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The Corps’ lightning speed modernization effort to retool its forces for a bout with near-peer rivals is creating some hiccups in its force structure by spawning shortages in high-skill job sets and disparities in promotions.
To address the issue, the Corps kicked off its first meeting Wednesday for a full officer and enlisted grade structure review: It’s the first comprehensive review in nearly 20 years, according to a forcewide message.
“The purpose behind the Grade Structure Review is to correct grade pyramid imbalances that in some cases lead to changes in promotion timing or unintended inventory development challenges,” the MARADMIN reads.
These imbalances cause chain reactions in promotions that can lead to an exhausted pool of lower rank-and-file Marines in various occupations and result in fewer senior leadership positions. The Corps will be reviewing a series of high-demand and vital-skill jobs that have “imbalanced grade pyramids, specifically as a result of MCF 2025 implementation [Marine Corps Force 2025],” according to the MARADMIN.
The priority jobs fields being reviewed by the Corps primarily fall in in the reconnaissance, intelligence, aviation and logistics side of the house.
There will be two phases of the review, with the first spanning Sept. 26–Oct. 22 and the second from Oct. 26–Nov. 9.
The Corps kicked off a smaller scoped review in 2014 focused on “cost savings through grade reduction of 6,000 officer and enlisted billets,” the MARADMIN stated.
“The end state of the review is to improve inventory development in targeted PMOSs without degrading unit operational capabilities,” the MARADMIN reads.
GRAYLING -- The hot Michigan sun is high in the sky as a Marine lays flat against the dry sand looking through his rifle optic at the battle space spread out in-front of him. Beside him, his fellow Marine fills sand bags and places them around their fighting positions. For the Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, this is the beginning of their final event during Exercise Northern Strike 18, ending their two week annual training.
Northern Strike is a military readiness event hosted annually by the Michigan National Guard at Camp Grayling, Michigan. The exercise is one of the largest Reserve component exercises, with attendance of approximately 5,000 participating U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors, as well as service members from other NATO countries.
This year, Marines from 3/25 participated in the exercise from Aug. 5-15. The Marines also received additional augmentation and support from 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Dental Battalion and Combat Logistics Battalion 451.
Camp Grayling is one of the largest National Guard training centers in the country, spanning 147,000 acres. It offers a variety of live-fire range and training opportunities. For the Marines of 3/25, made up of three line companies; Kilo, India, and Lima and one Weapons Company, they were divided by company and spread between the ranges, rotating after every event. The major ranges included land navigation, platoon attack, company attack, and company defense.
During the platoon attack and company attack, each company integrated with amphibious assault vehicles from 4th AABn, practicing off-loading and on-loading during live-fire drills. During the company attack, companies also integrated with 4th Tanks and 4th LAR, which provided fire and reconnaissance support.
Besides integrating with other Marine Corps assets, the Marines of Kilo Company showcased their interoperability by training with four British Royal Marines from the Royal Marine Reserves, where they shadowed their U.S. counterparts and filled key billets of platoon commanders and platoon sergeants, learning tactics and techniques.
Northern Strike plays an important role in making sure the Marines of 3/25 are ready to fight tonight, serving as one of the major check points before Integrated Training Exercise 2019 in Twentynine Palms, California.
For much of the Marine Corps’ history its top leaders have fought for a place at the table, having to elbow the larger services with much bigger budgets just to stay in the game.
Lionhearted Marines had died in droves fighting during both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. But in many eras, the smallest branch’s official role has been limited to the Navy’s maritime expeditionary arm, which has had to make do with less money, manpower and priorities as its sister services, which have long steered the military aspects of national security policy.
But, now, for the first time, there are more Marines in top military and civilian positions at the highest levels of government.
Right now a retired or uniformed Marine holds the seat of secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, head of Africa Command and incoming head of United States Central Command.
The combined Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard has more than 1 million uniformed members. It is twice the size of the Navy and has nearly two-thirds more people than the Air Force. The Marine Corps and its reserve component have about 220,000.
There are five soldiers for every one Marine. So how did we get here?
A close reading of the focus of key officers, performance in the past generation of warfare and the steps Marines took preceding 9/11 could provide some answers as to why Marines now are holding an outsized number of positions.
An ‘uneasy’ situation
Today, the Marines are on top.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly hold top positions of influence in both White House policy and defense department matters.
