United States Marine Corps

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The United States Marine Corps (USMC), is a branch of the U.S. armed forces that has the role of naval infantry, are specialists in amphibious warfare, and operate as Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. The Marine Corps was originally established by the Second Continental Congress on 10 November 1775. The first recruits signed up at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, which gives it a claim to be the oldest combat force, although it should be noted that an ancestor of the United States Coast Guard, the Revenue Cutter Service, is older and can claim to be the oldest uniformed service. While the Navy and Marine Corps were dissolved after the end of the American Revolution, with the Treaty of Paris of 1783, they were reestablished on July 11, 1798.[1]

Among the branches of the regular military, the Marine Corps is unique in that it is not the only uniformed service in its service department, the Department of the Navy. It is the smallest of the four branches by personnel, and is led by the Commandant of the Marine Corps,[2] currently General James Amos, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps,[3] currently Carlton W. Kent.

Retired Commandant and NATO commander, GEN James Jones, is the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs in the Obama Administration.


Perhaps because it is the smallest of U.S. combat services, the USMC has what may well be the strongest culture; a number of authors, including social scientists, have described it as a "tribe" as well as a military organization.[4] Some of its traditions can be linked to specific events, while others have simply developed over the years.

In comparison with other U.S. military services, joining the Marines is more an initiation into a culture than merely learning skills. "Boot Camp" is legendary, although all the services are using variants of the culmination of recruit training, "The Crucible".

Several cultural assumptions give a sense of equality to all Marines, starting with a statement of values.

Values and professionalism

The Corps formally states its values as "honor, courage, and commitment". [5] While there are many jokes about Marines being primitive warriors, the reality is that they have an extremely strong intellectual culture. They were the first service, for example, to introduce the concept of professional reading lists, tailored from private to general. [6]

Every Marine is a rifleman

One of the most basic traditions is "every Marine is a rifleman" (i.e., maintains proficiency at infantry skills). Every member of the Marine corps, from recruit to the Commandant, must, every year, demonstrate physical fitness, and competency with the primary individual weapon, the rifle.

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than the enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit.

My rifle is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.

Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy.[7]

The crucible

Commandant Charles Krulak introduced the concept of "the Crucible" as the culminating experience of boot camp, and the other services have all adopted related experiences at the end of their recruit training; it has been reemphasized recently by Gen Conway. The goal now is not simply to test warrior skills, but values. A Marine training officer described the new purpose as finding the recruit that "...in any way, shape or form found to be cheating, lying or anything, that kid is gone and he doesn’t get a second chance. We’re not talking about the kid who gets hurt. We’re talking about the guys who show a lack of moral commitment.”[8]

Long before that, the tradition was that one did not "join" the Marines. One "became" a Marine. The metaphor of steel being heated in a crucible and hammered into a sword runs through various Marine recruiting and morale documents. Each service has its own traditions and culture, which must be understood to understand how they work. Contrast, for example, two effective recruiting slogans, respectively, of the Army and Marines:

  • "Be all you can be."
  • "The few. The proud. The Marines."

The first Marine training experience, whether it is "boot camp" for enlisted or an equivalent officer candidate program, traditionally has been more stressful than any of the other services. While some aspects are now seen as inappropriately harsh and have been removed, the experience still has two seemingly opposing elements:[9]

  • It suppresses individuality, making Marines think first of themselves as members of "the Corps"
  • It simultaneously stresses individual responsibility, such that Marines have the lowest ratio of officers and enlisted men, yet junior enlisted Marines routinely take great initiative, and the Marine Corps delegates more authority to more junior personnel than the other services. Also, the Corps has been had a tradition of appreciating brilliant eccentrics (e.g., Earl Ellis).

Once a Marine, always a Marine

Another tradition is that once one has become a Marine, one remains a Marine for life. "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" is the motto of the Marine Corps League.[10] Traditionally, the expressions "ex-Marine" or "former Marine" are never used. There are:

  1. Active duty Marines
  2. Retired Marines
  3. Reserve Marines
  4. Marine veterans


Various analysts have quite different positions about the continuing flexibility of the Marine Corps. William Lind, a former Congressional staffer who was intensely involved in the early "maneuvrist" doctrinal revolution, along with Air Force COL John Boyd and Marine Commandant GEN "Al" Gray, has expressed concern that the Marines may be losing sight of some key values. Lind compared the "...maneuver warfare movement of the 1970s and 80s...of free play training, officer education focused on how to think, not what to do, of the belief that the highest goal of all Marines is winning in combat with the smallest possible losses." with "other Marine Corps' highest goal is programs, money and bureaucratic success "inside the Beltway."...This Marine Corps is anti-intellectual, sees the First Generation culture of order as sacred."[11]

On the other hand, James N. Mattis, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq in 2004, returned to the U.S. dissatisfied with the Marines' cultural competence, a core competence emphasized in the Small Wars Manual. Returning to the U.S. as the new commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC), he found "a grass-roots cultural renaissance already was underway amongst the officers and non-commissioned officers recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. These Marines were teaching local unit-level cultural and language classes across the Marine Corps with little guidance from above." [12]

Retired senior leaders, such Anthony Zinni and Joseph Hoar, both Marine four-star generals that had commanded United States Central Command have taken public positions against the George W. Bush Administrations handling of the occupation phase of the Gulf War.[13] Zinni said America was "headed over Niagara Falls." Hoar stated that the US was "absolutely on the brink of failure" in Iraq.

