Marines were moving beyond the traditional role of ship-to-shore and were now focusing on their 21st century focus of ship-to-objective maneuver. Task Force 58 departed naval ships at sea and moved inland over 400 miles to establish a forward operating base at Camp Rhino near Kandahar. The much-maligned CV-22 tilt rotor aircraft in development would have been ideally suited for this mission.

We now know how effective they were. They secured the airport at Kandahar which permitted follow on forces and humanitarian relief to be airlanded rather than airdropped. They established a collection point for detainees at the Kandahar airport. They assisted with the security and reopening of the American Embassy in Kabul, and conducted other operational and humanitarian missions as well.

Clearly the Marines have demonstrated they are capable of reaching beyond foreign shorelines with a distinctive brand of military might. We will see much more of this as the years move forward. But they won't do it alone. Military "jointness" is not merely a buzzword or slogan.

It was striking for me to reflect on just how much jointness this particular Afghan operation displayed. The naval ships at sea provided the host base to get the Task Force 58 near the fray. Air Force, Naval and Marine aviation were absolutely critical to providing air supremacy and covering the Marines insertion.

The air refueling tankers, primarily the Air Force's KC-10's and KC-135's, were indispensable to the bombers and fighters which cleared the way. The intelligence and surveillance aircraft from the Navy and Air Force, along with the unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Predator, were crucial to the fight. The U.S. special operations forces, primarily those of the United States Army, had a distinctive and compelling role to play here as well.

This nation should be justifiably proud of "the few ... the Marines." They should be equally proud that, in spite of some expected inter-service squabbles, all of our armed services are working together jointly to insure the most efficient and effective combat force ever assembled. A force that will not be defeated -- anywhere.


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