People are talking about this article, and it’s all over the ‘sphere for the hour: John Keegan’s The Iraq War on National Review Online. Keegan is of course a very good military author (even though I first learned about him from a great polemic by Christopher Bassford!). So Keegan is well regarded as these things go.
I would like to point out something in the article. He mentions the Marines as a preferred force of choice, and if I read it right he gives this as the reason:
It is the uniformly ‘Marine’ character of the three United States Marine Corps divisions that give them their formidable fighting power. Even in the highly cohesive modern US Army, slight fault lines exist between infantry, armour, artillery and helicopter units; they are recruited separately and trained separately, at camps owned by the branch to which they belong. Marines, by contrast, all join together and train together and are Marines before they are infantry, armour or artillery. The mythology of the Marines, expressed in the Marine Hymn and the motto, Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), together with a litany of Corps slogans ? including ‘A Marine Never Dies’ ? has poetic truth. If a recruit chooses to think otherwise, he will be put straight by the long-service NCO of the Corps, gunnery sergeants and sergeant-majors, who are tradition’s ultimate guardians. Marines are admired throughout the American armed forces and beyond, particularly by the British army and Royal Marines, who served with the USMC in Korea and the First Gulf War.
What Keegan doesn’t mention here is that the Marines had a faster and therefore more effective drive to Baghdad, and it wasn’t because they have short hair and catchy “Rrrrrr” growls when you walk by and they’re happy. The reason is twofold:
Marine units are self contained. Marines come in a package of force that sustains itself for a certain period. They already have all of their stuff, which Army didn’t have in place. When a MEB goes, it goes with all its stuff, and if you want more than the sustained period, there is a plan that gets tried out regularly to keep the stuff flowing.
I’m talking lots of stuff. Gas, beans, bullets, band-aids, you name it. It’s a lot of logistics, and that leads to the other reason the Marines did well:
Marines deploy regularly. Marines, as a single unit of force with lots of people, get on a ship with a bunch of Navy guys and sail far away. With all their stuff. On a regular basis. Army guys have not done this on a regular basis. I have not seen Air Force guys, even with the new expeditionary buzzwords, take the time to move everything useful for warfighting at Seymour Johnson AFB and send it to somewhere remote for an extended period.
I have seen this in little things like getting individuals to leave their command and go to a joint command for a short period. Army and Air Force aren’t used to this like Navy and Marines are–we’re more used to dealing with letting two guys in SK division go away for six months. It’s an expeditionary mindset versus a garrison mindset that gives you an advantage when war is a “come as you are” event.
That’s why STOM–Ship-to-Objective Maneuver–fits well with the CNO’s “Sea Basing” idea. They’ve been working to use the sea as a land maneuver space at the same time we’ve been working to improve the capabilities we have in our sovereign territory aboard ship–and both dovetail into a small force that can avoid the pain the Army had to go through when an armored division couldn’t get permission to land in Turkey to get to Iraq from the north.
Combine this all with the Marine love of the OODA loop and you get a little more insight into why the Marines could provide forces and take cities when Army could not (happened more than once during the war). It contributes to the phrase I heard in the Pentagon after the war that “this was the Marines’ decade.”
But don’t let on that I actually said anything nice about Marines. They’ll never believe you.