Part I: What now, Red Death Six?

by the Staff, Marine Corps Gazette


You are the CO, A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1)—a storied unit in Marine Corps history affectionately known as “Red Death” to your Marines.

Your company deployed ashore with the rest of your battalion task force in the former Republic of Al Ouaddiya, a failed state in the rare earth metals-rich archipelago of Raz al Dezzel. The island is rugged semi-desert that had been largely urbanized by the former Al Ouaddiyan regime. The population is of Arab and African descent and speaks a dialect of Arabic and French. Islam is the dominant religion with a mix of Sunni Salafi and Sufi sects, mixed with some persistent pre-Islamic folk traditions.

Al Ouaddiya was historically a monarchy colonized by Arabs and the French. The post-colonial period saw the establishment of a brutally repressive socialist secular regime. After decades of civil strife between the regime and various sectarian extremist and tribal groups, the recognized government collapsed, and, for the last three years, numerous factions have fought each other for control of the population and the island’s resources. A moderate, Western-backed faction has recently emerged and been recognized internationally as the new lawful government of Al Ouaddiya. However, not all of the tribal and sectarian factions have recognized the new regime since an expatriate “Westernized” descendant of the ancient royal family is the new head of state.

Anti-government factions include members of the former regime’s army and special forces, mostly French and Russian trained and equipped with looted weapons and equipment, including BTR-80s and T-72 variant tanks. These groups support a return to the repressive secular regime. Other sectarian groups include Salafi extremists supported by international terrorist organizations and several like-minded nations who seek to establish a caliphate. The last group of anti-government forces includes the gangs of several tribal warlords who are fighting to maintain control of mineral mining and export. These groups are well armed and paid by Chinese industrial interests in the region.

Eighteen months ago, under a United Nations mandate and with the invitation of the new Moderate Unity Government of Al Ouaddiya (MUGA), a U.S.-led joint task force (JTF) was deployed to conduct stability operations in order to strengthen the new government, reduce further violence between the remaining factions and the government, and to reduce the humanitarian crisis among the local population.

Your battalion, along with 3/3 and 1/7, are under the command of RLT 7, the GCE of 5th MEB, which is both the Marine component of the JTF and part of the combined forces land component (CFLCC) of the JTF. Two BCTs [brigade combat teams] of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division round out the U.S. component of the CFLCC, which also includes numerous allied forces. This deployment is the third “rotation” of U.S. and allied forces in support of the U.N. mission.

Over the past week, 1/1 has relieved 2/8 in the regimental combat team’s area of operations. The battalion has been assigned to a large forward operating base that contains a training facility for the local security forces and a distribution point for food, water, medical aid, and household fuel.

A Company’s mission is to

Secure the eastern entry point into the battalion FOB in order to prevent disruption of the battalion’s mission. On order conduct security and combat patrols partnered with local security forces. Be prepared to conduct offensive operations in order to disrupt anti-MUGA factions.

Your battalion commander’s “intent” is as follows:

Essential Tasks: Develop local security forces; support material needs of local population; disrupt anti-government factions.

Your company position is built around a group of abandoned buildings of local stone and brick construction, one or two stories high, with the thick exterior walls around the compound ubiquitous in this part of the world. A berm and triple-strand concertina wire surround the position and tie in to the existing walls and building.

To the east, you have reinforced the entry control point (ECP) with heavy obstacles covered by fire. To the west, you share a boundary with Company C. To the northeast and south, open ground with grassy weeds surround small farms and the outskirts of the port city of Minna Sultan Usween, where the JTF is headquartered along with various NGOs[nongovernmental organizations] and PVOs [private volunteer organizations] involved in humanitarian assistance.

You have assigned each of your platoons to a group of buildings and a sector of the company perimeter. 3d Platoon, your main effort, is responsible for security of the ECP. 1st Platoon has the north sector and 2d Platoon the south. All of your platoon commanders have continued to fortify their assigned buildings in accordance with the standard priority of work in the defense.

You have the following attachments and assets available to you:

  • 1 squad heavy machineguns (2x .50 Cal. 12x MK-19) with associated vehicles.
  • 1 Javelin team.
  • 2 scout sniper teams, which you have assigned to firing positions on the roofs of the highest building in your position.
  • 1 section 81 mm mortars (4 tubes).

The company’s weapons platoon is fully manned and equipped.

The overall company strength is roughly 80 percent effective due to DNBIs [disease and nonbattle injuries], emergency leave, and various battalion “working parties.”

You have assorted Class IV materials, including 10,000 sandbags and a SEE Tractor [small emplacement excavator] with operators.

For the last four days your Marines have been improving your company position and have conducted six security patrols—four day and two night. The patrols’ interaction with the local population has been neutral, but groups of 20 to 40 women and children have been making the trek up to 3 miles from their farms to obtain food, fuel, and medical support. None of the patrols have made contact with any anti-government factions although they have all heard small arms fire and a few explosions—most likely RPGs and/or mortars. No casualties have appeared at the ECP seeking medical aid.

It is 0935, roughly 72 hours since occupying the company position. You hear a high-pitched buzzing noise and see several Marines on sentry duty pointing at the sky. What appears to be a commercial, “off-the-shelf” quad-copter is overflying your position approximately 300 feet directly overhead.


