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thedrifter
03-29-06, 10:55 AM
April 03, 2006
Magnus: 7-month tours work
Corps’ second-in-command weighs in on better barracks, deployment pace, Osprey

By Gayle S. Putrich
Times staff writer

The Corps’ current seven-month rotation schedule for deployments can be sustained “indefinitely,” according to the service’s No. 2 man.

In a March 20 meeting with Marine Corps Times reporters and editors, Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Magnus said that he has not seen Marines on their second or even third war tour lose their effectiveness or report that they are under more stress and strain than those who are on their first tour.

“We think we could probably continue this thing, at this level, carefully managing it, indefinitely,” Magnus said.


And for now, Magnus does not see any reason to change that schedule.

“The reason why we’ve chosen seven months is because we’ve found out that’s what works best for Marines,” he said.

Rather than speaking specifically of campaigns and deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, Magnus prefers to think of the war on terrorism as “a generational war,” one that is forcing the Marine Corps — and the Pentagon — to take a holistic look at the effects of deployments on the individuals and the separate services to figure out what is going to work best for everyone in the long term.

“It’s not like we’re volunteering to continue this indefinitely, but we’re trying to make sure that we don’t break the Marines and break the Marine Corps,” he said.

“And so, that’s why we’re being very careful about how we train them, how we equip them, how we take care of them when they come home,” he said.

If another conflict were to flare up somewhere else in the world, Magnus said, things might have to change. “We may not have a consideration of seven months or 12 months being the metric if there was a major war that took place someplace else,” he said.

But for now, the idea of sending the Marines anywhere else is “hypothetical ... but if the nation went to war big-time someplace else, there would be plenty of young Americans to go to war.”

Better barracks

Magnus echoed the sentiment of Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee that improving bachelor barracks is the top construction priority for the Corps. But Magnus acknowledged the hard truth that to fund the massive barracks improvements that are needed, war-fighting investments are going to have to take a hit. Which accounts barracks funds will come from is still unknown, he said.

Last fiscal year, the Defense Department spent more than $174 million on bachelor housing for the Corps. But in fiscal 2006, that number will dive to about $39.6 million.

Fiscal 2007 projections put funding for bachelor housing at $126 million — an increase of more than 200 percent from the current fiscal year.

That will pay for the planning, construction and furnishing of 900 rooms, far more than the 400 being built this fiscal year.

“We want to make sure that when the Marines come back that not only are the families in good family housing — and they will be — but that the single Marines, the ones that are just coming into the Marine Corps and the ones that are just coming back from overseas tours, are in adequate housing,” Magnus said. “Right now, we are several years behind our shipmates in the Navy.”

Navy barracks are expected to be 100 percent modernized within three years. Marine Corps projections for modernization, however, stand at six years from now.

The problem is not just limited to funding; it is also construction time and figuring out where to house Marines while construction is ongoing.

“There are some places like Camp Horno and Camp Pendleton which are not all that good, and the truth is, I can’t demolish Camp Horno until I have a replacement there, because it’s better to be in inadequate quarters than for there to be no quarters at all,” Magnus said. “But quite frankly, we’re building; we’re just not building them fast enough.”

Faster construction of better quarters will help Magnus achieve his goal of getting as many of his young, single Marines housed on base as possible. A public-private venture similar to the Navy’s pilot program for privatized bachelor housing is not something the assistant commandant has any interest in, and he said he hasn’t seen the “business case” to convince him otherwise.

“I’ve got 100,000 Marines that are in government single quarters, and our goal is to keep them, offer them the incentive if they are good Marines to be able to go out in town, but I want to have corporals in the barracks with the privates and the [privates first class],” Magnus said. “This is a war-fighting team that needs cohesion. I don’t want a lot of people out there in the civilian community just like all of their peers that are under 26.”

More Ospreys

One account where the Corps cannot afford to take a hit in the coming years is the MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft slated to replace the aging CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters.

The $29 billion Osprey program only recently went into full production. The schedule began with 11 aircraft per year last fiscal year and is expected to ramp up between now and fiscal 2008.

Magnus said it is already apparent that the 30 planes scheduled to be built per year starting in 2008 are probably not going to be enough. Negotiations with manufacturer Bell-Boeing have already started in an effort to get the Marine Corps a multiyear procurement deal, and talks on adding more Ospreys to the fiscal 2008 budget have begun, as well.

But the Osprey program has already taken a major financial hit, according to Magnus.

“Last year, [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] determined they thought there was — this is almost remarkable in defense acquisition — that we had too much money in the program, so a significant amount of money was taken off the program with the idea that we could still buy the same number of aircraft,” he said.

Magnus said that it is clear more Ospreys can be manufactured and that getting enough aircraft to field two squadrons a year is the highest priority for Marine Corps aviation right now.

“And so, we’ll see what happens later on this year with the actual number. I would not be shocked if the number of airplanes we actually get out of this contract is a lot less than the amount we have [over the next five years], because if you take $1 billion out of the program, there probably isn’t that kind of efficiency there. But we’ll see,” he said.

Ellie