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Authors: Ed Darack

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BOOK: Victory Point
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Marines view themselves not as an institution of military power, but as a force of and for the citizenry of the United States of America. They hold the concepts of a civilian-commanded military, individual liberty, and national sovereignty as their most sacred. Just as Marines prize freedom for their own country’s citizenry, they despise tyranny abroad. They are infamously selfless, to one another on the battlefield as well as “parochially,” with other service branches in a joint environment, and of course, to their nation. Marines feel their greatest honor derives from sacrifice—sacrifice for their country as a whole as well as for individual citizens, be those citizens teachers, doctors, truck drivers, or businesspeople geographically and emotionally separated from the nation’s current fight, as well as those who would wait at an airport for Marines to return from a long and gut-wrenching combat tour and then spit in their faces and screech “monster!” The ethos that incites Marines to fight ever harder in the world’s bloodiest battles also engenders restraint, both in less clearly defined combat zones of a counterinsurgency nature and back home—and anywhere in between, at all times.
As an institution, the Marine Corps marches forward in a continual state of flux. Always conscious of their perceived relevancy in a world of changing political and military landscapes and fickle domestic mind-sets, Marines constantly strive to maintain and modify their readiness for overcoming the world’s current and future threats by improving their doctrine, their weapon systems, and themselves—as both war fighters and citizens. Fiercely competitive, not only on the world’s battlefields, but back home with other services (and often one another), Marines continually strive for the highest training and competency standards in the Department of Defense. They value stringent physical fitness levels, mandating institutionally as well as on a Marine-to-Marine basis what many non-Marines consider not just tough, but harsh training standards. Ever fearful of even the slightest whispers of “unification”—i.e., the death of the Marine Corps (attempts at which have been made more than a dozen times during their history)—Marines ceaselessly push themselves to prove not only their relevancy, but their necessity. They pride themselves on their potency while always maintaining a culture of resourcefulness and frugality—doing “more with less”—ever innovative and willing to improvise. Marines feel that they exist not only because they are needed, but because America wants a U.S. Marine Corps. Harshly self-critical—almost to a fault—they live to adapt, to change, to never lie static, and always be not just ready, but ultraprepared and outfitted to defeat any threat America may face.
In the earliest days of the Continental Navy and Marine Corps, Marine and Navy commanders were tasked with carrying the will of the nation to destinations where they would fight incommunicado from their higher commanders, instilling out of necessity not only a lineage of independence, but a confidence in action to bolster that independence, as well as an ever-heightened sense of loyalty. While Marine commanders far from home have altered specific mission plans countless times during military expeditions—unknown to their superiors back in the United States until their return—Marines act solely for the success of the operation. Regardless of where on the planet a problem has arisen, U.S. presidents have always been able to maintain the highest levels of confidence in a mission’s success upon commanding: “Send in the Marines.”
Although historically a ship-based force, the U.S. Marine Corps of today can best be described as a compact and adaptable mobile military. Not just a small army with a proportionally sized supporting air force wrapped into and backed up by the world’s most powerful navy, the Marine Corps distinguishes itself through its synergy, an ethos-charged synergy of elements diverse in capabilities, but unified in mind-set—a mind-set ever evolving but always revolving about one component: Marine infantry. And those Marine infantry today can deploy by sea—on large ships, thunderous hovercraft, inside brusquely armed amphibious assault vehicles, or strapped to high-speed landing craft; by air—from ship-based helicopters, around the world on Marine Corps C-130J Hercules, even by parachute; and overland—in rumbling convoys of “7-Ton” troop carriers, speeding across a desert in a line of Humvees, tucked inside amphibious armored personnel carriers, light armored vehicles, or M1A1 Abrams tanks. With so many ways to move about the planet, the modern Marine Corps can simultaneously sustain numerous small- and medium-size campaigns while continuing to support large-theater efforts—throughout the entire globe.
Masters of light infantry maneuver warfare at all scales, the Marine Corps has at its disposal a full spectrum of weapons systems—60 mm and 81 mm mortars, vehicle-mounted TOW missiles, handheld SMAW and AT4 rocket launchers, 155mm howitzers, and M1A1 Abrams tanks, to name a few. Marine infantry must learn to fire and maintain with utmost precision such weapons as the tried-and-true “Ma Deuce” M2 .50-caliber machine gun, the MK19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, the man-portable and devastating M240 light machine gun, and the M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon), which, chambered in 5.56 mm, is lightweight but lethal in the hands of a Marine.
