The Marine Corps is bracing to lose another 8,000 active-duty Marines on top of what already had been planned as it faces deep, federally mandated budget cuts, the service's commandant said Wednesday. (Tech Sgt. Jerry Morrison Jr. / DoD)
The Marine Corps is bracing to lose another 8,000 active-duty Marines on top of what already had been planned as it faces deep, federally mandated budget cuts, the service’s commandant said Wednesday.
The additional manpower reduction would drop the service to about 174,000 active-duty personnel, Gen. Jim Amos said during a breakfast with reporters in Washington. The Corps is currently drawing down from a peak of more than 202,100 Marines to 182,100 by fall 2016, but must plan to go deeper now as a result of sequestration cuts, the drastic budget reductions triggered March 1 by Congress’ inability to reach an agreement on a better way to reduce the federal deficit.
Amos’ comments came following a new review of strategic choices conducted this spring. Courses of action have been presented by the services and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s staff, but the secretary has not yet made any decisions, the commandant said.
“As a result of sequestration, assuming this thing does not change, the Marine Corps is probably going to go down another 8,000,” the commandant said. “That’s significant. We know what it is. We know what kind of units it will be. We know where it will come from across the United States. That’s the reality of it.”
The general declined to say which specific units will be targeted with the additional cuts, but acknowledged it will effect virtually all components of the Corps, including headquarters, infantry, logistics, and fixed-wing and rotary aviation.
Amos also has made an alternative offer to Hagel, the commandant said: “Tell me what my bill is, and I’ll build you the best Marine Corps I can.”
The Corps announced early in 2012 that the service would draw down from 202,100 to 182,100. At the same time, top Marine officials had been advocating to reduce the Corps to 186,800 Marines, but the Pentagon decided it would be necessary to reduce end strength further.
The Corps’ plan to draw down to 182,100 would leave it with 23 infantry battalions, four less than it had with 202,100 personnel. Cutting to about 174,000 Marines would mean even fewer, but Amos declined to say how many until Hagel decides on the way ahead.
Amos has said previously that shrinking the Corps beyond 23 active-duty infantry battalions would create a tremendous strain on the service and its Marines during any large war in the future. The service would become a “go-to-war-and-come-home-when-it’s-over force,” Amos said told the House Armed Services Committee in April.
Amos said Tuesday that even with the additional cuts, the Marine Corps Reserve would still have about 39,600 Marines, as it has for several years. For every infantry battalion cut from the active-duty force, there would be a corresponding cut to the other components of the service.
“That’s the core unit in the Marine Corps,” Amos said of infantry battalions. “It’s like Mr. Potato Head. That’s the potato, and everything else is kind of plugged in along it to make it a head.”
The commandant stressed on Wednesday that he is not in favor of the additional cuts, but that the Corps has no choice in light of sequestration staying in place.
“By the way, I want to go on record: I don’t want this to happen,” he said. “I don’t want anybody here to think that the commandant thinks this is a good idea.”
Amos also said on Tuesday that the Corps’ drawdown in Afghanistan is likely to occur ahead of schedule because Afghan forces have asserted themselves well in Helmand province this year, as they take the lead on providing security. The number of Marine adviser teams needed downrange will likely be reduced beginning this summer, and a one-star general overseeing them will return to the U.S. by the fall, the commandant said.
There are currently about 7,000 Marines in Afghanistan, part of the 66,000-plus force of U.S. personnel that are part of the International Security Assistance Force commanded by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford. The one-star general overseeing Marine advisers in Helmand is Brig. Gen. George Smith, the deputy commanding general for security assistance for Regional Command Southwest.