Current Marine generals such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, AFRICOM commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser and incoming CENTCOM commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. lead top commands involved in active combat.
Mattis recently nominated Marine Maj. Gen. George W. Smith Jr. for his third star and an assignment as his senior military assistant. Smith serves as special assistant to the director of the joint staff.
Even the Brookings Institution, a leading D.C. think tank on foreign policy for more than a century, is being led by retired Marine Gen. John Allen. He’s the first Marine to serve as its president.
There have been 218 active-duty Army four-star generals in its history, nearly 200 since World War II. The Marines didn’t even have a four-star general until the end of World War II. There have been about 50 active duty four-stars since.
Ten of 14 commanders of CENTCOM have been Army generals since its inception in 1983. Before 9/11, Marines had commanded it twice. Now, with McKenzie’s nomination, they are now entering their fourth turn. Before 9/11 no Marine had ever commanded European Command. Similarly, only once before the terrorist attack had a Marine commanded Southern Command. The second was then-Gen. John Kelly.
The Marine Corps didn’t hold a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff until 1978, nearly 30 years after it was created. The Corps didn’t chair the staff until 2005.
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former commander of SOUTHCOM, sees the outsized role of Marines in leadership roles as an ‘uneasy’ situation, especially as the defense strategy under President Donald Trump shifts to great power competition. McCaffrey credited top Marine leaders with having unique talent and called Mattis, Dunford and Kelly some of the “finest public servants this country has ever produced.” He said the Marines’ development and management of senior officers put them in joint and nonstandard career track positions has helped them better compete for by-name nominations.
By contrast, he said the Army has been wary of assigning officers to such paths. “To be honest it makes me uneasy to see the outcome,” McCaffrey wrote in an email to Marine Corps Times.
He pointed to the Army as being the centerpiece of national security and an outsized Marine-centric thinking could hurt larger efforts. “For a decade we have been inadequately represented,” the four-star said of the Army.
The Corps’ current position in high places may not continue, irrespective of national security priorities. Media outlets such as The New York Times have recently reported that both Mattis and Kelly are losing favor with President Donald Trump for several reasons including past disagreements and for alleged insults revealed in a book titled, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” by Bob Woodward, veteran journalist for the Washington Post. But Mattis recently told reporters that he isn’t going anywhere yet. And the Marine power-hold may continue.
Despite successes in World War I and II, Marines found themselves in the late 1940s fighting for their very existence. The newly created Air Force, alongside the Army and Navy, was preparing for the growing Cold War with the Soviet Union and their roles in it. That fight imagined massed armies slugging it out on the plains of Europe, with a buildup of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers on the continent. Or it envisioned trading barrages of nuclear weapons, first from air-centric bombing runs suited to the Air Force and then from the added nuclear submarine fleet and later from Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, also controlled by the Air Force.
The Marine Corps struggled as a bit player in that conversation. The Corps was seen more as a shock troop organization that could perhaps land in amphibious environments to achieve a small-scale objective as the Army gathered their strength for the real fight. But, in practice, Marines saw much of the actual engagements.
Marines basically operated as a small land army in Korea and Vietnam and many of the smaller engagements throughout Latin America and later Africa and the Middle East into the early post-Cold War period. “Only the Korean War led to building back up the Marine Corps,” said Richard Shultz Jr., a professor of national security studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. “All of the Cold War, with the exception of Vietnam, if there was going to be a land war fought, the Marines were not going to be the main force.”
As the Cold War wound down and America saw quick victory in the Persian Gulf War with a massive buildup that included scores of partner nations, top Marine Corps leaders were looking in a different direction, Shultz said.
Shultz points to retired Gen. Charles Krulak, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995-1999, as a driving force in setting up the service for post-9/11 success. In speech after speech, Krulak admonished leaders at the time to recognize that future wars would be fought on a much lower level and rapidly transition from direct combat to humanitarian aid.
He created the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, which helped form the asymmetrical, concept known as the “three-block war” where the key leadership was not a general, but a “strategic corporal.” That, Shultz says, helped the Corps reorient itself first to the tasks of the time, peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia and East Timor. “Now we call these irregular wars,” Shultz said. “He started to get the Marine Corps ready for that.”
