A Lean Marine Corps of 160K
The U.S. Marine Corps is too big. It is several times larger than any other Marine force. It is bigger than the Israeli Defense Force and nearly twice the size of the entire British Army! Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the Marine Corps to downsize to 175,000 active duty Marines by 2018. He warned of cutting down to 150,000 unless Congress restrained soaring personnel costs and repealed the 2011 "sequestration", which rolls back DoD spending to 2007 levels. Both efforts are likely to fail resulting in a decade of turmoil in the Marine Corps unless a realistic future force plan is adopted soon. General James Amos recently warned that military pay and benefits have grown to consume 63% of the Marine Corps budget, while just 8% is devoted to modernization and investment, which will shrink further unless manpower is cut.
Retaining a force of 150,000 active Marines would still be a comparative victory for the Marine Corps. After the planned drawdown ends, the Army, Navy, and Air Force will have around 40% fewer active personnel than in 1990. A 40% cut to the Marine Corps would leave an active force of 114,000! Unfortunately, senior Marine Corps officers are refusing to reorganize to cut fat and shed non-critical missions. Generals have openly stated they are planning for a force of 182,000 Marines. This refusal to make realistic plans wastes money and leaves Marines demoralized by rumors, more time deployed, and frequent manpower adjustments.
Congress and the American people expect a lean, mean, and ready Marine Corps. For the past four years Marine Generals protected headquarters and non-combat units from cuts while slashing combat power. Rather than presenting a plan to gradually downsize, Generals stall and hope that new conflict will save them from tough choices. Army Generals are using this same strategy of cutting muscle to preserve fat while predicting disaster if Congress refuses to provide more funds.
If this continues while arrogantly blaming Congress, the Corps' value to the nation will be questioned. Congress provided firm guidance with budget restrictions enacted back in 2011. If the Marine Corps is unwilling to adapt, Congress will direct changes, such as: eliminate the Corps' fixed-wing aircraft, eliminate tanks and artillery, eliminate an entire division, or eliminate the Marine Corps! Marines must follow orders and act decisively. The Marine Corps must announce a plan to close some unneeded overseas facilities and downsize to 160,000 Marines to meet budget restraints, which is just 16% less than the Marines' Cold War manpower average. If more funds magically appear, that is a bonus best spent on new weaponry.
The first step is to recognize that infantry battalions are the heart of the Marine Corps and provide the nucleus for rapidly deployable forces. A force of 160,000 active duty Marines can easily maintain three divisions with 27 infantry battalions that require just 24,300 Marines. The previous G2mil proposal: Cut Marine Corps Overhead explains how the Corps can cut 14,300 active duty non-combat positions and restore recently deactivated infantry battalions for a force of 175,000. Here is plan to slash another 15,000 active slots while retaining 27 infantry battalions and other combat power for a lean force of 160,000 active Marines backed by 40,000 drilling reservists.
2400 - T2P2 Marines eliminated for a 160,000-man force
In 2012 when around 200,000 Marines were on active duty, the Marines calculated that T2P2 amounted to 31,680 Marines tied up as Trainees, Transients (PCS moves), Patients, and Prisoners (15.84% of the force). A second phase to downsize the Corps from 186,800 to 175,000 automatically sheds another 1800 Marines from T2P2. A final phase of downsizing to 160,000 sheds another 2000 Marines from T2P2.
2000 - Merge Division and MEB headquarters
The Marine Corps is burdened by redundant senior MAGTF headquarters. There are three MEF Hqs to command a total of 27 infantry battalions, three MEB Hqs to command a total of 9, and seven MEU Hqs to command 7. Therefore, the Corps has MAGTF Hqs to command a total of 43 infantry battalions, yet only 20 active battalions will remain unless some of Hqs are cut instead.
The previous G2mil downsizing proposal called for eliminating II MEF and III MEF headquarters, since they have just MEB size forces to command, AND they each have a separate 844-man MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) headquarters nearby to command a MEB anyway! In addition, the Corps has three large division headquarters. The Corps could shed some 2000 headquarters personnel by merging the three MEB headquarters with the nearby division headquarters, and "dual-hat" the commander. For example, a Commanding General of the 2nd MEB/2nd MarDiv.
