Every four years, with all the behind-the-scenes speculation of a papal selection, the Marine Corps anoints a new Commandant—1995 was such a year. Lieutenant General Charles C. Krulak was selected and when the word got out—the equivalent of the Vatican’s puff of white smoke—it signalled more than a change in leadership; it signified a sharp shift in pace and urgency about the future.
The Mundy Era. At first glance one might be excused for characterizing General Carl Mundy’s tenure as commandant as a transition period, one long on stability and short on significant change. Even General Mundy has referred to himself as the “sustaining Commandant.” Yet he guided his Corps through the shoals of an extremely dangerous period. Anyone familiar with the force-planning debates inside the Pentagon, and between the Joint Staff and the services recognizes the magnitude of General Mundy’s success.
The period began with a serious challenge to the Corps’ continued relevance and utility. When General Mundy was handed the distinguished Battle Color of the Corps in 1991, the country was shifting from the exhilarating Gulf War victory to the necessary but painful recrafting of its military force structure. It is a well known that the nation has a poor track record during such drawdowns, and that America did not need simply a pro rata reduction of its Cold War force structure.
What it needed was a versatile military instrument molded to serve the country’s myriad commitments, to remain engaged with allies, to shape the future instead of react to it, and to respond when the nation needed a ready force. These conditions and an in-place consensus augured well for the Corps and its reputation as a crisis-response force.
Nevertheless, the national security bureaucracy planned to slash the Corps’ end strength by 25%, which would have reduced its long-term capacity for sustained engagement and forward presence by generating an unbearable operational tempo on the backs of its young Marines. Aided by a hand-picked planning group, General Mundy formulated a strategic counter-response that eventually carried the day and was incorporated into the Defense Department’s Bottom-Up Review. [See “About Fighting and Winning Wars,” this issue, pages 32-40.]
It would have been far easier for him to have accepted the shaky scaffolding of the initially proposed Base Force. Caving in would have minimized confrontation with other service chiefs and the inner sanctum of the Joint Staff. Bearing a proportionate share of the pain of the downsizing would have made the Corps a team player. Such an approach, however, was not in the best interests of the country, nor would it have sized the Corps to execute the tasks assigned it in the National Military Strategy.
As a result, he resolutely carried his concerns to the nation’s senior elected officials and the Pentagon. Ultimately, he convinced the Defense Department and Congress of the need to maintain a capable Marine Corps—in this case, 174,000 Marines. This is Carl Mundy’s legacy.
The Krulak Era. When General Krulak took over as the 31st Commandant in July, his first order was “Continue to march,” acknowledging that he had received a healthy Corps and that he would build upon the foundation set by his predecessors. He recognized, however, that stewardship sometimes requires taking a more visionary approach, one designed to shape the institution for the long term—not just for tomorrow, but for the day after tomorrow.
As his first official action, he issued a new Commandant’s Planning Guidance designed to serve as a road map for his first year. It established a vision for a Corps that could enter the 21st century as “the nation's premier crisis-response force—ever ready to project the power and influence of the United States to any foreign shore.”
Budget Request (in millions)
Congressional Appropriation (in millions)
Operations and Maintenance
Reserve Operations and Maintenance
Family Housing and Military Construction (USMC)
Research and Development, Testing and Evaluation
Riding the Dragon
Many observers have focused on this 29-page document, with its 40-plus tasks and swiftly looming deadlines, as his ultimate vision. Few have noted that his real intent is to generate major institutional changes, the most important of which is to instill within the Corps a capacity for rapid change. He wants an organization with a mentality that can "anticipate change, adapt to it, foster it." To further this goal, he established a system that permits junior Marines to contact him directly via electronic mail. His staff is responsible for responding in writing to each suggestion.
In many respects, he has adapted the concepts espoused by author Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline, and started to shift the tradition-bound and hierarchically oriented Corps into a modern learning organization. Such organizations create individuals who not only can adapt to changing situations but who can anticipate and even activate them. Senge's organizations excel at systemic problem solving, experimenting with new approaches, learning from history and the experience of others, and by quickly communicating ideas and lessons across the entire organization. These attributes seem to match the steps laid out in the planning guidance.
