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US Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM)
US Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic (MARFORLANT)

US Marine Forces Command (MARFORCOM) provides a robust, US Marine Corps presence in Norfolk, Virginia. MARFORCOM is located aboard the Naval Support Activity Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia adjacent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allied Transformation Command. In addition to being head of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Commander, MARFORCOM (COMMARFORCOM) is also the higher headquartersf or Marine Corps Installations East (MCIEAST) and the Blount Island Command. MCIEAST includes Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Marine Corps Air Station New River, and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.

The US Marine Corps presence in the Atlantic and Mediterranean dates back to the earliest days of the Corps. The raising of the American flag over the walled city of Derna, Tripoli in April 1805 by Lieutenant Presley N. O'Bannon signalled to the world that the young republic was not reticent about defending or pursuing its national interests beyond the borders of North America. Although American interest in the area throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries was often sporadic, post-World War II foreign policy considerations made Mediterranean waters a fact of life for the Marine Corps well after the 1940s.

During the late 1940s, developing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union produced a state of "Cold War" between the two superpowers. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman declared a US foreign policy of supporting "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." In the Mediterranean, the President's actions were directed principally at Soviet attempts to pressure the democratic governments of Greece and Turkey into adopting pro-Soviet policies. It became increasingly clear that American naval sea and air power had to be projected into the Mediterranean if the spread of Soviet influence was to be halted.

The resulting US policy of containment, which was formally manifested in the Truman Doctrine in 1947, began to take shape with the build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean. For over 50, there have been US Naval Forces in the Mediterranean, known first as Naval Forces, Mediterranean, then as the Sixth Task Fleet, and since 1950 as Sixth Fleet.

To assist the democratic governments of Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean region, the US Navy requested in late 1947 that a battalion-size Marine Corps unit be deployed with the Sixth Fleet to bolster its striking power. The request was approved and a CNO dispatch of 20 December 1947 authorized the assignment of a reinforced Marine battalion to augment Marine detachments from Sixth Fleet warships and provide a ready landing force.

The first unit assigned to reinforce the Sixth Fleet was the battalion-strength 2nd Marines, which departed Morehead City, North Carolina, aboard the USS Bexar on 5 January 1948. The 2nd Marines arrived at the island of Malta on 18 January 1948, where its units were transferred to ships of the Sixth Fleet. The Marines participated in maneuvers of the fleet until relieved in March 1948 by the 8th Marines. Except for 2 periods since the initial deployment, Marine infantry battalions from the 2nd Marine Division were subsequently assigned continuously to the Sixth Fleet on a rotational basis.

Over the following four decades, the responsibilities of a Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) in the Mediterranean included assisting in the evacuation of Americans from a crisis area, serving as a landing force for special operations, and when necessary, the seizure of strategic areas. In numerous instances, the Marine battalion responded quickly and decisively in support of US foreign policy interests.

During the Korean War, the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines (+) staged to Korea from the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, leaving the Sixth Fleet, temporarily, without a battalion-sized landing force from late 1950 into early 1951. The 2d Battalion, 6th Marines resumed the assignment when it deployed to the Mediterranean during March 1951 when US interests dictated a show of support for Yugoslavia. Also embarked in one of the Sixth Fleet carriers was Marine Fighter Squadron 122, which conducted a Mediterranean deployment as well.

The reduction of amphibious shipping in the post-Korean War period, however, resulted in the temporary termination of the "rotating assignment of a reinforced infantry battalion" to the Sixth Fleet during 1955. At this point, a detachment of the 2nd ANGLICO and a carrier-based Marine fighter squadron comprised the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) elements stationed in the Mediterranean area. The Navy's FY56 objectives, however, re-emphasized the need to maintain a "ready force with a high retaliatory capacity and great defensive strength" in the Mediterranean. This objective led to an immediate resumption in 1956 of the practice of maintaining a Marine reinforced battalion in the Mediterranean.

The readiness and versatility of the Marine air-ground team in Mediterranean waters have been demonstrated on a number of occasions since the Korean War. On 22 August 1956, BLT 3/2nd Marines embarked for duty with the Sixth Fleet, and soon put its previous years' intensive training to good use. Barely 2 months later, in late October 1956, Israel, France, and Great Britain attacked Egypt after the latter's nationalization of the Suez Canal. During the period 31 October through 3 November 1956, BLT 3/2nd Marines landed at Alexandria, Egypt, and assisted in the evacuation of 1,500 civilians from 33 different countries. Marines also evacuated some United Nations truce team observers as war threatened between Israel and Egypt.