MEBs are designated the lead rapid deployment MAGTF. In past conflicts the transition from the MEBs up to MEFs caused problems, with hundreds of MEB officers bumping into each other looking for new jobs after the MEB dissolved. It would be much easier if the MEB headquarters simply converted to a division headquarters once a larger MEF headquarters arrived and was ready to take command.
As part of this sensible merger, better descriptions are needed. In the military world, a brigade has 2000-5000 personnel, so why does a MEB have up to 18,000 personnel? That's a large division! This confuses everyone and undersells the combat power of a MEB. Drop the MEB designation in favor of Marine Expeditionary Division (MED), to describe a two-star led MAGTF with ~14,000 Marines. This same headquarters could also command a regular Marine Division that serves as the GCE for a MEF after more forces arrive. This would not only improve senior command effectiveness, but shed some 2000 headquarters personnel from the Marine Corps!
2000 - Squeeze T2P2
Even with a force of 160,000 Marines, some 25,344 Marines will be in a trainee, transient, patient, or prisoner (T2P2) status. Reducing that just 8% would eliminate some 2000 Marines. A bureaucratic slashing tiger team should be formed to tackle this issue. Because of poor planning, many Marines are idle between boot camp and follow-on schools. Marines enlisted in a guaranteed MOS should not start boot camp until a graduation date aligns with their MOS school. The MOS allocation for 2ndLts at TBS should reflect upcoming MOS school dates.
How can the Corps cut PCS moves to not only save money, but reduce the number of Marines in a transient status? Discharging disabled Marines remains a year long process and should be shortened. Can misconduct discharge proceedings quicken to reduce those in a prisoner status? Is it better to bust troublesome Marines to E-1 to finish their enlistment with a honorable discharge to retain VA benefits, rather than a court-marital and short imprisonment option? These are complex issues, but minor changes could free lots of manpower.
1600 - Replace three active with four reserve artillery battalions
The future of Marine artillery remains uncertain. After moving to force of all 155mm towed guns for simplicity, the Corps converted two battalions to HIMARS rockets and now 120mm mortar batteries have appeared. This proposal does not address weaponry, just how many artillery battalions the Corps needs. Traditionally, a Marine Corps with four divisions should have an artillery battalion per infantry regiment, and one to provide general support for each division, or a total of 16 (12 active / 4 reserve). The Corps had 15 (11 active / 4 reserve) until the 2010 force reduction plan cut two, leaving 13 (9 active / 4 reserve). As the Corps shrank two more were recently cut leaving 11 (8 active / 3 reserve).
If the Corps downsizes to 160,000, a proportional cut may leave an artillery force of just 8 (6 active / 2 reserve). Artillery is considered a "big war" weapon that is less important in the Corps' new peacetime focus on faster and smaller units of deployment. Even in recent years, artillerymen were often employed as infantry. In addition, cuts in amphibious ships may result in two-ship ARGs. Everyone familiar with MEUs know the least important element is the artillery battery. It has a big logistical tail and is difficult to move ashore with its fleet of trucks. Finally, MEUs operate from ships where naval gunfire is available, so the artillery battery is often employed as a fourth rifle company. MEU commanders would prefer a tank platoon over an artillery battery anyway.
As a result, artillery batteries may be dropped from routine MEU deployments and dispatched via MPF ships when required. There will be little peacetime demand for artillery and it will shrink, unless a plan is adopted to preserve this wartime capability in the reserves. The Corps could retain another four artillery battalions in the USMCR and still shed 1600 active duty Marines with this plan for 12 (5 active / 7 reserve) artillery battalions:
10th Marines (Camp Lejeune)
1st Bn (supports three MEUs or amphib MEB)
2nd Bn (MPS-2, supports 3rd Bn training)
3rd Bn (restored in USMCR) Falls-in on 2nd Bn equipment. The entire battalion to be located at one site in a major city less than four hours drive from Camp Lejeune.
11th Marines (Camp Pendleton)
1st Bn (supports three MEUs or amphib MEB)
2nd Bn - (becomes USMCR) The entire battalion remains at Camp Pendleton using the same facilities and equipment at the current active unit. Millions of people live an hour away to man this reserve unit.
3rd Bn - transferred to the 12th Marines, replaced by a nearby USMCR Bn (now 5/14) at Seal Beach CA.
5th Bn - (deactivated)
12th Marines (Hq. Hawaii or 29 Palms)
1st Bn (Hawaii) no change, 31st MEU support with UDP or after it moves to Hawaii.
