Marine Corps Considers Ending Policy of “Every Marine is a Rifleman”

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The United State’s military may be about to undergo a radical change. The Marine Corps Times is reporting that there’s an initiative in the works that might see Marines branch out, away from the traditional model that trained every member of the Corps on the basics of physical combat. Some of the new Marines may even skip basic training.

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The idea gained momentum almost a year ago, when Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter suggested a military build up required soldiers with computer skills, and that these new recruits might be able to move into units with credit for their civilian expertise and experience acknowledged in the form of advanced rank.

The concept seemed ridiculous to many Marines who begin their military careers with rigorous physical training and a battery of drills designed to increase their proficiency with small arms.

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Marine Commandant Gen. Neller spoke of the challenge facing our modern forces. In his assessment, we have enough infantry, but not enough soldiers on the back-end handling electronic logistics for those troops. In his view, the US needs tech support.

“If you don’t have those things, whatever formation you put on the battlefield is not going to be as survivable or combat effective without them,” Neller told an audience at U.S. Naval Institute in December.

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The real question comes when you add these assets to the Corps. Do they go through the physical training required of every Marine? Do they begin at the bottom? The Marines motto is “Every Marine is a rifleman.” Many of these computer savvy techies are not physically capable of passing basic training, and few have much trigger time.

The new policy of admitting mid-career Marines that will have rank and no rifle skills is being called “lateral entry.” It would be less controversial in the Air Force, or the Navy. But the Marines? What about the motto?

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“If you go away from [Every Marine is a rifleman], then I think you lose something that has made the Marine Corps what it is,” said retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood.

“A Marine is a Marine,” Wood said. “If that breaks down, you’ve got problems.”

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This adherence to tradition may not be enough, though. The way we fight war is changing.

“We’re going to look for every opportunity that we can to get the right talent,” Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, head of Marine Forces Cyberspace Command, said.

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“We need to start thinking outside of the box on some of this stuff because, monetarily, it’s really difficult to keep up with industry offers,” Reynolds said.

Katherine Kidder, an expert in military personnel with the Center for a New American Security summed it up for The Marine Corps Times. “The question becomes: Which is a greater risk? This loss of culture or the lack of a specific skill that is necessary?”

“There are risks to [eroding] the trust that is imbibed through the shared experience of having gone through all of the physical and military training,” she said. “On the flip side, there’s also a huge risk right now if we don’t have cyber expertise resident within the services themselves.”