Commandant Reassigns 3,500 Marines to 'Traditional' Duties

By Sandra I. Erwin

The commandant of the Marine Corps is pulling 3,500 active-duty troops from non-combat positions next month, in order to strengthen the war-fighting ranks. This move is part of Gen. James L. Jones' plan to return as many Marines as possible to "traditional" combat duties that he considers more productive, Jones told National Defense in a recent interview.

As the Corps becomes increasingly involved in overseas deployments and homeland anti-terrorism operations, its operational forces are being stretched too thin, said Jones. For that reason, he wants to take Marines out of civilian-type jobs, such as administrative positions and mess-hall duty, and reassign them to war-fighting units.
Jones does not plan to ask Congress to expand the size of the Marine Corps yet. But he would, if he believed it was necessary. "If you keep exponentially adding to the mission envelope, of course, you have to draw the line," said Jones. "Because the end-strength is not adjusting symmetrically" to the workload. "I would not hesitate to go to the Congress, if missions kept coming, and say 'to do this, I need 195,000 Marines.' But we are not there yet."

Responsibilities such as domestic chemical-biological response primarily should be handled by reserve forces and the National Guard, not by active-duty units, said Jones. The Corps currently has a chemical-biological incident response unit, based in the Washington, D.C. area, which has been involved in high-profile events around the United States. But Jones does not see that mission as a core Marine occupation. "What we are hoping, in the case of the chem-bio incident response force, is that this will be a model for others to follow," he said.

But homeland defense is a "role for the reserves and the National Guard. I would hope that some time in the future ... we would get out of the homeland defense business, at least for the active forces. I see that as the primacy of the National Guard and the reserves, with the active duty forces as back-ups."

In overseas deployments, conversely, the active duty troops are the primary combatants, whereas the reserves are the supporting force.

Internal reforms are one way to address personnel shortages in combat-related areas, said Jones. "On 1 October [2000] we will have found the equivalent of a regiment of Marines, from within our organization, who will be used more productively in operational missions."

That equates to about 3,500 Marines whose jobs will be replaced or eliminated entirely. "They will be returned to what I consider more productive, traditional Marine occupations," said Jones. These Marines will not become part of a single unit but will be assigned to various organizations to bolster the operational forces. "I am a strong advocate of the primacy of the operational forces. Everything else is secondary," said Jones. "If I can find Marines in those secondary missions, I will either find another way to do those missions [or] eliminate them completely and return them to the operational forces."

One example is the reassignment of 700 Marines who were performing mess-hall duties at two recruiting depots in San Diego and Parris Island, said Jones. "We now have civilian help to do that. Now, those 700 Marines are going to augment the forces."

In some cases, it is smaller groups, pockets of five or six Marines, who are being pulled from these "secondary" jobs, he added. "We are looking, digging, scratching," in order to find more of those Marines who should be transferred to combat duties.

Jones praised the Navy's plan to hire contractors to paint ships, so sailors can spend more time training for combat. "There are some things we shouldn't be doing, that can be done by somebody else."

Topics: Marine Corps News, Contracting

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