2nd Bn (restored in USMCR at 29 Palms) falls-in on 3rd Bn equipment. Over a million people live an hour away in the Riverside/San Bernardino area to man an entire reserve battalion at 29 Palms.
3rd Bn (now 3/11, 29 Palms) MPS-3, supports 2nd Bn training)
14th Marines USMCR
1st Bn USMCR (recently deactivated, restored as 5/14 becomes 3/11).
2nd Bn USMCR no change
3rd Bn USMCR no change
This would result in a balanced Marine Corps with three artillery battalions per division, yet sheds some 1600 active duty Marines and conserves wartime combat power in the reserves. (Some 1800 cut from three active battalions and 200 added back for four reserve battalions.) These four battalions are affordable as the equipment already exists, and two will have none since they will fall-in on equipment left stateside as their two active "sister" battalions fly off to MPF sets.
Three of the four new reserve battalions can be efficiently located at single sites, and two will use recently vacated space at active duty bases and can recruit Marines leaving their nearby active duty sister unit. Further savings will result by ending UDP battery deployments to Okinawa, where units are not even permitted to fire their guns! This will result in 12 artillery battalions instead of 8 with another proportional cut. Adding four reserve artillery battalions does not require an expansion of overall reserve manpower if less essential USMCR units are eliminated or consolidated. The previous G2mil proposal called for replacing regiment headquarters companies with five-man sections, which also eliminates three reserve units. Overall, the USMCR needs to abandon a mirror image structure of a MEF and tailor units to support the active force.
1400 - Deactivate MAG-12 and leave Iwakuni to the Navy
The Marines recently announced plans to make permanent the rotation of UDP fighter-attack squadrons to the Persian Gulf region. As the Marine Corps shifts to a worldwide focus (rather than a Cold War WestPac focus) it makes no sense to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for a fixed airbase on mainland Japan to host a Navy carrier air wing that is moving over from NAS Atsugi. The Marine Corps now has far fewer fighter-attack squadrons and they are more valuable elsewhere, rather than playing a back up role to defend Japan and South Korea. The Marine Corps could cut military and even move civilian manpower by deactivating MAG-12 headquarters and supporting overhead and turning MCAS Iwakuni over to the U.S. Navy.
The only permanent flying squadron left at this base, VMFA-242, could remain as part of the Navy's CVW-5 since the Marines have committed five fighter-attack squadrons to CVWs. If not, it could move where it can better support Marines, to Kadena airbase on Okinawa or Anderson AFB on Guam. Okinawa needs more fighter aircraft and the USAF should move its vulnerable tankers outside China's kill zone, perhaps to "NAS" Iwakuni. The F-35B would be a nice fit for Kadena since its runways would be cratered the first day of any conflict with China, trapping the F-22s there. F-35Bs can STOVL and their limited range would not matter in dogfights over the airfield. The Marines' VMGR-152 (KC-130) squadron is due transfer to Iwakuni, but Anderson AFB is a more strategic location, or MCAS Kaneohe Bay to keep families out of a potential war zone. If squadrons are available, a VMA and second VMFA could UDP to the region.
Marine fighter-attack UDP squadrons could make random deployments to Iwakuni, Kadena, Anderson, or the RAAF Darwin airbase Australia. Agreements may allow UDP to RAAF Tindal (near Darwin), where the RAAF has an FA-18 squadron, or locations in the Philippines. UDP is a much more flexible and cost effective method of forward-deploying forces, and units are more expeditionary in nature and can shift in matter of days depending on political considerations. Moreover, should a major war occur in the Pacific, thousands of dead American civilians will reveal that keeping families in a potential war zone is foolish, a lesson learned in the Philippines in 1942. Here is a map of this proposed WestPac Laydown.
800 - Eliminate MarSoc support battalions
While the Marine Corps shrunk, MarSoc continued to grow to three battalions. Then it didn't want to rely on the Marine Corps for support and created its own Intel battalion and a Logistics battalion. These should be disbanded as there are more than enough Intel organizations to support MarSoc, and light-fighter teams with their own battalion S-4 and regiment S-4 don't need a separate logistics battalion when regular Marine logistics battalions are nearby. The inference that regular Marines are not good enough to deploy to provide occasional support to MarSoc teams is insulting.
