Marine reservists now preparing for
combat in Iraq are well-trained and well-equipped, but
their older ground vehicles and aircraft have been taking a beating,
according to Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, head of the Marine Corps
The 14,000 Marines and sailors who will deploy to Iraq starting
this month will include members of Reserve units from around the
country. They have been preparing for the move since October, when
they first learned the specific dates and plans for their mobilization,
McCarthy told National Defense.
We now will support them as they execute the plan,
he said. To keep their fighting edge, Marine Reserve units each
year participate in more than 20 large training exercises around
the world. But, he added, some of their equipment is aging and needs
to be replaced.
The percentage of Marine reservists who have been activated since
the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States is probably
the highest of the four military services, McCarthy said.
Thats because of our small size. The Marine Reserve,
in total, is half as large as the Army Reserve and less than a third
the size of the Army National Guard.
During the coming deployment, the percentage of Marines serving
in reserve units who have been activated since 9/11 will exceed
70 percent, McCarthy said. A little more than 6 percent have been
activated more than once.
The organizationheadquartered in the French Quarter of New
Orleans, La.includes more than 98,000 reservists in 289 units
at 185 sites across the nation. Of those, about 58,000 are in the
Individual Ready Reserve. These are Marines who have finished their
active-duty obligation, are not affiliated with any local reserve
unit and do not attend drills. They are, however, vulnerable to
mobilization, if needed.
About 40,000 reservists actually are assigned to units, McCarthy
explained. Of those, 28,000 already have been activated. In coming
weeks, that number will climb.
The Marine Corps Reserve is a combat organization,
McCarthy said. We are primarily needed when the active-duty
component is involved in major combat operations. McCarthy
knows this from personal experience, having led a platoon in Vietnam.
A lawyer by training, he has commanded the Reserve since the summer
Marine reservists are deployed for seven months, the same length
of time as their active-duty colleagues, McCarthy said. Reservists,
however, are activated for a full year.
That gives us time to make sure that they are adequately
trained and equipped before they deploy, he said.
To meet the needs of commanders in Iraq, the Reserves have been
retraining some members with job specialties with reduced demand
in this war, such as artillery or combat engineers, to fill badly
needed slots in civil affairs or military police units, McCarthy
said. For most, the change is not difficult, he said.
Every Marine is a rifleman, McCarthy said. We
really believe that. Its not that great a leap for a Marine
with good field skills to learn how to perform security assignments.
As for civil affairs, he said, most Marines already perform some
civil affairs functions in their current assignments.
McCarthy recently visited reservists in Iraq. The feedback
that I got was very positive, he said. They know why
theyre there. They know this is a very tough fight.
Once the reservists reach Iraq, they become indistinguishable
from every other Marine there, McCarthy said. One reason:
All have been issued the new combat uniform, with the digitally
designed camouflage pattern. Also, they see exactly the same
action as every one else. Theyre in the thick of it,
Like their active-duty counterparts, the reservists are taking
their share of casualties. Since the beginning of the global
war on terror, 30 Marines from this force have been killed in action,
McCarthy said. Since March 2004, eight have died, and 206
have been wounded.
The Corps is doing everything possible to minimize casualties,
McCarthy said. Every Marine in-theater has the new Interceptor
body armor and the SAPIs [Small Arms Protective Inserts, which designed
to stop 7.62 mm rifle rounds], he said.
All of our vehicles are either up-armored humvees or have
bolt-on plates. Thats putting extra weight on the vehicles,
and wearing them out faster, so theres a tradeoff, McCarthy
said. But clearly the armor kits have saved a lot of lives,
so its not a hard choice.
The problem with putting bolt-on armor on the sides of humvees
is that it doesnt provide any protection in the wheel wells,
McCarthy said. Unfortunately, thats where the feet are.
Were fixing that.
Overall, McCarthy said, the Reserves gear is taking a beating.
Combat is inevitably tough on equipment, he said. From
weapons to aircraft, [our equipment] is performing very well, but
we are just using it up.
The vehicle fleets, in particular, are being stressed at
a very high rate, he said. The Reserves are in the process
of replacing their aging A1 Humvees with the A2 variant, but the
process isnt expected to be complete until 2009. The existing
5-ton truck fleet also is being upgraded with the medium tactical
In addition, he said, were really wearing out our amphibious
assault vehicles. AAVs are tracked vehicles that can travel
from amphibious assault ships, through rough seas to shore and then
go deep inland with up to 21 combat-ready Marines each. The AAVs,
however, are now three decades old and require a lot of maintenance.
The Marines plan to replace the AAV with the next-generation expeditionary
fighting vehicle, which is faster than the existing model both on
land and sea. But the EFV wont be ready until 2008, and it
will be a while after that before the Reserve acquires it.
In aviation, McCarthy said, his top concern is the CH-46E Sea Knight.
The Marines medium-lift assault helicopter is 40 years old,
and demands increased investments of manpower and money with each
passing year, he said. Maintenance requirements are increasing by
about 8 percent each year. For every hour the CH-46E is airborne,
it requires 37 hours of maintenance.
The Sea Knight and the similarly aged CH-53D Sea Stallion heavy-lift
helicopter are supposed to be replaced by the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor
aircraft. The Osprey has been troubled by a long string of crashes,
resulting in 30 deaths, since its first flight in 1989. Those problems,
however, have been resolved, according to program officials, and
the aircraft is now scheduled to begin operational evaluation trials
this year. Thats the last step before a decision is made to
put the MV-22 into service, possibly in 2006.
Even if that occurs, officials acknowledge that it will be years
before the MV-22 finds its way to the Reserve.
Meanwhile, the commands communications gear is in pretty
good shape, McCarthy said. Since the war started, the Reserve
has focused on more rapid fielding of tactical radios, including
the PRC-117 satellite, PRC-150 high-frequency and PRC-148 squad
The morale of the force has been relatively high, McCarthy said,
in part because of the support from reservists employers,
which has been much stronger in this war than it was during Desert
I was mobilized in 1990, he recalled. Everyone was
surprised by that war, including employers, he said. It erupted
and ended very quickly, compared to the current conflict. In the
intervening years, activations of reservists have been occurring
frequently, especially since Bosnia. Employers have gotten used
to the concept, and they have responded positively, McCarthy said.
They have gone out of their way to support the Reserves. Its
When reservists return from deployment, the Corps strives to ease
them back into civilian life, McCarthy said. They have the
option of leaving active duty as soon as we can process their papers
or staying on for the remainder of the year if that suits their
Forty percent of Marine reservists are college students, McCarthy
said. Many of them find it convenient, after deployment, to remain
on active duty until the beginning of the next school term.
We try to create flexibility to help them meet their needs.
From a military policy standpoint, it makes good sense, McCarthy
said. I would like to be able to go back to these units in
a couple of years, if I need to do so, and redeploy them.
Recruiting and retention, he said, are things that you have
to watch every day. The numbers look good now, but that could change.
The 2005 defense authorization act contains a provision that could
help in recruitment and retention of reservists. It provides educational
assistance to reservists who have served at least 90 consecutive
days on active duty. Previously, only service members who had served
on active duty for two years were eligible for such benefits.
McCarthy looks for the Reserve and active-duty Marines to work
together more closely. The process actually began years ago, he
said, noting that in 1997, he was named commanding general of the
3rd Marine Division, the first reservist of his service to head
an active-duty unit of that size. Since then, he said, the pace
of integration has picked up.
The war has drawn us together into a single integrated force,
McCarthy said. Everybody realizes there needs to be one Marine
Corps, not several.