Magazine article National Defense

The Next Round: Marine Reservists Ready, but Equipment Beaten Up

Magazine article National Defense

The Next Round: Marine Reservists Ready, but Equipment Beaten Up

Article excerpt

Marine reservists now preparing for combat in Iraq are "well-trained and well-equipped," but their older ground vehicles and aircraft have been taking a beating, according to Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, head of the Marine Corps Reserve.

The 14,000 Marines and sailors who will deploy to Iraq starting this month will include members of Reserve units from around the country. They have been preparing for the move since October, when they first learned the specific dates and plans for their mobilization, McCarthy told National Defense.

"We now will support them as they execute the plan," he said. To keep their fighting edge, Marine Reserve units each year participate in more than 20 large training exercises around the world. But, he added, some of their equipment is aging and needs to be replaced.

The percentage of Marine reservists who have been activated since the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States is "probably the highest of the four military, services," McCarthy said. "That's because of our small size." The Marine Reserve, in total, is half as large as the Army Reserve and less than a third the size of the Army National Guard.

During the coming deployment, the percentage of Marines serving in reserve units who have been activated since 9/11 will exceed 70 percent, McCarthy said. A little more than 6 percent have been activated more than once.

The organization--headquartered in the French Quarter of New Orleans, La.--includes more than 98,000 reservists in 289 units at 185 sites across the nation. Of those, about 58,000 are in the Individual Ready Reserve. These are Marines who have finished their active-duty obligation, are not affiliated with any local reserve unit and do not attend drills. They are, however, vulnerable to mobilization, if needed.

About 40,000 reservists actually are assigned to units, McCarthy explained. Of those, 28,000 already have been activated. In coming weeks, that number will climb.

The Marine Corps Reserve "is a combat organization," McCarthy said. "We are primarily needed when the active-duty component is involved in major combat operations." McCarthy knows this from personal experience, having led a platoon in Vietnam. A lawyer by training, he has commanded the Reserve since the summer of 2001.

Marine reservists are deployed for seven months, the same length of time as their active-duty colleagues, McCarthy said. Reservists, however, are activated for a full year.

"That gives us time to make sure that they are adequately trained and equipped before they deploy," he said.

To meet the needs of commanders in Iraq, the Reserves have been retraining some members with job specialties with reduced demand in this war, such as artillery or combat engineers, to fill badly needed slots in civil affairs or military police units, McCarthy said. For most, the change is not difficult, he said.

"Every Marine is a rifleman," McCarthy said. "We really believe that. It's not that great a leap for a Marine with good field skills to learn how to perform security assignments."

As for civil affairs, he said, most Marines already perform some civil affairs functions in their current assignments.

McCarthy recently visited reservists in Iraq. "The feedback that I got was very positive," he said. "They know why they're there. They know this is a very tough fight."

Once the reservists reach Iraq, "they become indistinguishable from every other Marine there," McCarthy said. One reason: All have been issued the new combat uniform, with the digitally designed camouflage pattern Also, "they see exactly the same action as every one else. They're in the thick of it," he explained.

Like their active-duty counterparts, the reservists are taking their share of casualties. "Since the beginning of the global war on terror, 30 Marines from this force have been killed in action," McCarthy said. …

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