800 - Less base overhead
This is less a proposal than a fact. Cutting 15,000 more active duty Marines cuts the number of Marines in other areas. Some of this is counted as 2T2P, but fewer Marines also requires fewer Marine recruiters and trainers. Bases would have fewer Marines so fewer base support personnel are needed; especially since 15,000 fewer dependents would exist.
Downsizing base personnel is difficult because all seem essential. The best method is an on-line confidential survey sent to each base employee and Marine assigned to base support. They know who is working half the day (or less) and many would be happy to blow the whistle, especially if it preserves their job.
The Corps could eliminate a few hundred positions by demilitarizing bases with few Marines, like MCLB Barstow and the MWTC at Bridgeport. These could become "facilities" without all the overhead found at major bases by replacing more Marines with civilians and shifting some activities to other bases to slash PCS and eliminate family support costs. Marines due reassignment from Southern California bases would be offered the option of a three-year tour at these "austere" bases with no nearby base support, like many Marines assigned to recruiting duty. Or they could accept a one-year unaccompanied tour to allow their family to stay in place while the Marine drives home for a three-day weekend a couple times a month.
Most Bridgeport Marines could be at 29 Palms and deploy when needed for training support, while two dozen others live there on one-year unaccompanied tours. Some Marines have long argued that it would be much easier to use mountain campgrounds in the San Bernardino National forest (near Big Bear) for this training, which are just an hour from Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms. However, a better idea is to mothball Bridgeport (again) and deploy Marines more often to the MOUT facility at the former George AFB and San Clemente Island to learn skills Marines are far more likely to need.
700 - Cut intelligence manpower
The U.S. Government has 17 intelligence agencies and Marine Corps Intelligence is one of the newest. The Marines were happy to play a small role as part the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) until 2000 when the Corps formed is own Marine Corps Intelligence Department in Washington DC. In 2002, the Corps formed a separate Marine Corps Intelligence Activity in Quantico VA, while a National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office appeared nearby with the ONI. Meanwhile, each regional joint Combatant Command has its own large Intel section, as well as each MAGTF. There are now 5000 Marines with an Intelligence MOS and another 3200 Marines in Signals Intelligence, with thousands more civilians in support positions.
Despite all this Intel, the end result is often poor. As Marines raced to Baghdad in 2003, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, General James Mattis, reported that he never had intelligence about enemy forces to his front. As the Marine Corps downsizes, it needs to restructure intelligence with a goal of eliminating duplication and freeing non-MAGTF intel manpower equal to an infantry battalion of Marines. This would still leave more Intel Marines than before 9-11.
600 - Deactivate some hollow squadrons
The 2010 Force Structure Plan claimed to cut flying squadrons from 70 to 61. In reality, only one squadron was cut, VMM-561, because of aircraft shortages worsened by the loss of eight Harriers in the attack at Camp Bastion. Of the other squadrons "cut", four were ancient EA-6Bs, whose small five-plane squadrons were already scheduled to deactivate by 2019 with no replacement. Two V-22 squadrons were identified as cut, but those were part of a plan to expand the number of medium lift squadrons. VMM-561 had stood up just two years prior and new VMM-562 had no aircraft. The Corps curtailed a plan to increase the number of HMLA squadrons and took credit for cutting one. Finally, the last squadron flying 45-year old CH-53Ds once scheduled for deactivation in 2006 was finally deactivated.
Because of delays and large cost increases for newer aircraft, the Marine Corps has a large shortfall of some aircraft. Many squadrons have only half the aircraft authorized, known as PAA. The exact numbers are classified, but press reports indicate a severe shortfall in CH-53Es due to a decade of delays in the CH-53K program. The Corps began retirement of a dozen a year in 2013 due to metal fatigue and only has around half needed for existing HMH squadrons. Delays and cost increases in the F-35 have also caused a severe shortage of (in reporting) FA-18s and mishap prone AV-8Bs. The extent of the problem has been hidden by decreasing squadron PAA and parking unfixable aircraft rather than scrapping them.
These shortages will last over a decade, and are likely permanent due to soaring aircraft prices. Half strength squadrons have excess overhead and leave demoralized Marines in hollow units. One must speculate without official data, but limited public data indicate that three HMH (CH-53E) squadrons could cadre "cut" and the remaining squadrons would still be short aircraft. Since the Marines are short some 100 fighter-attack aircraft, one VMA (AV-8B) and three VMFA (F/A-18) squadrons could cadre and shortages would remain.
