Defense News

Published: 31 October 2011

From the birth of the U.S. Marine Corps in November 1775 to the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima in March 1945 to the current pursuit of terrorists and efforts to ensure stability in the Western Pacific, U.S. Marines have always been recognized as Americans willing to go in harm’s way at a moment’s notice and stay as long as we ask them to. But that vision is at risk.

At a time when the Marines have been in combat for 10 years, Congress and the administration have taken to hacking away at the defense budget. For the Marines, even the reductions already enacted threaten to cut to the bone. Americans must recognize that the future may be one without the Marine Corps as we know it.

Today, the Marines are 202,000 strong. The commandant says he needs at least 186,800 to carry out the missions asked of him. But the roughly $465 billion in defense cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act will slash the ranks to 173,000, nearly 14,000 short of the minimum requirement.

As it stands, 29,000 Marines are on track to be separated from ser-vice. However, if automatic defense cuts under sequestration are triggered, the Marines will be slashed to 145,000 – the smallest Corps in more than five decades. Our commanders will be short a staggering 41,600 Marines needed to meet requirements and 57,000 -– or more than one in four – will be pink-slipped.

But that’s just the numbers. The impact on the Corps in terms of its capability will be devastating.

Noncombat evacuation operations would likely only be possible in a peaceful environment; rarely do we ask the Marines to go into an embassy to rescue Americans under peaceful circumstances. It would mean the end of some Marine Expeditionary Units – the same Marines deployed aboard Navy ships that serve to deter potential aggression and stand ready to respond as America’s 9-1-1 force to unforeseen crises.

It would also mean longer deployments and less time at home for those Marines fortunate enough to keep the job they love.

It doesn’t end there. In addition to decimating the Marines in service, these cuts would force the smaller Corps to operate in an austere training environment. After a decade spent wearing down their equipment in Iraq, the Corps won’t even be able to repair or replace the equipment they’ve been using.

At the same time, the Navy will likely be forced to cut two carrier strike groups and shrink its fleet of amphibious ships to less than half the current Marine Corps requirement. This type of radical change to our ability to project power from the seas hardly seems wise when the U.S. has been increasingly challenged with the diplomatic hurdles necessary to secure overseas bases and airfields.

The United States is a maritime nation and always will be. As the commandant observed, the Marines provide an ideal “middleweight force” that is “most ready when the nation is least ready.”

Before leaving office, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it best: “Our record of predicting where we will use military force since Vietnam is perfect. We have never once gotten it right.”

In an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world, we will continue to need the versatility the Marines can provide, whether we like it or not.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., is chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. Rep. W. Todd Akin, R-Mo., is chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee.