View Full Version : Commandant aims to stabilize a busy Corps

11-08-05, 05:38 PM
Commandant aims to stabilize a busy Corps

By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

The formation of a new Marine special-operations unit. The integration of Marine and Navy tactical aviation. An ongoing major reorganization of combat units in the active-duty and Reserve force. It's all happening at a time when Marines are rotating every seven months into combat.

And it sure doesn't make the job of commandant of the Marine Corps look easy.

On top of all that, the service faces a looming equipment crisis that could cost billions to solve while it still has to pay the tab for new military construction, growing personnel costs and replacements for much of its rotary-wing aviation fleet and Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

Nevertheless, the Corps' top leader, Gen. Mike Hagee, remains upbeat, saying he's steering the Corps in the right direction for today's fight and preparing the service for the enemies of the future.

"The only thing we know for sure is that we're really not very good at determining what, in fact, is going to happen" in the future, Hagee said during a wide-ranging interview Nov. 2 with Marine Corps Times reporters and editors.

"We're probably not going to get it right, but we surely don't want to get it really wrong."

Here are some of his thoughts on other issues, edited for clarity and length:

Q. What's your analysis of the effects of operational tempo on the Marine Corps, for both the active and the Reserve, and is there room for some modification of deployment schedule of seven months out, seven months back?

A. There's always room for modification if we can find a better way to do it. I mean, that's easy. We want to do what is effective, and we want to be right by the individual Marine.

As you know, it is the battalions and squadrons by and large that are rotating on a seven-month rotation. It's not the division, the [Marine Expeditionary Force] headquarters, the group headquarters - they are all over there for one year. That gives you the stability.

In my discussions … every single Marine I've talked with has said we've got [the rotations] right. Please continue this. Do not change it.

Q. How could you allow Marines more time back home?

A. Number one, you reduce the number of forces that you have over there. That's obviously going to give you a longer dwell time back.

Last year at this time, we had over 30,000 troops there. This year, we have 23,000. Last year at this time, we had nine maneuver battalions over there. This year, we have six maneuver battalions.

Last year at this time, we had two relatively small Iraqi security force battalions. This year, we have a division of Iraqi security force battalions.

[The Iraqis aren't bad] at the squad level, pretty good at the platoon level. Some of them can operate at the company level. Very few of them can operate at the battalion level, and it will probably be some time before they can operate at the battalion level, at least the way we would operate.

But you know what? To do the job they have to do, they don't have to operate like we do at the battalion level.

Q. Are you considering any further changes to the TacAir integration plan, including the deactivation of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing tactical aviation squadrons?

A. [Tactical] aviation is in the Marine air-ground logistic team; that is what makes us so powerful, and that's what makes us a Marine Corps. I mean, it's integral, absolutely integral to what we are.

On Reserve aviation, we're always looking at … how we can provide the most effective capability for the nation. Then ... we need to look within the Marine Corps - the force structure will be part of that - looking inside the Marine Corps on how we can provide the best Marine Corps for the dollars.

We are looking at the Reserve force. I have tasked the commander of the Marine Corps Reserve to come back to me and tell me, based on what we know today and where we are going, how should the Marine Corps, not just Marine Corps Reserve aviation, but how should the Marine Corps Reserve be structured? And is there something that we could do similar to what we did in the [Force Structure Review Group] where we stood down some Reserve artillery battalions and stood up some Reserve anti-terrorism battalions.

Q. What's the status of Force Structure Review Group recommendations and the establishment of new units?

A. We are slowly but surely moving in that direction. Much to my surprise, finding the personnel [and] training the personnel has actually turned out to be easier than getting the equipment, primarily because of the challenges that we have ensuring that we have our very best equipment forward and that we have sufficient forward, and then we have sufficient equipment for the Marines to train back here.

Getting the money to procure the equipment, during the first couple of supplementals, was such that we only had a very small portion of procurement. That has changed now. So, actually, getting the sufficient equipment has been more of a challenge.

Q. Are you going to be able to accelerate construction and improvement of housing for single Marines?

A. I believe that is absolutely critical, and I'm doing everything I can to push and accelerate that.

We cannot use [public-private ventures] for bachelors. The Navy is experimenting with it, and we're watching it very closely. Our problem is under PPV, you guarantee the owner or the individual who has put up the houses a certain occupancy rate. For families, that's easy. We're always going to make that.

But if you put 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, into it, and they go to war, all of a sudden those barracks are empty, and they're empty for an extended period of time. So what we are looking at is could we do some sort of bachelor PPVs for the bases and stations, assuming that the Navy's is successful.