II MEF showcases its irregular warfare capabilities for QDR panel
US Marine Corps News
9/2/2009 By Lance Cpl. James W. Clark, II MEF
Representatives from the Department of Defense visited Marine Corps forces in North Carolina, Aug. 28, 2009, as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review.
According to its Web site, the QDR is a detailed report compiled by the DOD every four years on threats and challenges the United States faces and how to ‘re-balance DOD strategies, capabilities and forces to address today’s conflicts and tomorrow’s threats.’
The QDR panel’s visit to North Carolina, hosted by Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was designed to showcase the Corps’ focus on irregular warfare and amphibious capabilities. Among the 13 QDR panel members were civilian and military experts in a wide range of fields to include plans and policy, strategy, terrorism, information warfare, intelligence and low-intensity warfare.
With the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan presenting new and unique challenges to established doctrine and training, the Marine Corps has undertaken a series of warfighting initiatives to evolve the force to meet the current manner of engaging the enemy. The QDR panel members were given a snapshot of these initiatives directed toward irregular warfare and how they are being implemented in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and elsewhere in the world.
A key component is cultural and language training that prepares forward-deployed Marines and sailors to communicate with tribal and village leaders. By forming ties with the local populace, the Marines can weaken the strength of terrorist and insurgent groups operating within those populations.
“There’s not a unit that goes out that isn’t accompanied by a local or doesn’t have someone who speaks the language and understands the culture,” said Hejlik. “In Afghanistan, you have corporals and small unit leaders who speak some measure of Pashto or Dari.”
Hejlik went on to explain that while the battlefields may have changed, irregular warfare is nothing new to the Marine Corps.
“Irregular warfare has been a central part of our Corps’ history,” he said, “and as such, has been a part of our professional education since the Small Wars Manual was published in 1940.”
This legacy was in evidence at Camp Lejeune’s military operations in urban terrain facility where the panel members witnessed Marines from 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, interacting with Afghan role players as they patrolled the area and held meetings with village elders.
Hejlik addressed the fact that in the past, certain units received extensive cultural and language capabilities, but it is now essential for success in Afghanistan and elsewhere that all deployed units have that capability.
“Marines understand down to the lowest level that we must have the ability to engage the enemy without ever having to launch a direct attack,” said Maj. Jeremy Dempsky, the officer-in-charge of the Amphibious Raid Branch for II MEF’s Special Operations Training Group. “The key is to determine the difference between reconcilable and irreconcilable – to find those individuals who can be swayed to our position and to meet their needs.”
A host of cultural and language barriers have challenged Marines in the past which have prompted them to adapt and evolve. In Iraq, Marines employed female Iraqis to search other female citizens at security checkpoints in order to avoid crossing cultural boundaries, Dempsey explained.
Hejlik pointed out that another key aspect in the Corps’ success has been the constant refinement of its selection and training processes that groom leaders at all levels who are capable of making decisions independently and in a timely manner in complex and lethal environments.
While Marines in combat town conducted talks with key leaders during the training exercise, a Navy corpsman provided simulated first aid to one of the actors. Both situations required Marines and sailors to apply their understanding of Afghan customs and be capable of speaking some measure of the language.
By instituting cultural training across all elements of the Marine Corps, it ensures that progress made in Afghanistan and other theaters will not be undermined due to a limited understanding of customs and social etiquette, Dempsey explained.
Tanya Woodcook, an education program specialist who heads up the language program for U.S. Marine Corps Forces - Special Operations Command, gave the QDR panel a tour of the facility where Marines undergo immersive language training. The courses train Marines and sailors in languages which in turn provide units with specialists in translation who are versed in a variety of different languages, Woodcock explained.
The tour of Camp Lejeune also highlighted the Marine Corps’ ability to conduct operations across the full spectrum of modern warfare – from full-scale conventional combat to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to irregular warfare. To illustrate this capability, the panel boarded MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and were flown out to the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau off the coast of North Carolina, where it was participating in exercises with its embarked landing force, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
During a tour of the ship and at lunch in the ship’s mess decks, the panel members spoke with a number of Marines and sailors, many of whom had served overseas in a variety of operations.
The Marines talked about improvements in equipment such as optics and body armor, as well as shifts in mission goals and execution. A recurring theme during lunch was the change from engaging directly with terrorist groups to building ties with locals and striking back diplomatically rather than physically.
The tour on ship gave the panel members a snapshot of a MEU, which is the primary means by which the United States is able to project power in remote corners of the world. The ability to push and retrieve forces from hostile shores was evidenced by the air and landing craft operations undertaken while the panel was aboard USS Nassau.
“The strength of a MEU lies in its flexibility. It serves as seven acres of U.S. soil that you can put off the coast of any nation,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, the 24th MEU’s commanding officer. “It is able to fulfill a humanitarian and war time role through the Navy and Marine Corps team.”
Another key point was the role the Marine Corps is taking in helping other nation’s provide for their own security.
“We now have a generation of Marines that have a better understanding based on their experiences in Al Anbar [province, Iraq] and that counter insurgency effort,” said Col. David L. Close, the operations officer for II MEF.
Close added that the hard-learned lessons from Iraq are being delivered worldwide as advisory and training teams from II MEF work with other nation’s militaries in an effort to provide them with the tools and knowledge to protect their own country from hostile elements. In recent years, II MEF has dispatched more than 100 advisor teams and nearly 1,500 advisors and trainers to countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
As the panel returned to Cherry Point for its departure from North Carolina, Hejlik paused to explain that the Marine Corps’ ability to engage in conventional warfare will never leave, but there is a growing need for irregular warfare training to become a staple of the curriculum, and the Corps is rising to meet that challenge.
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