Magazine article National Defense

Ready, Aim, Specialize!

Magazine article National Defense

Ready, Aim, Specialize!

Article excerpt

Marine Corps' strategy stresses regional culture

A deeper understanding of culture has become an official part of Marine Corps strategy.

Indeed, the recently published Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025 says that, to be successful in future wars, Marines will need to gain a deeper understanding of the most volatile regions of the world.

The strategy assumes that, after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan slow down, Marines will be able to prepare for future conflicts under a new organization called the security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Force. These units will routinely train foreign forces in areas of the world that the U.S. military describes as the "arc of instability" - a swath of territory running from the Caribbean Basin through most of Africa, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia. Many countries in these areas are often referred to as "failed states" because of their unstable governments. U.S. officials consider them "safe havens" for terrorist groups.

"What the Corps is saying is that to be more effective, it needs to have more than a cursory familiarity with local conditions, something more than what you'd get from a travel brochure," said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"From an outsider's perspective this may seem like splitting hairs," Wood said. "But I think there is a great deal of difference in quality and quantity of effort and the mindset that is being called for."

It's easy enough for any Marine to grasp that different cultures have their own unique characteristics. Working with a tribe in Africa may not be the same as working with a clan in Iraq or an indigenous people in the Philippines, Wood said.

So while a Camp Pendleton-based unit, for example, might focus on the specific attributes of groups in the Middle East, those Marines will learn that equally unique attributes are associated with a tribe in Africa, Wood said.

And if that unit ever finds itself in Africa during a crisis, those Marines will not try to blindly apply specific Iraq-models to African tribal problems, he added.

The same goes for Marines' on-site experience, which could establish an intimacy with a region that could come in handy in a clinch. It will take a few years to figure out how to do this, Wood stressed. But that's the direction the Corps is headed, he added.

Habitual deployment also boosts troops' level of exposure and experience, which can lead to regional expertise.

"The only way you can get to know a region is if you repeatedly go to that region," Wood said. "You have to engage in that locality to really understand the nuances (there)."

The former one-size-fits-all thinking toward Marine battalions reflected a mindset that Marines need only be concerned with combat, Wood said. A Marine battalion in Hawaii that would normally deploy to Okinawa could have just as easily been deployed to Saudi Arabia for operations against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, Wood said. Now some Marines will have to focus on those idiosyncrasies that compose a population.

Despite a sharpened eye on culture, the 2025 document does not step away from the need to maintain basic war fighting skills, nor the option of swinging Marine forces from one theater to another. While the units will be training foreign forces in one area, they will still have the skills to fight along more conventional lines if a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, Wood noted.

The Marines will break down the globe into 17 micro-regions under the newly established Career Marines Regional Studies Program.

The intent is for the officers, non-commissioned officers and senior NCOs to study one of these micro-regions for the rest of their careers, said Col. Keil Gentry, head of the national plans branch for the Marine Corps.

Starting when they are lieutenants, the officers will be assigned micro-regions at the Basic School, at which all new Marine officers receive training. …

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