“We should take pride in our force and recent operational successes,” General David H. Berger, 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote recently in his planning guidance, “But the current force is not organized, trained, or equipped to support the naval force – operating in contested maritime spaces, facilitating sea control, or executing distributed maritime operations. We must change.”
For Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, this guidance to continuously innovate is driving their current operations as they prepare for future deployments. In the past two years, CLB-31 has effectively executed a wide variety of missions through exercises, training, and real-world operations such as a Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and combined-joint missions during the bilateral exercise Talisman Sabre 2019. While proud of these recent successes, CLB-31 has nevertheless already begun applying the Commandant’s Planning Guidance in earnest, reorganizing the unit in order to better meet the needs of a changing security environment.
Last month, CLB-31 activated Combat Logistics Company 31, also known as Maneuver Company or “Odyssey”, during a ceremony at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan
As the Logistics Combat Element of the 31st MEU, CLB-31 provides the full-spectrum of combat logistics to all elements of the MEU. By establishing Maneuver Company within the battalion, this support role can be more effectively met. Composed of engineers, motor transportation, landing support, and a company headquarters, these are organized into combat logistics platoons that can be task-organized to provide logistical and engineering support for distributed operations when forward-deployed.
“Essentially we’re trying to task-organize around the combat logistics platoon concept, and provide an internal battalion structure that supports that. The combat logistics platoons are designed to be multifunctional combat logistics units that can be assigned various 31st MEU missions, or organized for distributed operations like we did during our last deployment.” 1st Lt. Sean Gunn, Maneuver Company commander
Lt. Col. Christopher Johnson, CLB-31’s commanding officer, sees the company as a key component in future decentralized operations in the Indo-Pacific region, something addressed multiple times in the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.
“III MEF’s mandate is to fight as a Naval Corps and enable victory in a Western Pacific great power conflict,” Lt. Col. Johnson explained, “Decentralized execution is inherent in distributed operations, and our logistics formations must be capable of operating at the platoon and company level at range from the headquarters, and with an expeditionary footprint.”
In addition to enabling greater decentralized command during distributed operations, Maneuver Company gives the combat logistics platoons the focused attention they need in order to plan out training that ensures readiness, freeing up the battalion operations staff to focus on big-picture issues when back in garrison.
Distributed operations entail the 31st MEU spreading its units across a large geographical expanse in order to conduct simultaneous missions in support of the MEU commander’s overall mission. During their last deployment, CLB-31 conducted distributed operations from ship to shore in Australia in support of the 31st MEU’s scheme of maneuver during their certification exercise and Talisman Sabre.
For example CLB-31 conducted a long-range refueling operation bringing 3200 gallons of JP-8 to refuel a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft. Once on-site, the 17-Marine refueling team filled the aircraft with 300 gallons of fuel. Concurrently, other elements of CLB-31 conducted landing support operations with elements from 3rd Marine Division.
According to Gunn, this is a key demonstration of the Marine Corps’ ability to support distributed operations in a joint battle, utilizing ground-based assets to support naval aviation, and the type of operation that Maneuver Company will figure heavily into in the future.
“Essentially it’s a return to our roots as naval infantry,” Gunn said. Though it’s still early, Maneuver Company will clearly be a key to the 31st MEU’s operations going forward, and serves as an important example to the rest of the Marine Corps as units seek to implement the Commandant’s Planning Guidance and return to their naval roots in preparation for the security challenges of tomorrow.
“Odyssey Company is a key innovation to allow us to train how we fight. The future battlespace is going to require us to provide combat logistics in a distributed environment in order to avoid massing forces where we can be targeted by our enemies at a distance,” Gunn explained, “The company provides both the garrison training structure and deployed command structure to enable multi-functional combat logistics platoons. This allows us to reduce our footprint while still providing support to the MAGTF in a distributed fight.”