Marine General Leads, Lauds '911' Force
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii, May. 1, 1997 Marine Corps Forces Pacific is, the commander said, "a '911' expeditionary force -- the best emergency response when crisis calls."
If hostilities broke out in Korea, Lt. Gen. Jefferson Davis Howell Jr. said he would deploy there to command Marine combat units. His Marines routinely deploy to Southwest Asia and were integral players in Desert Storm. On the average, he said, Pacific Theater Marines deploy 21 out of 36 months.
Training and maneuvers challenge the Marine Corps' ability to stay prepared for combat, but, Howell said, he can look anybody in the eye and say, "Marine forces in the Pacific are ready. We take it out of the hides of our Marines but we maintain readiness."
Howell not only leads Marines in the Pacific region but reports to three commands: U.S. Pacific Command, Combined Forces Command in Korea and U.S. Central Command. He's responsible for more than 76,000 troops, two-thirds of the Marine Corps' operational forces, and 600 aircraft at bases and aboard ships extending from the West Coast of the United States through the Indian Ocean.
"If the United States is going to be the dominant military power in the Pacific and Indian oceans," Howell said, "we're going to have to have very strong naval forces to sail those seas, show U.S. presence and conduct combat, if necessary."
Howell attributes Asian-Pacific prosperity to the U.S. military presence there. "You need freedom of the seas to conduct commerce and trade," he said. "We have freedom of the seas because the United States has been the prevailing power on the oceans of the world since the Second World War."
The Marine Corps remains essentially what it always has been, Howell said -- a small, elite force capable of rapidly mobilizing and deploying to foreign shores to defend America's interests. "As a prelude to a situation where you might need larger forces, somebody has to kick down the door," he said. "That's what Marines do, and we're doing it better than ever."
Bigger and faster amphibious ships, rigorous training and the Marines' ability to set up and sustain an expeditionary force make the Corps better, Howell said. Marine air extends the capability, providing DoD what Howell calls a "utility infielder."
"Our tactical air has the same capability as the Air Force and Navy, so we can go aboard ships or operate from land-based airfields," he said. "More importantly, we can set up an expeditionary airfield anywhere in the world and support it with our naval forces. That gives the National Command Authorities great flexibility to project power."
Howell said he feels the Marines are well-positioned to serve as America's primary expeditionary force well into the 21st century.
"The Navy and Marine Corps together provide a unique capability that our nation has to have if it's going to maintain the dominance of democratic nations around the world," he said.
Noting the Marine-Navy team's ability to sustain more than 16,000 combat troops and their equipment -- without resupply or reinforcement -- for 30 days, he asked, "What other force can do this?"
He said he's not sure Marines of the past were as prepared.
A basic tenet of Marine Corps philosophy says the more you train in peace, the less you bleed in war. The motto has been around for decades, Howell said, but he doesn't believe the Marines always lived up to it.
Howell recently returned from Australia, where he observed his troops preparing to go ashore from USS Essex during Tandem Thrust, a U.S.-Australian military exercise. Stormy weather had the ship and its occupants "rocking and rolling," the general said.
"These Marines were in their fifth month of a six-month deployment. They had already done operations in Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, where they'd done landings and exercises, worked hard and were ready for combat."
The Marines aboard the Essex had been briefed about the heat, crocodiles and poisonous snakes awaiting them on shore. "But that was, to them, easier than the training they'd already been through," the general said.
"We learned a lot of lessons in blood in Vietnam because of our lack of training," Howell said. "These Marines aren't going to have to pay that price."
Despite the long hours Marines pull, Howell rates their morale high. In recent years, the Marines have gotten serious about quality of life issues such as homier barracks, off-duty programs for single Marines and assistance to spouses in adapting to the Marine Corps way of life.
Howell said he is, however, concerned about individual character.
"Fifteen to 20 years ago, we assumed our young 'boots' had a certain amount of morals their parents had ingrained in them," he said. "However, for a significant portion of the young people we get now, that's missing."
The Marines extended basic training, Howell said, to incorporate morals and ethics instruction. Also, during the last week of boot camp, drill instructors shift from an authoritarian figure to a father figure. At this point, Howell said, the drill instructors show the trainees what's expected of them as individuals and citizens. "We're working really hard to impress upon them that ... you're a Marine 24 hours a day. Even when people aren't watching you," he said, "you've got to carry on the best traditions of the Marine Corps."
As the senior Marine in the Pacific, Howell commands Marines on Okinawa, where two years ago, Japanese courts convicted two Marines and a sailor for raping an Okinawan girl. "When the rape happened," he said, "every Marine on that island felt responsible. They took that hard; they felt they had been stabbed in the gut."
That's mostly behind the Marines on Okinawa -- and the Okinawans, as well, the general said. "We've got Marines coaching Little League baseball with Okinawans, Marines sponsoring orphanages, schools and churches. People there are just as friendly [as before the rape], and the morale of the Marines is high."
That's true of nearly every Marine Howell said he encounters. "They've got a Marine Corps emblem stamped in their heart," he said. "Their dedication is remarkable, and their seriousness about what they are about is impressive. ... They're proud of who they are."