Core competencies

The Commandant has expressed a long-term vision for what the Corps should be by 2025. Four of the key competencies are basic responsibilities legislated for the Corps; two reflect the changing world environment and need to be developed: [14]

  • "The Corps conducts persistent forward naval engagement and is always prepared to respond as the Nation’s force in readiness."[15]
  • "The Corps employs integrated combined arms across the range of military operations, and can operate as part of a joint or multinational force." [16]
  • "The Corps provides forces and specialized detachments for service aboard naval ships, on stations, and for operations ashore."
  • "The Corps conducts joint forcible entry operations[17] from the sea and develops amphibious landing force capabilities and doctrine." This fits into a joint structure for amphibious operations, to which the Corps is a major contributor. [18]
  • "The Corps conducts complex expeditionary operations in the urban littorals and other challenging environments." Again, littoral operations are a joint issue. [19]
  • "The Corps leads joint and multinational operations and enables interagency activities."[16]

The Marines also have a core competency in low-intensity conflict, as evidenced by having well-developed doctrinal publications in 1940. [20]

Modern combat formations

For more information, see: Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

A Marine emphasis is forward deployment, which is geographically flexible. Task-organized units of different size, from the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) commanded by a colonel, up to a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) commanded by a lieutenant general.

The idea is implemented with having some number of Marine Expeditionary Units at sea aboard Navy Expeditionary Strike Groups, and having prepositioned equipment afloat, or at forward secure bases, for Marine Expeditionary Brigades. Some of the prepositioning units also, for example, include prepositioned ammunition for the United States Air Force. The MEF also can split into a main and forward echelon; a MEF Forward, commanded by a major general, serves as a joint force headquarters, Multinational Force-West in Iraq.

Major commands

As the smallest of the four principal U.S. military forces, several three-star officers wear "multiple hats". They are:

Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic

Commander, Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic is simultaneously as the Marine component commander of United States Joint Forces Command, United States European Command, and United States Southern Command.[21] This officer is colocated with United States Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia; Marine component command staffs are deployed to Southern and European commands.

The major unit of MARFORLANT is II Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

In addition, the equipment and supplies for a Marine Expeditionary Brigade is prepositioned in Norway, isn six tunnels in central Norway, such inside tunnels in central norway, including Bjugn Cave Orland Main Air Station. These reinforces are intended to reinforce the northern flank of NATO. When activated by flying II MEF Marines, and possibly reservists, to it, it becomes Norway Air-Landed Marine Expeditionary Brigade (NALMEB).

The prepositioned support afloat for NALMEB is Maritime Prepositioning Squadron 1, a unit of Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron One. As opposed to prepositioning forces at locations such as Diego Garcia and Guam, is responsible for six non-combatant ships of the Military Sealift Command Prepositioning Program in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. MPSRON One is an afloat staff of 20 military personnel under the command of a U.S. Navy captain, aboard in one of the squadron's six Maritime Prepositioning Ships. There is a total of about 140 permanently assigned civilian and military personnel aboard the six ships, with 400 designated personnel available on demand. Staff members deply for one-year tours. MPSRON One ships operate in European waters without a permanent homeport in that area; four of the ships are often in the Mediterranean, but all of MPSRON is conceptually based on the east coast of the United States.

Assets aboard aboard MPSRON-1 ships include

  • Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB)
  • Naval Fleet Hospital (NFH)
  • 4000ft x 96ft Expeditionary Airfield (EAF)

The Mediterranean ships include the Capt. Steven L. Bennett, an Air Force ammunition prepositioning ship, deployed in the Mediterranean.

Marine Corps Forces, Pacific

Commander, Marine Corps Forces, Pacific (MARFORPAC) is simultaneously as the Marine component commander of United States Pacific Command and United States Central Command, as well as the Marine element of United States Forces Korea.[22] The major units of MARFORPAC are II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California, and III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa.

They are supported by three prepositioning squadrons, with some ships afloat and some at forward bases. One is based at Diego Garcia, another at Okinawa, and one is based at Guam.

Marine Corps Forces, Reserve

Reserve forces of the Marines, from a headquarters in New Orleans, LA, make up an MEF equivalent of the 4th Marine Division, Air Wing, and 4th Marine Logistics Group.

Marine Special Operations Command

See also: Marine Special Operations Command

While the other military services had a presence in United States Special Operations Command, the USMC avoided participation for some time. In the Second World War, various Marine special operations units, principally Raider battalions but also a parachute battalion, were created, but never were greeted enthusiastically by the chain of command. The Marine assumption tends to be that all Marines are "special" and there need to be no special units.