This proposal to cadre/cut several flying squadrons does not call for a reduction in aircraft. The Corps must address budgetary and inventory realities and organize based on what exists. Given delays and increased costs for both the F-35 and CH-53K programs, fewer will be procured. Cutting unnecessary squadron staff by deactivating some hollow squadrons is overdue.
500 - Replace three AAV companies with USMCR armored trucks
AAV battalions escaped serious cuts in the 2010 downsizing plan. A couple companies added during the war on terror expansion were subtracted, and one additional company cut. The Marine Corps retained eight active AAV companies, plus four in the reserves, and small detachments in Hawaii and Okinawa. An AAV company is needed on each coast to support the amphibious MEUs and MEB. The Marines also use AAVs as part of the MPF, and need two companies on each coast to support each MPS set. Three active duty companies are excess, so the Corps can shed some 600 active duty Marines by deactivating Charlie and Delta companies in the 2nd AAV and Echo Company in the 3rd AAV.
AAVs mostly provide armored ground transport for Marines. The Corps could offset the loss of AAVs by forming three armored gun truck companies in the reserves. These are far less costly platforms for basic transport in terms of maintenance and fuel consumption. As the Corps downsizes, it has large numbers of fairly new armored trucks that will go into storage: MRAPs and AMK23 7-ton armored trucks (pictured).
Since the reserves 4th AAV Bn has four companies, its company in Norfolk could join the 2nd AAV to balance the force, while the 4th AAV adds a new armored truck company. Here is a proposed structure, with three active AAV companies replaced by three reserve Armored Gun/Truck Companies.
2nd AAV Bn (Camp Lejeune) (Charlie and Delta AAV Co. deactivated)
Alpha Co. (MEUs/MEB)
Bravo Co. (MPS-2 MEB/first wave)
Charlie Co. USMCR (Norfolk VA, now Alpha Co., 4th AAV Bn.) (MPS-2 MEB/second wave)
Delta Co. USMCR (new Armored Gun/Truck in eastern USA)
3rd AAV Bn (Camp Pendleton) (Echo AAV Co. deactivated)
Alpha Co. (MEUs/MEB)
Bravo Co. (MPS-3 MEB/first wave)
Charlie Co. USMCR (new Armored Gun/Truck in western USA)
Delta Co. (29 Palms, CAX support, MPS-3 MEB/second wave)
4th AAV Bn USMCR
Alpha Co. USMCR (Gulfport MI, new Armored Gun/Truck, now 3rd AAV Platoon, Alpha AAV Co.)
Bravo Co. USMCR (Jacksonville FL) no change
Charlie Co. USMCR (Galveston TX) no change
Delta Co. USMCR (Tampa FL) no change
Three new armored truck companies in the USMCR require only around 100 active duty Marines, most in the training pipeline. Upon mobilization, these companies could self-deploy to join their AAV battalion in a few hours. Utilizing the Corps' fleet of newer armored trucks is a practical option to deal with the ageing AAV fleet, and saves millions of dollars a year in AAV fuel and repair costs. After the Corps finally selects an AAV replacement and after several years of production to replace AAVs, the Corps may have funds replace these armored gun trucks with AAVs, or buy new trucks. Meanwhile, deactivating three AAV companies cuts active manpower and costs, and frees assets to ensure the remaining companies are fully equipped.
500 - Consolidate much of the 4th MAW at MCAF Quantico
MCAF Quantico is little used and could be closed. It hosts just one squadron, HMX-1, which also uses Andrews AFB and NAF Anacostia where half its aircraft sit ready. HMX-1 is also a test unit that could move to NAS Patuxent River MD (a test airbase) to allow MCAF Quantico to become an inactive airfield used for occasional training.
Another option is more use of MCAF Quantico. In an era of ultra-expensive new aircraft, flying squadrons in the reserves 4th MAW will be lucky to survive. To preserve flying squadrons, the Corps should announce that all 4th MAW support units must be based at an airfield with Marine aircraft. This would eliminate a dozen small, remote reserve sites and consolidate to save money and manpower. If these units were moved to MCAF Quantico, they could replace some airfield personnel to cut costs. Reserve manning is possible with the millions of people living within an hour of Quantico, including Richmond VA, and much space will open if OCS wisely moves to an MCRD. This consolidation would involve three steps:
1. Move the CG of the 4th MAW to Quantico from New Orleans to assume command of MCAF Quantico, displacing the current airfield command staff and absorbing the base reserve support unit. The 4th MAW would take its small VMR detachment from NAS Belle Chasse (which is often damaged by hurricanes) and move its four OSA (VIP) aircraft to Quantico where they could provide better provide Corps-wide, and even HMX-1 support. The HMLA-773 det with eight small helos would follow where it could also support HMX-1, White House security, and TBS training.