In the skies above grunts on the move, USMC aviation ranks second to none in laying waste to enemies in close proximity to Marine infantry—a mission known as close air support. Utilizing both helicopter (rotary wing) assets that today include the AH-1W Super Cobra and the UH-1N Iroquois “Huey” and tactical air or TACAIR platforms—fixed-wing F/A-18 Hornets, both the single-seat and two-place versions, and the legendary AV-8B Harrier, one of the world’s most unique and versatile aircraft, capable of vertical/short takeoffs and landings, Marine aviators have time and again annihilated enemy positions in support of their on-the-ground brethren with gun runs, bombing strikes, guided missiles, and screaming volleys of rockets. Marine aviation of another sort, the troop transport and cargo, or assault support “lift birds,” always plays a vital role in any campaign, inserting and extracting troops, resupplying grunts with food, water, fuel, ammunition, and packages from home during extended-duration operations, and “sling loading” large weapon systems like the 155 mm howitzer from ships at sea deep into a developing or ongoing fight.
Of the myriad weapon systems in the modern U.S. Marine Corps arsenal, one stands out above all others: the M16 service rifle. The M16, which grunts have used since the Vietnam War, while extremely versatile and capable, holds its distinction not for its rate of fire, or for its durability, or for its accuracy. The M16 service rifle maintains its salient position not for what it is or what it can do, but because of who holds it, the most important component of the Marine Corps, the storied enlisted infantry Marine.
A U.S. Marine is “born and raised”—
made
—at one of two Marine Corps recruit depots, MCRD San Diego, California or MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Recruits arrive at night by bus, the prospective Marines having said their good-byes to their families and friends in towns and cities throughout the country just hours earlier. Modern recruits sign on to serve their country not out of desperation or lack of opportunity, as some movies and news media outlets portray, but out of the desire to fulfill a commitment to their country—ever-charged by the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the ongoing threats posed to America by terrorists throughout the world—as well to experience not just a challenge but a life defined by the rewards of overcoming what others might consider insurmountable obstacles, time and again. They come to the Marine Corps to continue a family tradition, having been raised on stories told by their Marine Corps fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers. Or they come after learning about the historic exploits of the Marines in books, magazines, or even movies. Some even come after viewing USMC television advertisements, always noting that unlike those of other services, Marine Corps recruit commercials don’t offer free education, civilian job training, or money to entice enlistment; Marine Corps advertisements offer nothing but the opportunity to call oneself a United States Marine. The bus doors slam open and a drill instructor climbs aboard, and lives begin anew.
Throughout its history, the Marine Corps has waxed and waned in numbers of battalions, wartime necessity and peacetime contraction pushing and pulling its head count through the years. The Second World War saw the greatest number of Marine Corps battalions, the newly minted units having played pivotal roles in the Pacific Theater victory. And while many of those battalions raised for the war effort would see their end come just months after the armistice—as most of the Marines brought in during the war returned to civilian life—a few would continue to defend American interests long after the 2 September 1945 Japanese surrender. The Second Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment was one such battalion.
Initially activated on 1 May 1942 as the Third Training Battalion at New River, North Carolina, outbound recruits from MCRD Parris Island quickly bolstered the unit to fighting strength, and on 17 June 1942, the Second Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment was officially born. Marines of ⅔ would enter combat for the first time on 1 November 1943 as some of the first troops ashore for the opening phase of the Bougainville Campaign, an effort on and around the South Pacific Ocean’s Bougainville Island, an operation that would last through August of 1945. The Marines of ⅔ fought continuously for a month on Bougainville, hacking through tangled, dripping jungle as they charged after Imperial Japanese soldiers. They then moved to Guadalcanal to train for an assault on Guam, a battle that they would remember as their most significant contribution to America’s World War II victory.
