Battle Rattle

Commandant gives preview of the global Marine Corps in 2020

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Water scarcity, regional conflict zones, and the “youth bulge:” these are all problems that may become the Marine Corps’ business in the near future.

That was the message from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos this week when he gave an audience at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space expo a glimpse into what’s ahead for the Corps. By 2020, he said, expect two new crisis Marine Corps crisis response forces positioned near potential conflict zones and a rotational force established in Guam like the one already conducting training deployments in Australia.

Amos also indicated that the future of the Corps will focus significantly on the African continent, home to massive resources, but also poverty, instability, and conflict.


In a briefing slide depicting potential future crises, Amos showed a map depicting likely causes of conflict and instability. Some global stressors, such as nuclear armed states and areas of terrorist activity, were self-explanatory; others, such as water stress, and the “youth bulge,” were less intuitive.

Regarding water stress, highlighted in much of Africa, Amos said this factor is important to watch because it drove behavior.

Amos slide 1 (3)

Screenshot from DoD video

“In those areas especially in the African continent, a gallon or a liter of clear fresh water, potable water, is worth more than a liter of petrol,” Amos said.

The youth bulge, also covering most of Africa and a portion of the Middle East, referred to regions where the population was increasing, in some places exponentially, Amos said.

With factors such as hunger, water stress, and joblessness, Amos said, “you throw in an increase on youth. Disaffected youth. unemployed youth. Youth that wander across borders. And then you look the areas where our fuel and our oil reserves are, and then you take a look at where nuclear weapons are, and you get a sense of just how dangerous the world is going to be.”

Amos slide 2 Marines in 2020 (4)

A  map showing the Marine Corps in 2020 overlays global conflict and crisis zones with forward-deployed Marine units. The continent of Africa will be surrounded on three sides by Marine Corps crisis response units as Special Purpose-Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response finds a forward-staged location in the Gulf of Guinea, in addition to its current location in Europe, and is joined by SP-MAGTF Cent, covering U.S. Central Command.

Meanwhile, another crisis response force, SP-MAGTF South, will give U.S. Southern Command additional power to combat drug-related crime in central and South America.

And by 2020, the long-promised Marine Rotational Force-Guam will also be established, Amos said.

All this will give the Marine Corps greater presence in the Pacific, but also expand its crisis response presence around the larger land masses to the west, where burgeoning conflict zones have been identified.

“We’re in the Pacific,” Amos said. “It’s our backyard and we’re very comfortable in that neck of the woods again.”


Tattoos and Terminal Lance: the 5 most surprising things we learned from the commandant’s live Q&A

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The commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps took to Facebook last Friday afternoon, answering nearly 30 candid questions from the Marine Corps community in the space of an hour as part of his ongoing “Reawakening” effort to engage directly with enlisted Marines.

According to site administrators on the official Marines Facebook page, some 900 questions and comments rolled in during the hour Gen. Jim Amos and Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett were online.

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett answer questions in a one-hour Facebook Q&A session, facilitated by Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga. Photo from official Marines Facebook page.

While Amos addressed a number of popular themes, such as women in combat arms roles, recruiting, and sexual assault prevention, he also revealed some surprising facts about himself and addressed a few hotly contested Marine Corps policies.

Here are top five things we learned:

5. Amos and Barrett read Terminal Lance every week…and like it, most of the time.
In response to a question from Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the popular Terminal Lance web comic, Amos said his favorite strip of the comic was “Rolled Up,” a response to Amos’s decision to return the Corps to rolled sleeves on combat utilities in the summertime.
“Thanks for putting some energy behind this decision. I smile every time I think about it. Enjoy,” Amos wrote.
A few minutes later, Barrett acknowledged that he read the strip every week.
“You are usually spot-on…but not always,” Barrett wrote.
Amos and Barrett did not, however, say which comics they felt missed the mark.

4. Forget about a change to the tattoo policy. It’s not going to happen…or is it?
Next to the recently reversed decision to go sleeves-down in the summers, the most embattled recent Marine Corps uniform policy is the 2010 set of restrictions to tattoo quantity and placement set in place by Amos’s predecessor, Gen. James Conway. In response to a commenter’s request to “reverse silly tattoo policy,” Amos said no dice.
“The current tattoo policy will remain in place. There are no plans to change anything,” he wrote.
A glimmer of optimism does remain for tattoo lovers, though: Amos was similarly adamant until recently that he would not reverse the sleeves-down rule. There’s also a chance that Amos’s successor might decide to change the current policy when the commandancy changes hands at the end of this year.

