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Marine Corps Organization

The Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, is organized as a general purpose "force in readiness" to support national needs. Deploying for combat as combined-arms Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs), the Marine Corps provides the National Command Authorities (NCA) with a responsive force that can conduct operations across the spectrum of conflict.

Two parallel chains of command -- Service and operational -- exist within the Marine Corps. The Service chain begins with the President, through the Secretary of Defense, and continues through the Secretary of the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The operational chain runs from the President, through the Secretary of Defense, directly to commanders of combatant commands for missions and forces assigned to their commands.

Anyone wishing to understand the Marine Corps must understand the status of its Commandant. There has been a Commandant, designated as such, ever since the United States Marine Corps was authorized by the Congress and approved by President John Adams on 11 July 1798. The Corps numbers its Commandants, as kings and popes are numbered. No other service chief seems to have quite the clear and unequivocal control of his service as that enjoyed by the resident of the Commandant's House at the Marine Barracks, Washington, DC. Since 1806, all Commandants have lived in that house, the oldest official residence in Washington still being used for its original purpose.

Marine Corps component commanders provide operational forces to commanders of combatant commands and other operational com-manders as required. The Marine Corps is divided into four broad categories: operating forces; the Marine Corps Reserve; the supporting establishment; and Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

The Marine Corps' operating forces consist of:

  • Marine Corps forces (MARFOR)
  • Marine Corps security forces (MCSF) at naval installations
  • Marine security guard detachments at embassies and consulates around the globe

The "Forces for Unified Commands" memorandum assigns Marine Corps operating forces to each of the combatant commands. A force assigned or attached to a combatant command may be transferred from that command only as directed by the Secretary of Defense and under procedures prescribed by the Secretary of Defense and approved by the President. The Marine Corps has established multiple Marine Corps component headquarters to support the unified commands.

Marine Corps forces are organized as MAGTFs and are either employed as part of naval expeditionary forces or separately as part of larger joint or combined forces. The commanders of MARFOR Atlantic and Pacific serve as Marine Corps component commanders to their respective combatant com-manders and may also serve as commanding generals of Fleet Marine Forces (FMFs) Atlantic, Pacific, and Europe. As commanding generals,

The operating forces of the Marine Corps are currently organized into two Fleet Marine Forces (FMF): (1) Fleet Marine Force Atlantic (FMFLANT) with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and (2) Fleet Marine Force Pacific (FMFPAC) with headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii. Each FMF is equivalent to a Type Command and reports to its respective Fleet Commander-in-Chief. The commanding general, a lieutenant general may be either an aviator or a ground officer. His deputy commanding general is from the other community.

Each FMF consists of at least one Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), one Marine Division (MARDIV), and one Force Service Support Group (FSSG). Other miscellaneous supporting units may be attached. Additionally, each FMF is further organized into warfighting units of combined arms known as Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF's).

Although the MAGTF concept is the manner in which Marine Forces will be submitted to fight; and it is also the method by which all peacetime training exercises are conducted. Normal in-garrison evolutions are conduted based upon the Major Subordinant Command (MSC) structure of Division, Wing, and Group.

Basic Marine Corps doctrine dictates that MAGTF's will be "task organized" to the requirements of a specific mission. For example, a desert warfare task would be armor-intensive, whereas a mountain warfare task would be much less so. Similarly, a European scenario would call for maximum fixed wing and antiair capability to counter the expected threat. A jungle scenario would emphasize helicopter and VSTOL capability. Thus, the exact composition and size of individual MAGTF elements is, of necessity, highly variable.

The Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is the smallest MAGTF. Commanded by a colonel, it contains one infantry battalion, one composite helicopter squadron (which may include AV-8B VSTOL aircraft) and a small CSSE. The MEU carries fifteen days of all classes of supply (including Class VIII - medical and dental). But it is dependent upon the "sea based" support of the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) of three or four ships from which it operates. A MAU consitituted the U.S. component of the Beirut Peacekeeping Force; and, conducted the Navy portion of the Granada invasion. A MEU is a constant presence in the Mediterranean; and, is designated "Landing Force Sixth Fleet (LF6F)". Total strength is approximately 2700 marines and sailors. The next MAGTF level is the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB). Ten to thirteen thousand strong, the MEB is commanded by a brigadier general. It carries 30 days of supplies and is capable of operations ashore independent of an ATF. Its GCE is an entire infantry regiment plus reinforcing units (i.e. armor, reconnaissance, combat engineers, etc.). The ACE consists of an entire Marine Aircraft Group whose individual squadrons will be task organized to support the mission. The CSSE is concerned with motor transport, supply, maintenance, and medical capability.

The largest MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Commanded by a lieutenant general, it consists of the entire Division, Wing, and Force Service Support Group. Fifty thousand strong, the MEF maintains 60 days of supply in all classes.

The aviation arm of FMFLANT is the Second Marine Aircraft Wing, whose headquarters is located at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Second MAW's tactical jets are located at Cherry Point, North Carolina and, at Beaufort, South Carolina. Helicopters are located at New River, North Carolina.

FMFPAC spans the entire Pacific area, from Arizona to Japan. Headquarters First Marine Aircraft Wing is located on Okinawa. Helicopter assets are also located on Okinawa; and, tactical jets are located at Iwakuni, Japan. The First Marine Expeditionary Brigade is located at Kaneohe MCAS (near Honolulu, Hawaii). The Brigade has smaller numbers of tactical jets and helicopters assigned, as well as an infantry element. It is, in effect, a smaller version of the normal wing/division air-ground team. The Third Marine Aircraft Wing is located in California. Headquarters and some tactical jet assets are positioned at El Toro, California. Other are located at Yuma, Arizona. Helicopters are stationed at Santa Ana and Camp Pendleton, California.

A Marine Aircraft Wing is commanded by a major general. It is important to remember that a Marine Aircraft Wing is much larger than a Navy Carrier Air Wing. Each Marine Aircraft Wing is assigned a majority of the types of aircraft in the Navy inventory. Each MAW currently has assigned F/A-18A, AV-8B, A-6E, EA-6B, OV-10D, CH-46F, CH-53 A&E, UH-1N, and AH-1T aircraft. Unlike the Marine Division which is organized along fairly standard lines, each MAW is task-organized (i.e., has different component units, depending upon the mission assigned). Typically, a Wing consists of a Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron, a Marine Air Control Group, a Marine Wing Support Group, and several Marine Aircraft Groups.

Normally, a Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) consists of a Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron, a Marine Air Base Squadron, and several (nominally three to six) aircraft squadrons. Different types of aircraft usually are grouped by basic mission (e.g., tactical jet fighter, tactical jet attack, helicopter, and transport). However, variations do occur, usually because of availability of base facilities and particular training areas.




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