Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Marine Corps became an entity that was forced to shift from its roots as a sea service organization to one focused on fighting tactical land wars, more in line with U.S. Army combat missions. This was due to the need to deploy Marine Corps operating forces into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the last 15 years, Marine Corps executive leaders have been soul searching, struggling to find a clearer pathway to repurpose and reconstitute this American institution to remain relevant and useful to U.S. military needs for the future.
With the rise of China, the Marines have found their long-term purpose once again, which is to return in greater force back to the Pacific Ocean blue continent region where they cut their teeth during World War II and during Vietnam.
What is the Marine Corps?
The Marines Corps is basically an American national governmental organization that has over 200,000 people working as reservists, active duty, and civilian employees. The cost to taxpayers to operate and keep the Marine Corps going each year exceeds $45 billion.
The basic premise behind the existence of the Marine Corps is to have a maritime based infantry force supported by the Navy to help satisfy the American national need for short- or no-notice quick-response armed military forces to be delivered across the globe.
The Marine Corps is made up of distinct and overlapping organizations to include operating forces, supporting units, and a headquarters community based out of the Washington, D.C. area called Headquarters, United States Marine Corps , or HQMC. The organization is hierarchical, directive, and military order-centric due to the nature of the Marine Corps business model.
Marine Corps operational forces are geographically distributed, named, task-oriented and fungible. Marines also maintain functional-based communities designed and organized to fight today’s high-tech and smaller unit wars. Some of the core functions practiced by category include personnel, intelligence, operations and training, logistics, plans, communications, civil affairs, and force preservation.
Too close for comfort?
The massive military buildup of our Marianas Islands, which is immediately associated with the permanent relocation of select Marine Corps units from Okinawa, represents one piece of the much larger buildup pie. The Marines have long intended to maintain a fundamental enduring presence in our Marianas Islands chain, practicing supply chain logistical work, rotary and fixed-wing aircraft operations, and ground combat training operations across the tactical warfighting spectrum.
A larger portion of Marines expected to come to Guam will arrive from Hawaii and the continental United States serving on temporary unit deployed assignment status. The Marine Forces Special Operations Command personnel that come to Guam and the Northern Marianas will continue to train jointly with other special operations task force personnel that are organized and intended to be scalable to successfully complete a variety of mission sets that may be theater, joint special operations and/or allied-based.
Lingering questions persist, however, throughout the island chain over the Guam firing range complex and fire danger zones. It remains unclear precisely how much use this range complex will see and what it means environmentally to the community.
It remains unclear precisely what kinds of weapons will be used at the range complex by all participating personnel, precisely what kinds of heavy metals and toxins by weight and by volume will be released into the total environment, the methods to be used to clean up and dispose of spent ammo, casings, and the associated dangers from range complex-initiated stormwater runoff—all taking place above Guam’s sole source freshwater aquifer.
The long game—crafted to be played as far away from the continental U.S. as is possible
Marine Corps executives have been in the process of recalibrating organizational componentry to adjust to relatively new maritime warfighting concepts. These actions have been undertaken in response to the ongoing Chinese military buildup and China’s ability to project lethality beyond the First Island Chain eastward into the Western Pacific and Marianas Islands region.
Translated, it is called ‘Marine Littoral Regiments’
Marine Littoral Regiments, or MLRs, are the warfighting constructs now being tested in Hawaii. Our people may want to assume that an MLR will be assigned to Guam and one to Japan.
A Guam-based MLR may include up to 2,000 individuals performing supply chain, airspace, and combat mission roles to help satisfy tactical early warning, air defense, and ship sinking activities from long ranges. Marine Corps personnel in Guam will perform or continue to perform work in cyber warfare, signals intelligence, reconnaissance, and multi-level planning to augment the future role of the MLR.
The MLR will be additionally supported by what Marine Corps-types call Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, personnel coming from the continental U.S.
What does this portend for the future of our Marianas Islands?
What we should expect to see in the future is increasing use of rocket artillery intended to sink ships from greater distances at Pagan. We should expect to see Marine Corps ground combat personnel being broken down into smaller units, conducting dispersed training throughout the island chain.
We should expect to see Marine Corps personnel using drones for resupply tactics and intelligence gathering, as well as unmanned air-based weapons systems used to survey and fire against training targets throughout the archipelago; and we should expect to see more military transport vessels transiting throughout the Marianas carrying and connecting equipment and people to our insular shorelines. All this will be very destructive environmentally.
Lastly, our people may want to take careful stock and assume a renewed interest in the kinds of accidents that may take place from Marine Corps training operations throughout the archipelago. Young Marines will get injured and there is always the possibility of Marine Corps aviation assets running the risk of crashing into the ocean, reef, or surrounding land areas.