• What are your orders to your platoon commanders?

• What, if any, modifications to the company defensive plan do you direct?

• What do you report to the battalion? Do you have any requests for support?

Complete your frag order to your platoon commanders and requests to higher headquarters. Include an overlay indicating any changes to your current positions and provide a brief discussion of your rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, TDG 02-17, Box 1775, Quantico, VA, 22134, or by email to The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles, Part VII: The “Guts” R

By Carl F. Kusch


This is a continuation of the Dull Garrison Chronicles and takes place on the same terrain encountered in TDG #12-16R. It is the last of the Dull Garrison Chronicles.

Currently, we find that through the skillful efforts of Company F, BLT 2/8 has pushed past the village of Al Bandi and is bearing down on the larger town of Al Habib in two separate columns. The provisional rifle battalion (PRB) is desperately short of ammunition, water, and medical supplies and has a growing casualty list well over 60 percent. It is holding out on its last legs in the south central part of Al Habib.

In an apparent effort to eliminate the remnants of the PRB, the enemy has resorted to launching fanatic human wave assaults against the tiny Marine stronghold while leaving weaker forces to engage and delay our advancing relief column on the outskirts of the town. Although it is thought that the bulk of the enemy’s screening forces are poised on the northern edge of town, it appears that at least four squads are located in the northeast corner.

Recognizing both the nature of the enemy’s dispositions and the urgency of the situation in relation to the PRB, the commander of BLT 2/8 has decided that the quickest way to reach the beleaguered PRB is to envelop the enemy’s western flank, employing Company G, which is approaching from that direction in one of the battalion’s two columns. Finally, the battalion commander intends to fix the remainder of the enemy’s screening force in its positions by feigning an attack on the northern outskirts, using both Companies E and F. To this end, Company G has been designated the BLT’s point of main effort. Company G has attached two sections of heavy machine guns (total of four MEl9/four .50 caliber M2HB) and one section (four launchers) of Javelins. Also available to the company commander are fire missions from the BLT 81mm mortar platoon and artillery battery, as well as support from one section (two aircraft) of Cobra attack helicopters. Note: The accompanying map only reflects the northwest corner of Al Habib.


You are the Commanding Officer, Company G. Since time is critical to the survivors of the PRB, quickly formulate your plans and issue your orders. Include an overlay sketch and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions by email at or to the Marine Corps Gazette, TDG 12-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134. The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles Part VI: F-O-X Spells Relief R

By Carl F. Kusch


The 26th MEU has been directed to retake Dull Garrison Island (DGI) from the forces of BAD in order to rescue the beleaguered Marine garrison and to establish a foothold for follow-on forces. Elements of the 82d Airborne Division have begun to arrive and have taken up defensive positions around DGI Airfield #2. Things appear to be going well in that respect. For a time, the pressure on the flagging Marine provisional rifle battalion had slackened. In an apparent effort to wipe them out once and for all, however, the enemy redoubled their efforts against the garrison’s shrinking perimeter. The MEU commander, therefore, ordered a relief column to rescue the badly depleted battalion now located at Al Habib several kilometers south of Al Bandi.

BLT 2/8 will execute this mission with only its organic assets. The battalion commander was required to leave his TOWs, LAVs, and AAVs behind for airfield security. You are the commanding officer of Company F (“The Gunfighters”). Your company is assigned as the lead element of one of the battalion’s two parallel columns. Your mission is to proceed south along Al Bandi road, quickly bypassing or destroying any enemy resistance, in order to reach the provisional rifle battalion as rapidly as possible.

Your point has reported enemy activity in and around the small village of Al Bandi. It would appear that there are approximately 50 enemy soldiers armed only with small arms and medium machineguns. Attached to your company is a squad of heavy machineguns (two .50 caliber/Mk19s with component vehicles). You have your 60mm mortars and may call for support from the battalion’s organic 81mm mortars. There are also two sections of Cobras (four aircraft) supporting the battalion’s movement. The rules of engagement state that you may destroy any local buildings only if first fired upon from within, and you must direct your fire only into those buildings in which known enemy forces are located. In other words, you are to minimize collateral civilian damage as much as possible. After all, the civilians are on our side, and preservation of community resources will help them to get back to their lives as soon as BAD forces can be driven from Dull Garrison Island.


In a time limit of five minutes, assign tasks for your platoon commanders. Include an overlay sketch indicating the positions for the platoons and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, TDG 12-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134 or by email at The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles Part V: Company Assault R

By Carl F. Kusch


The CO, 26th MEU was ordered to assault and secure Dull Garrison Island Airfield #2 so it can be used by follow-on forces arriving from the United States. The airfield is only being defended by one of the enemy’s small battalions (400 men). The battalion headquarters and one rifle company appear to be located in the village of Al Joblin. The airfield itself (ATF Obj 1) is being defended by a second rifle company. The enemy’s third rifle company is located near the bridge spanning the North River, which is virtually dry at this time of the year. Three antiaircraft positions have been identified and are depicted on the accompanying map.

