Employment Of The Selected Marine Corps Reserve Forces As Units:
A Needed Commitment
AUTHOR Major Candace G. Quinlan, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Operations
TITLE: EMPLOYMENT OF THE SELECTED MARINE CORPS RESERVE FORCES AS
UNITS: A NEEDED COMMITMENT
THESIS: The Marine Corps should incorporate guidance into its
mobilization plans which emphasizes the importance of employing Selected
Marine Corps Reserve forces as units in order to gain their most effective
use in future wars.
BACKGROUND: Historically, the Marine Corps has disbanded its Reserve
units upon mobilization. A lack of readiness on the part of the Reserve units,
the urgency of the situation, and personnel systems which favored efficiency
over the human dimensions of war were the primary reasons for the
disbandment of Reserve units.
Since the Korean Conflict the readiness of the Selected Marine Corps
Reserve units has greatly improved. They have been formed into a division,
wing, and force service support team; their equipment has been modernized;
and they frequently train with their active duty counterparts. These
improvements have increased the capability of both components to fight side
by side in combat. Mobilization plans bring Reserve units to their station of
initial assignment intact, but leave the decision of maintaining unit
integrity up to the gaining commander in order to allow for flexibility.
The human dimension of war must always be a central concern to those
who plan the employment of any unit, as war is a clash between opposing
human wills. The will to prevail is fostered by cohesive, well-led units. An
important characteristic of most Reserve units is their cohesiveness.
Continuity and shared regional origin encourage strong personal relation-
ships amongst Reserve unit members which helps them develop the trust and
confidence needed to fight effectively and deal with the psychological stress
RECOMMENDATION: The Marine Corps should provide guidance in its
mobilization plans which encourages commanders to weigh the combat
payoff of cohesiveness when making decisions on whether to maintain the
unit integrity of Reserve units.
CONCLUSION: As the Marine Corps faces a reduction of its Active forces,
the role of Reserve units as a partner in the defense of our national security
becomes even more important. The most effective use of these units should
EMPLOYMENT OF THE SELECTED MARINE CORPS RESERVE
FORCES AS UNITS: A NEEDED COMMITMENT
Thesis statement: The Marine Corps should incorporate guidance into its
mobilization plans which emphasizes the importance of employing Selected
Marine Corps Reserve forces as units in order to gain their most effective
use in future wars.
I. Historical employment
A. World War I
B. World War II
C. Korean Conflict
D. Vietnam Conflict
II. Current employment plans
D. Mobilization plans
III. Unit cohesion
A. Warfighting strength
B. Combat stress
EMPLOYMENT OF THE SELECTED MARINE CORPS RESERVE
FORCES AS UNITS: A NEEDED COMMITMENT
As military leaders and planners face the reality of a declining defense
budget and a reduction of Active forces, the Reserves take on additional
importance as a partner with the active component in maintaining our
national security. Today, discussions are going on within the Marine Corps
about the proper structure for Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) units,
the equipment and training needed to ensure they are combat ready, and the
adequacy of the current plans to mobilize them. All of these issues are
critical as the SMCR becomes a more active player in the Corps' total force.
Yet, one feature of Reserve units that must not be overlooked in any
consideration of their use is the strength of their cohesiveness. The human
dimension in war must always be a central concern to those who plan the
future employment of the Marine Corps Reserve. As FMFM 1 emphasizes, "war
is a clash between opposing human wills."1 The will to prevail is fostered by
cohesive, well-led units. The characteristics of a reserve unit promote
cohesion amongst its members. Continuity within the unit and shared
regional origin encourage strong personal relationships and help reservists
develop trust and confidence in one another. The Marine Corps should
incorporate guidance into its mobilization plans which emphasizes the
importance of employing SMCR forces as units in order to gain their most
effective use in future wars.
Although what has happened in the past does not necessarily determine
what will happen in the future, the historical employment of Marine Corps
Reserves does show a propensity to use Reserve forces as individual
replacements instead of unit replacements.
