Defense Secretary Mattis’ Pentagon Task Force is currently looking at boosting the lethality of the future Marine Infantryman- by having him do something else for the first four years of his (or her) career.
In a push for more mature, technically-savvy and mentally-agile combat Marines, the DoD is looking to do away with the “18-year-old grunt” model for a much more grounded and specialization-capable warrior.
“The optimal age for a close-combat soldier, the balance is … mid to late 20s,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, the head of the Mattis task force in charge of making grunts more lethal.
The US Marines -as well as the rest of the military- has matured greatly in light of nearly twenty years of constant warfare, with regular infantry troops often filling roles that would have once been reserved for special operations. From training foreign forces to being reduced to small detachments all over the world, the missions have shown the weaknesses in simply tossing young and inexperienced soldiers at a problem that requires mature and seasoned individuals- often with more diverse skill sets than a novice rifleman can provide.
With this issue in mind, the current proposal is to recruit infantry Marines on a second enlistment, rather than focusing on manpower straight out of boot camp.
“The way JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] operates is a telling point,” Scales said.
This idea may not go over well with the US Marines, who cherish the ideal image of the young grunt.
“Marines are deeply wedded to the young Marine, the 18 year old,” Scales told the Marine Corps Times.
One “middle ground” option could be increasing the number of infantry slots for second-enlistment Marines.
“Having varied skill inside a squad is very useful,” Scales said. “That’s what an A-team is essentially,” Scales noted, mentioning the US Army Special Forces Operational Detachment A (ODA) units, the “first string” in a SF outfit.
Other authorities on the subject have argued that special operations forces are often more mature and capable due to their time as young grunts, and that the idea of young enlistees learning from experience should not be seen as a handicap or burden.
“With 16 years of infantry background, I learned 80 percent of my ground pounding in my first four years,” one Marine combat instructor told the Marine Corps Times. “And as the war has kind of slipped away from us, the majority of the seasoned fighters have moved on- because with no war, they feel cheated.”
Despite the differences of opinion, Commandant General Robert Neller has expressed his interests when it comes to looking at new ideas to make the Corps more lethal.
“General Neller has been remarkably enthusiastic in transforming how the Marine Corps fights,” Scales said.
After all, the very heart of the Marine Corps beats in cadence with the footsteps of the rifleman.
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