The battalion CO assigned Company E the main effort and directed it to land by CRRC over Red Beach at L-5 hours, move covertly toward Airfield #2, the antiaircraft artillery (AAA) site south of the field and secure the airfield (ATF Obj 1), advancing no further than the designated limit of advance (LOA). Company F would land over Blue Beach at L-hour, destroy the AAA site to the north and assault to secure Al Joblin (LF Obj 1) and the AAA site to the west. The light armored infantry (LAI) platoon will follow in trace of Company F and seize the bridge over North River. Four M777A2 155mm howitzers will be in position south of South Creek by L-hour.


You are the CO, Company E. Prepare the order you would issue your subordinates to carry out your mission. Include an overlay sketch and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, Tactical Decision Game 11-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134, or by email at The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles Part IV: Take the Airfield R

By Carl F. Kusch


As the commanding officer BLT 2/8 (part of 26th MEU), you and your command are feeling pretty good about yourselves after Company G was able to rescue the American Ambassador. The general situation, however, has deteriorated further. The forces of BAD invaded Dull Island and are threatening to overrun the Marine garrison, which has suffered heavy casualties and is now fighting for survival on the outskirts of Al Habib. Furthermore, it would appear that BAD is already reinforcing and fortifying its defense of Dull Garrison Island even while it is attempting to eliminate the Marine stronghold.

The loss of Dull Garrison Island would be devastating to the American effort since access to other possible staging areas has eroded through the neglect of reciprocal defense treaties. Therefore, the National Command Authority has no choice but to order the immediate seizure of that vital island staging area.

It has been decided that the initial attack on Dull Garrison Island will occur at the island’s Airfield #2 in order to (a) relieve pressure on the beleaguered Marine garrison; (b) cut off the airfield through which BAD is bringing in supplies and reinforcements; and (c) provide an entry point for the U.S. forces that will continue the attack and secure the entire island.

In defense of Dull Garrison Island, the enemy has mustered a full division spearheaded by elite Guards and filled out with regular infantry spread throughout the entire island. Fortunately, other than a few antiaircraft batteries, the division’s heavy equipment has not yet caught up with it. Airfield #2 is thought to be defended by a small battalion (400 men) of regular infantry along with three antiaircraft emplacements. (See map.)

Available to provide close air support (CAS) are the MEU’s eight Harriers and eight Cobras. A carrier battle group (CBG) will support the landing from a distance but will be engaged primarily in air superiority and CBG and amphibious task force (ATF) defensive missions. Once the airfield secured, elements of the 82d Airborne Division will be airlifted directly into it (by parachute if necessary). The initial elements are to assist the MEU in strengthening and expanding its foothold. The division will eventually assume the mission of securing the rest of the island. Finally, you are ordered to minimize collateral civilian damage. In support of this effort, the BLT’s specific missions are to:

• Secure Dull Garrison Island Airfield #2 (ATF Obj I) ensuring that the three antiaircraft emplacements are destroyed. The airlift of stateside forces is scheduled to begin a mere six hours after the commencement of the assault.

• Secure the village of Al Joblin (LF OBJ 1) in order to destroy the enemy headquarters and combat units located there as well as to prevent any reinforcement of the airfield.

• Seize the bridge over North River (LF Obj 2) in order to block any reaction the enemy may attempt as well as to facilitate future operations ashore.

Because of unfavorable beach conditions, the only suitable landing site for an amphibious assault is located at the mouth of North River, which is dry at this time of year. It is felt that the LCACs and AAVs will have no difficulty in overcoming any sandbars that may be located in this area. Beachmasters, however, will have to determine if an alternate landing point will have to be offset slightly for the LCUs, LCM-8s, and general offload. There are two LCACs and two LCUs aboard the LHA and one LCAC and one LCU aboard the LPD. Company E retains possession of the combat rigid raiding craft. Furthermore, there are only enough helicopters available to lift either one reinforced rifle company or the 105mm platoon of the battery at a time. The BLT is tasked organized aboard ship as follows:

  • LHA BLT 2/8 Headquarters (-) (rein)
  • Company G
  • Artillery Battery (4xl05mm+4xl55mm)
  • Engineer Platoon (-)
  • TOW section
  • 3d Squad, Dragon Platoon
  • LPD
  • Company E
  • Weapons Company (-)
  • 2d Squad, Engineer Platoon
  • Platoon LAI
  • (4xLAV+2xLAV-AT+lxLAV-M)
  • IST
  • Company F
  • AAV Platoon
  • 1 Javelin Squad, Anti-Armor Platoon
  • 1st Squad, Engineer Platoon


As the BLT commander, briefly discuss your plans for accomplishing your mission to include your task organization for the assault, your sequencing of units ashore, and the broad missions you assign your subordinates. Include an overlay, which indicates the landing zones you intend to use, additional BLT objectives that you may designate, and your general scheme of maneuver. Submit your solution to the Marine Corps Gazette, Tactical Decision Game #92-6, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134. The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles, Part III: Last Stand R

By Carl F. Kusch


This is a continuation of TDG 08-16R. The enemy is continuing to press its assault of Dull Garrison Island. Against overwhelming odds and in the face of heavy casualties, the fight is not going well for our provisional battalion, which has begun to consolidate its survivors into a single perimeter here at Al Habib—a relatively large town and the regional communications and transportation center for this part of the island. The enemy’s main body is still many kilometers to the north but getting closer. Eventually, the enemy’s main attack is expected to come from that direction.

