Amphibious in Nature

One of the challenges in this discussion of Marine Corps future organization and doctrine is the rhetoric. Unfortunately, the Corps has adopted the language of “jointness,” with its cloistered meanings defined in Army publications. This needs to stop if we are to find our way forward.

Maneuver warfare is a theoretical concept only fully understood in terms of the alternative, “war of attrition.” Most major conflicts contain elements of both, regardless of doctrine. The carnage on the “Highway of Death” in February 1991 demonstrated the advantages of maneuvrism, but Fallujah in 2004 demonstrated the need to engage in attrition warfare in an urban environment.

Doctrine is usually the result of codifying the practices and norms under which current senior leadership was able to rise. It is why armies and naval forces are always well equipped and trained to fight the last war. Change is difficult, especially when you have been well rewarded by current norms and practices.

Unfortunately, since 1945 the Marine Corps has been employed as a second land army, giving up its distinction as a unique, combined arms, amphibious force. We don’t even talk like Marines anymore.
We’ve come to identify ourselves as “expeditionary” rather than amphibious. We talk about Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations when Marines once knew it wasn’t Advanced Base Operations but Advance Base Operations. There is a difference. We didn’t need the catch word “expeditionary,” it was a given that the entire Marine Corps was expeditionary – it was part of our nature as a unique, combined arms, amphibious force. The Army needed to identify which of their formations were “expeditionary” and which were otherwise employed. The necessary distinction continues today with the Army’s multiple four-star commands: Forces Command (expeditionary), Training and Doctrine Command (garrison), Materials Command and Futures Command (service support).

By tradition, the Marine Corps has a single, four-star command and that is the Marine Corps – a unique, combined arms, amphibious force – commanded by a Commandant in the grade of General. We are not led by the staff, like the Army Staff or the Air Staff. We are led by a Commandant. We don’t get orders from the Marine Corps Staff, they come from the Commandant.

From our history, we can gain a perspective on General Berger’s force strategy by considering the actions of Commandant Holcomb. Holcomb created defense battalions and raider battalions to obtain the material, equipment, and personnel necessary to prepare the Marine Corps for war with Japan. Without the defense battalions there would have never been a Second Marine Division, and the raider battalions (a fascination of FDR’s) kept the funding flowing to stand up four more divisions. Not every objective can be taken by a frontal assault, sometimes you need to maneuver.

Forty years removed from active duty, I find myself wanting to ask the new guys to reach up and pull hard on an ear lobe until you hear a popping noise. That will be your head coming out of your joint ass. Then we’ll be able to get back to being Marines and not some disguised, purple-suited, expeditionary adjunct to the Army. Start with “Amphibious” and then we can examine and discuss the future structure and missions of the Marine Corps.