The ability of the deployed Marine battalion in the Mediterranean to respond quickly to a potentially dangerous situation was put to the test in the summer of 1958. On 14 July 1958, a coup d'etat toppled a pro-Western government in Iraq and threatened the political stability in the Middle East. Fearing a threat from neighboring countries and the disintegration of his own nation, which had been in turmoil for several months, President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon requested the landing of US troops to preserve the peace. At the time of the Lebanese crisis, 3 Marine landing teams (BLTs 2/2nd Marines, 3/6th Marines, and 1/8th Marines) were present in the eastern Mediterranean. Marine units in Lebanon were organized into the 2nd Provisional Marine Force under Brigadier General (later Major General) Sidney S. Wade, Commanding General of Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, who was designated on 15 July as Commander, American Land Forces, Lebanon. Air-transported elements of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines began arriving 18 July 1958 at the Beirut International Airport from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

On 26 July 1958, Major General Paul Adams, US Army, relieved Brigadier General Wade as Commanding General, American Land Forces, Lebanon. Lebanese national elections were held on 31 July 1958, and by mid-August 1958 Marine units had begun to re-embark on board amphibious shipping. The last Marine units departed Lebanon in October 1958, having assisted in maintaining order and assuring the preservation of peace. The Marines did not have to resort to combat, yet their presence, along with US Army forces, had helped to preserve the integrity of Lebanon.

The 1960s witnessed the continued deployment of BLTs to the Mediterranean, although the designation was changed in 1960 from the Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (NELM) Battalion to Landing Force Mediterranean (LANFORMED). Training exercises kept the LANFORMED's BLTs in a continued high state of readiness, and the Marines demonstrated their ability to respond quickly to crisis situations.

In August 1965, a period of growing tension on Cyprus that centered on proposed changes to the country's electoral system brought a Marine Amphibious Ready Group, including BLT 2/2nd Marines, which operated off the island until tensions subsided. On 21 April 1967, a military coup overthrew the elected government of Greece. Navy units were immediately alerted and directed to the Ionian Sea. Two Battalion Landing Teams (BLTs 3/8th Marines and 1/6th Marines) were in the Mediterranean at the time, because of a turn-over. Both BLTs were active in the operation, which involved a show of force and a contingency (stand-by) evacuation response.

The Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in June 1967 caused the Marine Amphibious Ready Group (including BLT 1/6th Marines) to be put on alert for possible operations. On 6 June 1967, 2 carrier task forces moved closer to the fighting, while 4 days later, President Johnson ordered a high-speed carrier movement toward Syria to facilitate a cease-fire agreement.

On 1 September 1969, a coup overthrew the Libyan monarchy. At the same time, conditions were very unsettled in Lebanon, leading to the 22 October 1969 resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister. Contingency forces in the period 26-30 October 1969 included 2 carrier task forces and the Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group (MARG) with BLT 1/6th Marines embarked.

Political tensions in Jordan during this period also called for utilization of a Marine presence in the Mediterranean. On 9 June 1970, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) seized 32 hostages in a hotel in Amman, with 14 Americans being among those held. In addition, on the same day, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt against King Hussein of Jordan. The aircraft carrier USS Forrestal moved to the Eastern Mediterranean to provide air cover for potential evacuation operations by the Marine Amphibious Ready Group with BLT 1/8th Marines embarked. The situation had calmed by 15 June 1970, and US forces returned to normal operations on 17 June 1970.

The 1970s also witnessed Marine Corps activity in the Mediterranean. On 6 October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. US Navy forces quickly sortied in response to the war, with 2 Carrier Battle Groups, those of the USS Independence and USS Roosevelt, and an amphibious force, RLT 34 with BLTs 2/6th and 3/6 Marines, embarked in the Mediterranean, and the USS Kennedy Carrier Battle Group, in the eastern Atlantic. On 25 October 1973, US forces went on Defense Condition (DEFCON) III alert status, as possible intervention by the Soviet Union was feared. A cease-fire gradually eased tensions in the area, but the Sixth Fleet did not resume its normal DEFCON status until 17 November 1970.

On 15 July 1974, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus was overthrown by Greek Cypriot factions seeking "enosis," or union, with Greece. On 20 July 1974, in a countermove, Turkish forces landed on the north coast of Cyprus. The following day, the 34th MAU (consisting of HMM-162 and BLT 1/8th Marines) in its amphibious shipping took station off the south coast of Cyprus in readiness to evacuate US and third country nationals. The 34th MAU was also alerted on 20 July 1974 to standby for evacuation operations. Two days later on 22 July 1974, HMM-162 began helicopter evacuation of civilian personnel from Dhekelia, Greece. A total of 466 civilian personnel including 384 Americans were transported from Dhekelia to the USS Coronado. The evacuees were debarked safely on 23 July 1974 at Beirut, Lebanon. The USS Inchon, with HMM-162 and elements of BLT 1/8th Marines was alerted for special contingency operations, which did not materialize.

