Why the Marine Corps Ditched the Best Offense in History

Discussion in 'Academy/Military News' started by cb7893, Jun 30, 2018.

  1. cb7893

    cb7893 5-Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2011
    Messages:
    1,520
    Likes Received:
    969
    This is from today's WSJ. Was thinking specifically of you @kinnem and @USMCGrunt

    I can't post a link because of the paywall.


    My favorite line: “The powers that be were almost like, ‘OK, Neller. You’ve been out here wanking for 38 years. We’re going to make you own this,’”


    The most brilliant tactical formation devised by any team in the last half-century isn’t football’s Packer sweep, basketball’s triangle offense or anything else relating to sports.

    It’s the rifle squads of the United States Marine Corps.

    No matter what hard-bitten corner of the world they’ve deployed to, the Marines have organized themselves into divisions, regiments, battalions, companies and platoons. The tip of this tail—the last infantry formation of substance—is a squad of 13 Marines composed of a leader and a dozen riflemen grouped into three “fire teams” of four.


    Opposing commanders knew what these squads looked like and how they operated. They also knew the Marines had honed their battle tactics to a lethal degree in fields, forests, mountains and deserts—often with live ammunition in the dark.

    Gen. Neller shakes hands with a Marine at Twentynine Palms, Calif. PHOTO: OFFICE OF MARINE CORPS COMMUNICATION
    Former Marine Capt. Nate Fick, author of “One Bullet Away,” a best-selling account of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, likens Marine squads to world-class dance troupes. “Everybody’s movement depends on everybody else’s,” he says.

    On a recent morning at the Pentagon, I asked Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller about these iconic squads of 13. He began by saying they had taken on “an almost mythical lore and status.” Then he placed his elbow on an impeccably polished conference table and addressed the question many Marines can’t wrap their heads around: why he wants to scrap them.

    With his steady gaze, close-cropped silver hair, permanent field tan and congenital seriousness, Gen. Neller is every inch a Marine Corps general—the caretaker of a proudly insular warrior culture that has prevailed in decisive battles from Belleau Wood to Iwo Jima. Underneath that armor, however, lurks one of the most exotic leadership breeds of all—the inside outsider.

    Not long after he joined the Marines in 1975, Gen. Neller says, his first commanding officer dubbed him the president of the “I don’t see why” club. As he climbed the ranks, his contrarian streak came with him.“I was always the guy in the audience throwing the metaphorical Molotov cocktail,” he says.

    Gen. Neller, speaks to Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 2015, the year he took over as commandant of the Marine Corps. PHOTO: OFFICE OF MARINE CORPS COMMUNICATION
    Few resident gadflies ever get to the top; they ruffle too many feathers along the way. But when the commandant’s job opened in 2015, the Marines had spent nearly two decades in a state of constant deployment. They hadn’t had time to fully address the shifting map of global threats or even the mandate to include women in combat roles. Above all, they needed to get a handle on technology.


    Any large business in this predicament might look to the outside for a disruptive CEO to shake things up. As a tradition-bound citadel, the Marine Corps didn’t have that option—but it did have Robert Neller. “The powers that be were almost like, ‘OK, Neller. You’ve been out here wanking for 38 years. We’re going to make you own this,’” he says.

    Military leaders are often accused of preparing to fight the last war. Gen. Neller doesn’t have that problem. In less than three years, he’s reconsidered everything about the Marines, from rifles to socks. He’s brushed aside all suspicions about technology by investing in tablets, drones and laser-guided munitions. He once proposed offering enlistment bonuses to hackers.

    Convinced that the Marines are in “the people business,” he’s conducted scores of town halls to encourage face-to-face interaction within the ranks and has more than lived up to his reputation for bluntness. In December, for instance, he made headlines in Norway by telling a group of Marines to be prepared for a “bigass fight.”

    When it came time to re-examine rifle squads, the Marines conducted a number of experiments and tests—but Gen. Neller didn’t believe there was time for exhaustive study. The battlefield intelligence pouring in from new forms of technology was enormously valuable, but it needed to be collected and analyzed. Traditional squads lacked the bandwidth to do this without losing focus in combat.

    Marines walk off a helicopter in Helmand province, Afghanistan. PHOTO: ANDREW RENNEISEN/GETTY IMAGES
    Like many Marine commandants before him, Gen. Neller makes no apologies for being bookish. Marines don’t get many shots at war, so studying history is a vital form of practice. “That’s how you get repetitions,” he says. In his view, the historical transition to digital warfare is just as significant as earlier shifts Marines have made from horses to vehicles or vehicles to tanks.

    Gen. Neller concluded that each rifle squad needed two additional billets—an assistant squad leader and a squad systems operator focused on technology. Adding two people presented a problem, however: Marine squads were already unusually large. When Gen. Neller asked squad leaders if they thought they could manage 15 Marines at once, they said no.

    In May, Gen. Neller unveiled the most sweeping changes to Marine infantry combat organization in 70 years. Not only did he add those new billets, he decided to reduce a squad’s size to 12 by eliminating one Marine from each of its three fire teams.


    Gen. Neller wasn’t surprised by the pushback. Fire teams with four members were nearly as sacrosanct as squads of 13. Longtime Marines worried the changes might undermine squads in battle by disrupting their instinctive ability to maneuver together.

    Gen. Neller counters that the Marines have used different squad formations before—particularly in Vietnam, where squads had to absorb heavy casualties.

    It goes without saying that there’s a lot riding on this. As the sharp point of the U.S. military spear, the Marines must maintain a state of perpetual readiness. The list of luxuries they deny themselves includes the entire concept of a win/loss record. “The expectation,” Gen. Neller says, “is that we will go undefeated.”

