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Top Marine defends Corps’ lighter direction

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger, the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va, Aug. 9, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Victoria Ross)

The Marine Corps commandant pushed back against criticisms of his drive toward a lighter Corps, arguing that the reshaped force would better dissuade China from aggression in the Pacific region.

“This is the second time in my career we’ve had a pacing challenge,” he said at the Sea-Air-Space conference outside Washington, D.C. “In terms of campaigning, you need-the nation needs a force forward persistently, I would argue, that is also expeditionary and has a forcible entry capability. Why? Because that’s your first opportunity to deter.”

Berger’s arguments were co-signed by his U.S. Navy counterpart.

“The deterrence piece is really important, fundamentally important, because it’s a cornerstone in the [defense] secretary’s strategy,” said Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, who joined the commandant on the conference’s opening panel.

Berger, who stepped into the Marines’ top job in 2019, launched the most aggressive rethinking of the Corps in a generation. Concurring with his predecessor that the Marines were “not organized, trained, equipped, or postured to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving future operating environment,” Berger set about reorienting the Corps toward a lighter, more adaptable force that would be more effective in the Pacific theater in particular.

With approval from Congress and Pentagon leaders, the Corps soon shed its several hundred tanks and two of its five attack helicopter squadrons and began running experiments intended to reshape its infantry battalions.

But in recent months, a group of former four-star Marines and others have slammed Berger’s moves as dangerous or ill-informed. “The group of retired generals includes former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former Joint Chiefs Chair Joe Dunford and John Kelly, a former Homeland Security chief and White House chief of staff,” Politico wrote last week.

On Monday, Berger was asked about the criticisms at the Navy League’s conference outside Washington, D.C. He responded by saying it is too early to judge whether his Force Design 2030 plan is working.

“I think you can’t really grade a service chief’s homework, the second half, until years down the road. And then you’ll know whether they organized, trained, and equipped that force to do what it needed to do in the future. Because the future is—there’s a lot of unknowns there. We have to make a lot of assumptions and make hard decisions.”


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