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American Forces Press Service

Marine Commandant Worries Corps Losing 'Expeditionary Flavor'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2007 – The Marine Corps commandant is worried about the service becoming “a second land army” and said al Qaeda in Iraq is crippled, but not destroyed.

Marine Gen. James T. Conway told the Center for a New American Security yesterday the Marine Corps needs to get back to being the United States’ expeditionary “shock troops.”

“I’m concerned about keeping our expeditionary flavor,” he said.

The 26,000 Marines in Iraq today are equipped much heavier than when the force first went into the country, Conway noted. For example, the Marines are shifting from up-armored Humvees to mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. The MRAP adds a lot of weight to what is essentially a light infantry formation. “We’re talking about a potential buy of 3,700 MRAPs,” he said. “Those vehicles weigh 40,000 pounds each.”

“We’ve simply gotten heavier,” he said. “We’ve become in many ways a second land army.”

This is fine for now, the commandant said, but planners must look to the future. He said these heavy vehicles – which have saved many lives in Iraq – simply do not fit in to the doctrine and mission Marines foresee.

“What are we going to do with MRAPs in five to 10 years? Put them in shrink wrap and set them on asphalt, is my guess,” Conway said.

The pressure of operations in Iraq has forced the Corps to change training. Units spend seven months in Iraq and seven months back at home station. During that seven-month period at home, the units rest and refit, then train to go back to Iraq and fight a counterinsurgency battle. “Our training has suffered some,” Conway said.

Marine battalions used to go through training exercises at the training area at Twenty-nine Palms, Calif. Those exercises tested all aspects battle from artillerymen firing to air-ground coordination. Those iterations have dried up, he said.

Marines seldom get time to do mountain warfare training or jungle training anymore, he added.

And Marines seldom serve at sea anymore. “We now have a generation of officers who has never stepped aboard a ship, and that concerns us with our naval flavor and ability to launch amphibious support,” he said.

Looking to the future, Conway said the Marine Corps must be able to handle the full spectrum of conflict from charging across a beach in a forced entry to irregular warfare. The Marines have looked at forging a professional advisor corps, but is holding off for the time being.

Conway turned his attention to the state of military operations in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly crippled, he said, but the terrorist organization has shown an amazing ability to regenerate. “Are they crippled? Yeah,” he said. “Are they still dangerous? Absolutely, and certainly they are not destroyed.”

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