The battalion commander’s plan is to shrink the perimeter and fight a defensive battle within the town itself. The final stand will be a tight “shoulder-to-shoulder” position located at the very heart of Al Habib where the battalion command post (CP) is currently positioned. The 1st Company is deployed on the outskirts of the town and will constitute the northeastern section of the battalion’s perimeter with the 2d Company on the northwestern outskirts. Both will meet in the middle and refuse their outboard flanks. Meanwhile, 3d Company will continue to delay and frustrate the enemy’s main body in order to give the battalion as much time as possible to make these final arrangements. 3d Company will ultimately constitute the entire southern sector of the battalion’s perimeter once they fall back into town.

The 2d Special Infantry Company is currently deployed with its 1st and 3d Platoons positioned facing north and 2d Platoon facing west on the company’s left flank. You are Sgt J.H. Quick, the acting platoon leader for the 2d Platoon. Your platoon sector is shown on the accompanying map. Between being deployed from the States understrength and with the casualties you have sustained in the recent fighting, your platoon is down to 20 Marines, many of whom are walking wounded like yourself.

Although the company’s attachments from the battalion are located with 3d Platoon, you have been assigned one machine gun squad (two M240G guns) and one SMAW squad (two launchers) from Weapons Platoon.

Since 3d Company is doing such a tremendous job delaying the enemy, your company commander (Lt S.D. Butler, who was your original platoon leader until an enemy mortar attack hit the company CP a couple days ago) feels that he has a little extra time and has called his acting platoon leaders and remaining SNCOs together to discuss the tactical alternatives before he issues his final instructions.


In a time limit of five minutes, complete your suggestions for the company commander. Include an overlay sketch indicating the recommended positions for your platoon and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, TDG 07-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134 or by email at The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Dull Garrison Chronicles, Part II: Buy Us Some Time, Lieutenant! R

By Carl F. Kusch


This is a continuation of TDG 07-16R. You are the platoon leader for the 3d Platoon of the 3d Special Infantry Company of a provisional rifle battalion that has been deployed only recently to Dull Garrison Island in the Indian Ocean. Currently, you are located in the vicinity of the small village of Al Bandi.

The enemy is continuing its invasion of Dull Garrison Island. Against overwhelming odds and in the face of heavy casualties, the fight is not going well for your provisional rifle battalion, which has begun to consolidate into a single perimeter in the hopes that it can hold out until relieved. The 3d Company is being used to establish platoon-sized outposts across a wide front and has been instructed to trade space for time in order to give the battalion an opportunity to prepare its defensive positions.

The north-south road through Al Bandi is just one of the likely avenues of approach for the enemy’s continued advance. The enemy will be approaching from the north. Several hundred meters to the south are other fallback positions for your platoon as well as the company’s command post. The battalion’s final perimeter is located a couple kilometers to the south of those.

Your mission is to establish your first blocking position in the vicinity of Al Bandi. You are to disrupt and delay the enemy for as long as possible at this position without becoming decisively engaged. You are to fall back to your next position either when ordered to do so or when the local situation dictates. Inform the company of your withdrawal. Although most of its citizens have not yet evacuated Al Bandi, the situation has become so desperate that you have been authorized the use of its buildings as part of your position if needed. You have been assigned one machine gun squad (two M240G machine guns) and one assault squad (two SMAWs) from Weapons Platoon as well as one heavy machine gun squad (two HMMWVs, each with one .50 caliber M2 machine gun and one 40mm Mk19 machine gun) and one anti-armor squad (four AT-4 launchers) from Weapons Company. For indirect fire, the company’s 60mm and the battalion’s 81mm mortars will be available.


In a time limit of five minutes, decide how you will deploy your platoon. Include an overlay sketch and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, Tactical Decision Game 08-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134, or by email at The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

Defend the Airfield, Part I* R

By Carl F. Kusch


Beginning with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the past several years have witnessed tremendous changes throughout the world. You find yourself the commanding officer of the 1st Special Infantry Company in a provisional rifle battalion that has been formed recently and deployed (without major attachments) on a deployment for training to Dull Garrison Island in the northern region of the Indian Ocean. In part, the deployment maintains presence and replaces the more expensive regular deployment of amphibious forces. It also provides familiarization and training for potential leaders of the local defense force forming on the island.

Even before international sanctions had been lifted, the Southwest Asian nation of BAD had been secretly rebuilding its military arsenal with the intent of avenging the embarrassment suffered at the hands of the United States in 1990–91 and of accomplishing its original objectives of that period, but this time BAD has determined to do it right. You have been following the message traffic, which states that BAD has invaded its neighbor (the peace-loving nation of GOOD) and the 26th MEU with BLT 2/8 and a carrier battle group has been dispatched to the area.

You are now being told that BAD has the capability to stage limited amphibious and helicopterborne assaults using its elite Guards battalions. Furthermore, it is believed that BAD is planning an assault on the relatively large island of Dull Garrison in an effort to forestall any American effort to redevelop this island as a marshalling area. Faced with this threat, your provisional battalion is directed to deploy throughout the island and attempt to provide security until reinforcements arrive.

Your company is currently located on the southeast coast of the island in the vicinity of one of the island’s three small airfields/landing strips. Your mission is to defend the airfield so that additional forces may be introduced for the island’s defense. You have been assigned one squad each of heavy machine guns (M2 .50 caliber machine guns) and Javelins from Weapons Company. Your only indirect fire support comes from the battalion’s organic 81mm mortars. Currently, both the carrier battle group as well as the amphibious task force are too far away to provide any support.