The Marine Corps Reserve was created on 29 August 1916, just seven
months before the United States entered World War I. At the time World War
I began, the Corps' Reserve consisted of thirty-five men. Consequently, the
Reserve as an organization played no significant part in the war.2
After demobilization, the active Fleet Marine Force was reduced to a size
that made it rely on the Reserves to bring it up to war-ready strength. During
the lean years between 1919 and 1939, the Marine Corps Reserve struggled to
survive and reorganized twice in an effort to provide the needed forces to
augment the Active component. Their existence was like a seesaw. Fiscal
constraints in the early 1920's found Reserve units low in training and
equipment. The Reserve Act of 1925 provided funds which financed new
training programs and allowed units to pay members for the first time. As a
result, the Corps' Reserve units rose in number and readiness. However, this
height was short-lived for the Depression brought the Reserves plunging
down again. Most unit members drilled and trained without pay and even
bought their own uniforms. By 1939, the Marine Corps Reserve was
structured into an Organized Marine Corps Reserve consisting of battalion
sized units with training responsibilities, and a Fleet Marine Corps Reserve
and Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve made up of experienced individuals with
little to no obligations except when called to active duty in time of war or
Initially, the Organized Marine Corps Reserve units were made up largely
of former Marines with combat experience. By the time the United States
mobilized for war in 1940, the majority of officers and senior noncommis-
sioned officers in the Reserve units were still combat veterans. Although
close-knit through weekly two-hour drills and two weeks annual active duty
for training, the preponderance of younger enlisted reservists did not have
Upon mobilization in 1940, the Reserve battalions were disbanded and
reserve personnel became individual replacements. The decision to dissolve
the "home town" battalions was not well received as many had local pride in
their unit and misgivings about being broken up. Eventually, most came to
believe the disbandment served to integrate the reserves with the regulars
and ensured all realized there was only one kind of Marine.5 Reserve
Brigadier General Charles Cogswell in recalling two Reserve battalions being
dissolved in January of 1941, stated:
As you can imagine, confusion was rampant with Company
Commanders separated from First Sergeants and First
Sergeants separated from company clerks, and company clerks
et cetera. During the period of shock which followed the
disbandment, very few of us realized the wisdom of the
Marine Corps in this move. However, it became readily
apparent as we became integrated.6
Once again, demobilization after the war shrunk the active Marine
forces below warfighting strength. Furthermore, budget cuts by the
Truman administration drastically reduced manpower and increased the
Marine Corps' reliance on its Reserve to fill its divisions in time of war.
In early 1950, the Marine Corps had skeleton units with only 74,279
Marines on active duty while planners believed at least 114,200 were
needed to meet its peacetime duties. At the same time, the total
strength of the Marine Corps Reserve was about 128,959. The Organized
Reserve (units) numbered approximately 39,869 while the Volunteer
Reservists (individuals) numbered approximately 89,920. It is
estimated that ninety-eight percent of the officers and twenty-five
percent of the enlisted men in the Reserves were combat veterans. The
majority of these experienced Reservists were either Organized
Aviation Reserve pilots or members of the Volunteer Reserve. On 30
June, 1950, five days after the Korean Conflict began, Reserve units
were called to active duty. As rapidly as they arrived, Reservists
belonging to ground units were processed and individually sent to the
active duty unit that needed them most. Again, except for some aviation
units, Reserve units were immediately disbanded.7
For political reason, few Reserve units or individual reservists
were mobilized during the Vietnam Conflict and that mobilization did
not occur until the spring of 1968. The forty-three National Guard and
Army Reserve units that were mobilized and sent to Vietnam did not
maintain their unit integrity as reservists were assigned as fillers.8
These units' lack of readiness in training, personnel strength, and
equipment was one of the primary reasons for breaking them up.9
Since the Marine Corps Reserve was not mobilized, it can only be
speculated that had it been mobilized, its members too would have been
employed as individual replacements. This speculation is supported by
the Army's example and the fact that in October 1965, the Marine Corps
had discontinued the unit rotation system for its Active forces and
reverted to the individual replacement system used during the Korean
The Marine Corps Reserve in both World War II and the Korean
Conflict served to expand the size of the Marine Corps, but these
expansions were accomplished by using the reserve personnel as
individuals -- not by maintaining Reserve unit integrity. Even though
the reason given for the disbandment of units in World War II was to
facilitate integration, the lack of unit readiness after years of struggle
for survival must have been a key factor in the decision. Fortunately,
advanced warning of this war allowed for at least eighteen months
between the mobilization of Reserves and Pearl Harbor to prepare for
war. In contrast, there was only about twenty-five days warning for the
Korean Conflict and within fifty-seven days after mobilization,
Reservists were engaged in battle. The urgency of the situation and the
diminished size of Active forces no doubt contributed to the breaking up
of Reserve units to fill Active units. In both situations, personnel
policies which valued the efficiency of an assembly line style individual
replacement system were greatly responsible for the disbandment of
In 1962, the division and wing team concept was applied to the
SMCR and served as the turning point for changing the planned use of
Reserve units from training camps for individual replacements to units
that would be mobilized as units. The establishment of the 4th Marine
Division (4th MarDiv) and the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (4th MAW)
brought a new sense of mission to SMCR units and encouraged
Title 10, United States Code, Section 262 declares the mission of
the Reserve forces is to provide trained and qualified units and
individuals to be available for active duty in time of war, national
emergency, and at such times as national security may require. The
Ready Reserve provides the major portion of the manpower resources
used to augment Active forces and consists of the Selected Reserve and
the individual Ready Reserve (IRR). The SMCR gives the Marine Corps a
source of trained units and/or individuals for mobilization while its IRR
provides trained individuals. There are currently about 196,000 Marines
on active duty, 44,000 in the SMCR, and 50,000 in the IRR.