3. Amos does have a CAR: it’s in his garage.
Active-duty Marines sometimes complain that Amos, a Marine aviator, does not have a combat action ribbon. This has clearly rankled; a staffer for Amos once took to social media to say Amos “has been in many a fight … probably killed more enemy with his F-18 than any single company of grunts.”
During the town hall Q&A, though, Amos took a lighter approach. When a user asked him where his “CAR” was, Amos said he has one, and it’s a classic.
“I have a 1972 VW Convertible in my garage,” Amos wrote. “I bought it as a lieutenant. I’m going to drive away from the Marine Corps in it when I retire.”

2. MARSOC operators may get to sport the Raiders name in the future.
The critical skills operators of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command share a legacy of special missions with the Marine Raiders of World War II. But they can’t call themselves Raiders, Amos decided in 2011, and use of the distinctive Raiders patch on uniforms is not authorized, though it does happen nonetheless.
Amos wouldn’t tip his hand about changes to that policy Friday, but said the Marine Corps was evaluating its options.
“We’re looking into it,” he said. “No decision has been made at this time.”

1. Amos is a fan of the knife hand.
While Marine Corps Times reported last year that some Marine leaders were cautioning against overuse of the aggressive “knife hand” in favor of renewed emphasis on core leadership values, Amos said he still pulls out a bladed hand from time to time.

Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos demonstrates a knife hand during his live Q&A on Facebook March 14 as Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga facilitates the Q&A session. Photo from the official Marines Facebook page.

When a user asked him to bring back knife hands, he responded that they were never banned.
“In fact, I use it all the time after I’m done addressing Marines,” he said. “It shouldn’t be used to berate Marines. It’s a sign of camaraderie. Let’s not make it more than it is.”

The Facebook town hall, the brainchild of the Marine Corps social media team, was the first of its kind, but Amos and Barrett hinted that they might try it again soon.

“We will be back up on the net here shortly,” they wrote. “Keep the faith.”

Read the full Q&A here.

Amos: I’d like the .45 instead of the 9 millimeter

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A Marine fires an M9 service pistol during training for marksmanship trainers aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Some Marines have expressed interest in replacing the M9 with a .45-caliber pistol, and Gen. James Amos told members of Congress he’d like to do the same. (Mike Morones/Staff)

A Marine fires an M9 service pistol during training for marksmanship trainers aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Some Marines have expressed interest in replacing the M9 with a .45-caliber pistol, and Gen. James Amos told members of Congress he’d like to do the same. (Mike Morones/Staff)

A congressman told Gen. James Amos that Marines in his district would like to see their M9 service pistol replaced with a .45-caliber — and Amos replied that he would, too.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said he recently spent time with Marines during a wounded warrior function, during Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on the proposed Navy-Marine Corps fiscal 2015 budget. Before the congressman launched into questions on the budget, he said there were a few those Marines asked him to speak up for.

The first was the deadly A-10 Thunderbolt, which the Air Force flies to provide close-air support. But the second was a topic a lot of Marines could probably get behind: new pistols.

“They sure would like to have a .45 instead of a 9 millimeter,” Scott told the commandant. 

While Amos didn’t address the Marines’ desire to fly the A-10, he jumped on the comment about the pistol.

“I’d like the .45 instead of a 9 millimeter, too,” Amos quipped. “But it’s for another budget, another time.”

You can read more about what the commandant said about the budget here.

New report: Marine Corps commandant could be a ‘lame duck’

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U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, visits with Marines from Maintenance Supply Battalion aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 5, 2012.  (Defense Department photo)

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos visits with Marines from at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 5, 2012. (Defense Department photo)

Questions about whether Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos illegally pressured subordinates to punish Marines shown urinating on Taliban corpses in a video may limit Amos’ ability to lead the Marine Corps for the remainder of his tenure, Foreign Policy is reporting.

Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, a respected general officer, has alleged that Amos made clear he wanted the Marines in the video thrown out of the Marine Corps — a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prevents a commander from interfering in legal proceedings, Foreign Policy reported in the Feb. 27 story. Amos recently recently told National Public Radio that he never said he wanted those Marines kicked out of the service, but one retired general officer defended Waldhauser.

“Tom Waldhauser does not lie,” retired Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese told Foreign Policy. “I have found him an officer of character.”