2. Abandon the mirror image wing concept and abolish MACG-48 or consolidate most of it at Quantico. It is scattered at odd sites far from any Marine Corps base. Over a thousand 4th MAW drilling reserve billets would open aboard Quantico. 4th MAW active duty support personnel requirements would fall due to site consolidation, whose Marines may also fill operational positions at the airfield.
3. Move a reserve flying squadron to Quantico. The Corps has expressed interest in two reserve VMM squadrons, yet only one has appeared and there are none on the East Coast. One may appear at Norfolk, but Quantico is a perfect location for a reserve VMM squadron since HMX-1 recently replaced 13 aging "greenside" support helicopters with 14 V-22Bs. Space may be a problem, but with surge support available from a reserve V-22 squadron, HMX-1 could eliminate four "greenside" V-22s.
400 - Replace some Lieutenants with Gunnys
The Marine Corps has one commissioned officer for eight enlisted. If the Corps slashes redundant headquarters, fewer career officers are needed. This would result in a overage of junior offices who must be forced out. Since it takes a year to train a ground officer via OCS/TBS/MOS schools, this wastes manpower and resources. The solution is to identify 400 lieutenant positions that can be filled by gunnery sergeants, who are forced to retire soon after age 40 due to arbitrary limits. Rather than having 200 Marines recruit and train 200 new officers a year, the Corps could simply extend the service of experienced E-7s a few more years.
The previous G2mil downsizing proposal suggested disbanding LAR battalions and dispersing LAV platoons to infantry and tank battalions. One concern is that lieutenants serving as MOS 0303 LAV platoon leaders would have no career path. The solution is to eliminate the 0303 MOS and assign E-7 gunnery sergeants as LAV platoon leaders. This eliminates the need to recruit and expensively train over 35 lieutenants each year for just two years of platoon leadership. Another option is to replace the weapon's platoon leader in each infantry company with an experienced gunny. For 27 infantry battalions, that would be 81 fewer 0302s required. With the introduction an enlisted MOS to provide large numbers of fire support experts, there is no need to employ many 0802 lieutenants as artillery spotters. Since the Corps always has a surplus of mid-ranking 1802 tank officers, make one platoon leader in each tank company a gunny. A study could uncover hundreds more possibilities.
Recruiting some 400 fewer for OCS each year eliminates the need for three dozen officer recruiters and their assistants, since half drop out, don't finish college, or don't accept a commission. Staff and support for two fewer OCS companies, and support for one fewer TBS company with 200 2ndLts, and less at MOS schools, plus a lot of transient days in between, not to mention check-in and orientation time for a new 2ndLt. It is far simpler to just extend the careers of 200 better qualified E-7s each year.
400 - Transfer Camp Fuji to the US Army
Camp Fuji is a training area near Tokyo that has grown into a modern base with a full Colonel in charge of 400 support Marines. There is no place for amphibious training and no air combat training or bombing is allowed. It's mostly a live fire range since maneuverability is limited by its size and terrain. It is rarely used as Marines shift exercises to far larger areas in Australia and the Central Pacific. The U.S. Army has a base nearby at Camp Zama that could take over its administrative functions, and would probably mothball most buildings for wartime use. The training area would remain and can be used by soldiers and occasionally Marines.
2016 UPDATE: Due to noise complaints, the Marines no longer fire artillery at Camp Fuji.
300 - Eliminate MECEP
Since fewer commissioned officers are required, the Corps should simply eliminate its overly generous Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. MECEP began decades ago when the Corps had a shortage of lieutenants, so the answer was to commission great NCOs. These "mustangs" were not competitive for promotion above captain without a college degree, so it was decided to send NCOs to college full-time; their duty assignment is to attend college.
