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Corps’ top leader discusses war fighting concept, Core Values with Iraq-deployed Marines, sailors

30 May 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

The Corps’ top officer recently stated that the Marine Corps is headed in the right direction in the future of war fighting, and will stand up its first, fully operational distributed operations-capable battalion by next year.

Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, said the Corps recently completed a year-long test of the new concept to “make sure we have the right education and the right off-the-shelf equipment.”

Distributed Operations is a concept designed to put more tactical-level decision making authority, equipment and education to Marine small-unit leaders, thus enhancing and expanding combat capabilities of smaller-sized Marine units.

Under the concept, squads will be able to perform tactical functions normally performed by platoons, platoons can perform functions of a company, and so on.

The concept puts more than just expanded decision-making authority to small-unit leaders, it also provides them with the education and equipment to get the job done, according to Hagee.

“I can tell you the future of Distributed Operations is bright,” said Hagee to hundreds of Marines and sailors of Regimental Combat Team 7 in an air hangar at this sprawling U.S. military airbase in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province May 30. 

“We have squad leaders, sergeants, in the United States Marine Corps who can control air (assets), and they are doing a great job,” he said. “They (squad leaders) can also coordinate fires.”

The test bed Hagee spoke of involved a Marine rifle platoon, which received six months of advanced training and equipment on the new war fighting concept before spending another half-year operating as a D.O. platoon in Afghanistan.

“When I visited the Army general, he told me that platoon was equivalent to a rifle company, because of how they could coordinate fires and the (physical) effects that they could have because of the training and equipment that they had,” said Hagee.

Under the concept, “Maneuver units will operate in disaggregated fashion with companies, platoons and even squads dispersed beyond the normal range of mutually supporting organic direct fires but linked through a command and control network,” according to 'A Concept for Distributed Operations,’ the Marines’ initial document on the concept, published last year. 

Bottom line – under the Distributed Operations concept, smaller units, such as platoons and squads, will be less dependent upon and able to operate further from headquarters elements. D.O. units will also be able to strike enemy forces more quickly by making tactical decisions normally made by higher headquarters, such as calling for fire and coordinating air strikes.

“The ultimate goal is to have every battalion in the Marine Corps D.O. capable,” said Hagee. “We believe we’ve got the education right, we believe we’ve identified the right equipment. We’ve given them more lethal equipment.”

The commandant’s visit was part of a tour of Marine bases late last month in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq, and came on the heels of several allegations of Marines killing civilians in Al Anbar Province. Hagee, and the Corps’ top enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, also visited Marine bases in the U.S. to reinforce the Corps’ core values – honor, courage and commitment.

In an earlier statement, Hagee said the allegations were concerning and should also concern all Marines.

In a Pentagon press briefing with reporters, he stated - "As commandant, I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamdaniya. I can assure you that the Marine Corps takes them seriously."

During the visit here, Hagee spoke at length about the hardships of combat, and the importance of upholding honor on and off the battlefield.

“Honor is more than just telling the truth,” he said to Marines and sailors, who wore the signature tan, digital-patterned camouflage uniforms. “It’s also believing in and upholding the three basic values our country was founded on – respect for human life and dignity, respect for telling the truth, and respect for other people’s property.”

Hagee shared experiences he had as a platoon and company commander in Vietnam, where he, too, experienced indirect fire, death, and booby traps. He encouraged Marines to talk about combat-related stressful situations before they happen to avoid making decisions based on emotion.

“The first time you should consider what you should do in that kind of a situation should not be on the battlefield in that situation,” he said. “You need to talk about it before hand. Talk about it in a setting like this, but in a much smaller setting, led by corporals and sergeants, staff NCOs (noncommissioned officers) and lieutenants.”

The large majority of Marines and sailors serving in Iraq and elsewhere are performing superbly and making the right decisions every day, the general said. He also stated that America has a Marine Corps because the American people want a Marine Corps, an “organization that stands for something. They want an organization that has high values.”

“The most important thing is we do the right thing, which, as I’ve said, and I think its fair saying again – 99.9 percent of the Marines do everyday, then I think we’re going to be O.K.,” said Hagee.

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: goodwinjm@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil