The 7 Most Alarming Challenges Facing Today's Marine Corps, According To Its Own Officers

The Long March
An MV-22B Osprey disembarks Marines Dec. 9, 2013, at Baker runway on Tinian's North Field during Exercise Forager Fury II. Exercises and training completed by the Marine Aircraft Wing and Marine Aircraft Group on Guam and within the Mariana Island Range Complex demonstrate the Aviation Combat Element capabilities of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force
U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Antonio Rubio

I’d missed several recent issues of the Marine Corps Gazette, so read them in a bunch when four recently arrived in the mail.

When I did, I impressed by how willing the editors are to run tough criticism of today’s Marine Corps.

Some examples:

  • In the October issue, Maj. Stanley Bednar asks what the hell has happened to Marine Corps leadership. “Leadership relief has taken a darker turn over the past 17 years of my experience,” he reports. He says he sees more commanders being relieved of “the abuse of power.”
  • In the same issue, Capt. Brent Kreckman asks, “Simply put, if the Marines take CAS [close air support] seriously, why can’t HQMC take our CAS platforms seriously?” Kreckman, a forward air controller with the 1 st Battalion of the 5th Marines, wants the Corps to consider turboprop alternatives to the F-35, such as the A-29 Super Tucano and the AT-6 Wolverine. Yes, I know, others will say that turboprops can’t survive over today’s battlefield, or that UAVs would be better for the job. But right now the Marines look kind of SOL on CAS. (Speaking of Marine aviation issues, if the V-22 is so good, why isn’t anyone else but AFSOC adopting it?)
  • A few pages later, Maj. Jonathan George, an electronic warfare specialist, offers that “the United States Marine Corps is woefully unprepared for conflict in a spectrum-degraded environment, and we lack the capability to conduct electronic warfare (EW) in any significant way.”  
  • Over my banh mi taco (good) the other day, I read an article in the September issue by Capt. Christopher Denzel, a cyberplanner and air intelligence and weapons officer,  that scrutinizes Marine air intelligence operations—or the lack of them. He concludes that, “The success of air intelligence shops is ‘personality driven,’ to use a military euphemism for ‘some people are just bad at their jobs.’”
  • By the time I had moved on to the pastor taco (also very good), I was reading Lt. Col. Antonio Borrego’s September commentary on the failure of officers to file fitness reports in a timely manner. “The simple fact is that we are late nearly 50 percent of the time.”
  • Back to aviation. In the August issue, Lt. Col. Jack Ramthun reviews the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and concludes that it "fell victim to two key decision mistakes early in its development: the joint approach  with diverse requirements and concurrency with unproven technologies. The significant negative consequences from these mistakes include schedule delays stretching greater than five years, program costs more than doubling from original estimates, and decreasing legacy tactical aviation readiness." Colonel Ramthun likens the design of the F-35 to someone trying to make footwear that could at once be running shoes, sandals, dress shoes, and hiking boots. (My friend retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes, looking at the short legs of the F-35 and at the drone-rich 21st century military environment, comments, “It's as if in 1940 we doubled down on battleships instead of carriers.”)
  • Well, one might think, maybe the Marines are focusing all their attention on the basics of infantry. Not so fast! The December issue arrived, and in it, three captains inform us that, “The bottom line is that we are failing to properly man, train and equip the nation’s small unit close combat leaders and units.” Oh well.

I can only imagine the commandant sitting down to read the Gazette in his easy chair one evening and having his hair standing on end after reading an article or two. He might think he could relax when he got to Col. Jonathan Dunne’s article recommending that Marines prepare for foreign advisory duty by reading Harvard Business Review articles on what makes a good consultant.

But then he’d get to the paragraph in which the colonel states that “Arguably, we do not do enough to help advisors-in-training to understand or appropriately develop specific elements of their character, creativity, and communications so as to be best prepared to advise a foreign partner.”

(Only one stinker was an odd sentence, on page 65 of the December issue, in which Brig. Gen. Kevin Stewart states that “having a spouse who works full-time does provide me with a unique perspective.”

That stopped me. How is that “unique”? Two full-time jobs are the case for close to half of all American families. (Perhaps he meant Marine general officers, for whom I haven’t seen stats.)

Not all of these guys are necessarily right in their criticisms and proposed solutions. Rather, my point is that they are asking hard questions in clear ways, and that is good to see in a professional military journal.

I hereby commend the editors of the Marine Corps Gazette for operating in the highest and finest traditions of professional military journalism.

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephane Belcher)

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