Their Combined Action Platoons (CAP) in the Vietnam War, and recently in the Iraq War, were made up of volunteers from regular Marine units, but did not represent a separate career path such as United States Army Special Forces. [23]

With the growing U.S. emphasis on special operations units, with some observers suggesting that United States Special Operations Command was increasingly becoming a military service of its own, Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was formed on 24 February 2006. The initial organization, now called FMTU is now designated as the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group (MSOAG), was formed to conduct foreign internal defense.

There is some tradition of special operations in the Reconnaissance Battalions assigned to Marine divisions, and Force Reconnaissance companies assigned at the MEF level.[24] [25] Deployed MEUs may have an attached Force Recon detachment.

The Force Reconnaissance companies recently transferred to MARSOC, to become the 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions MARSOC also formed the Marine Special Operations Support Group (MSOSG) and the Marine Special Operations School (MSOS). The MSOSG provides combat support and combat service support to MARSOC Units The MSOS recruits, qualifies, ad develops Special Operations Forces (MARSOF) and has responsibility for doctrine development in Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Direct Action (DA), and Special Reconnaissance (SR). MARSOC has also been directed to develop a capability in Unconventional Warfare (UW), Counter Terrorism (CT), and Information Operations (IO).

Major Historical Actions

World War I

In the First World War, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments formed the 4th Marine Brigade, which operated, with United States Army troops as the 2nd Division. At the Battle of Belleau Woods, where the Brigade sustained 55 percent casualties but took their objective, two-time Medal of Honor recipient Dan Daly reputedly leaped from a trench bellowing to his platoon: “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”[26]

World War II

Amphibious attacks, against strong opposition, were conducted in:[27]

A different operation was the amphibious raid against Raid on Makin.[28]

Korean War

  • Pusan Perimeter
  • The Battle of Inchon was another amphibious attack, although North Korean resistance was far less than by World War II Japanese island garrisons.

Following the Battle of the Changjin Reservoir, the Corps conducted an amphibious withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division’s Marines, soldiers, and equipment along with 91,000 Korean refugees from the port of Hungnam.

Cold War and Peace Operations

Gulf War

During Operation DESERT STORM, the Corps kept a MEB afloat, as an amphibious feint that successfully distracted the Iraqi forces in Kuwait, drawing their attention to the potential landing beaches on the east coast, while the actual flanking movement was to come from XVIII Airborne Corps in the West. [29]

Afghanistan War (2000-)

Iraq War


  1. Brief History of the United States Marine Corps
  2. Official page of the Commandant of the Marine Corps
  3. Official page of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps
  4. Connable, Ben, "Culture Warriors: Marine Corps Organizational Culture and Adaptation to Cultural Terrain", Small Wars Journal
  5. Commandant of the Marine Corps (16 December 1996), Marine Corps Values Program, Marine Corps Order 1500.56
  6. Commandant's Reading List
  7. Sturkey, Marion F. (2001), Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed, Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines, Heritage Press International
  8. Hoellwarth, John (21 May 2007), "Turning the heat up’ on the Crucible: Aspiring Marines to face beefed-up version of boot camp’s", Military Times
  9. Ricks, Thomas (1998), Making the Corps, Scribner; Touchstone Ed edition
  10. Marine Corps League
  11. Lind, William S. (5 June 2004), Two Marine Corps
  12. Connable, pp. 9-10
  13. vanden Heuvel, Katrina (16 June 2004), "Former Bush (41) and Reagan Officials Say Bush (43) Must Go", The Nation
  14. Commandant of the Marine Corps, James Conway, Marine Vision & Strategy 2025
  15. Commandant of the Marine Corps (16 April 1998), Expeditionary Operations, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 3
  16. 16.0 16.1 Joint Chiefs of Staff (13 February 2008), Joint Operations, Joint Publication 3-0
  17. Joint Chiefs of Staff (16 June 2008), Joint Forcible Entry Operations, Joint Publication 3-14
  18. Joint Chiefs of Staff (19 September 2001), Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations, Joint Publication 3-02
  19. Joint Chiefs of Staff (27 May 2008), Command and Control for Joint Maritime Operations,, Joint Publication 3-32
  20. United States Marine Corps (1940), Small Wars Manual
  21. "Marine Forces Atlantic (MARFORLANT)", Globalsecurity.com
  22. "Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC)", Globalsecurity.com
  23. Connable, p. 6
  24. Lanning, Michael Lee & Ray W. Stubbe (1989), Inside Force Recon: Recon Marines in Vietnam, Ballantine Books
  25. Lee, Alex (1996), Force Recon Command, Ballantine
  26. U.S. Marine Corps Historical Division, The 4th Marine Brigade in World War I
  27. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Operations, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1-0 p 2-7
  28. MCDP 1-0, p. 2-7
  29. MCDP 1-0, p. 2-7