MEUs to MarDets
A retired Marine working at the Pentagon recently published an article for the Small Wars Journal regarding the pending restructuring of the Marine Corps resulting from budget cuts. He discussses some options for the Marine Corps if we are forced to go below the planned 185k. The Marine uses the psuedonym Zacchaeus since he takes aim at certain popular pet projects of the Marine Corps, namely the Osprey and F-35.
Something he does not mention are Marine Detachments aboard Navy Ships. If it comes to cutting the Marine Corps to 145k or below, and this means we have to decomission any MEUs, I think the Marine Corps should take a hard look at MarDets, and re-constituting them aboard Navy Vessels. These MarDets will not have the same organic lift assets that go along with a MEU (i.e. they won't have vehicles, etc.), but they will be able to supplement existing MEUs with riflemen and personnel if more bodies are needed for any exepeditionary action. Manning destroyers, cruisers, and other such Navy ships with MarDets can take on a similar structure to the one we had in the early 20th Century. These groups were structured such that the Marines could theoretically come together to form companies, battalions, and even regiments.
Returning Marines to Navy Ships would serve several purposes. First of all, it would reconnect us to our longstanding maritime legacy. Even with the several MEUs currently commissioned, far too few Marines get the opportunity to serve at sea. Putting more Marines on Navy Ships with a smaller Marine Corps will also help reestablish our connection with the Navy. Perhaps both services can affect the otherís leadership culture in a positive way.
The Navy currently conducts vertical boarding, search and seizure operations. They train crewmembers to do a job that Marines used to do with the Navy. It is part of our sea-going heritage. Getting us back on ships like Destroyers, cruisers, etc. will allow us to re-engage ourselves in the timeless mission of patrolling the seas for pirates, and smugglers. As Iraq closes, and the end of the war in Afghanistan looms just over the horizon, the fight against piracy may be the best and only fight weíll be able to get in on until the next war.
Having MarDets will undoubtedly increase the quality of leadership among Marine officers and their senior enlisted advisor (mentor). The amount of responsibility invested in a young officer, alone and unafraid aboard a Navy ship, one who is trusted with the reputation of the Marine Corps, and the training and care of his Marines is considerable. Even more so is the responsibility on that SNCO who has to educate and mentor that young 2nd or 1stLt.
Lastly, it would be a good way to reverse the common trend of over centralization, overwhelming control and distrust of subordinates. We would foster an attitude of initiative and energy for independent action in the absence of orders among both our Marines and Marine Officers.
I don't think it is a bad idea. I do think it won't happen.
First of all, you'd have to convince the Navy. That'll probably be the primary show stopper.
Second of all, these are no longer the days where you can bring shipboard cannon ashore, and assult Vera Cruz. War has complicated itself. You need lift, and you can't put HMMWVs aboard destroyers.
Let's say the MEUs take care of lift. How do you expect to land these forces to supplement what MEUs remain in existence? Coordinating between landing the MEU forces, and then these forces would be a circus.
Lastly, can you really trust young officers to do their jobs "alone and unafraid?" Everyone's heard the stories where a 2nd or 1stLt has let all levels of discipline slide out at some patrol base, allowing ridiculous moustaches, and being on a first name basis with his Marines, among other things. Granted, the failure in leadership doesn't just belong to that Lt. There'd have to be screening boards for both the SNCO and the Lts/Capt that get placed aboard ships as MarDets in order to ensure the Marine Corps is represented with the best face. You won't be able to assign just anyone.
Again, it is all a moot point because you'd have to convince the Navy.