    No leader facing pressure like that undertakes major reforms lightly. For Gen. Neller, simply taking command after so many years of agitating for change was a steep challenge. “It was terrifying,” he says.

    One knock on inside outsiders is that they often rush to implement pet ideas without thoroughly examining them or creating backup plans in case they fail. Gen. Neller says he’s fully prepared to restore one rifleman to each fire team if it proves necessary.

    In the end, though, Gen. Neller knew that leaders must be decisive. He also believes that sometimes the biggest risk of all is doing nothing. “So I made a decision,” he says.

    It’s difficult to say whether insiders are better or worse at shaking up tradition-bound institutions. But all members of this breed have one major advantage: They’re natives. They understand the people involved and what they’re capable of.

    “I know I’m asking a lot,” Gen. Neller said of his squad reforms, “but Marines aren’t normal people.”

    —Mr. Walker, a former reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, is the author of “The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams” (Random House).
     
    kinnem and AROTC-dad like this.
  2. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Messages:
    2,206
    Likes Received:
    1,792
    Thanks for the shout out. As an Old Corps USMC Infantry Officer I am not a fan of these changes. Lots of reasons but I admit the old structure was drilled into us at very level and it’s hard to think of things being any different.
     
  3. Devil Doc

    Devil Doc Teufel Doc

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2018
    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    570
    I've known General Neller for a couple decades from Camp Lejeune and then after 9/11 in another location, and was a bit disturbed that he was selected over General Kelly as commandant. Nevertheless, he comes from a place of experience and has made changes with input from the operational forces. I'm an old grunt Corpsman who has deployed as a medical detachment/platoon commander, have been assigned to the Marines three times which is longer than most Marines have spent with the Marines, but have never directed a fire team, squad, or platoon because, well, I'm a Corpsman. Anyway, I'll convey a story my son told me a few weeks ago.

    He participated in a large exercise at 29 Palms were he acted as the battalion commander and his CO acted as the task force commander. There were no aircraft involved but DS had infantry, engineers, LAR, and assets in the rear. It mostly sounded like the exercises and ops in which I played through out the years except for a couple things. One, he had an iPad type device that he could monitor the battle space. He didn't talk much about that. The best part of his story was the drone. He had an LAR platoon commander give an incomplete reconnaissance report on a breaching objective. He then launched a lance corporal with a drone to video the area and he was able to send the right gear and people to do the job.

    I'm not qualified to comment on fire team employment but being with the Marines part of four decades and now living the dream through my son, I'm watching with great interest the changes this commandant proposes.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
  4. cb7893

    cb7893 5-Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2011
    Messages:
    1,520
    Likes Received:
    969
    @Devil Doc ,

    My apologies for not giving you a shout out. Tried to think of all the USMC related posters. Should've known better given your screen name.

    Hope your DS is loving every minute of it.

    Mine is as an Army 1Lt.
     
    Devil Doc likes this.
  5. Devil Doc

    Devil Doc Teufel Doc

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2018
    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    570
    No problem. I'm still a new guy here.
     
  6. Wishful

    Wishful "Land of the free, because of the brave..." 5-Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2012
    Messages:
    1,062
    Likes Received:
    684
  7. THParent

    THParent Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2017
    Messages:
    1,300
    Likes Received:
    1,824
    Improvise, overcome, adapt.
    I think that if he thinks it will work, it should be tried. You can't lead by going by the book someone else wrote.
    He extends the olive branch by saying that they can always add that 4th person to each team, if it doesn't work out.

    One constant I have learned about the military in general, is that there is no constant.
    Change is good.

    I like Nate Fick. He's a good guy, who also understands why you ought to ask "well, why not?"
     
    Devil Doc and USMCGrunt like this.
  8. Humey

    Humey Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2016
    Messages:
    914
    Likes Received:
    601
    I am not a believe in change for the sake of change. On the other hand, I dont believe we should only stick to one way because that is the way it has always been done.
     
    Devil Doc and USMCGrunt like this.
  9. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Messages:
    2,206
    Likes Received:
    1,792
    I agree "change is good" and challenging the status quo. I am glad they stayed with three fire teams and I suspect that the assistant squad leader and the squad systems operator will move with one of them rather than have a squad HQ element (just a guess - I haven't seen the tactics for these new units described).

    I am not in favor of a single systems expert who manages a drone as part of the squad TO. Would have rather had that resource at the Platoon level and assigned as needed. As far as an "assistant squad leader" - I don't really see the need. So, for those reasons, I didn't see the need to change the squad manning levels.

    A much greater concern to me is the increased combat loads. Batteries, drones, a heavier service rifle, night vision devices, and laser designators just add to a nearly impossible combat load.
     
    THParent, kinnem and Devil Doc like this.
  10. AROTC-dad

    AROTC-dad Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2014
    Messages:
    4,101
    Likes Received:
    3,772
    The combat loads have become highly problematic.

    My DD's husband is 50% disabled because he had to dodge a mortar round by jumping off of an 8 foot wall in Northern Iraq. His 80 pound ruck plus his medic gear (he was a 68W army combat medic), amplified the impact of his fall and he damaged his vertebrae upon impact with the ground.

    Too much stuff.
     
    kinnem, Devil Doc and USMCGrunt like this.
  11. Devil Doc

    Devil Doc Teufel Doc

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2018
    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    570
    I've been to the operating room six times due to the heavy load. I could have used the exoskeleton USSOCCOM is developing.
     
    USMCGrunt, snowpro and AROTC-dad like this.