Friday, March 4, 2011
As conflict in Libya continues, Marines are among the U.S. forces being moved into the area. A major exercise off the coast of San Diego this week is training Marines to move rapidly from ships floating just over the horizon to the beach.
More than 2,000 Marines and sailors are engaged in the annual training operation off Camp Pendleton.
Their commander, Major General Melvin Spiese, said the ability to move men and equipment rapidly onto a hostile beach is closer to the Marines' traditional role than the ground combat they’ve been engaged in in Afghanistan.
He says these skills are very relevant to the situation in North Africa.
“The combatant commanders and the European command working around the Mediterranean and North Africa are calling for more Marines at sea,” he said, “so they can put them wherever the situation requires.”
Spiese says as the military restructures and security threats change, the Marine Corps plans to focus more on their core skills: deploying rapidly from ship to shore.
The Marine Force Restructure Review Group that convened last Fall recommends reducing the Marine Corps from a force of more than 202,000 to 186,800. The plan is to reduce ground combat forces but increase special operations and speed of response.
The force reduction won’t happen till forces are pulled out of Afghanistan.
Speise said the Marine Corps’ unique role fits the security demands of the future.
“We’re pulling our forces more and more from overseas,” he said, “That means we’re going to have to project U.S. military capabilities from the United States. Our ability to deliver military capabilities, ready to go the minute they get on shore, makes us far more useful in an uncertain world.”
Spiese says due to changes in technology, ship to shore operations are likely to require transferring Marines from ships based 12 miles off shore, rather than 25 miles. This is one reason they can still be effective, he said, even without new Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles which were cancelled this Spring.
This weekend’s exercises will initially simulate a humanitarian relief effort. That will change as the Marines are required to move quickly to respond to a security threat on the beach.