Friday, September 14, 2012

Fidley Watch: Rapid Response

When the US needs to respond to armed conflict, they call out the Marines. Established in 1775 by the First Continental Congress to serve as an infantry unit aboard naval vessels, the Corps has become expert in amphibious warfare and rapid response.

Last month, as part of an executive outreach program, I was invited, along with 19 other executives, to spend a day with the US Marine Corps in Washington DC and Quantico Virginia. I jumped at the chance, for many reasons, including the fact that Seattle is on the short list to host the 2013 Marine Week activities.

The day started at 0610 in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton, Pentagon City, where the assembled executives, most of whom were from the East Coast, were introduced to our Marine hosts. We were given a brief description of our day ahead and told that in terms of protocol we would have the rank of one-star general.

Our group boarded buses to the Pentagon, where we were given a walking tour of the largest office building in the world. A scorched stone at the base of the building memorializes the attack of 9/11. At the time of the attack the Pentagon was undergoing renovation. The section struck by United Airlines flight 77 was also the first section to be renovated, and was not yet fully reoccupied. The renovation had included steel reinforcement, blast-resistant windows and a sprinkler system, and this reinforcement allowed the building around the crash site to remain intact, giving waorkers in the surrounding area time to escape.

Following a visit to the Pentagon press briefing room, we received breakfast and a recently declassified and very informative operations and intelligence brief from General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the Vice-Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Dunford explained the strategic importance of the Pacific, noting that as the tempo in the Middle East slows, it’s critical to have Marines in the Asia-Pacific region.

On to Bolling Air Force Base, where we boarded a CH 46 Sea Knight helicopter for a 25-minute flight to the Marine Training facility at Quantico, Virginia. The Sea Knight has flown in every marine action since 1964, and my ride was built in 1969. While the Marines are justifiably fond of the old bird, she’s being phased out and replaced by the more modern tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.

On the ground at Quantico we chatted with the pilots before being led to the USMC Martial Arts Center of Excellence where instructor-trainers demonstrated the Corps’ martial arts combat system, developed over years of experience and perfected in 2001 by then Marine Commandant James L. Jones. The instructors demonstrated varying degrees of force and explained the idea behind determining how much force can be used in response to the mission, up to and including lethal force. The “one-star generals” were thankfully not asked to participate in the exercise.

On to the Weapons Training Battalion range, where we were given an introduction to, and familiarization with, the basic weapons used by the Marine Corps, including the M4 Carbine, M27 Machine Gun and M9 Pistol. After the weapons talk, which was quite informative and very interesting, came the Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) training (that’s right, you need training to eat an MRE properly). The MRE is the modern equivalent of C-Rations, and the meal was actually pretty good, although it was about 2:00 pm so we were all hungry. A chemical reaction, started with a bit of water, superheats the meal pouch in a matter of minutes. One can imagine sitting on a log in the rain after a week of having bad guys shooting at you that the hot chicken and noodles must taste like heaven.

After lunch our group was turned loose on the weapons range with assault weapons, handguns, machine guns and sniper rifles, hundreds of rounds of live ammunition and a team of very patient instructors while we aimed at targets “downrange” and generally shot up the place.

From the weapons range we travelled to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where we had a brief tour of the exhibits, including the actual Iwo Jima flag seen in the iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal. The tour ended with a hosted reception in the museum’s recreation of Tun Tavern, the Philadelphia birthplace of the Marine Corps in 1775.

A quick trip back to the hotel to change into business attire and then the group attended a private reception at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC. After what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually more than an hour, we stepped outside to VIP seats on the parade ground for the Friday Evening Parade.

The Evening Parades are conducted on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and feature “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, “The Commandant’s Own” The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, the Marine Corps Color Guard, the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, Ceremonial Marchers, and Lance Corporal Chesty XIII, the official mascot of Marine Barracks Washington. Chesty is a bulldog, and although I outranked him, I didn’t get to be part of the parade.
Anyone visiting Washington DC in the summer should try to see this parade. Tickets are free but require long range planning and reservations, which can be made online.

One of the USMC’s bloodiest battles is the budgetary battle they wage with Congress every year. After accounting for inflation, the cost to equip an infantry battalion in 2012 is 2.7 times the cost in 2000, but the Marine Corps budget is a bare 8.2 percent of the FY2012 Department of Defense budget. Pacific Maritime Magazine appreciates all of the country’s armed forces – those under the Department of Defense as well as those under the Department of Homeland Security, and now more than ever they need the support of the general public. As mentioned in this space last month, our national defense is threatened by automatic spending cuts, or sequester, of 50 percent. In this time of global crisis, our national defense is more important than ever. Where the First Congress saw a clear need for the Marine Corps, the 113th Congress will decide its fate. Let your Senator know you support national defense, and expect Congress to ensure the Marines will still be an effective force when we need them.

Chris PhilipsManaging Editor