General Krulak uses an old Chinese proverb to underscore the challenge of change. “Change is a dragon: you can ignore it and it will eat you when you turn your back; you can fight it—try to force change to go the way you want it to go, and it will tire you out and destroy you; or you can ride the dragon by looking at change as an opportunity. . . .” He told an audience of defense industry officials and academics, “We are going to ride the dragon with your help.”
Commandant's Warfighting Laboratory
General Krulak introduced the laboratory—headed by Colonel Anthony Wood—in an opening ceremony before Congressional representatives, the media, the defense community, and the commercial world at Little Hall, Quantico, Virginia, on 19 December 1995. More than 1,000 visitors showed up to hear General Krulak, Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and Colonel Wood explain the critical role that he expects it to play over the next few years.
Activated on 1 October 1995, it is located at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) in Quantico, Virginia, with access to the entire Marine Corps. Backed with the personal support of the Commandant, and staffed by a small, multidisciplinary cadre, the unit will conduct operational experiments of potentially promising technologies and ideas. As the centerpiece for integrating new technologies into the Corps, it is responsible for turning concepts into real capabilities. The lab already is busy with a number of new initiatives, including:
- Sea Dragon—an umbrella concept for the development of new warfighting frameworks that employ emerging technologies such as precision munitions and sea-based fire support and logistics
- Testing of non-lethal technology
- Employment of the latest in training and education technologies, including advanced distributed simulations and wargaming techniques
- Design and fielding of an emergency biochemical response unit for rapid response to terrorist incidents such as the Tokyo subway attack
- Application of the latest commercial technologies for expeditionary logistics
The Marines demonstrated their willingness to consider outside ideas and explore new ways to accomplish old tasks by wargaming and exchanging ideas with futures traders at New York’s Mercantile Exchange on 5 and 6 December 1995. The Marines wanted to experience decision making in the volatile futures pit where millions and even billions of dollars are shifted in minutes. The rapid decision-making environment of the futures market seems a fit analogue to the Clausewitzian friction of modern war with its seemingly chaotic streams of extraneous data flows and incomplete analyses made from disparate changes in weather, currency fluctuations, political changes, and new economic reports.
The Marines reciprocated by hosting the traders at a computerized military war game, where the businessmen were exposed to the strategic concepts and operational techniques found in the military world. Future meetings will take advantage of the common ground found between these two seemingly diverse groups of decision makers.
Programs and Resources
During General Mundy’s tenure, the Corps experienced an annual exercise in frustration. For three consecutive budget cycles, the Marines submitted an unbalanced program that favored readiness and personnel programs for today’s operational demands, while deferring the necessary modernization for tomorrow’s Corps. Critics worried that the Marine Corps was setting itself up for long-term readiness woes.
In fact, the Marines were hoping each year that the senior leadership of the Pentagon would recognize the strategy-resource gap or that supporters on Capitol Hill would make up the shortfall. Yet, the nation’s national security leaders failed to appreciate the need to look past longstanding Cold War programming patterns and fiscal formulas that no longer washed with the still evolving post-Cold War strategy. Each year the Corps’ hopes went unfulfilled.
In its 1996 budget request, however, the Corps fared better. The Marines garnered an additional $341 million from Congress in the appropriations process, of which nearly $200 million was earmarked for additional procurement needs. See Figure 1 for the Marine Corps’ budget request and the final Congressional appropriations.
The additions were earmarked largely for depleted ammunition lockers, with minor add-ons to sustain special interest programs. The funds were a start, but the Corps needs more resources to function at peak capability in the information age. The Lightweight 155-mm Howitzer program got a small push, while the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) program got an additional $6 million. The Real Property Maintenance account got a real boost, an additional $100 million, which should help defuse any budding readiness problems.
Most important, the Corps’ key modernization programs, the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor and the AAAV, got strong support from Congress. These programs are presently in development (the V-22 has been approved for production and the AAAV is in the demonstration/evaluation phase) and will ultimately require significant funding. Major infusions of capital will be needed when the Osprey and AAAV programs are ready for full production.