SMCR units are located at one hundred and ninety sites throughout
the United States with a company or squadron being the normal size of
unit at each site. Members of the SMCR train with their units one
weekend each month in addition to two weeks annual training. This
schedule equates to thirty-four days of training a year. About thirty
percent of SMCR members have prior service and all SMCR officers have
served at least three years on active duty. The seventy percent who do
not have prior service experience have completed basic training and
military occupational specialty training. Furthermore, ten percent of
the 4th MarDiv, 4th MAW, and 4th Force Service Support Group (4th
FSSG) team are active duty support personnel. This structure results in
SMCR units having both experience and continuity amongst its members.
The Marine Corps Mobilization Management Plan (MPLAN), Volume
sets forth the policies, procedures, guidance, and responsibilities for
the mobilization of the Marine Corps. This plan identifies the fielding
of three fully capable MEF's as the focus of initial mobilization efforts.
Therefore, the most likely role of the Marine Corps Reserve will be to
augment or reinforce an active duty MEF. "Augmentation" refers to
filling the unmanned structure of a MEF while "reinforcement" adds
additional capabiltties to a MEF. The SMCR can be mobilized as units
and/or individuals to fulfill its augmentation or reinforcement roles.
Since the Marine Corps mobilization process supports Commander in
Chief (Unified/Specified Command) operation or contingency plans,
specific SMCR units are assigned to augment or reinforce one of the
three active duty MEF's. The remainder of the 4th MarDiv, 4th MAW, and
4th FSSG could be mobilized to field a Marine Expeditionary Brigade to
reinforce a MEF or to provide a nucleus to reconstitute a division, wing,
and FSSG. If augmentation or reinforcement is not ordered, the SMCR
could be used to field a division, wing, and FSSG with reduced
capability. SMCR units have also been identified as a source for unit
replacements when mass casualties would render a unit ineffective and
require immediate replacement.
The Marine Corps seems to realize the need for combat ready
Reserve units which can quickly integrate with its Active units to
expand the Corps' warfighting capability. The Marine Corps made great
strides in the 1980's in equipping and training SMCR units. The goal was
to make the Reserve units a mirror image of their active duty
counterparts. A procurement program which ensured the concurrent
upgrading of equipment has helped modernize Reserve units and allowed
them to train with equipment used by Active units. Furthermore,
participation of SMCR units in exercises with Active units in the United
States and abroad has increased the ability of both components to
Perhaps the most innovative move made by the Marine Corps which
serves to promote the integration of the Reserve and Active components
is the Designated Augmentation Unit program implemented during fiscal
year 1989. A decision to return to the four company battalion found the
Active force authorization unable to fill twenty-four battalions. As a
result, sixteen Reserve rifle companies were augmented for an interim
period to constitute the fourth company for the unfilled Active battal-
ions. The success of this venture could open the way for additional,
permanent reserve unit affiliation programs.
Although the Marine Corps has organized its Reserve units into a
division, wing, and FSSG team and its MPLAN addresses the assignment
of SMCR units to augment or reinforce MEF's, there is still a need to
further the Corps' commitment to maintain the integrity of these units
once they join their gaining command.
