‘Generation of Warriors’
Iraq operations make battle-savvy Marines,
but some core competencies have faded
Gen. Robert Magnus has been assistant commandant of the
Marine Corps for nearly three years, assuming the post in September
2005. Since taking the Corps’ No. 2 job, he has been a vocal advocate
of ensuring strong support for Marines and their families. Magnus lists
his work with wounded veterans and taking care of Marine families as
his top two accomplishments as assistant commandant.
Magnus said he has helped the commandant make “tough choices”
about sustaining the Corps’ readiness for the war on terrorism and “to
do whatever the mission is in the future.”
One cumulative result of those decisions has been the so-called “Long
War” document, which attempts to map out the Marines’ role after
Iraq. Magnus says the current tempo of operations is “unsustainable.”
In addition to the stress on the troops, Magnus is “deeply concerned”
about the Navy’s ability to increase the fleet to 313 ships and the
nation’s willingness to financially support 202,000 Marines. Despite
these challenges, he said the Marines remain ready for anything the
nation may call on them to do.
Magnus also has served as commander, Marine Corps Air Bases
Western Area, and deputy commander, Marine Forces Pacific. He is scheduled to retire this summer.
Magnus discussed the future of the Marine Corps with Associate Editor Matt Hilburn. Excerpts follow.
How much longer are the Marines going to be
MAGNUS: We’re going to be in Iraq until we get a set of
orders to go someplace else. That has already happened
somewhat, with us sending 3,400 Marines to Afghanistan. But we are now in two different campaigns. That
means, at some point, we have to address whether we
are going to stay in Afghanistan, which we believe is ideally suited to the capabilities of an expeditionary Marine
Corps and our proven abilities in Operation Iraqi
Freedom, or are we going to not be there after the next
seven months and continue to resource the whole operation in Iraqi Freedom. Being in two places stresses
command-and-control capabilities as well as logistics.
I believe the Army and Marine Corps will be kept at
a similar level in Iraq for a while. At some point, that
is unsustainable. The Army has used similar words. At
what point does unsustainable equate to breaking the
force? I don’t know. But it does make it incredibly difficult to retain the kind of people you want when they
see themselves in persistent war. There’s a certain point
where, if you add patriotism up with incentives, it isn’t
enough. People want to see their kids play soccer, and
many of them have been to war three times, four times,
even five times.
But the nation expects us to be ready. We are. Right
now, we’re kind of running this engine up in the red
area of the RPMs.