Consistent with the national security strategy of engagement, the Marine Corps continued a steady pace of operational activities during the year. It maintained its routine level of post-Cold War presence with an average of nearly 24,000 Marines (roughly a quarter of the Fleet Marine Force) deployed in the Western Pacific, Southwest Asia, the Adriatic, and other hot spots.
The year began with Marines continuing their operational support in and around the Balkans on behalf on U.S. efforts to stem the violence in the former Yugoslavia. Despite the weather, terrain, and the complex political-military situation in Bosnia-Herzegovenia, Marines were on station. As part of Operation Provide Promise, which began in 1992, Marines continue to support ongoing efforts by the United Nations and NATO in Bosnia. Marine shore-based fighters, aerial refueling aircraft, and security forces have assisted the theater commander in bringing in humanitarian supplies and resources to besieged areas.
Marine F/A-18s and EA-6Bs, operating from Aviano, Italy, in Operation Deny Flight, are part of a multi-national effort to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnian airspace. In concert with Navy aircraft, Marine fighter squadrons were tasked with providing air cover for the United Nations Protection Forces (UN- ProFor). The major operational highlight of the year, the rescue of Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, from Bosnian Serb territory in June 1995 was executed by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) with extensive joint support.
Early on 8 June, Admiral Leighton Smith, U.S. Navy, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe (CinCUS-NavEur), asked then-Colonel Martin Berndt, Commanding Officer, 24th MEU(SOC) on board the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in the Adriatic, what he thought of the situation. Berndt had been listening to the radio traffic and had alerted his staff. “I think we can get him,” he replied. They did. (See “The Recovery of Basher 52,” by Brigadier General Martin R- Berndt and Major Michael C. Jordan, Proceedings November 1995, pp. 41-47.)
According to Colonel Berndt, the rescue was not flawless, but it “validated what we do, the training, the type of Marines that we have . . . this Navy-Marine team concept. There are those who believe that you just wake up in the middle of the night and just whip this thing together and you go out and do it. Well, the guys who do this for a living know that’s just not true."
In Operation Deliberate Force, held in conjunction with NATO forces, naval aircraft from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), USS America (CV-66), and Marine aircraft based in Italy conducted air strikes against Bosnian-Serb forces in September 1995. The combination of practical maneuvering and the clear, persuasive power of real, on-scene, combat power convinced the warring factions to seek a negotiated settlement.
Marine participation in Bosnia continued after the Dayton Peace Accord. As Operation Joint Endeavor began, a Marine anti-terrorist security detachment arrived to provide security for the Implementation Forces (IFOR) headquarters site, while an amphibious ready group and its MEU(SOC) took station nearby in the Adriatic as theater reserve.
Bosnia dominated the headlines, but Marines—as usual—deployed worldwide. In Operation United Shield during February and March 1995, the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3), and USS Essex (LHD-2) ARGs with their embarked Marines under s the command of Lieutenant General Anthony Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps, helped ensure the safe withdrawal of U.N. forces from Mogadishu, Somalia. This Combined Task Force—23 ships and 16,000 Marines—covered the withdrawal of all remaining personnel, including a number of coalition partners, in an extremely volatile situation. United Shield also saw the Corps’ first use of non-lethal technologies—proof of an adaptive Corps willing to innovate.
Military operations other than war continued to command a significant portion of the Marine Corps’ operational schedule. Migrant and refugee support missions were the biggest examples. In Operations Support Democracy, Sea Signal, and Safe Passage, Marine forces demonstrated their operational versatility across a wide range of tasks in Haiti, Cuba, and Panama.
The National Security Strategy places a premium on engaging with emerging states and those countries seeking to transition to democracy and free market- based economies. To provide concrete support to this strategy, Marine forces participated in a number of major exercises. In August 1995, in Exercise Cooperation From the Sea, Marine and naval forces exercised with Russian naval equivalents in Hawaii, marking the first time the two countries had exercised together bilaterally in U.S. waters.