The MPlan sets forth the requirement for Reserve units to mobilize
as units to their station of initial assignment via prearranged transpor-
tation plans. Although implied, no mention is made that these units will
remain intact once joined to their gaining MEF. Neither policy statement
nor rationale is provided to encourage the maintenance of Reserve unit
integrity. Flexibility appears to be given to the Commanding Generals,
Fleet Marine Forces Atlantic and Pacific and/or the gaining MEF
commander to determine the employment of Reserve units when drafting
operation plans. Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 672(c) allows for the
flexible use of Reserve unit members by stating that:
members of units organized and trained to serve as units who
are ordered to that duty without their consent shall be so
ordered with their units. However, members of those units may
be reassigned after being ordered to active duty (other than for
Policies regarding the assignment of Reserve forces should remain
flexible enough to allow commanders to use their discretion on how to
best organize their forces to accomplish the mission. However,
guidance which encourages planners and commanding officers to weigh
the combat payoff of maintaining the integrity of cohesive Reserve
units should be given.
Cohesion has been defined as "the bonding together of members of a
unit or organization in such a way as to sustain their will and
commitment to each other, their unit, and the mission."14 Military
cohesion is said to be "that state of binding men together as members of
a combat unit capable of enduring the stress of danger and hardship,
[and] is dependent upon personnel stability within small units."15 In
other words, unit cohesion is one of the most significant factors
contributing to the individual's will to fight and ability to survive the
stress of combat.
There is a minority view that the value of cohesion is a myth. These
challengers argue that history records the success of ad hoc units who
fought well in the Wilderness in 1864 or the Golan Heights in 1973
despite the fact that they were randomly formed. They also point
out that other sources such as love of country or belief in a cause
contribute to an individual's will to fight.16
Still others contend that creating unit cohesion could be psychologi-
cally detrimental to a unit. They opine that personnel instability in a
unit prepares individuals for the reality of combat because it simulates
the effect of casualties.17
These challenges may have some validity in unique cases but they
fail to counter the widely held belief and tested theory that there is a
link between the fighting power of a unit and the time its members have
spent together. S. L. A. Marshall in his classic book Men Against Fire
gives his observations of how men reacted to combat during World War
II. His account of the characteristics of ad hoc units differs from the
opinion given above. S. L. A. Marshall found that if any kind of ad hoc
unit had fractions of groups that had previously worked together, then
the new unit would do valiant work. However, if a group of men who had
never worked together were collected, the results were almost always
unsuccessful. To support his conclusion, he sites his examination of
seventy episodes involving paratroopers during the battle of Normandy
in which only a minor fraction of mixed forces achieved success. He
concludes that the paratroops' "battle morale, willingness, and
efficiency are in the ratio of their knowledge of the men on whom they
are depending for close support."18
Studies of the German Wehrmacht forces in World War I show that
personnel policies which stressed unit stability and continuity were a
key factor in the production of cohesive units with greater combat
effectiveness.19 Furthermore, researchers from the Army Research
Institute at Fort Knox conducted empirical research in 1978 on the
effects of tank crew stability on gunnery results. Their study concluded
that there is a positive relationship between the time a unit members
spend together and their performance.20
These are just a few of the many studies that have reached the
same conclusion. Unit members who have worked together for extended
periods of time build up the level of confidence and trust in one other
which fosters group loyalty, builds discipline, and enables them to fight
The characteristics of cohesive units affects more than just their
combat effectiveness. The growing lethality of war and its effect on
psychological stress increases the need to consider the human element
in combat. Psychiatric battle casualties accounted for about one fourth
of all medical evacuations during World War II. At that time, it was
believed that stress casualties generally occurred after twenty-five to
thirty days exposure to combat.21 Reports on the results of the 1973
Arab-Israell War note that almost sixty percent of the first one
thousand five hundred Israeli casualties were pure psychic trauma.22
The normal time period before receiving large numbers of psychiatric
casualties appears to have been reduced from weeks to hours as combat
has become more lethal and horrific. Granted, susceptibility to combat
stress is largely dependent on an individual's personality as well as a
variety of situational factors. However, another study concluded that:
Even under the most intense combat conditions, the
maintenance of unit cohesion, i.e., the feeling of being a
part of a viable entity from which one draws adequate
protection and to which one owes personal responsibilities
appears to play a consistent and major role in countering the
adverse effects of human psychological stress.23
As the Marine Corps' Active forces are reduced, the Corps will
become even more dependent on its Reserve forces to bring it up to
warfighting strength when the need arises. Historically, Marine Corps
Reserve units were disbanded upon mobilization and their members used
as individual fillers for Active units. A lack of readiness, urgency, and
personnel policies which stressed efficiency over the human element of
combat largely accounted for the disbandment of Reserve units.
