J. KARL MILLER: If everybody could be a Marine, it wouldn't be the Marines

Saturday, December 24, 2011 | 7:31 p.m. CST; updated 6:31 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Missourian's Dec. 13 reprint of the Joplin Globe's editorial on the Marines caught my eye, as might be expected. 

Well-intentioned and, for the most part, accurate, it addressed the proposed restructuring and resizing of the Marine Corps and cautioned that budgetary pressures should not trump strategic or tactical (my addition) reality.

The Globe editorial traced the history of the Marines as "soldiers of the sea," an expeditionary extension of Naval sea power against threats in the littoral or coastal regions of the world.  

In 1927, the Marine Corps was given the mission of advancing the doctrine of amphibious warfare, along with establishing the Fleet Marine Force as an amphibious force in readiness for seizure of advance bases.

The editorial also correctly stated that the Marines were never intended as an adjunct force of and for the U.S. Army in the conduct of long-term land warfare.

However, the inference that World War II saw the Marines as first being so engaged is in error. 

Enjoying a deeper pool of officers and NCOs with combat experience because of participation in "small  or banana wars," the Marines played a central role in World War I, notably in repulsing the German's June 1918 offensive in Belleau Wood and counterattacking to carry the battle to successful completion.

The Marine Corps continues to reaffirm its role as America's expeditionary force in readiness. 

Task-organized for combat deployment as Marine Corps Expeditionary Units, Marine Expeditionary Brigades and Marine Expeditionary Forces, the Marines own a unique capability to be the first to fight by launching air/ground/logistics teams into combat on short notice.

Beginning with the Marine Expeditionary Units' battalion landing team with its task-organized air support and logistics component, moving up to the Expeditionary Brigades' regimental landing team, supported by a Marine Aircraft Group, to the Expeditionary Forces' Marine Division and Marine Aircraft Wing, the Marines have the capacity to project a force ranging in size from 2,500 to more than 20,000 Marines to any location where they might be needed.

Consisting of three Marine divisions, three Marine aircraft wings and three Force Service support groups, the Fleet Marine Forces plus the necessary base support facilities, the U.S. Marine Corps is not an inexpensive member of the nation's national defense apparatus. 

Consequently, particularly when funds are tight, the question arises: "How can the United States justify the cost of a corps of Marines that merely duplicates the mission of the U.S. Army?

The answer is easily found in the Defense Department's budget. Including all the Navy's amphibious ships, the Marine Corps represents but 8.5 percent of that budget. 

For that, America gets 31 percent of the nation's ground forces, 15 percent of ground troop brigades, 12 percent of its fighter/attack aircraft and 19 percent of its attack helicopters — obviously a bargain-priced insurance policy.

Of interest also is the average cost per active duty member. A Marine costs the taxpayer $63,333; a soldier, $72,781; a sailor, $76,694; and an airman, $78,701. 

It appears, too, in the general/flag officer ranks. The Air Force is the highest with a ratio of one flag officer to 1,000 airmen, compared with the Navy's one to  1,279 sailors, the Army's one to 1,808 soldiers and one to 2,350 for the Marines.

Consequently, as the nation's expeditionary force in readiness, task-organized in self-sustaining combat teams to be the first deployed to a theater of operations, it is penny wise and pound foolish to contemplate a major reduction in the U.S. Marine Corps. 

With the cost comparison portrayed above, the Marines obviously continue to provide the most "bang for the taxpayer's buck."

Each of the four services under the Department of Defense is assigned a specific mission; nevertheless, these missions often overlap and equally often complement one another. 

Accordingly, after securing a beachhead or a salient inland, there often remains a mission for the Marines in addition to the Army's heavier follow-on forces. 

Additionally, the Marines' amphibious and over-the-horizon capabilities offer a maneuver potential of striking an unsuspecting enemy on his flanks or in his rear.

The U.S. Marine Corps does not duplicate the U.S. Army's mission but has a long and successful history of deploying to wherever it is ordered and accomplishing its assigned mission, by land, sea or air. 

Except for some good-natured banter, there is no actual interservice rivalry. Marines ask  for nothing beyond fighting their country's battles as United States Marines.

There are Army officers and soldiers, Naval officers and sailors, Air Force officers and airmen, but from our commandant to the newest boot-camp grad, we are all called Marines. 

Former President Ronald Reagan said it best: "Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world.  But, the Marines don't have that problem."

If everybody could be a Marine, it wouldn't be the Marines. 

Semper Fidelis.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at

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Gerald Shelnutt December 24, 2011 | 11:57 p.m.

Merry Christmas sir.

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Ed Lane December 25, 2011 | 2:35 p.m.

Nice article Colonel. Semper Fi and God Bless.3

(Report Comment)
Jim Clayton December 26, 2011 | 12:07 p.m.

Well said Karl.If anyone would know about the marines inside and out it would be you. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett December 26, 2011 | 3:50 p.m.

@"The Marine Corps continues to reaffirm its role as America's expeditionary force in readiness...If everybody could be a Marine, it wouldn't be the Marines."


Recruits do not simply enlist in the Marines. They have to make a certain cut, first in selection process and then in making the grade beginning in the first week of training on. There is a reason the Marines have always been called "the Few, the Proud and the Brave." The training is tough and demanding to the extent that there are those sent home every day from Boot Camp, and only the ones who can make the tough-requirement grade can remain to serve as a U.S. Marine.

Proud Mom of a Marine who served his country well

(Report Comment)
Donald Cathcart December 26, 2011 | 7:38 p.m.


Susie said, "It's me or the Corps!
I can't take this life anymore!"

I looked at her with a great big grin.
Haven't seen Susie since I don't know when!

Great column Marine Karl. It made me at 76 want to sign up for another 6!
Semper Fi

(Report Comment)
Mike Patnode December 27, 2011 | 8:39 a.m.

Thank you Col Miller. Wholeheartedly concur.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop December 27, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.

As the colonel knows, my last battalion landing team was 3d Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Ollie North was my battalion operations officer. Afloat and on the move, we wrote, assembled, and executed six major amphibious landing exercises with the combined forces of six different nations.
Most of the work in typing and assembling these plans were done by line infantrymen who were pulled out of their companies simply because somebody found out they could use a some degree. When we returned Stateside, these men went right back to their infantry positions...but with a better idea of what it takes to put together a large scale operation - the tactics, communications, logistics, air support, medical, etc. That prepared them to be better NCO's and perhaps later officers. These same Marines, whether infantrymen or clerks are also expected to run security and combat patrols if that is what is called for. All Marines are riflemen first. I recall one of my Marines getting a brand new M60 machine gun. He had a huge smile on his face as he ran his hands over it like it was a new puppy, and saying, "Look what I got Sergeant Milsop!"

I've seen Marines who got out in the 1920s sitting at a table with Marines who got out in the 1990s, and enjoying swapping sea stories as Marines of every era will do. It's a brotherhood that can't be put into words. I've said that you can put 1,000 people in a room, with just two Marines in there at opposite ends of the room, in civilian clothes, and somehow they will find each other. Myself and three of my buddies have sat in the restaurant at the train station in Florence, Italy, dining, and you could hear the word "Marino" quietly spoken by the Italians dining near us.
Even in the middle of Italy in civilian clothes, they knew. I've seen them travel 1,000 miles to visit injured Marines in a hospital, and return time and again to help encourage them. Marines take care of their own.

They day I got out of the Corps, Colonel Miller was inspecting my company. All their combat gear spread out on their ponchos. While I was looking forward to a new life, I knew nothing I would ever experience again would compare with being a Marine.

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