Approximately two kilometers northeast of the airfield is the mouth of North River, the only suitable landing beach in the immediate vicinity. North River itself is extremely shallow and often dry in this arid land. You are ordered to ensure that your deployment will in no way endanger the lives or property of the good citizens living in the area.


In a time limit of five minutes, decide how you will deploy your platoons. Include an overlay sketch and provide a brief discussion of the rationale behind your actions. Submit your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, TDG 07-16R, Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134 or by email at The Gazette will publish solutions in an upcoming issue.

*originally published in March 1992.

Implications From Operation IRAQI FREEDOM for the Marine Corps

By F J “Bing” West & MajGen Ray L Smith, USMC(Ret)

MajGen Richard C. Schulze Memorial Essay


At the broad level of geopolitics, the significance of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) was an increase in what may be called “the deterrent quotient”; that is, nations antithetic to the United States will tread more cautiously. Defeat encourages aggression, and victory discourages aggressors. The speed and ease of the televised American victory in Iraq impressed the global audience. Conversely, after Saigon fell in 1975, the United States experienced a bout of national dyspepsia, and for a period of about 7 years we were challenged by the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and even by Iran and Nicaragua. On the other hand, after Baghdad fell in April, Iran, North Korea, and Syria—to name but a few—reacted by avoiding actions that would antagonize the United States. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld growled at Syria, which hastily expelled some of the Iraqi supporters of Saddam who had fled to Damascus. The military leaders of nations hostile to the United States will counsel against their governments openly supporting terrorists because they know this President has the will and possesses an array of weapons with which to strike. OIF abetted rather than diverted from the war on terrorists.

Conversely, by demonstrating convincingly our martial superiority, the campaign against Saddam’s army probably strengthened the determination of countries like Iran to follow the lead of North Korea and acquire nuclear weapons as their deterrent against any potential American attack intent on regime elimination. Indeed, a principal reason for the war was to remove Saddam before he gained a nuclear capability. So, on balance, the war in Iraq altered national security priorities away from large-scale conventional war and toward combating terrorists—especially preventing the use of weapons that produce mass casualties—and dealing with the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Overall Conventional Power

America emerged from the war as the world’s military colossus, able and willing to employ overwhelming force unilaterally. The panoply of arms illustrated that the United States can strike any country with a combination of lethal blows. To the extent that Operation DESERT STORM (ODS) in 1991 was remembered for its air campaign, OIF will be remembered for its ground campaign. America can win a war by leading with air or by leading with land forces. With unassailable air superiority, American fixed-wing aircraft pounded both Baghdad command centers and military vehicles outside Baghdad. Having learned from ODS, a large percentage of Iraqi crews abandoned their armor and their vehicles at the outset of the war. This flight was followed by a second wave of desertions as the American armored convoys approached. American artillery provided fire support while their counterbattery radars nullified Iraqi indirect fires. As in ODS, the Abrams tank was unstoppable. The combination of direct firepower, maneuver, indirect supporting arms, and rapid resupply exceeded expectations.

The Iraqi Army did not fight with cohesion or determination, either because they wouldn’t, or as we have postulated here, they couldn’t. Either way, the highly publicized and lengthy buildup to the war psychologically unhinged the Iraqi armed forces. They had decided they were beaten before the war began. In all wars there comes a tipping point when the weight of the moral to the physical weapons systems becomes exponential. Often when Napoleon appeared on the battlefield his mere presence caused the opposing army to believe defeat was inevitable, prompting Napoleon to declare that the moral was to the physical in battle as 3 to 1. In Iraq it was 20 to 1. It certainly is in our interest to maintain that air of invincibility both for deterrent and for warfighting purposes.

OIF was more a demonstration of America’s martial capabilities than a two-sided battle against a tenacious foe. We do not know how the body politic will respond when American casualties are significant—which will inevitably happen in some future war. Nonetheless, when casualties occur unexpectedly, a commander must keep his focus on the mission and not halt to take counsel of his fears. In peacetime an accident always results in an investigation and often relief of commands all the way up the immediate chain of command. In wartime risks must be run, and some decisions will be wrong. Marines at all leadership levels must beware of hesitancy due to casualties.

When casualties and setbacks occurred during 23 to 25 March, the press turned from highly positive to highly negative in the space of a few days. There were reports about U.S. forces bogged down in the desert and a flawed Pentagon strategy. While these stories were coming in, Baghdad fell. The dizzying speed with which the press can report from the battlefield and the alacrity with which individual battles are headlined as overall trends suggest that when our forces do suffer heavy casualties, the fortitude and patience of our elected leaders will be tested.

Marine Role at the Operational Level

The major observation is that maneuver warfare worked. The Iraqi order of battle in the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) zone included numerous irregular forces (fedayeen, Ba’ath Party special police, and militias), six regular army divisions, and two Republican Guard divisions. Two divisions were deployed forward near the Kuwaiti border defending the oilfields and the Euphrates crossings. The others were disposed in depth along the Basra to Baghdad highway that parallels the Tigris River and is the historic invasion route for armies attacking from the Gulf.