Temporarily decommissioned shortly after the end of the war, the Second Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment was reactivated in 1951 to bolster troop strength in support of the Korean conflict, but the battalion wouldn’t see action until Vietnam, when in April of 1965, Marines of ⅔ roared into the fight against the North Vietnamese during operations in the Da Nang region. The battalion’s grunts rotated through tours in the Southeast Asian conflict until the autumn of 1969, having overrun the NVA in a number of fierce engagements, including the infamous Hills Fights, where, with Marines of 3/3, they seized the tactically vital Hill 861. After finishing operations in the A Shau Valley and Khe Sanh region in October of 1969, ⅔’s grunts would leave Vietnam—and the battalion wouldn’t put rounds downrange at an enemy again for more than thirty-five years.
The Island Warriors
—⅔’s nickname referencing the location of their home station (since the early summer of 1971) of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay—would enter an active combat zone again as a battalion during their deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VI, about four and a half years after the initial 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Led at the time by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew MacMannis, the Marines of ⅔ learned in 2004 that they would journey to the eastern Afghan provinces of Laghman, Nangarhar, and Kunar in the late spring of 2005 and continue the fight that their sister battalion—the Third Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment—would be waging from the fall of 2004 until ⅔’s arrival seven months later. The battalion, composed of seasoned war fighters as well as fresh-faced “boot” Marines, undertook a vigorous long-term training package to fully ready themselves for combat in the mountains of the three provinces, including drills at their home base and a live-fire exercise at the Puhakuloa Training Area on Hawaii’s Big Island. Their predeployment workup would culminate, however, at two bases in California, the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms and a base that would prove critical for acclimatizing ⅔’s Marines to the rigors of mountain combat, the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, located in a remote nook of California’s eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains with an adjunct training area in the mountains outside of Hawthorne, Nevada.
Marines often zealously proclaim that they “take the fight to the enemy” like no other military service branch—of
any
country. Capable of sending self-sufficient combat units to any location on the globe, the U.S. Marine Corps codified the very essence of their expeditionary warfare tactics into a doctrinal approach known to all Marines by five letters:
MAGTF
—an acronym for Marine Air-Ground Task Force, the rubric defining the modern USMC war-fighting construct that integrates all of their elements of combat power—from aircraft, to heavy artillery, to mortars, to logistical support, to tanks,
everything
—around Marine infantry.
Explained simply, a MAGTF (pronounced Mag-Taff) defines how Marines fight in their “organic” state: synergistically “force-multiplied” by Marine aviators above (usually very close above), heavy artillery batteries in the rear, tanks flanking them, and a host of other elements in direct support, a battalion—or larger unit—of infantry Marines can thunder onto an enemy position with devastating power. The physical embodiments of the MAGTF concept come in three primary forms, each based on infantry unit size: the Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU; the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, or MEB; and the MEF, the Marine Expeditionary Force. The largest of the three, the MEF typically has at least a division—and sometimes more—of Marines composing the infantry component. The MEB has as its infantry core a regiment (three battalions) of Marines, and the MEU is built around a single battalion. MAGTFs, each of which is made of four elements, a Command Element, a Logistics Combat Element, an Aviation Combat Element, and of course, the Ground Combat Element (the grunts themselves) can, however, be stood up in other sizes, too, for a variety of purposes.
The utilitarian elegance and explosive potency of a MAGTF derives from the smooth integration of all its components as well as its straightforward leadership structure—one commander runs the entire show. Military theorists speak of a variety of tenets vital to waging a successful military campaign, and the two most important about which they speak, write, and ponder are intimately related to each other: unity of effort and unity of command. When the commander of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (a full colonel), says “go,” everyone “rogers up” and does just that: they
go
—the grunts, the heavy lift helicopters, the TACAIR and rotary-wing close-air-support components—everyone; the Marines of an MEU (or any other MAFTF) work together as a well-oiled and devastatingly effective machine, all unified in mission orientation and goals, and each resolute in his specific task, bonded throughout by their infantry-centric, ethos-driven mind-set. Dissent, unsolicited or irrelevant input, and compromise simply don’t exist in the Marine Corps command structure, and while a commander works closely with and seeks the ideas of his senior leadership during the planning phases of an operation, upon execution, the Marines of the task force act in symphonic harmony under the sole directorship of the boss.
BOOK: Victory Point
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