One of the big things we are doing is, as we train up
those operations officers and operations chiefs, we are
exposing them to different scenarios around the world,
from that humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the
low end to major theater war and major contingency
ops at the large end. As we build the training syllabus
and the scenarios, we are starting to incorporate more
from the Pacific Rim. So a lot of things you would get
exposed to in III MEF and 3rd MARDIV [Marine
Division], and throughout the Pacific, those are the
kinds of scenarios we are going to use at MCTOG.
What changes, if any, do you foresee for Marine
Corps Forces Special Operations Command
(MARSOC) in terms of size, training and focus?
PAXTON: There is a phrase going around the building
called “the new norm.” For better or for worse, it is a
reflection and realization that the Arab Spring and, if
you will, the lesser included contingencies and a lot of
the regional unrest, is going to continue, particularly
in the CENTCOM [Central Command] and PACOM
areas. We need to be responsive to that.
We think the Marine Corps is, as the commandant
[Gen. James F. Amos] says, “today’s force, for today’s crisis, today.” If you would ask [Army] Gen. [James D.]
Thurman [former commander of U.S. Forces in Korea]
when he talks about Korea, he is looking for a “fight
tonight” force, and that’s what he looks at the Marine
Corps to do. We want to make sure that both our internal
force and then the components that we provide to the
combatant commanders reflect that new norm and reflect
that fight tonight mentality. MARSOC was our contribution to the Special Operations community when we stood
it up about 10 years ago. We are committed to MARSOC.
The current level of MARSOC is about 2,700
Marines. We’re going to hold to that. We’re not going to
diminish that at all. We’ve committed that to [Maj.]
Gen. [Mark] Clark, our component commander, and to
Adm. [William] McRaven at SOCOM [U.S. Special
Operations Command]. We’ve also recognized that,
within that 2,700 Marines we are growing to right now,
there are special skills sets there, what we call “critical
skills operators.” There is a degree of experience and a
degree of maturation that you need with the Marines
who go there. We are committed to that, too. As we go
into the future days where dollars and fiscal issues may
drive a reduced manpower, we are going to hold the line
with MARSOC in terms of quantity and quality.
What concerns you most in the current fiscal
environment, from a manpower standpoint,
when it comes to your Marines?
PAXTON: Both with the commandant and even Gen.
[James] Mattis, prior to his retirement down there at
CENTCOM, one of the common phrases was, “We
may have fewer people and we may be forced to do
either less things or things less often, but we will never
do them less well.” We are going to continue to be
ready for whatever any of the combatant commanders
need when they need it.
We may not be as large as we would like to be and we
may not be able to either do it as long or as repetitive by
nature as we have in the past, but we are committed to
being ready, and to do it well. … We would have liked, in
a perfect world, when we came down from 202,000
[Marines], the anticipation was to go back to 186,800,
which was our pre-9/11 norm. We could have gone down
to 182,000. That is where the current philosophy is.
Given the studies that are ongoing with both the
Quadrennial Defense Review and the alternative POM
[Program Objective Memorandum], there is a good
chance we will go less than that. The commandant is on
record as saying the about 9 to 10 percent of the projected force reduction could mean as many as 8,000
Marines — as you noticed in SECDEF’s [Secretary of
Defense Chuck Hagel’s] note a week ago — so [a force
of] 174,000 or 175,000. Those are the numbers that
we’re looking at right now.
That is putting us at the lower margin of readiness
and at the upper end of risk. That is something we
don’t relish going to. We’re prepared to go there, but
we don’t want to go any lower than that in terms of
readiness and manpower. We think at that level, somewhere between 175,000 and 182,000, we can still be a
force of readiness, we can still respond to what the
combatant commanders need.
Two things concern us if we go to that level, two
very big things. No. 1 is, we’re going to mortgage our
future, that in order to pay for the manpower and the
readiness, we’ll risk our modernization and risk the
revitalization of our infrastructure. Those would be the
bill payers. The second thing is that we’re going to be
holding to a 1: 2 dep-to-dwell [deployment-to-dwell
ratio, meaning, for example, for every four months
deployed a Marine will have eight months at his or her
home base or station]. So our turn time will be faster.
That, in and of itself, will have an impact on our forces.
What concerns you most from an operations or
PAXTON: There is a benefit to technology. There is a
benefit to modernization. We can see that right now in
the V- 22 [Osprey tiltrotor aircraft]. But, when you look
at the advantages of technology and what it brings you
on the battlefield, there is a method to the madness to
keeping your science and technology alive and well, to
keeping your research and development and acquisitions alive and well.