Before the war, LtGen James T. Conway, the I MEF commander, and MajGen James N. Mattis, commanding the 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv), had plotted an aggressive strategy that provided a roadmap throughout the campaign. Col Joseph Dunford’s 5th Marines Regimental Combat Team (5th RCT) attacked 9 hours ahead of the war plan’s schedule in order to secure the oilfields before they could be torched. The 7th Marines seized their portion of the oilfields the next day. The destruction of the 51st Iraqi Division in the oilfields suggested the coalition’s main attack was directed east toward Basra and then up the Tigris. Instead, the 1st MarDiv then swung 70 kilometers to the west to pick up the highways leading to Baghdad. This sideslip allowed the 1st MarDiv to bypass five Iraqi regular Army divisions and one Republican Guard division that were held in place by the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (3d MAW), Task Force Tarawa, and the British (UK) division (part of the MEF).

Confusion and hesitation at An Nasiriyah cost the 1st Marine Regiment a day, but the 5th and 7th Marines moved their convoys north on schedule, thanks to the logistics light, or LogLite, supply system of the division. For a brief time (23 to 24 March) at the city of An Nasiriyah, it looked like the Iraqi tactic of mobile teams firing rocket propelled grenades from cities would significantly slow down the convoys. However, a few days later at the city of Diwaniyah, where the fedayeen posed a threat to the western flanks of the convoys, Marine infantry advanced and cleared the trench lines. There were no further attacks from that city, illustrating that the threat of the fedayeen to logistics lines had been overblown. While Task Force Tarawa and the UK forces secured the southern portion of Iraq, the 1st MarDiv marched on Baghdad.

The 5th RCT had reached Route 27 and was turning northeast to the Tigris on 27 March when an unfortunate and widely denied “pause” ordered by the Coalition Land Forces Component Commander halted the division for several days. When the attack resumed, the 5th RCT feinted as if intending to charge straight north up Highway 1. Instead, the 5th RCT suddenly cut northeast and crossed the Tigris at a seam in the artillery fans between the two Special Republican Guard divisions on the east bank. MajGen Mattis drove to the front, surveyed the fighting, and ordered a “run and gun” sprint for 120 kilometers in 2 days with 36 tanks in the lead as the hammer, and 3d Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) flushing the fedayeen from the culverts along the highway. The major resistance occurred during 3 to 4 April along Route 6 near Baghdad. The tanks and hardbacked HMMWVs of 5th RCT led the way in a running fight, while again it was dismounted infantry who delivered the coup de grâce. The vast majority of the enemy’s main forces were behind them and irrelevant. Nothing stood between them and Baghdad but the Diyala River.

Once at the Baghdad bridge over the Diyala River, Col Steven Hummer’s 7th Marines took the lead, and 3/4, 1/7, and 3/7 charged across the Diyala River, followed by Col John Toolan’s 1st Marines. The overall war plan called for raids into Baghdad, but the division “forgot” to include withdrawal plans after each raid, and on 9 April the Marines and Iraqis tore down Saddam’s statue near the Palestine Hotel symbolizing the end of sustained military resistance.

The Iraqi regular forces did not put up much of a fight, just as they didn’t in Kuwait in 1991. However, one should not dismiss them as fighters. They didn’t put up much of a fight because our combined arms power, coupled with a brilliant maneuver-oriented plan, made a cohesive defense impossible. The bypassed divisions were placed on the horns of a dilemma. If they left their prepared positions to counter the maneuver of the division, the pilots of 3d MAW (and the Navy and Air Force) would pounce on them. Any Iraqi armor surviving the air onslaught would be in the open terrain and at the mercy of the superior range and optics of the M1A1s and light armored vehicles (LAVs).

The Iraqi regular forces, if attacked in their fixed defenses, tried to fight. For instance, the 51st Division, supposed to be unreliable, fought as well as any other division the MEF faced. In operational terms, the attack on the 51st Division was frontal and with only a few hours “shaping” in order to achieve tactical surprise and seize the oilfields intact. As a result the effects of maneuver, deception, and combined arms that the rest of the Iraqis suffered did not apply to the 51st Division. Had we pounded our way from Basra to Baghdad, as the Iraqis expected and we might have done in the past, we suspect the reputation of the Iraqis as fighters might be better today than it is.

The culture of the Marine Corps, given the losses in the trenches of World War I and in storming the beaches in World War II, had led in Vietnam to an unreflecting acceptance of high casualty rates. After Vietnam the Marine Corps embraced the theory of maneuver warfare, and OIF was the first major war fought according to that doctrine. Employing three RCTs as its fighting core, the 1st MarDiv advanced on two routes, 7 and 1, and then converged onto Highway 6 on the east bank of the Tigris for the final sprint to Baghdad. To pin down and bypass major Iraqi forces, the division first feinted toward Basra and later feinted toward driving straight up Route 1 into Baghdad. The division split the seams between major Iraqi forces, conclusively engaging by direct fire only three of the eight Iraqi divisions in its area of operations. In contrast, the 3d MAW attacked those divisions incessantly, delivering 6 million pounds of high explosives and shredding their equipment.

The march up to Baghdad and on to Tikrit, the longest expedition in the history of the Marine Corps, was a remarkable achievement in maneuver, endurance, and supply. The LogLite austerity combined with the determination of the crews in the convoys, C-130s, assault amphibious vehicles (AAVs) LAVs, and tanks to eke out the last gallon of fuel and to keep moving the three armored columns (the three RCTs), each stretching 100 kilometers in length.