The flexibility built into the lowest ranks of Marine Corps units, coupled with what Schultz characterized as a premium put on education among the Marine officers, helped position the force for successes both on the battlefield and in D.C. The education portion he credits to retired Gen. Al Gray, commandant from 1987-1991, who established the commandant’s reading list and helped support Marines at all ranks focus on intellectual achievement.
Then came 9/11, with Marines in the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq at the very beginning. This was in part because Marine Expeditionary Units are afloat and able to bring firepower to small-unit operations and invasions. “So, the Marine Corps began to get a lot more experience in this kind of war,” Shultz said. “And it had generals who were ready for it.”
And Marines placement in high positions began shortly afterward.
In 2005, Gen. Peter Pace was appointed the first-ever Marine chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That year, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed off on the creation of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, bringing Marines to the joint special operations forces community after a quarter-century delay. That was followed by Mattis being appointed first as head of U.S. Joint Forces Command and then as commander of CENTCOM in 2010.
In 2011, Allen took over as commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Three years later he served as the first Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Some of the 1990s reorientation helped early in the Iraq War, Shultz said. He wrote a study titled, “The Marines Take Anbar: The Four-Year Fight against Al Qaeda.” The professor points out that while then Gen. David Petraeus was still drafting the Army field manual that would define counterinsurgency, or COIN, operations, Marines were already using such techniques as part of their campaign plan.
“Humanitarian assistance is part of COIN,” Shultz said. “So, when Marines got to COIN in Anbar they adapted and understood not only the ‘clear and hold’ but also the ‘build’ portion of it.”
Seeds planted by leaders going back to Gray, new organization such as the warfighting lab, and its concepts applied to help the service pivot to immediate military missions put it on solid footing when those exact types of missions dominated the post-9/11 landscape. Successes by commanders and their units in those fights and positioning in joint roles likely helped leaders such as Mattis, Kelly, Allen, Dunford and others claim their seats at the table.
As the Marine Corps prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women in its
service on Monday, there is one female Marine continuing to shatter the glass
Last September, First Lt. Marina A. Hierl became the first woman to graduate from the I
infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Virginia, a demanding 13-week program
Marines are required to complete before leading an infantry platoon.At the time of
her graduation, Hierl wished to remain anonymous. But nearly one year later,
the New York Times was granted access to follow Hierl as she made history
commanding an infantry platoon of roughly 35 male Marines during training
exercises in northern Australia.
At boot camp, Marine Corps working to integrate training in the #MeToo era
Hierl, 24, grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and worked on a horse farm, before
attending the University of Southern California, the New York Times reported."I
wanted to do something important with my life," she told the paper about her
desire to join the Marines. "I wanted to be part of a group of people that would
be willing to die for each other."
After learning in 2013 that then-defense secretary Leon Panetta had lifted the ban
on women in combat roles, Hierl told the Times that she knew she wanted to
lead a platoon."I didn’t think there was anything better in the Marine Corps
I could do," Hierl explained to the paper. But women weren't allowed in the
Infantry until 2015, and the Marines were the last service to integrate women
into combat units. Hierl persevered, making history by becoming the first woman
to graduate the Infantry Officer Course and then again as the Marines' first female
platoon commander, leading a team that is based out of Camp Pendleton,
While dozens of women have attempted to complete the grueling Infantry Officer
Course, only two have passed. Hierl's lone female companion is reportedly
working through a follow-on intelligence school, which, if she completes, would
make her the Marine Corps' only female ground intelligence officer.
The Times reported that while Hierl's arrival at Echo Company was at first met with
skepticism, she is now respected among her fellow Marines and is focused on
being recognized for her leadership, not trailblazing."She's one of us," Lance Cpl.
Kai Segura, 20, told the Times.
The history of women in the Marines began with Opha May Johnson. She was the first
woman to enlist in the service on Aug. 13, 1918, the day after then-Secretary of
the Navy Josephus Daniels allowed women to enlist for clerical duty in the Marine
In 1918, American women had not yet been granted the right to vote, but Johnson,
who was 39 years old at the time, joined the Marine Corps anyway, serving as a
clerk at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. On Monday, the
anniversary of Johnson's enlistment, the Marine Corps will celebrate 100 years of
women in the service by opening a new exhibition. The contributions of female
Marines will be part of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial in
Since 2001, more than 15,000 female Marines have served in the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Ten women have lost their lives in combat. In 2005, Lance Cpl. Holly
A. Charlette became the first female Marine to be killed in Iraq when an
improvised explosive device detonated near her convoy in Fallujah. Today, women
only make up about 8 percent of the Marine Corps, by far the lowest percentage of
any branch of the military when compared to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. But
female Marines continue to make inroads. In addition to Hierl's
accomplishments, female Marines are serving as officers in artillery, tanks, and
assault amphibious vehicles for the first time this year.
