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Op-Ed: Foundations for the future – US Marines still call the Pacific home

The US Marines have a proud history of operating in the Pacific, from the shores of Guadalcanal to the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima, and while the global responsibilities in recent decades have seen them focus on other regions, the Pacific is still home for the Marine Corps.

The US Marines have a proud history of operating in the Pacific, from the shores of Guadalcanal to the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima, and while the global responsibilities in recent decades have seen them focus on other regions, the Pacific is still home for the Marine Corps.

Like many of his fellow artillerymen in the 11th Marine Regiment, Private First Class George Bodman lived with an Australian family while on “R&R” after the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1943. PFC Bodman became part of the family during those nine months of recuperation and training in Ballarat.

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When he departed for Cape Gloucester later that year, he left behind a book as a memory and took with him an enduring family connection to Australia. That book – its leather cover showing the cracks of age sits now with the 1st Marine Division in California, a symbol of the foundations shared between America and Australia.

Over the past 70 years, we have built on these foundations, and today, the US Marine Corps works hand in glove with the Australian Defence Force to foster our unbreakable bond as we move into the future.

As the US Marine Corps optimises for operations in the Pacific and the ADF develops its amphibious capability, that partnership grows closer.

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It is for the shared ideals of freedom, transparency, and liberal democracy that we work together. Thus, we move forward with our allies and partners — none more important than Australia — in defence of our shared values. We fight terrorism and sail together to preserve the world’s freedom to navigate, and support our partners who contend with violent storms, pandemics, and other natural disasters. We promote peace, security, and liberty, thereby safeguarding the proven long-term progress these values foster.

In 2019, the Commandant of the Marine Corps published his Planning Guidance, a visionary approach that combines the historical expertise of Marines with technology and ideas that were unthinkable on “the shores of Tripoli” over 200 years past. Previous guidance has taken an evolutionary approach with incremental changes; this guidance goes back to first principles to make revolutionary changes in the face of an operating context that drastically evolved while our militaries were committed to major fights against terrorism.

It continues a time-honoured heritage of island hopping and manoeuvre warfare. It harnesses the warrior ethos of our Marines — “every Marine a rifleman” — and places the initiative, ingenuity, and grit of the individual at the forefront while enabling them with the best technology today’s engineers can imagine. This Planning Guidance will build resiliency into our concepts of employment and lethality into their effects, and ultimately produce greater success on the battlefields of the future.

The Commandant has established a process in the context of an increasingly complex future operating environment. New ideas and capabilities are validated through historical analysis, computer simulation, and practical exercises.

Through this objective approach, validated concepts and procedures get resourced and developed.

The Commandant has clearly articulated this approach and encourages planners to pursue new technologies while remaining unattached to legacy systems when better options are available.

As an example of its boldness, this has resulted in complete divestment of Marine heavy armour and a 300 per cent increase in long-range fires. However, it is not just US Marines taking part in this experimentation and innovation.

Various partners have committed time and energy, along with warriors and materiel to the effort, with the ADF distinguishing itself as a major contributor to a truly combined initiative. It is through this collaboration and pooling of resources that the concept will flourish.

Demonstrating our alliance’s strength and US commitment in the region, the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) led the US military’s return to Australia and its partnering with the ADF.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison granted an exemption from COVID-19 restrictions allowing our Marines to return, MRF-D deployed with the tempo and expeditionary mindset synonymous with the US Marine Corps.

Marines left home for the Top End as soon as it was safe to do so, with robust measures in place to ensure everyone’s health, Australians and Marines alike. Even during a global crisis, our men and women remain ready.

MRF-D is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force, a tactical formation capable of mutually supporting combined arms fire and manoeuvre. It is also more than that: MRF-D presents a tangible opportunity to share our Marine ethos and grow our capabilities together to defend the region.

The US and Australia work closely together towards this end, and MRF-D participates at all levels. The US Force Posture Initiative ensures that we can collectively project allied presence strategically in support of regional stability. MRF-D is the most forward-leaning part of this initiative. Additionally, dozens of Marine and ADF exchange and liaison personnel move across the Pacific each year to further our shared strategic development.

Operationally, we continue to evolve together, changing the character of Exercises Talisman Sabre and Pitch Black to increase our agility, resilience, and combined effectiveness. Marines will use these exercises to implement the Commandant’s transformational process.

Tactically, thousands of troops conduct fire and manoeuvre at Mount Bundey and move from ship to shore at Shoalwater Bay. They try out new weapons systems while learning from each other and building personal rapport. It is at this grassroots level where the real ingenuity and excitement is borne.

Together with the ADF, MRF-D offers a robust opportunity to pursue interconnectivity, interoperability, and interchangeability.

Interconnectivity ensures information systems can communicate and fuel hoses can fit across the numerous vehicle types we collectively deploy.

Interoperability teaches commanders and troops how to employ the complementary capabilities we share with our allies and partners, or to fight with similar weapons systems in different ways. The M777 155mm Howitzer and unmanned aerial system (UAS) are two highlights of how we share best practices.

Interchangeability allows us to remove an organic unit from a formation, replace it with a similar allied unit, and continue to operate seamlessly as a truly combined team. These distinct but complementary ideas combine into one collective effort that, when done well, maximises the military effectiveness of the alliance.

MRF-D is preparing for tomorrow’s fight, today. We will adjust our capabilities towards the challenges we currently face while acquiring the right systems in the years ahead based on demonstrated value.

Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and UAS of various sizes are current solutions that show promising future utility across multiple domains.

Whatever the material solution, the Commandant’s Planning Guidance is an engine that will propel the constant drive for improvement for years to come. It enables a fusion of the best and brightest service-members — from the youngest warrior to the senior-most commander — with leaders of industry to provide our militaries with the tools they need to deter aggression and preserve peace.

However, there is no other capability with more proven value than that of our allies and partners. Weapons systems will come and go, but they are machines and subject to the whims of their producers and operators. Tactics will change; we can rely on our commanders and individual initiative to do that.

With allies, attitude is more important: the desire to share and collaborate towards a common end, and the will to persevere when the work gets difficult.

Fortunately, our allies are willing to share the hard work required. It is in our blood. Ask the Anzacs and Devil Dogs of a century ago. They paved the way for a special breed of tenacity, built from the legacy of challenge and hardship. Yesterday they proved their worth on the battlefield. Today we have the ADF and MRF-D thinking ahead towards the next contingency, however it may present itself in the unforeseeable future.

Australians and Americans share a common attribute of fierce independence. We cherish our democratic values, including freedom of choice, freedom of speech, and freedom from tyranny. Collectively we will always prevail against bullies and tyrants that threaten those values.

Australia looked after our Marines, including PFC Bodman, in 1943. After those Devil Dogs saw the spirit of the Australian people, it is fitting that the 1st Marine Division adopted Waltzing Matilda as its pre-deployment anthem.

The spirit of our past warriors will always be heard to remind us of the importance to stand up tall, strive for our values, and prevail. It is with this heritage that today’s Marines once again come to visit their brothers and sisters where they feel at home, in Australia. We are ready to face any challenge. Today and in the future. Together.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Weinrich is the Marine Attaché at the United States embassy in Canberra. The full Defence Connect: Insight podcast with LTCOL Weinrich is available here

Op-Ed: Foundations for the future – US Marines still call the Pacific home
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