If the helicopter was the signature piece of equipment in Vietnam, the tank was the premier fighting machine in OIF, and the night vision goggles (NVGs) that permitted 24-hour driving were the “new best thing.” Without the NVGs the pace of the campaign would have been unsustainable. While the convoys rolled 24 hours a day, each night the battalions would coil, and the battalion commander and the sergeant major were the leaders, dealing directly with the company commanders and the first sergeants. ODS in 1991 was described as a “generals’ war” because the campaign was orchestrated from the top. In contrast, OIF was a colonels’ war because the rolling convoys—best pictured as discrete sets of battlewagons—attacked under the direct leadership of the regimental and battalion commanders.

Operational Implications for Marines

Missions becoming more joint leads to larger staffs far in the rear with larger information technology (IT) budgets. In OIF the movement toward Baghdad outpaced the planning cycle of the staffs in the rear. ITs yielded self-licking ice cream cones, with senior staffs using chat rooms on the computer networks to fan each other’s predilections or fears. The lesson should be that senior staffs, such as the Coalition Land Forces Component Command, should focus on coordination before the battle and thereafter issue mission-type orders, relying on the commanders on the battlefield to fight the battle. The problem is that as the size of the staffs off the battlefield increases and as communications enable them to believe they understand what is going on, then those staffs will, with good intentions, issue authoritative orders not reflective of battle conditions. Gobbledygook and over-the-top rhetoric about the marvels of “network-centric warfare” overlooked a central fact: networks transmit the same messages simultaneously only to everyone on the network, and those at the front doing the fighting weren’t on the highly touted “net.”

From battalion on down in the Marine Corps, communication is primarily by radio and by voice, and the distances were too long for reliable radio relay to the rear while on the move. On the other hand, the major feeds at higher joint headquarters in the rear are primarily digital and rely upon computers, supplemented by satellite photos, teleconferencing, television, and video streamed from unmanned aerial vehicles. However, on fast-moving battlefields like OIF, these digital technologies lag far behind the battles, where voice communications are employed and no one is taking the time to type in reports.

A singular irony of OIF was that the embedded press became a major source of information to the higher staffs. The reporters, with better technologies than the battalions, are trained to speak and type succinctly and to convey with clarity the information within the limits of what they understood; that is, they did not speculate; they reported what they were seeing. Early in the war, for instance, I MEF received from 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (3d LAR) the radio code word “slingshot,” meaning the unit was being overrun. As the staff was scrambling to divert attack aircraft, a reporter from Fox News popped up on television, and his narration showed that the LAR was overrunning the enemy, not the other way around. And, when the 7th Marines entered Baghdad, a main feed showing what they were doing and showing the friendly crowds was CNN (Cable News Network). I MEF adapted its plan on the spot as the live pictures were seen in the command center.

The press, however, is not an acceptable military communications system, and the distances—sometimes even in one convoy—were too great for the PRC-119 radios. Significant use was made of commercial satellite cell phones and the Army’s blue force tracker—a vehicle-mounted monitor displaying via satellite communications the locations of friendly units across the battlefield. Of the Marine budget for IT, 40 percent goes to garrison and such gargantuan and controversial projects as the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. Another 40 percent goes to support Marine air-ground task force activities above the battalion. Only 20 percent goes to the battalion and below, and most of that is for the SINCGARS. The current trends point to a digital-based communications and information system from Washington to the combatant commander to corps, division and, perhaps, the regiment, and a voice/radio system at the fighting level. A major lesson from OIF is that the Marine Corps must put together a review panel, mainly of noncommunicators, whose members do not have loyalties to the current IT program. Marine IT at the dismounted and mounted fighting level from battalion on down needs a radical new look.

So, too, does the V-22—not in terms of the program but rather of reaffirming that the aircraft will be employed in concert with maneuver warfare. Rotary-wing transport aircraft played a marginal role in OIF due to the nature of the battlefield. In the Vietnam War the jungle and the close terrain demanded the extensive employment of helicopters. In OIF, as in ODS, the open terrain lent itself to vehicular movement. The V-22 can assure advance lodgements far in front of the main force, an impossibility with the wornout CH-46. The V-22 will open up a new dimension in maneuver warfare—if it is not treated as an asset too valuable to be employed radically. Marine frugality mitigates against objective risk-reward calculus. For the V-22 to live up to its advertising, those who control the Osprey must be willing to risk its loss.

Similarly, the long-distance overland movement of the AAV must be ensured. The AAVs during OIF performed very well indeed, and great credit goes to the crews who night after night performed maintenance and repairs even when they were physically exhausted.

In preparing for the next expedition, the Marines must ask what the terrain will be as well as the nature of the enemy. The wisdom of a balanced force, just like a balanced stock portfolio, is manifest. The advocacy 20 years ago of generals to establish a mounted infantry force training center at Twentynine Palms in the mid-1980s deserves applause. Over the next decade, a review of the usual suspects for conflict—North Korea or Iran—suggests building upon the RCT. Key to maneuver warfare is speed, agility, and ruthlessness to shatter the enemy’s cohesion, even while leaving most of his forces physically intact. The infantry’s instinct to close with and destroy the enemy at the point of attack must remain at the forefront of training.