Speaking at the 100th anniversary celebration on Monday will be another woman
making history for the Marines: Lt. Gen. Loretta "Lori" Reynolds. Reynolds is only
the third woman to earn the three-star rank of Lieutenant General in the Marine
Corps. In 2011, as a one-star general, she became the first woman to lead the
Marine Corps' recruiting depot at Parris Island.Reynolds is now the deputy
commandant for information in the Marine Corps and the commander of Marine
Corps Forces Strategic Command.
The Basic School for Marine Officers is reeling from a cheating scandal that involved six second lieutenants accused of wrongfully obtaining and sharing key grid points for the night land navigation course.
The officers were accused of sharing the grid points via text messages before the test and later relying on them to find hidden boxes stashed across the wooded night land navigation course in Quantico, Virginia, according to interviews with Marine Corps officials and a copy of the command investigation obtained by Marine Corps Times.
The Marine Corps considers that cheating because the students were able to complete the course without demonstrating the key skills the course aims to evaluate: conducting proper land navigation.
To make matters worse, the investigation of the six second lieutenants was mishandled and resulted in an investigation of the investigators. The episode was further complicated by the alleged illegal confinement of female officers and allegations of sexual harassment. In the end, numerous Marines faced discipline and one Marine’s claims of innocence led to a private polygraph test.
The six officers accused of cheating are now facing administrative separation and two captains who conducted the initial investigation have received nonpunitive letters of reprimand, or NPLOCs. Meanwhile, top officials at TBS are making some changes to the course to eliminate the chance of similar problems in the future.
It all surfaced with a Dec. 5, 2017, complaint from a student who said a small group of his peers cheated on night land navigation exam portion of instruction. The TBS command launched an investigation and the students, interviewed one by one, began to rat each other out.
The original source of the grid points for the boxes came from a Marine who had been recycled in training and obtained some of the coordinates from his time with a previous company. That Marine was enrolled in follow-on course with a new cadre of newly minted officers.
Investigators also uncovered a confiscated cell phone and series of scandalous texts between alleged co-conspirators attempting to seek grid coordinates.
“Rah deleting immediately after,” read one text sent from a second lieutenant to the recently rolled back second lieutenant, struggling to meet the basic requirements aboard TBS.
The first student sending that text admitted to investigators that he had asked for and received the grid coordinates, but he also denied using them while taking the test because he believed they were “unreliable,” according to a command investigation obtained by Marine Corps Times.
One of the other alleged cheaters, a female second lieutenant, with the assumed name Lt. Delta, confided in the other student she “could pass Final Night Land Navigation by plotting the boxes beforehand,” according to the command investigation. The female lieutenant spoke to Marine Corps Times on condition of anonymity.
According to the TBS Student Academic Integrity Policy, it’s a violation for students to obtain coordinates of the boxes that dot the land nav course.
Graded events also are strictly conducted as an individual effort, which means students can’t seek assistance from each other to complete the event.
Day and night land navigation events aboard TBS are conducted differently.
For day land nav, students are given grids to boxes they must plot on a map then locate in the Quantico woods using terrain association or following a lensatic compass azimuth.
For night land navigation, students are brought to a starting point and are given an azimuth and distance, but no grid coordinates. The idea here is that students use their compass to find to their location.
Training Command told Marine Corps Times that prior knowledge of the coordinates could make it possible for a student to identify the marked boxes on a map without using the skills the course is designed to test.
The ringleader that brought the whole conspiracy crashing down was a student from a previous TBS class who allegedly obtained some of the coordinates from his previous class.
That student, who ranked near the bottom of his class, was recycled to Phase II of TBS “especially do to his poor performance leadership performance,” said a letter from his previous company’s executive officer, dated August 2017.
Another second lieutenant, who already graduated from TBS and is now attending a follow-on school, also was caught up in the cheating turmoil after investigators discovered text messages linking him to cheating on a different land navigation event. The investigation recommended administrative separation for that Marine officer as well.
