Ops Tempo May Require Larger Marine Corps, Commandant Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2006 The Marine Corps may have to grow to keep up a tempo of operations that has caused individual and institutional stress in the force, the service's commandant said here today.
At a roundtable discussion with the Pentagon press corps, Gen. James Conway said working to alleviate the individual and institutional strain on the Marine Corps is his major goal as commandant.
Marines spend seven months deployed to Iraq and seven months home. In 2003, the general told reporters, he said the stress would show by the third deployment. “I was wrong,” he said today. Turnover in the units has bought the Corps some time, he explained. By the time a unit makes its second deployment, only about 40 to 50 percent of the unit’s Marines had served in the unit’s the first deployment. By the third deployment, that percentage drops to about 10 percent, he said.
Some units are preparing for their fourth deployment. “Virtually no one in those units went the first time,” he said.
If the current deployment trend continues, Conway said, Marines and their families may leave the service. “The young families, Marines (and) sailors may say it’s more than they are willing to bear,” he said.
The Marine Corps would like to see a seven-month deployment followed by 14 months at home station, the commandant said. In peacetime, the deployment tempo is six months deployed, 18 months at home.
In addition to the stress on individual Marines and their families, Conway said, the Marine Corps as an institution is also strained. “Progressively over time, our Marine Corps has become a good counterinsurgency-capable force, but we’re not providing to the nation some of the other things we should be able to do,” he said. “We are not sending battalions like we used to for mountain warfare training, the jungle training. We’re not doing combined arms exercises that we used to do for the fire and maneuver. (These are) activities that we have to be prepared to do.”
Conway said the Marine Corps mission includes these contingencies, but the training time is not available. He said the Corps could do whatever mission it is assigned, but there is an increased risk. “We may not deploy as quickly as we once did, we may not have quite the training that we once had, but we would be able to do the mission,” he said.
The Corps can ease these stresses and strains two ways, Conway said. “One is reducing the requirement,” he said. “The other is growing the force for what we call the Long War.”
The Marine Corps currently has 180,000 troops. Conway would not say how much the service would have to grow to make the 1-to-2 ratio for deployment/home station time possible.
Yet even in Iraq, the Corps could surge troops in if called upon, he said. “If that requirement is levied on us, we will provide,” the commandant said. But that, Conway said, would affect the Corps in the long term. “Anything that increases that requirement simply has long-range consequences on that rotation scheme and force generation model,” he said.
Turning to the war in Iraq, Conway said Marines in Anbar province are seeing some successes. The province is still a dangerous place, he acknowledged, “but there are still some positive things that we see happening out there.”
Tribal leaders in the far west around the Syrian border city of Qaim are stepping up and taking on al Qaeda in Iraq, he said, and it is relatively peaceful in that area. In other areas of the province, he said, 400 local Sunni Arabs have volunteered for the police force. Even in Ramadi, local Iraqis want to “exorcise al Qaeda from the city,” the general said.