The tactic needing most refinement is the proper alignment of the firepower of the tank and AAV with the maneuver and closure of the infantry. The firepower provided by a section of AAVs with the up gunned weapons station has brought a great leap forward for mechanized operations. More effort is needed to “meld” the infantry/AAV team in tactics, techniques, and procedures. Also, organizing “bite-sized” packages that can be refueled and resupplied on the move needs development. The spongy ground between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers severely restricted off-road maneuver, and so the three RCTs were strung out along two highways. If a battalion dropped its supply train to attack with only one or two companies, it risked the vehicles left behind becoming ensnarled in gigantic traffic jams.

To “repackage” battalions so that they can be resupplied and fight in smaller, self-contained packages is a daunting challenge. But it is also an opportunity. Every Marine is a rifleman and wants to be part of the action when deployed on an expedition. In OIF, supply was more than 50 percent of the challenge, and everyone in a convoy was equal—and equally needed. This is the model for the future battlefields, and it means that the logisticians should have a center seat in the design of operational plans and force packages.

Overall, OIF indicated that the Marines have the proper balance for the next 10 years and that the doctrine of maneuver warfare is the proper framework for preparing for the next war.

Joint Implications

At the joint level, four issues require addressal.

First, disturbing to all Marines in OIF was the incautious driving of Iraqi civilians who persisted in driving during combat conditions. Due to the constant but statistically improbable threat of a suicide car bomber, this phenomenon resulted in tragic casualties. The research and development community should work hard to develop a non- lethal means of signaling to, and perhaps startling, civilian drivers so they will not persist in driving into life-threatening situations.

Second, combat initiatives below company and battalion level were few in this war due to the open terrain. The battalion and company commander could see his subordinates, and independent patrolling was scant, so the small unit leaders were usually operating under the command of the company commanders and above. At the same time, during OIF the Special Operations Command (SOCom) performed credibly in separate task forces and worked well with everybody, albeit at a measured pace. On the other hand, force reconnaissance (recon) appears to have been superceded by SOCom for the more risky and independent missions for which they trained for so many years. For instance, although recon was ready and standing by, joint command relations were such that it was special operations units—including Army Rangers and Navy SEALS—that rescued PVT Jessica Lynch from a hospital inside the center of the Marine operating area. On balance, the trends indicate that while Marine doctrine encourages initiative at the lower levels, it appears that SOCom will become the actual repository of small unit operations. SOCom is the first congressionally legislated military organization to take jointness to its logical conclusion and remove the Services from the operating forces. In OIF there were 14,000 SOCom troops deployed. Such a large number suggests that units like force recon will migrate to SOCom for missions such as training against terrorists in the Philippines or sending teams into the mountains of Afghanistan.

Although the history of the Marine Corps has been a history of small unit independent leaders—the Smedley Butlers and Presley N. O’Bannons—in the future such small unit actions may be done by SOCom. The possibility is that the niche of the future Marine Corps will be in expeditions at the battalion, regiment, and division level. This is not an altogether salutary trend. As SOCom becomes the tip of the spear, many young men attracted to the Marine Corps will contemplate an alternative Service as the stepping stone into SOCom, with institutional loyalty and career path determined by that organization and not by the parent Service.

Third, after the war there is a period of considerable turbulence in adjusting to a peacekeeping force. It is in our interest to have a written, joint doctrine for actions after a war. In 3 months the Army suffered 50 killed in action and the Marines 1. This is ticklish to delineate as there are clearly demographic differences between the operating areas of the Army and the Marines.

However, 80 percent of the casualties have occurred in vehicles. The Army forces—driven by their force structure-conduct most of their patrols mounted. The Marines are almost exclusively patrolling dismounted. The dismounted Marine patrols assault into the ambush force. It seems apparent that a mostly mounted force is at a distinct disadvantage in an urban guerrilla environment. But it is difficult to hammer out a joint doctrine for peacekeeping when the on-the-ground experiences have differed dramatically based upon different demographics, different operational philosophies, and different force structures. That said, it is hard to argue with success, and the decentralized, constant patrolling and presence approach of I MEF in the Shi’ite south deserves being chronicled and studied for application elsewhere.

Lastly, from OIF it is manifest that there is not a joint concept for seizing a city. Baghdad was not taken in a seriously contested fight. Before that city fell the concept of the Army was to encircle and to raid, attacking in and out with columns of tanks. This was a tactic of attrition based on superior firepower. The Marine concept was to seize and hold, employing armor protected by dismounted infantry. The stark contrast in the two approaches was in part driven by the difference in force structure—the Army being mainly armor and vehicular mounted and the Marines with proportionately many more dismounted infantry. The UK chose yet a third approach at Basra where they surrounded and wore down the defenders by psychological pressure as well as by firepower. There was no reconciliation among these three strategies before or after OIF. This is a serious subject that requires joint addressal.


OIF was a remarkable military victory. What stood out were the speed and the logistics movement. Potential adversaries of America took note, and deterrence was enhanced. The Marines demonstrated innovation in planning and tenacity in execution, completing a campaign that will be studied for years to come. Maneuver warfare moved from being a theoretical doctrine to a real battlefield where it proved itself.