And another second lieutenant received an administrative nonpunitive letter of caution, or NPLOC, for failure to report cheating after Lt. Delta told her she could locate the boxes.
Investigating the investigators
Several students are still fighting to clear their names. They are highlighting what they view as wrongdoings carried out by TBS during the investigation.
One of the two female officers ensnared in the cheating scandal, Lt. Delta, accused other TBS officers of gender discrimination during the investigation.
She said she was kept in illegal pretrial confinement for nearly 24 hours. She alleges that led to her giving a statement under duress to investigators admitting that she received grid coordinates to the land nav event.
Lt. Delta eventually filed an equal opportunity complaint over the alleged mistreatment, prompting the Marine Corps to launch a separate investigation into how the cheating investigation was handled.
Two of the accused land nav students — both females — were “directed to sit in separate conference rooms by a TBS staff member and await to be questioned about the allegations of misconduct,” Training Command said in a statement to Marine Corps Times.
And one of those female officers was left in the conference rooms all night.
“A staff member from The Basic School failed to notify these two students they could secure for the evening, and both remained in the conference room overnight, leaving only to use the restroom and retrieve food or have it delivered,” Training Command said. “The doors to these conference rooms were not locked.”
The command investigation “concluded that it was only coincidental that the two neglected students were female,” according to the document.
However, in an interview with Marine Corps Times, Lt. Delta pushed back on the assertion that her confinement was merely a miscommunication.
She claims that the two captains who ordered her to stay in the conference room likely informed her unit of her absence from evening formation, otherwise she would have been marked an unauthorized absence.
Lt. Delta said the failure of any unauthorized absence reports from evening formation means the captains were aware she was still in the conference room when they secured for the evening.
Training command says, “An investigating officer concluded that the staff members should have personally ensured these two students were informed that they were properly dismissed and secured for the evening.”
Yet the command did find some fault with how those captains handled the incident and took administrative action by giving them NPLOCs, according to the command investigation. But Lt. Delta and her lawyer, Mike Hanzel, argue that the confinement wasn’t even the most egregious act against her.
Sexual assault complaint
Before the entire land navigation situation happened, Lt. Delta had filed a restricted sexual assault allegation, in November 2017. She was assigned a uniformed victims advocate, another Marine who is trained and assigned to provide support to sexual assault victims. It turns out that her unformed victim’s advocate eventually became one of her interrogators during the land navigation investigation.
It’s highly unusual and inappropriate for the same person to be assigned to both support a sexual assault victim while also investigating that victim for unrelated misconduct, said Lydia C. Watts, who heads the Service Women’s Action Network.
The uniformed victim advocate’s role is “to provide ongoing support to service members who have been sexually assaulted and making a UVA part of an investigation of a victim, even if it is on an unrelated matter, destroys the trust victim’s place on their UVA to be looking out for their best interest when they report an assault,” Watts told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
“A UVA should never be part of an investigation of one of their clients, especially since they are often called upon to provide ongoing support to the victim after the incident. The entire chain of command should be held accountable for betraying the trust victims place upon their UVAs.”
Marine Corps Times has learned that Lt. Delta’s victims advocate eventually was reassigned after complaints were made about his participation in the land navigation investigation and his simultaneous role as her sexual assault victim’s advocate.
“The Marine Corps takes allegations of sexual assault seriously and Uniformed Victim Advocates are specifically selected for their maturity and ability to deal with sensitive situations,” Training Command said. Lt. Delta also made a sexual harassment complaint against one of the investigators, but according to Training Command those allegations were unsubstantiated.
And adding to the mess, Marine Corps investigators found sexually explicit text messages pulled from a confiscated phone that suggested a romantic affair between Lt. Delta and one of the other students accused of cheating on the land navigation course.
Several students who attended an Oct. 23, 2017, classroom instruction on night land navigation signed voluntary sworn statements that one of the instructors had stated: “You could go ahead and plot the boxes on you map, many Lieutenants have tried, but it is very difficult, and I end up telling them when they bring their card to get checked, see you for remediation.”
Some of the students believed this was tacit approval to have and plot the grid coordinates. “In his statement to the IO [Investigating Officer], [the land navigation instructor] noted that his presentation to the students included an orientation slide with a rough, not-to-scale depiction of the course. He said that he cautioned the students against trying to plot the boxes as depicted in his brief, warning them that those efforts would fail,” the command investigation reads.