The 1980s saw the continued significance of deploying Marine Corps forces in the Mediterranean. As the ground combat element of the 32nd MAU, BLT 2/8th Marines assisted in the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon in June 1982. The MAU then landed in August at Beirut to oversee the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ultimately, all 3 battalions of the 8th Marines and one battalion of the 6th Marines were rotated through Beirut as the ground components of the 24th and 22d MAUs, serving as part of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force.

In the Caribbean, BLT 2/8th Marines and HMM-261, as part of the 22nd MAU enroute to Lebanon, answered the President's call to action in Grenada. Operation Urgent Fury began on 20 October 1983, and by 2 November 1983, American and Caribbean forces had secured Grenada and the neighboring island of Carriacou. Their part of the mission successfully completed, BLT 2/8th Marines once again set sail for the Mediterranean.

On 23 October 1983, a suicide truck bomber struck the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241. On the same day, another suicide car bomb killed 58 French paratroopers. Various Sixth Fleet units were ordered to Beirut, both to reassert the US presence and to assist in rescue operations. Following the attack, the USS Ranger Carrier Battle Group was diverted from port calls in Australia to the North Arabian Sea, where it operated for 122 days. On 26 February 1984, the withdrawal of the USMC contingent of the international peacekeeping force was completed.

On 14 June 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked to Beirut by Shi'ite terrorists. The USS Nimitz Carrier Battle Group was ordered from Italy to the Eastern Mediterranean, along with a Marine Amphibious Ready Group of 1,800 Marines. The Nimitz was on station in the Eastern Mediterranean until 24 July 1985, following the release of the passengers and aircraft. Barely 3 months later, on 7 October 1985, following the Palestinian terrorist hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, Sixth Fleet ships (including the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga) moved to the eastern Mediterranean. On 10 October 1985, F-14s from the Saratoga forced an Egyptian airliner with the hijackers aboard to Italy, where the hijackers were taken into custody.

During February 1989, fighting in Beirut intensified. In mid-February 1989, following the outbreak of fighting near the US Embassy, the Marine Amphibious Ready Group was ordered to move to the Eastern Mediterranean for potential evacuation operations.

Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, there were 5 Marine Corps components, but only 2 full Marine Corps component commands at the time. The Marine Corps established 2 combatant command-level Service component commands: Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, and Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. The II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) was provided by Commander, Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, to the Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Command. This assignment reflected the peacetime disposition of Marine Corps forces. Marine expeditionary forces were apportioned to the remaining geographic combatant commands for contingency planning and were provided to the combatant commands when directed by the Secretary of Defense.

The versatility and capabilities inherent in naval expeditionary forces continued to be in high demand during the 1990s. The Marine Corps was continually in the Mediterranean with a number of ongoing peace-keeping operations in Bosinia, a noncombatant evacuation operation in Albania, and peace enforcement operations in Kosovo. The operation in Kosovo, beginning in 1999, caused US Marine Corps Forces, Europe (MARFOREUR), then a designate command affiliated with US Marine Corps Forces, Altantic (MARFORLANT), to become fully staffed and lose its designate title. It subsequently became a free-standing command. Commander, MARFORLANT (COMMARFORLANT) assumed the additional responsibility initially for being Commander, MARFOREUR.

In addition, with the transformation of US Atlantic Command (USACOM) to US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), MARFORLANT, headquartered at Naval Base Norfolk, Virignia remained assigned to it, becoming the USMC component of USJFCOM. In order to provide 3-star, general officer representation to the remaining 3 geographic combatant commands, Commander, MARFORLANT (COMMARFORLANT) was designated as the Marine Corps component commander to both Commander in Chief, US European Command (CINCUSEUCOM), and Commander in Chief, US Southern Command (CINCUSSOCOM). COMMARFORLANT also served in the following capacities: Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Europe; as well as Commander, US Marine Corps Bases, Atlantic.

MARFORLANT was one of 3 major Marine Corps commands at the time (along with US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and US Marine Corps Forces, Reserve) that provided operating forces to support Unified or joint task force commanders and fleet commanders in chief. COMMARFORLANT served as a principal adviser to the Commander in Chief, USJFCOM (CINCUSJFCOM), on Marine Corps matters and was responsible for organizing, training and equipping forces for employment as directed by USJFCOM. Though a part of USJFCOM, MARFORLANT remained a warfighting command as well. The warfighting arm of MARFORLANT remained II MEF, which at the time consisted of about 45,000 personnel from the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Force Service Support Group, and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

In 2006, MARFORLANT was redesignated as US Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM). In 2007, US Marine Forces, South (MARFORSOUTH), previously affiliated with MARFORLANT and subsequently MARFORCOM, became a stand alone headquarters.

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Page last modified: 13-11-2012 12:58:16 ZULU