The shortage of lieutenants disappeared two decades ago yet this this program survived. Higher pay, greater prestige, and fewer good jobs in civilian life now attract far more college graduates who are interested in the ten-week Marine Officer Candidate Course (OCC) to obtain a commission, so why should the Corps pay a corporal to attend college for four years? Moreover, MECEP robs the Marine Corps of its best NCOs. If the Corps decides that former enlisted Marines make better officers, it can give them priority for OCC selection.
Over 300 of the Corps best NCOs are drawing full pay and allowances to attend college to become officers. Meanwhile, Marine officer recruiters turn away college graduates, including former enlisted Marines, because of limited slots. The Marine Corps has far more qualified applicants for OCS than it accepts, so why pay NCOs to attend college for years? If enlisted wish to become officers, they can finish their enlistment, attend college using the GI Bill, and go through OCS like hundreds of today's officers.
300 - Fewer parading Marines
Marines are no longer cheap draftees. The GAO estimates that each active duty Marine costs over $140,000 a year with benefits, to include family support, retirement, and VA benefits. As a result, non-combat Marines should be cut and a good place is the sacred showplace known as Marine Barracks (8th and I) in Washington DC.
The Marines have two huge ceremonial bands there, including the 130-member "Marine Band" staffed with overpaid civilians called Marines. The Marine Band consists of musicians who enlist at the E-6 grade and never attend boot camp. They never spend a night in the field, never fire an M-16, never PCS, and never serve overseas. Nevertheless, they receive the same pay and generous benefits as real Marines, including the option of 20-year retirement. This angers real Marines and costs lots of money since the Pentagon's payroll calculator shows these new bandsmen start at the same salary as a federal civilian GS-11!
Since the Marine Band consists of civilians wearing old Marine uniforms, it should gradually civilianize by hiring new members as GS-7 civilians, a level that often requires a masters degree to start in federal civilian service. The Corps may eventually shift the cost of these musicians who perform at State Department functions to that department. They can retain historical titles and uniforms, but would on longer exist on Marine Corps funds.
Marines should be relieved of other ceremonial duties. The Marine Barracks already has Company A and Company B, so it doesn't need the new Guard company too. Why spend so much to recruit and train a Marine only to have him stand around performing basic security guard duty at Latrobe Gate and 8th & I? Most can be replaced by cheaper civilians, with just a few Marines from A and B at key tourist spots. And we don't need Marines at Camp David as security guards waiting for a very unlikely attack. This can be handled by private security and the Secret Service, who keep the President safe at all other locations. To allow emergency augmentation, a Marine reserve guard company could be formed at the Barracks that can be called to duty in a matter of hours and used for special events.
300 - Downsize the CBIRF
The Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) is an odd fit for the Marines. It was created in 1996 by Commandant Charles Krulak who was seeking a unique role that other services had mostly ignored. Everyone agrees this area is important, but it is done by the Coast Guard and Army Reserve. The CBIRF has rarely responded to a real crisis and never proven essential, yet has grown into a battalion-size unit led by a Colonel located at Indian Head MD.
The CBRIF is a good idea if focused on areas assigned to the Marine Corps, like: White House, embassy, and nuclear weapons security, where terrorists may employ odd weapons. The CBIRF is too large for these missions and should downsize to 200 Marines and move to better location. Quantico puts it closer to the White House via helicopters at HMX-1 and the worldwide embassy reaction force. Or, place it at the Marine Barracks where CBRIF Marines can perform other duties in the city they will mostly likely be needed.
Another option is the new facility at Yorktown where it fits nicely with the Security Force Regiment, whose security companies can train to support its mission. Since the CBRIF mission is rare it's a good role for the reserves, so perhaps a hundred CBIRF reservists can be trained to instantly augment this force. If the new Charlie FAST company is deactivated as has been recommended, the new Yorktown facility will have room for CBIRF Marines.
A leaner and meaner Marine Corps
Eliminating non-combat overhead will anger a lot of people, but Congress funds a Marine Corps to perform Marine missions. There is no extra manpower for non-essential roles, while others can be performed by cheaper civilians or reservists. If the Marine Corps continues to ignore budget realities, deactivate combat units, reduce readiness, and then blame Congress, the Marines will resemble a dysfunctional bureaucracy that needs congressional intervention. However, if it stops complaining and acts decisively to craft a leaner fighting machine of 160,000 active Marines with 27 infantry battalions backed by 40,000 drilling reservists, Congress and the American people will be impressed.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
A Leaner Corps of 150K - options to cut another 10,000