Officials TBS told Marine Corps Times that the school is now making changes to clear up any potential confusion regarding the rules of the night land nav course. Yet Training Command continues to claim that no instructor at TBS authorized students to plot coordinates for night land nav.
“Coordinates are not provided to students at The Basic School for night land navigation,” Training Command said in a statement.
According to the command investigation, TBS will now make two explicit restrictions prior to the night land navigation course. “First, no maps of any kind will be permitted.”
“Second, it will be made explicitly clear that no plotting or recording of grid coordinates will be allowed prior to or during the event.”
Land navigation boxes will be repainted before each company conducts night land navigation and additional unscored administrative boxes will be scattered across the course “to prevent students’ attempts to map the course prior to execution,” the investigation stated.
Despite missteps during the investigation and some substantiated misconduct of two captains associated with the investigation, Training Command and The Basic School stand by its findings. Yet Training Command continues to claim that no instructor at TBS authorized students to plot coordinates for night land nav.
According to the command investigation, TBS will now make two explicit restrictions prior to the night land navigation course.
“First, no maps of any kind will be permitted.”
Despite missteps during the investigation and some substantiated misconduct of two captains associated with the investigation, Training Command and The Basic School stand by its findings.
Maj. Gen. Michael F. Fahey III assumed command of Marine Corps Forces, South during a change of command ceremony in Doral, Florida, Aug. 21.
Maj. Gen. David G. Bellon passed the reins to Fahey after serving as the commander of MARFORSOUTH since May 2017.
Fahey was previously the commander of Force Headquarters Group, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve. Bellon is set to be the plans director at U.S. Southern Command, and is currently acting as the SOUTHCOM military deputy commander.
During the last year, the Marines and Sailors of MARFORSOUTH have taken steps to create a multinational maritime task force comprised of regional partners to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. For the first time in history, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command deployed with a partner nation service member as its deputy commander. Planners from MARFORSOUTH are currently in Brazil in support of UNITAS Amphibious. The knowledge gained and enhanced integration from this year’s tabletop exercise will set the stage for a multinational task force to take to the sea to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training during next year’s UNITAS Amphibious.
“It takes a tremendous amount of passion and energy to first conceive of a new strategy and then to make the effort to address as many equities holders as possible early on to give the strategy a chance to be successful,” said Bellon. “All of this was done by a small staff who were juggling many other priorities. It was classic problem solving followed by true grit; what we expect of Marines. I am thrilled that there is now momentum behind a multinational maritime task force focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief that will become a reality in the years ahead.”
Bellon credited the drive and dedication of the individual Marines under his charge for the command’s progress in making the multinational maritime task force a reality.
“Inspiration and insight is rank agnostic,” said Bellon. “Opportunity comes when a few Marines and sailors do the work necessary to recognize a threat or opportunity early and then immediately follow with the passion and moral certainty to make a difference.”
For his part, Fahey said he was looking forward to commanding the Marines of MARFORSOUTH and working with their partners in the region.
“I look forward to working with each and every one of the Marines, sailors and civilians on the MARFORSOUTH team,” said Fahey. “I attended the MARFORSOUTH Regional Marine Conference in June and was incredibly impressed by the professionalism and regional knowledge base of the team. The same applies to my turnover briefs over the last week - just an amazing group of dedicated people. It is both motivating and inspiring to me.”
CAMP PENDLETON – Sgt. Margarita Palli, an instructor at the Marine Combat Training Battalion, knew early on who her platoon standout would be. Palli was hiking mid-pack when she looked around to see how her Marines – new students in the 28-day course – were doing on the day’s 10K hike. There was exhaustion in their faces, heavy breathing and groans of pain as they lugged 60-plus-pound backpacks up a steep and dusty hill. “I saw this female and she was very stoic,” said Palli. “She just walked, no complaining, no nothing. I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to keep an eye on her.’” And she did.
Pfc. Sara Durst continued to excel and Palli kept hearing other Marines in the platoon praise her. “I kept hearing her name during field week and during range week,” Palli said. “The other Marines kept telling me she should be a squad leader.”
Palli promoted Durst to that position. It was Durst’s job to make sure the Marines had all their gear and water. She did so well that first week in training that Palli made her the guide of the entire platoon. “She became my right hand,” Palli said. “She was absolutely natural. It stood out how well she could handle the platoon.”