Today, SMCR units closely mirror the Active units in modernization
and readiness. Programs which integrate the training of both compo-
nents increases their capability to fight side by side in combat. SMCR
units are better prepared than ever before to fall in on short notice
and join Active forces in battle. The Marine Corps has been wise in
preparing its Reserve units with the tangible weapons of war, it must
not strip them of the intangible armor of unit cohesion. Cohesiveness
gives unit members the will to fight, helps them fight more effectively,
and reduces the psychological stress of combat. The MPLAN brings
Reserve units to their station of initial assignment intact but leaves
the maintenance of unit integrity up to the gaining command
in order to allow flexibility and commander's discretion. Guidance
should be given to these gaining commanders to ensure they consider the
human dimension in war and the combat payo f of cohesive Reserve
It would be good for these decision makers to reflect on the words of
Erich Remarque when he spoke on the importance of comradeship in All
Quiet on the Western Front:
At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these
few quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall
me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of
death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are
more to me than life, these voices, they are more than
motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most
comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the vote of
I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the
darkness; I belong to them and they to me, we all share the
same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a
simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these
voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by
1 U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., 1989, p. 10.
2 Reserve Officers of Public Affairs Unit 4-1, The Marine Corps
Reserve: A History (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1966), p. 9.
3 Clyde H. Metcalf, A History of the Marine Corps (New York; Van Rees
Press, 1939), p. 552.
4 Col Joseph F Donahoe Jr., "Mobil and Marines," Part 1, Marine
Corps Gazette, 51 (December 1967), 33.
5 Robert Debs Heinl Jr., Soldiers of the Sea: The United States Marine
Corps, 1775-1962 (Annapolis, MD: U. S. Naval Institute, 1969), p.307.
6 Officers of Public Affairs Unit 4-1, p. 60.
7 Ernest H. Giusti, Mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve in the
Lorean Conflict, 1950-1951 (Washington D.C.: Headquarters United
States Marine Corps, 1951), pp. 7-11.
8 John D. Stuckey and Joseph H. Pistorius, "Mobilization for the
Vietnam War: A Political and Military Catastrophe," Parameters,
XV (Spring 1985), 8.
9 Maj. Mark F. Cancian, "A Perspective on Mobilization," Marine Corps
Gazette, 74 (February 1990), 36.
10 "Marines Scrap Unit Rotation," The Journal of the Armed Forces
103(16 October 1965), 1.
11 Allan R. Millett, Semper Fidelis: The History of the Marine Corps
(New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1980), p. 552.
12 U. S. Marine Corps, "Marine Corps Concept and Issues 1989,"
Headquarters Marine Corps, February 1989, p. 5-8.
13 U. S. Congress Committees of the Senate and House on Revision of
the Laws, United States Code Annotated, Title 10: Armed Forces (St.
Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1983), p. 266.
14 William Darryl Henderson, Cohesion: The Human Element in Combat
(Washington, D.C., National Defense University Press, 1985), p. 4.
15 Ibid.,p. 18.
16 Christopher C. Straub, The Unit First: Keeping the Promise of
Cohesion (Washington D.C., National Defense University Press, 1988),
17 Ibid., p.17.
18 S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire (New York: Morrow, 1947), p. 152.
19 Maj. Thomas J. Strauss, The Armys' Regimental System: A
Framework for Wartime Personnel Management (Thesis, Alexandria, VA:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987), p. 14.
20 Straub, p. 5.
21 Lt. Col. Larry H. Ingraham and Frederick J. Manning, "Cohesion,
Who Needs It, What Is It and How Do We Get It to Them?" Military
Review LXI (June 1981), 2.
22 Strauss, p. 127.
23 Ibid., p. 127.
24 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1929), pp. 214-215.
Cancian, Mark F., Maj., USMCR. "A Perspective on Mobilitzation." Marine
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Heinl, robert Debs Jr. Soldiers of the Sea: The United States Marine
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Henderson, William Darryl. Cohesion: The Human Element in Combat.
Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1985.
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Interests." The Officer, LXV (February 1989), 70-81.
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"Cohesion, Who Needs It, What Is It, and How Do We Get It to Them?"
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"Marines Scrap Unit Rotation." The Journal of the Armed Forces, 103 (16
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Century." Marine Corps Gazette, 74 (March 1990), 71-75.
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