The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Dec. 7. Highlights of his presentation include:
Notably he spoke about how our nation has gotten it wrong in the past (i.e. post World War II) and how the effects of that draw down had serious repercussions during the Korean War. He noted that there is a human cost to not getting draw downs correct as was demonstrated by the fate of Task Force Smith – the Army battalion initially sent to respond to the advance of the North Korean People’s Army.
Task Force Smith suffered tremendous casualties of killed, wounded or missing. He used that example to illustrate the consequences of not getting it right. They were not properly manned, trained, or equipped. He summed it up by stating, “When we talk about getting it right or getting it wrong. What we’re talking about is our ability to send Americans in harm’s way with the wherewithal to accomplish the mission, with minimal loss of life and equipment.”
The Role of the Marine Corps
Dunford explained that the WWII draw down was crafted by the day’s best strategists, and they got it wrong. Their predictions about the future were wrong. And historically, we don’t have a good track record of making accurate predictions about what the future holds. The one thing we can safely say is that the future security environment is complex, dynamic and most importantly, uncertain.
This is why the mission of the Marine Corps as it was crafted in the early 1950’s by the 82nd Congress makes sense. In 1951 and 1952, Congress held hearings about what had happened in early days of the Korean War. They were horrified that we as a nation had sent men into harm’s way so unprepared. After hearing from witnesses and influenced by the actions of Marines on the Korean Peninsula, they determined that the nation needed a crisis response force and that that force should be the United States Marine Corps.
A little more than a year ago, then Secretary of Defense Gates challenged the Marine Corps to define its unique role in a post-Operation Enduring Freedom world. The Marine Corps convened a group of senior leaders called the Force Structure Review Group. That group looked at what the Marines’ mission was as described by the 82nd Congress, they looked at what the Marines had done in the recent past (to include 130 amphibious operations since 1990), and assumptions about the future security environment. They concluded that the mission of the Marine Corps was unchanged and that America still need a crisis response force in readiness, a force that could deter potential adversaries, demonstrate commitment, buy time for decision makers, respond to crises and enable joint/interagency operations.
Armed with the mission of the Marine Corps, the group determined what size the Marine Corps needed to be. They came up with 186,800.
In response to a question about how much smaller he thought the Marine Corps might get, Dunford said: “After the first round of recommendations we made to the Secretary of Defense, we thought the Marine Corps should be about 186,800. That where we’re at right now. There have been no decisions to go below that. In order to get there (the Marine Corps is currently about 202,000) we’re going to have a deliberate drawdown over the next several years, we think we can draw down about 4-5 thousand a year without breaking faith with our Marines. In other words we can do that through the normal course of events just by adjusting the meter of how many Marines we enlist and reenlist. We will not break contracts with Marines. Staff sergeants with 14-15 years will still be allowed to retire; majors will still be allowed to retire…”
With regard to speculation about the future, he said, “Whatever size Marine Corps we have … what we’re not going to do is have more structure than we can properly man. We’re going to man our units 99% enlisted and 95% officers.”
What keeps him awake at night
Gen. Dunford also shared what he perceives as the challenges the Marine Corps faces, or as he described it, “What keeps him awake at night.” This is what was on his list:
Health of the force. He noted that after 10 years of war we have a number of wounded warrior issues to include Marines struggling with post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
Reset and Reconstitution. He said we have to address the equipment coming out of Afghanistan, and ensure that we have the capabilities needed for the future.
Maintaining a high quality force. He stated that the foundation of our success over the past 10 years has been our ability to recruit and retain high quality people and that we will need that ability in the future. So, when we talk about changes to compensation it needs to be done in that context. When people discuss solutions of compensation, it needs to be done with an eye on what the impact of those solutions would be on the force.
Maintaining Balance. These are his pillars of readiness and he stated that if we maintain balance among these pillars, the Marine Corps won’t be a “hollow” force.
High quality people (the ability to recruit and retain high quality individuals), current readiness (what most would typically associate with readiness such as operational maintenance, flight hours, etc.), capabilities / capacities versus requirements (ensuring that our capabilities and capacities meet the requirements of our nation), infrastructure sustainment and equipment modernization.