Durst, 26, of Reedsburg, Wis., was one of 58 females among a recent graduating class of 326 at Camp Pendleton’s Combat Training Battalion, finishing at the top of her class. She also is among 469 female Marines making history at Camp Pendleton as the first to take on combat training with their male counterparts at the Marine Corps base.
They have gone through the combat course, which includes basic combat training, patrol and convoy, marksmanship using grenades and launchers and grueling 5-, 10- and 15K hikes through the hilly terrain that surrounds the seaside base. Of those 469 women, 406 have graduated. It’s a particularly significant milestone considering last week the Marine Corps marks 100 years of women in service.
The shift has been evolving quickly since March, when Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry West opened its historically male-only combat training battalion to women. For the first time in Marine Corps history, female Marines recruited from west of the Mississippi are training for combat at Camp Pendleton instead of at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where female Marines have traditionally been trained.
Training at Camp Pendleton differs from that at Parris Island in climate and terrain. In South Carolina, Marines fight high humidity and bugs. Hikes are flat and circular. At Camp Pendleton, the terrain is rugged and Marines climb dry and dusty hills.
The Marine Corps is the only military service branch to train all Marines to handle weapons and fight, regardless of their specialties. Female Marines train alongside men and are fully integrated at the platoon and squad levels.
“We train for certainty and educate for uncertainty,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Bohm, who was in command and oversight of the gender-integration elements at Marine Combat Training Battalion and oversaw the Marine Corps Training Command headquartered in Quantico, Va. “No matter how the Marine Corps fights in the (future) or how technologically advanced we become, we never forget the human element.”
In boot camp, Marines are transformed through basic training from civilians into Marines. In combat training, they learn about war-fighting and develop a bond and warrior ethos that is part of the Marine Corps mystique.
“The warfighter of tomorrow is a flexible problem-solver,” Bohm said. “The character of war has changed but the nature of war is enduring. We train to operate and thrive in those environments. They (Marines) are not going to freeze when something happens.”
Lt. Col. Brian O’Shea, who trained with women when he entered the U.S. Navy in 1995, recently took command of the battalion. Males training with females, he said, won’t interrupt the nature of the training or the battalion’s timeline.
What has changed since the ’90s, he said, is adding gear to fit typically female frames. Flak jackets are being designed for breasts; helmets are being made smaller; packs have retractable frames to prevent injuries to females’ backs and hips. In addition, housing, medical services and bathroom facilities have been added to accommodate females at the School of Infantry West.
Before a recent combat training graduation parents, relatives and friends of Marines gathered in a building on the School of Infantry West campus to get a glimpse into what their Marines had gone through. Sgt. Major D. V. Velis Jr. gave a brief presentation.
“We teach them to be combat hunters – what sticks out of the ordinary – we teach instinct,” he said. “We teach them how to handle enemy prisoners of war, how to look for booby traps. We teach them how to look down the road and figure out, ‘Where would you hide if you’re the enemy?’ We throw scenarios at them like live fire support for the attack of an enemy position.”
At the graduation ceremony, O’Shea called out Durst as the company’s honor graduate and presented a challenge coin in acknowledgment of her achievement. “In the last 29 days, one of you stood out more than the rest,” he said to Durst.
Opportunities for female Marines began evolving significantly in 2013, when then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in the infantry. By doing so, he overturned a 1994 Pentagon ruling preventing females from holding jobs in artillery, armor and other infantry specialties.
Still, Marine Corps leaders sought to keep certain infantry and combat jobs closed to women, citing a 2015 gender-integrated task force study at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. The study reported that some teams with women performed worse than all-male teams.
But in January 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that all gender-based restrictions on military service were lifted, clearing the way for women to serve next to men in infantry roles. Three months later, Marine Corps officials announced all Marines would fall under the same policies. There are now 33 previously closed specialties open to female Marines, Bohm said. Over the past 12 months, in particular, there have been a series of glass ceiling-shattering events.
In September 2017, Lt. Maria Hierl became the first to graduate from the grueling 13-week Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course and reported to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.
Hierl recently deployed with the 2nd Batttalion/4th Marines in support of Marine Rotational Force Darwin, becoming the first female infantry officer and platoon commander in Australia. There, she led 35 male Marines during combat exercises.
