Brian Mead talks about the past and future of the U.S. Marines

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Garden City native Lt. Col. Brian Mead talks about the U.S. Marine Corps Friday during an address at Garden City Community College's Perryman Athletic Complex. Mede was the guest speaker celebrating Veterans Day/Marine Corps birthday event.

Lt. Col. Brian Mead of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and a Garden City native, spoke on the history and future of the Marine Corps during a presentation at Garden City Community College Friday. 

The presentation was given in honor of the 246th Marine Corps. birthday on Nov. 10 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11. 

Mead said one thing he wanted to do to celebrate the birthday of the Marine Corps. was to inform the audience of its history and its future as it is reshaping itself that hasn't been seen since its 13th Commandant, Gen. John Lejeune back in World War II. 

"He reshaped us at that time in preparation for what would become the island-hopping campaign against Imperial Japan in World War II," he said. "That's how significant that we are trying to adapt right now. It's significant enough that we don't even know entirely what that looks like."  

The Marine Corps. was born on Nov. 10, 1775 and it was the time of wooden ships, Mead said, and the Marines were a security force and detachment at shipyards and they were put on ships to keep sailors in line. 

At that time the sailors weren't necessarily there voluntarily, Mead said. They may have gotten drunk the night before at the wharf, got hit over the head and woke up on a naval ship pressed into service or they may have been a sailor on a merchant ship, been captured and then pressed into service. 

"What you end up with is this sort of naval force that has a whole bunch of guys that don't necessarily want to be there, and your officer class they come from the aristocracy at this particular timeframe," he said. "So, the Marines are put on board to keep these sailors in line because the threat of mutiny was a very real threat."

Mead said back then with the wooden ships there wasn't large-scale amphibious invasions, there were raids, so sailors and Marines went ashore and executed those together and then would rush back with whatever they captured back to the ship. 

Eventually the U.S. Navy changed to an all-volunteer force and Marines weren't needed to keep the sailors in line, Mead said. Here they start to become detachments that go ashore and this is where small wars start to come into play. 

"A lot of people don't realize that the Marine Corps. wrote the small wars manual," he said. "The Small Wars Manual is our country's original counter-insurgency manual. This comes from our conflicts in Haiti, this comes from the Philippines, Guam, we were fighting a lot of conflicts that were below the threshold of war, we're fighting counter-insurgencies before counter-insurgency became a term we now know in our households because of Iraq and Afghanistan today."

This lead to conventional wars and Lejeune "saw the writing on the wall" from predictions by Marine Corps. Intelligence Officer Pete Ellis, that an-island hopping campaign was coming against Japan, Mead said. LeJeune then turns the Marines into a large-scale amphibious force.

After WWII, the U.S. leadership more clearly defines what the Marine Corps will be doing, Mead said. They will do whatever the president tells them to do, be amphibious experts. and they will exist to support naval campaigns. 

"This is where the Marine Corps. really breaks out from the Army, more so than just uniforms, culture and maybe service, it's the fact that we are a land force for the purpose of a naval campaign," he said. 

Mead said the Army helps the Navy and vice versa, but the Army doesn't exist to support naval campaigns, the Marines do, which actually falls under the Department of the Navy although it is its own separate service. The Navy and Marines are wedded together. 

Marines then become kind of a middle of the road service where they have air, land and logistics divisions, Mead said. 

"The Marine Corps., we're like a microcosm of that, we're a combined arms team showing up that whole package, especially when you put us with the Navy," he said. "We show up and we deliver one hell of a punch."  

Then in 1952, during the Korean War, the Marines added expeditionary forces and readiness force to its job, Mead said. A lot happened in a 35-year period across the globe, there was World War I and World War II, the French and British imperial system collapsed, the Ottoman and Austro--Hungarian empires disappeared and there were the two cultural revolutions with the rise of communism in the Soviet Union and China and Japan, Italy and Germany lost everything. 

"The world has literally been completely shook up and from the rubble emerges two superpowers, the United States and democracy and the Soviet Union with red China with communism," he said. "They are determined to spread communism; we are equally determined to contain it."

Congress asked how to deal with that while containing international disturbances short of of large-scale war as nuclear war is in the back of everybody's minds if things go badly, Mead said. congress turned to the Marines to be the force behind stopping the spread of communism as a light, versatile, fast moving but hard hitting outfit.

"That's how the Marine Corps. at this time gets tagged with being your expeditionary force and readiness, to be always ready when an issue is least ready," he said. "This is your modern-day Marine Corps. and this is where it comes from."

Now the Marines are being reshaped to fit possible, future conflicts due to the strategies, technology and weapons of today. 

Mead said future wars would be fought in a strategy called anti-access area denial, basically keeping one entity out of another, one has to project their power to stop something from happening and the other has to stop them from basically from home turf. 

"You have to project your power, you can't afford to lose things, I'm going to proliferate with cheap missiles and cheap subs and things that I don't care about losing, I'm just going to keep you out of the fight," he said. 

Unfortunately the Marines have these gray hulled ships that transport their equipment and a Marine Expeditionary Unit, which in a war-time role often execute raids and limited combat type operation, have three gray hulled ships that carry their equipment and if one is lost it's major setback, Mead said.  

A lot of future conflicts will probably be at sea, so they would look like a Navy and Air Force fight, but the Marines won't be sidelined waiting for either branch to make a hole they can use to get on land, Mead said.

So, they have to go back to the drawing board and redefine themselves and one way they're going to do that is by going back to the ships after 50-60 years, since the Korean War, of doing mainly extended land campaigns, to be a weapons system for ships, Mead said. Commandant David Berger is going to reinvigorate the amphibious mindset. 

"This is important because in an anti-access area denial environment, to be detected is to be targeted is to be killed," he said. "Once you take your shots, you've been found and it's time to move ... We're going to be hunting boats, that's what we're going to be shifting over to."