Thursday, May 20, 2004

DIFFERENT TIMETABLES

A reader asks me to speculate...so I will.
I was wondering...could you explain why the Army and the Marines *are* on such different timetables? Are there any advantages to it? Does is create resentment between soldiers and Marines?

Also, from your experience...can you speculate at all on how likely it is that the Pentagon will indeed extend the Marines' tours?
So...here is my speculation and opinion...worth every penny you paid for it, as usual.

If one were to judge only from a cursory glance at Operation Iraqi Freedom one would be tempted to think of the USMC and the US Army as very similar in capabilities and functions. After all it was the 3d ID (Army) and the 1st MEF (Marines) that battled their way from Kuwait across Iraq and into Baghdad.

Historically however, there are notable differences in the two services. The USMC combines many of the capabilities of the Army, Navy and Air Force into one small, quickly deployable force, simplifying the ability to get what's needed where its needed in a hurry. In their role as "naval infantry" the Marines have a unique function.

The Army, as a larger, heavier force, may not be as quickly deployable, but, the theory goes, its size and capabilities make it the tool of choice for extended operations requiring seizing and holding ground.

As a result of these built in assumptions there are differences in how the forces are equipped. From a practical standpoint it can be fairly said the Marines are equipped for a lethal, but short stay...and the Army is equipped for longer haul.

One example I'm familiar with: a few years ago when I was serving as the Director of Army Food Services I worked closely with my Marine Corps counterpart. It was interesting to me to learn the Marines had no equivalent to the Army's Mobile Kitchen Trailer, a collapsable kitchen capable of preparing meals from raw, fresh ingredients. The USMC colonel explained to me "We don't plan to be there long enough to need it...that's what you guys are for.".

So...my speculation is the Marine Corps leadership has established the 7 month rotations for the Marines in accordance with their custom and tradition. By that I don't mean "just because we've done it like this in the past"...I mean they designed things to take advantage of their strengths.

Does it cause resentment? I'm certain it does. But jealousy and sour grapes between services is nothing new.

Will the Pentagon change the Marine corps tour lengths? That's a tough question. Certainly the expenses associated with the more frequent rotation will eventually become a factor. And one has to believe that everytime we change US "management" of a city we take a giant step backward in trust and efficiency in working with the locals.

On the other hand I honestly doubt anyone will make the change simply to "make it fair" to the Soldiers on one-year tours. And such a decision would also have to address the issues of brevity and longevity I discussed above. Plus, the Vice Chairman of the JCS is a Marine. I suspect he gets listened to pretty good.

However, given that we are stretched so thin around the globe and we are pulling folks out of the individual ready reserve I think it will ultimately seen as a way to stretch the assets further. So...in the end, my bet is those tours will be lengthened.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Thank you, Tim. Your writing is always a pleasure to read, even if the conclusion is not what I had hoped for (given that my dear one is a Marine). But, one cannot escape reality, so at this point I'll just have to wait for official word, I guess.