In October 2017, 2nd Lt. Mariah Klenke became the first female Marine to graduate from the Assault Amphibian Officer Course and was assigned to Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion.
On June 22, 2018, Lt. Col. Michelle Macander became the first female leader of a ground combat arms unit when she took command of the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton. “Female Marines are seen as Marines, not as females,” Bohm said. “They’re measured by their contribution to their unit, not by their gender.”
About 8 percent of the 50,000-member 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the fighting group based at Camp Pendleton, are women. Of those approximately 4,000 women, 332 serve at the 1st Marine Division, the ground combat element of the 1 MEF. Forty female Marines are serving in previously restricted combat jobs – such as machine gunner, mortarman, and field artillery cannoneer – at the 1st Marine Division.
Marine Corps-wide, of the 184,473 service members, 15,885 are females, 80 of whom serve in combat roles. Sgt. Palli – a member of the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force that conducted gender-neutral training assessments – supports women in combat.
“The only thing that concerns me is the physical aspect,” she said. As an example, Palli referenced a female Marine who wanted to be a mortarman, but needed a step-stool to reach the cannon. “I believe there should be certain weight and height requirements,” said Palli, who at 5-foot-5, 125 pounds, is the Marine Corps’ first female mortarman.
“Being in the infantry is a difficult task,” she said, recalling her previous assignment. “The pain unites us. We did everything together. We ate together, slept together and went out together.” Initially, Palli said, male Marines were resistant to female integration. But as time went on, that changed. “It was like, she’s just another bro,” Palli said. “It’s not a big deal unless you make it a big deal.”
Earlier this year, Palli was sent to Camp Pendleton to help with female integration. She is one of seven women in a group of 122 combat instructors. Palli’s first class was all male – when she got her first females, she noted many of them were more serious than the males about their training. Recently, when Pfc. Alicia Matias, 23, of Los Angeles, also a July graduate, said the men tended to be less mature than the women, Palli readily agreed.
“You have 17- and 18-year-old boys and they see girls and they get immature,” she said. “But, they’re also very willing to help the girls. If anything, they actually try harder for the girls. It’s better for us because it’s a win-win situation. The girls also know how to shut them down.” For Durst, it wasn’t a gender issue. There was just something about her that made others in her platoon and squad respect her, Palli said. Taking her training seriously was definitely one element. Durst joined the Marine Corps in November.
“I wanted to become a better version of myself and wasn’t living up to my expectations,” she said, adding that she managed a gym and coached the Badger Lightning girls youth hockey team in her small Wisconsin farming town. Durst’s brother had joined the Marines and when he returned home on leave, she recalled, he had been transformed. He had become a Reconnaissance Marine.
“When I first saw him, he whispered in my ear that I should join the Marines,” she said. “He told me I’d like the leadership aspect. He sold me and I contacted his recruiter.” Once in, the 5-foot-8 Durst loved the physical challenges that boot camp presented. She particularly enjoyed hiking the hills.
“When you get to the top of the hill and see the beautiful view, it’s all worth it,” she said. “There were certain hills where I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we have a ways to go,’ but my inspiration came from the fact that my brother was here and that if he can do it, I can.” When it came time for the combat instructors to select a Marine to be specially recognized, it was an easy choice, Palli said. “They say you can fake motivation but she was real,” Palli said of Durst. “Students felt that and fed off that. She was leading from the front.”
What surprised Palli was the reaction of the male Marines to Durst’s honor.
“I would have thought the guys would have been a little bit more hurt,” she said. “Everyone knew – she was the one.”
The Corps is giving $5,000 to recruits who go infantry for six years(Marine Corps Times) The Corps is once again dishing out $5,000 bonuses to recruits who sign up to go infantry for six years.
Earlier this year, DOD made some significant changes to the way they monitor security clearances. Unfortunately, DOD never really announced these changes to the fighting force themselves, a classic case of the left hand not knowing that the right hand is doing.
We worked with DOD to put together a “Warning Order” about the new policies, so that servicemembers can protect themselves and maintain their security clearances. This warning order is probably something your members still wearing the uniform would benefit hearing about.
Any help your organization can provide to get the word out, would be greatly appreciated.
Here is a link to the warning order:
Col Anthony White, an MCRA member is running for Congress. To read his full bio click here.
Disclaimer: This in no way serves as an endorsement of Col White.
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