Marine units also participated in the Pacific Fleet’s initiative to foster cooperative engagement, coalition building, and interoperability with friends in Southeast Asia, beginning in May 1995, with a naval force and embarked Marines that trained with units from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Also in May, the 31st MEU participated in Exercise Cobra Gold 95—the largest to date—as part of a force of 26,000 soldiers, sailors, and Marines. The longstanding UNITAS program in South and Central America was just as successful.
In addition to the contributions made by Marine forces off the coast of Bosnia. Marine elements contributed to a number of Partnership for Peace (PFP) exercises in Central and Eastern Europe. Bilateral military-to-military contact programs flourished throughout the region, and amphibious operations were exercised with Albania, Romania, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. These represented historic inaugural opportunities for landing operations with these developing countries. Additional liaison and cooperative activities were conducted with Poland and Estonia.
Operation Vigilant Sentinel in August demonstrated the importance of rapid response by combat-ready power-projection forces. When Iraqi forces showed indications of increased readiness and were positioned aggressively against Kuwait and Jordan, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and USS Independence (CV- 62) carrier battle groups and the 11th MEU(SOC) with the USS New Orleans (LPH-11) ARG were quickly positioned in the Persian Gulf. The theater commander also elected to employ Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron Two (MPS-2) from nearby Diego Garcia, providing him with the equipment and supplies for another 16,500 Marine combat force. The early-arriving task force demonstrated U.S. concern over Iraqi troop dispositions and our resolve to defend our interests and our friends in the region. Iraq withdrew its threatening forces.
No discussion of the Corps would be complete without acknowledging its 42,000 drilling Reservists. Although representing the smallest Reserve element of any Service, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the Total Force, the new Commandant called the integration of the Marine Reserve the key to the Corps’ future success in his widely distributed planning guidance.
The Marine Reserve Force also underwent a change at the helm this summer as Medal of Honor winner Major General James Livingston retired on 14 July and Major General Thomas L. Wilkerson, transferred from his previous posting as Director, Plans Division, Headquarters,' Marine Corps, assumed command. General Wilkerson, widely recognized as one of the Corps’ most eloquent spokesmen, played a key role in defending the Marine Corps’ positions before the Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces in early 1995.
Major General Wilkerson immediately focused Reserve programs and resources on three clear missions outlined by the Commandant:
- A strong outreach program to the local community
- Innovative means of employing the Reserves to augment the active force in its day-to-day peacetime tasks
- Training and resources directed to its warfighting missions—augmenting and reinforcing the active force in the event of two major regional contingencies.
With the active force operating near maximum operational tempo, the Reserves are looking for innovative ways to alleviate the strain. “The Reserve is one of our last untapped resources,” General Wilkerson said. The citizen-Marines of its subordinate commands; the 4th Marine Division, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and the 4th Force Service Support Group, came forward with a number of ideas to help shoulder the burden of the national strategy of engagement. Reserve units were deployed to Cuba to assist in security and support operations for Haitian refugees, and in Europe in support of PFP programs. New missions to provide security assistance in Panama and to serve as the major element in the Battle Griffin exercise series in Norway were developed. In addition to new missions, the Reserves continued to hone their skills in amphibious operations in Exercise Summer Thunder off Camp Pendleton, California, and in Exercise Freedom Banner 95.
Reaching out to the American people is even more important today, now that the Cold War era of large standing forces is over. With the size of the force reduced, and with many small bases, reserve sites, and recruiting substations closing, it remains important to explain the need for a force in readiness—and the need to sustain a strong Reserve. The Corps continues to draw upon its unique ties to the American public to generate unbeatable support when confronted with opposing institutional interests in the national security bureaucracy.
Yet the challenge of drawing upon each succeeding generation is not easily met. MarForRes completed a successful year meeting its three major missions. Its one real concern was to maintain personnel strength. Recruiters found it harder to find fresh recruits to step into the famous yellow footprints at the Recruit Depots. Local commanders found it harder to convince young Reservists to stick with the challenges of balancing private-sec- tor careers in a smaller economy with part-time participation in an also smaller but demanding military. Commanders are challenged to place even greater emphasis on retention programs, particularly for prior-service Marines.
