12 things Marines can expect in 2010
Posted : Friday Jan 1, 2010 10:06:09 EST
Call it a year of renewed focus. The Marine Corps’ primary combat mission and deployments in 2010 all appear to be clear. A surge of 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, including 8,500 Marines, is underway, and the Corps expects to stand up an expanded command structure led by a two-star general based in Helmand province in the spring.
Nearly 20,000 Marines will be deployed to Afghanistan by May, but that still leaves more than 180,000 to conduct other business for the service, including training, the testing and acquisition of new gear and planning for the future. A look at what’s ahead in 2010:
1. A new commandant
By the time Marines gather to celebrate the Corps’ 235th birthday in 2010, they will see a new senior officer take the helm as commandant.
Gen. James Conway, who has served as the service chief since Nov. 13, 2006, will reach the end of his four-year term Nov. 13, 2010.
It’s too early for the names of possible replacements to be submitted to the Navy secretary, the first step in a nomination process that will ultimately be determined by President Barack Obama, but three senior officers already have emerged as leading contenders. Among the likely front-runners:
• Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
• Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, deputy commander at Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command.
• Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command out of Norfolk, Va.
Mattis, Dunford and Allen share a trait with all the Corps’ recent commandants: They are infantry officers. Commandants are not required to have a background in the combat arms, but since 1972, they all have come from the infantry. And while the president can tap any officer from general to brigadier general, likely nominees have three or four stars. There were 19 as of Dec. 20. Of those, nine have an infantry background.
2. Pay & bonuses
For 11 straight years, service members have received a Jan. 1 increase in basic pay that is slightly larger than average private-sector raises. That could end when Congress takes up the 2011 budget.
Bigger raises have been part of a congressional effort, largely opposed by the Pentagon, to close a perceived gap in pay that grew in the 1980s when military raises were capped. After the 3.4 percent increase that takes effect Jan. 1, the pay gap, which peaked at 13.5 percent in 1999, will be reduced to 2.4 percent.
Whether there will be a 12th consecutive year of gap-reducing raises will depend on the state of the economy and whether election-year politics make lawmakers more interested in cutting federal spending than in continuing to close the pay gap.
Marines looking to re-enlist next summer when the fiscal 2011 re-up rates are announced should not expect to be offered big bonuses. After more than two years of growth, the Corps reached its planned end strength of 202,000 active-duty Marines in 2009. The service is expected to continue offering bonuses — albeit substantially smaller than during the plus-up’s heyday, when up to $90,000 was available to Marines in high-demand specialties, such as explosive ordnance disposal and reconnaissance. Simply put, there’s not as much demand as there once was.
3. New combat swim quals
If you’re not comfortable in the water, you better get comfortable soon: The Corps could roll out a drastic overhaul to its combat swim program in 2010, forcing all Marines to jump in the water with a full combat load, swim in their boots and learn how to escape a sinking vehicle.
Officials won’t discuss details of the plan, but according to a proposal obtained by Marine Corps Times, the existing eight water qualification levels will be condensed to three: basic, intermediate and advanced.
The basic level combines key skills from Combat Water Survival-4, the current minimum requirement for enlisted Marines, and CWS-3 — meaning all Marines will have to practice maneuvering through the water with a full combat load. The intermediate level will merge key parts of CWS-2, the minimum requirement for officers, and CWS-1 with Water Survival-Qualified, the highest of the five basic levels. The advanced level will be reserved for lifeguards, instructors and instructor-trainers.
All Marines also will take a class on escaping from a submerged vehicle, according to the proposal, but only those qualifying at the intermediate level will get a shot at the vehicle-dunker, which will be similar to the helicopter-dunker required for aviators.
4. New training for PFT, CFT
Training and Education Command will develop two courses in 2010 aimed at standardizing training for the Physical Fitness Test and the Combat Fitness Test, and another for the Marine Body Composition Program and Military Appearance Program, said Brian McGuire, the physical readiness programs analyst at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The BCP and MAP were finalized last year for Marines who need to lose weight.
The classes will be required for command physical training representatives who monitor the PFT and CFT, and for those who manage BCP and MAP, McGuire said. The computer-based classes will be offered on MarineNet, an online learning management system run by TECom’s college of continuing education.
5. Expanded safety push
Whether you prefer to blaze the highways on two wheels or four, you can expect more safety initiatives this year.
The Corps is creating codes for each of its motorcycle courses, including the Basic Riders Course, which will allow officials to record and track the courses every rider completes. Personal protective equipment discounts now offered at Marine Corps Exchanges to riders who take the required courses also will be expanded to include Marines at remote duty stations, such as recruiters and reservists.
The Corps also is testing an automated system that pulls each state’s vehicle database as part of an effort to spot high-risk drivers. All Marines branded “high risk” will have to take a driver awareness course.
Away from the roads, the Corps also plans to introduce new sexual assault and harassment prevention training, a reaction to the increase in reported sexual assaults over the last three years. The training will focus on encouraging Marines to step in when they see buddies plying women with alcohol or bragging about sexual experiences.
