Observations on SWA

Capt Paul E. Bowen, USMCR

BGen Paul K. Van Riper’s “observations” hit right down the middle in describing the personnel problems and material shortfalls discovered during the “staffing up” and “fighting” of I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) for Operation DESERT STORM. He correctly identifies the “administrative” mindset vice the “combat operations” mindset that interfered with some intelligence functions. Over 800 I MEF “augmentees” arrived as the first week of Operation DESERT STORM drew to a close. The Targeting Section, Fire Support Coordination Center, G-3,1 MEF, for example, had not worked together as a staff before hostilities. . . .

Logistically, I MEF was ready to go, thanks to years of exercising maritime pre-positioning force concepts. Operationally, I MEF arrived in Southwest Asia (SWA) with sufficiently heavy forces, but with insufficient staffing and liaison support. The implementation of BGen Van Riper’s proposals will make the next MEF/MEB general staff a “proactive” response vice a “reactive” result in the next conflict.

LtCol Ky L. Thompson, USMC(Ret)

The frank assessment of DESERT STORM operations by BGen Van Riper was good to see, and I hope that we profit from the lessons learned. I also hope, however, that we don’t find ourselves-as we often have in the past-“preparing to fight the last war.” On the subject of maneuver warfare, I find myself coming down more on the side of the “Col Edsons” rather than on that of the “LtCol Wilsons.” In my opinion, the “Wilsons” (See MCG, Jun91, pp. 23-27.) tend to mistake common sense and sound tactics for some mysterious, new-found, philosophy of warfare. I guess that’s one of the points that has always bothered me about the rabid disciples of the maneuver warfare school.

Col Gordon D. Batcheller, USMC(Ret)

Being retired means not losing sleep over the maneuver warfare debate, usually fatuously framed as a choice between being a mindless attritionist, cheerfully feeding our men into a meatgrinder, or a clever maneuverist, masterfully dominating the battlefield with guile and audacity and bloodlessly guillotining the enemy with his unraveled observation, orientation, decision, action (OODA)-loop. But as Col Edson demonstrated in the June issue, being retired lets you weigh in with something besides the politically correct dogma those on active duty seem temporarily burdened with. It is intriguing to hear the maneuverists talk about getting inside the Arab OODA-loop, especially when, as Col Edson points out, firepower took out the “OO.” If ever there was a war that proved the efficacy of firepower, it was the Mother of All Victory Parades. But the war didn’t end until units maneuvered; anyone looking at the entire war “discovers” what was being taught ages ago at The Basic School, sometime after Korea and before Vietnam.

The simple fact is that there are some nine principles that have proven historically to be relevant to success on the battlefield, and that most battlefield decisions involve the orchestration of fire and maneuver and combat service support to secure victory over an enemy. “Maneuver warfare” no more satisfies the need for an intellectual foundation for tactical competence than some Latin phrase in the Mass explains Christianity. . . .

BGen Van Riper’s observations on DESERT STORM in the same June issue confirm that familiar issues of at least 30 years’ standing remain unsolved; Maj Taylor and Bennett identify disturbing deficiencies when one considers that I MEF has theoretically been primed for a DESERT STORM for some 10 years. We should take pride in what we did well, thank Saddam Hussein for giving us the time to do it, and attack the identified “discrepancies” with an urgency that will make us less dependent in the future on the incompetence of our enemy.

No one expects a perfect FMF, and with the normal maturing and turnover of the Corps from year to year there will be few organizations at any given C-day totally prepared, even for their most likely contingency plan. But it ought to be embarrassing for a lot of Marines to review Gen Van Riper’s list of things that need fixing, or worse yet, inventing. We need to spend a great deal more effort on the basic nuts and bolts. For at least 20 years I have been aware of a large body of thought, if not a consensus, that we don’t do as well as we should getting ready for D-day because we are so overcommitted to exercises and peacetime projects and fuzzy thinking and misordered priorities. Concern normally focuses on the effects this has on small unit training, but as Gen Van Riper indicates, higher headquarters-or command elements-pay a high price also. If budget cuts keep us closer to the flagpole for the next couple of years, it appears that we will have a few things to keep us busy.