Regional Reaction Forces- Marine Mission, or does the Army want to play?

Army Times has a piece where Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs, ADM Sandy Winnefeld, says the Army should establish similar rapid regional response units like the one the Marine Corps recently stood up in Spain. The Marine unit, a reinforced rifle company with supporting aviation, was deployed as a response to the public outcry over an ability to respond to the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi a year ago.

The Army should consider establishing forward-deployed crisis-response units similar to the Marine Corps’ instead of ceding that mission entirely, a top military official said.

Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the crisis-response mission has taken on greater urgency in light of recent world events.

“I would say that I’d like to see the Army place more emphasis on the growth industry of the national security interest of protecting American citizens abroad; don’t yield that entirely to the Marine Corps,” he said.

The comments are unlikely to be popular in the Corps, which has claimed crisis response as its own mission. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos frequently refers to the service as the United States’ premier 9-1-1 force, and he has expressed significant interest in the Corps expanding its crisis-response capabilities in the last year.


Should the Army establish a similar team in support of our facilities in the Middle East or South America?

I am dubious, at best. For the Marines, deploying a reinforced rifle company with attached aviation assets is part and parcel of their business. While typically the Marines don’t deploy units smaller than a reinforced infantry battalion with aviation and logistics units as a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, while the MEU is deployed, slicing off a rifle company for a fair period of time isn’t unusual. To be sure, adding this mission to the Marine’s plate is a burden. But it is also very much a historical part of their skill set. And the Marines typically already deploy and afloat MEU to the Middle East on a continuing basis.

For the Army, such a mission is outside its typical deployment package. Outside the Special Forces community, typically the smallest element independently deployed would be the Brigade Combat Team.  Battalion and company sized elements may deploy overseas for training evolutions, but the logistics and communications for an operational deployment of an Army unit that size would call for tailoring a special task force.

Make no mistake, the Army would not be given extra funding, or establish special new companies to perform this mission. Instead, a rotation of various companies from existing BCTs would be tasked to perform the mission in rotation. So the tasked BCT would lose an integral part of its end strength not only for the length of time of the deployment, but also the time needed to train the unit for its specialized mission, and time to reintegrate it with the BCT’s training upon its return. And it wouldn’t just be a BCT impacted. A slice from a supporting Combat Aviation Brigade would also need to participate. And not just that, but if the notional rapid response force is to have a reach of more than about 200 miles, it would require air transport and support from the Air Force. Worse, Army helicopters are incapable of in-flight refueling (unlike Marine MV-22 and CH-53E helicopters).

The Marines have long had the mission of protecting US embassies and consulates. This is a mission very much in their wheelhouse. Let’s let the Army concentrate on training and executing those mission best suited for its strengths.

True story. I had a roommate in the barracks in Germany who was prior enlisted Marine. He enlisted in the Marines, wanting nothing more than to be a grunt, and deploy on a “float” to the Far East, and follow in his father’s footsteps. So what did the Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom do? It made him an Embassy Marine, and sent him to the US Embassy in Bonn, Germany. Steve loathed Germany. He couldn’t think of a single good thing about being stationed in Germany. So when his enlistment was up, he quit the Marines, and enlisted in the Army, hoping to be stationed in Korea. The Army had about 50,000 people then in Korea, and 200,000 in Germany. So Steve found himself stationed back in Germany, only this time, at least, he was in a real Infantry unit. I know he stayed in the Army after his first enlistment. I just don’t know if he ever made it to the Far East.


Filed under army, marines

9 responses to “Regional Reaction Forces- Marine Mission, or does the Army want to play?

  1. SSG Christopher Whitaker

    This sounds like more of the “if they can do it so can we” kind of mission creep that the General Staff continually comes up with. Rather than focus on refining and enhancing current mission capabilities, they come up with new ones that are overly expensive, outside (as you say) normal mission capabilities, and suck away funding from more important and more “core” missions.


  2. Esli

    I don’t see this as a new mission, or one that detracts from capabilities. Bottom line is, if you want combat power that can move rapidly and influence events, it does take dedicated training and assets. Back in the pre-war days, rapid deployment of heavy forces was routine. At Fort Stewart, there was constantly a heavy Co TM (-), with a tank PLT, an IN PLT, C2 and support assets that could fly away in 18 hours in 8 C17s. This Immediate Reaction Company was one company in the dedicated Division Ready Force (a Bn). This Bn could fly away a second company, Bn HQ, scouts, mortars,support, etc in 72 hours and then deploy the remainder by sea or air as a follow-on. We trained all the time and rotated Division Ready Brigade among the BDEs. No impact, just shorter alert strings. In Europe, we stood up an IN company that was air-deployable by C130 and mounted in M113s. This was the Medium Ready Company (MRC). Additionally, we had a heavy company (HRC) that was deployable by C17. Also, any unit in DRB had the option of deploying by commercial air and falling in on pre-positioned combat fleets such as in Doha, Kuwait which had a brigade team’s worth. I am not even mentioning a Bn out of 82nd that was also air-deployable on an 18 hour string. Nothing new. It takes a commitment and a focus on training readiness, and a deployable mindset. Doing it is easy. Resupplying it once it flies is a bit harder.


    • Esli

      It depends on the threat you are facing. Sure, sustaining it is the tricky part. Always has been. That’s why the 113s were a good option in Germany. If we were going to do this, I would recommend strykers be on tap for this in future. My primary point is not that the army or heavy forces should have this mission, but that it is not unheard of, or impossible.


    • Esli

      And it would require buy in by USAF for adequate C17 sortie allocation, forward deployed regional CAS allocated, quickly-available Fast Sealift Ships, and the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (commercial airliners that respond immediately when tasked).


    • Having BCT or Divisional units on alert status? Good, and eminently doable. Forward deploying a company team to an AOR where they can self deploy into combat in, say, six hours? That’s a good deal more effort. I’m not saying the Army can’t do it. We could. I’m saying it’s a more suitable mission set for the Marines, especially in the CENTCOM AOR. SOUTHCOM? I’m open to an argument that the Army is better suited for that mission.


    • Esli

      If I tried to establish this right now in my unit, it would require a significant amount of effort, but it could be done.


  3. Esli

    Now back to screening my tanks, which is infinitely more fun!!!


  4. The Marines are better suited for such a mission, and have been used for such in the past. The Army is supposed to be of a much different character – the heavy ground service that belonged to the people. That’s why the Army and AAF was the war department, and the Navy Department was separate from them. The Benghazi type mission has traditionally been a Marine thing.

    The president was allowed a great deal of latitude in deploying the Navy. The Army was supposed to be used only if we went to war. As Just This Guy put it, you can surrender to the Marines, or we’ll just send the Army over and crush you. A simple way of putting it, but accurate.

    The Army could do it, but don’t see that they should. As it stands, we have neither the air or sealift to use the Army in that way anymore, and it’s going to get worse, far worse before it gets better, if it ever gets better, which I seriously doubt.