6. Unit training plans
The Corps has several plans in the works to improve infantry training in 2010, including the introduction of new law enforcement training for grunts at the Schools of Infantry. The training will focus on the basics of finding and collecting evidence for military intelligence along with developing sources in foreign neighborhoods and watching for warning signs during patrols.
To prepare for the shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, most units sent downrange in 2010 will hit the sands for a month at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., for “Enhanced” Mojave Viper, live-fire training that marks a battalion’s final big event before deployment. The Corps’ premier pre-deployment exercises underwent a significant revision in mid-2009 with the addition of combat air support, live-fire defensive operations and more Afghanistan-specific scenarios.
7. New personal gear
Marines can expect to see plenty of new equipment in 2010, including a new pack and smaller, lighter sleeping bags.
Marine officials will begin field testing possible replacements for the Improved Load Bearing Equipment pack as early as spring, with a selection likely to be made by the end of 2010, said Lt. Col. A.J. Pasagian, head of the Corps’ infantry combat equipment program. The Corps is looking for a pack with an improved suspension system and multiple adjustments that will allow it to integrate better with body armor. Officials also want shoulder straps that aren’t so bulky that they interfere with a Marine’s ability to fire.
The Corps expects to award a contract in January for about 200,000 new sleeping bags. The bag protects Marines in temperatures as low as 10 degrees as long as they wear winter clothing.
8. Vehicle upgrades
Several major vehicle developments are expected in 2010, including widespread fielding of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle.
As of December, the Corps had fielded about 83 M-ATVs in Afghanistan. More than 2,000 more will be delivered next year.
The Corps also expects to receive new prototypes of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle by summer. Eyed as a high-speed replacement for the Corps’ aging amphibious assault vehicle fleet, the armored, amphibious EFV has been delayed for years by developmental issues.
The Corps also is planning a series of upgrades to light armored vehicles beginning in 2010 with the replacement of aging M901A1 weapons systems on all 117 anti-tank LAVs, Marine officials said. The system, which fires TOW-2 missiles, has been discarded by the Army.
9. Aviation upgrades
Marine aviation could see a variety of upgrades in 2010, including the arrival of armed KC-130 tankers in Afghanistan.
Marine officials expect to wrap up testing on KC-130Js, known as Harvest Hawks, in January. Loaded with wing-mounted missiles and various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, the aircraft is expected to deploy to Afghanistan shortly thereafter, said Maj. J.P. Pellegrino, the KC-130 requirements officer.
The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab also will test two unmanned cargo helicopters this winter, with the goal of getting deployed Marines off of Afghanistan’s bomb-laden roads and lessening the risk of ambushes. The Navy plans to have a contract signed by late 2010, with fielding beginning as early as 2011.
Lastly, more MV-22 Ospreys will arrive on the West Coast throughout 2010. The first one arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., in December.
10. The Japan-Guam shift
The Marine Corps plans to shift about half of its leathernecks in Okinawa, Japan, to Guam by 2014 under an existing U.S.-Japan agreement — if the Japanese prime minister doesn’t thwart the plan first. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will decide by May whether to stick to a 2006 U.S.-Japan treaty that negotiated the reduction of forces and closures of bases on Okinawa. That pact calls for closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and building a new airfield for Marine aircraft in the remote northern end of the island at Camp Schwab. But Hatoyama wants fewer U.S. troops in Japan and less dependence on the U.S. overall.
11. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’
Obama’s promise to repeal the law barring open service by homosexuals was moved to the back burner in 2009, overwhelmed by concern about the sagging economy and the war effort in Afghanistan. That will change in 2010. And while the outcome is far from clear, Congress in the coming months will face the long-delayed review of the law and policy that ban open service by gays.
Extensive hearings are planned in the House and Senate, with testimony from current and former troops, as well as from military leaders. The fight over changing policy will come to a head when lawmakers try to pass the 2011 defense authorization bill, which likely will happen in early spring in the House of Representatives.
12. Marines in pop culture
On the entertainment front, 2010 promises to be an exciting year.
Among the most anticipated projects is “Iron Man 2,” said Capt. Barry Edwards, a spokesman for the Marine Corps’ Motion Picture and Television Liaison Office in Los Angeles. In what promises to be an action-packed movie, Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist and genius inventor, dons a technologically advanced suit that allows him to fight — but not without the help of the Corps. The movie, with a planned release date in May, stars Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“The Pacific,” an HBO miniseries to be released in March, is another highly anticipated project. Made by the same producers as “Band of Brothers,” the new miniseries will focus on the island-hopping campaign against Japan during World War II. Marines can expect a free screening of the film at installations nationwide, Edwards said.
Also on tap: A flurry of possible Marine appearances on popular television shows, including “The Amazing Race,” “The Jeff Dunham Show” and Gunnery Sgt. — and Marine legend — R. Lee Ermey’s newest show, “Lock ’N Load.”