The Reserves found themselves stretched, but were successful in meeting their personnel goals. Next year’s end strength of 42,274 looms as a stiff goal in a year where pictures from Bosnia will be omnipresent, and when propensity to enlist among today’s youth declines steadily. Yet some will step forward, just as they have for the past 75 years.
The tragic bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April, in which two active- duty Marines were killed and four injured, highlighted the Corps’ lifetime influence on individuals. Michael Curtain, a New York police officer and Reserve First Sergeant, was searching the wreckage when he discovered a familiar blue fabric with the distinctive red stripe of a Marine officer—the remains of Captain Randolph Guzman, a recruiter. “Somehow,” Curtain recounted, “I knew what I had to do.” Quickly canvassing the volunteers, he organized a fire team of four former Marines. They gained permission to extricate the body— a five-hour process given the danger posed by the unstable structure—then they closed the captain’s eyes, covered him with a flag provided by a thoughtful Air Force officer, and carried out the fallen Marine.
Word had spread that the Marines had found one of their own and were bringing out a comrade. “You could have heard a pin drop,” Curtain said. As Manny Hernandez, one of the four and a squad leader in Vietnam, remembered: “. . . whenever we lost a Marine, he was never left.”
If General Krulak is going to jump- start the Corps into the 21st century, he must address three major problems: providing forces for presence in the Pacific, finding the resources for key modernization programs, and ensuring adequate attention to individual Marines.
The Pacific Rim is of vast strategic importance, and it poses many challenges. By 2005, China probably will surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economic power. By 2010, the rim probably will include eight of the world’s ten largest economies. By 2015, if it is successful in transitioning through its upcoming leadership change and continues its present growth pattern, China could surpass the United States as the world’s economic superpower.
American political and economic objectives warrant a foreign policy that leans towards the Pacific Basin. Such policy will place a premium on flexible power-projection forces, such as the forward-based Seventh Fleet and III Marine Expeditionary Force and the flexible forward presence offered by periodic deployments. General Krulak will be challenged to identify ways for the Marines to continue to make a creditable contribution in this region, consistent with U.S. strategic goals for the Pacific Century.
The Corps will enter the 21st century behind on modernization—and Congress seems disposed to earmark any additional resources for high-technology weapons associated with the defense industrial base or the political constituencies of key Congressmen. With the Defense budget unlikely to grow, modernizing more mundane equipment—trucks, howitzers, radios, etc.—could become a major problem. The Corps could find itself poorly positioned for an age in which technology may dominate warfare. Even worse, the Corps’ key modernization programs, namely the MV-22 Osprey and the AAAV, could run headlong into a brick wall generated by a balanced-budget decision.
Where General Mundy’s tenure was characterized as one that legitimized the Corps’ post-Cold War structure. General Krulak’s era could well be defined by the success or failure of his efforts to achieve adequate modernization funding for tomorrow’s Corps.
The Corps faces a final challenge in preserving the quality of the individual Marine, which will place an increasing load on the recruiting force and the training establishment. In an age where social conditions often produce undisciplined, selfish, and unfocused youth, the Corps must ensure it can fill its ranks with committed, highly adaptable Marines. At the same time, however, the Corps must maintain what columnist George Will called its countercultural nature, "its conscious cultivation of an ethos conducive to producing hard people in a soft age."
The Commandant's goal of employing advanced computer-gaming techniques and distributive-simulation technologies to ensure adequate training for more and more Marines is a long leap from today's training curriculum. Yet, such a transformation is vital for a Corps whose expeditionary hallmark has always been predicated on an ability to make do, and to improvise on the spot. What has changed is that adapting and improvising will occur at a far greater pace, and across a wider range of missions, than in the past.
The Corps also will be challenged with providing equitable opportunities for all Marines—including improving an archaic performance-evaluation system, and coming to grips with perceptions of unfairness in the command-selection process. Some of this will require revolutionary changes within a Corps confident of its current capabilities, and will generate strong resistance.
But the Corps either must learn to ride the Dragon—or stand aside.
Lieutenant Colonel Hoffman is National Security Affairs analyst at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico. Virginia. He was commissioned in 1978 from the University of Pennsylvania's NROTC program.