The turmoil has some members of Congress questioning Amos’ ability to do his job, but lawmakers are unlikely to pursue the matter because Amos is set to retire in October, an unidentified Republican staffer told Foreign Policy.

“Amos runs the risk of being a lame duck, and that’s something that would be unique for a commandant,” Foreign Policy quoted the staffer as saying. “I think a lot of people look at this, and where they see smoke, there’s fire. At this point, a pattern has developed, and I think people wonder whether he can effectively lead the Marine Corps.”

The story was written by Dan Lamothe, a former Marine Corps Times reporter who recently joined Foreign Policy. Lamothe notes that Amos personally challenged him to attend infantry officer training at Quantico, Va., after Amos was angered by a Marine Corps Times story headline that read two female officers had “flunk[ed]” the training.

Amos still enjoys the support of current and retired general officers, Foreign Policy reported. His most prominent supporter is Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who wrote a personal blog on Feb. 13 defending Amos from what he feels are unfair attacks by the media.

Meyer has received some criticism for voicing his full support for Amos, but he told Foreign Policy that he could care less what those people think of him.

“If you’ve lost all respect for me for standing next to a man that I believe in with my whole heart and respect as a person and a leader, then I don’t want your respect anyways,” Meyer told Foreign Policy. “ I question whether you understand what the phrase ‘ Semper Fidelis’ really means.”


Amos: Marines not likely to go straight from boot camp to battlefield

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Marine Corps commandant Gen. Jim Amos sat down for an interview with Leatherneck Magazine  recently, which is freshly out in the magazine’s February edition.

Photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink/ Marine Corps

The interviewer, Arthur P. Brill Jr., asked Amos if one of the dire consequences he predicted would result from shrinking the Corps to 174,000–having to ship troops straight from “the drill field to the battlefield”–was really likely to happen. The answer: not terribly, but conditions will still be more constrained with a smaller force.

Leatherneck: You testified recently that Marines could go straight from boot camp to combat without giving them precombat training. Would you really do that?

Gen Amos: The answer is no. But, if our strength and capabilities drop, we can fight just one major contingency some­place. If that big one comes, Marines will go to war and won’t come home until it’s over. We will not have the depth to rotate people back and forth. Similar to Korea in the early 1950s, Marines could go from boot camp to the battlefield. Believe me, we would do everything possible not to do that.

In another exchange, Brill asks whether the “basket leave” granted to same-sex couples, which gives them time to travel to another state to be married, is raising some hackles. Amos reveals some interesting data: there are fewer than 25 Marine same-sex couples on active duty. And apparently the leave policy hasn’t been a problem.

LeatherneckHow many same-sex couples does the Corps have, and is the “basket leave” they receive to get married causing any rumblings?

Gen Amos: We have about 144 same-sex couples on active duty, and less than 25 are a Marine with a Marine. Most are a Marine and a civilian or a Marine with another servicemember. Same-sex mar­riages are not allowed in all the states, so the Secretary of Defense authorized them “basket leave” to get married in another state. He’s trying to take care of these people. It’s not causing any concern to my knowledge, and I haven’t heard a peep about it.

Read the full interview here.


Handwriting experts: you shouldn’t cross the commandant

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Dynamic. Self-assertive. Self-protective.

These are words some experts used to describe Marine Corps commandant Gen. Jim Amos–or at least, how they believe his signature describes him.

Writing for MilitaryTimes’ Off Duty section, handwriting experts Sheila Lowe, Kimon Ianetta and Reed Hayes took a look at the John Hancocks of all the military service leaders, including the Commander-in-Chief.

President Barack Obama’s mostly-illegible signature “signals a strong need for privacy,” Lowe said, while Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is “unable or unwilling to tell it like it is” judging from his autograph, she said.

As for the CMC, analysts looked at the “sharp angles and extended hooked final stroke” to determine what the signatory said about the man.

“This is the dynamic, self-assertive signature of someone you don’t cross without severe consequences,” Lowe said. The way the last name is written smaller than the first, she said, “if often seen in people who initially come on strong but then back off a little. Still, once he commits to an action, there is no holding him back.”

Iannetta and Hayes came up with a slightly different but complementary analysis of the signature.

“A confident, energetic, assertive powerhouse, as witnessed by his heavy, strong, angular writing with forward-moving strokes,” they wrote. “Deeply analytical thinker (angular “m”) who objectively considers all angles and cautiously reaches final decisions. Initially, he plays his cards close to his vest (encircled “a”) until he’s certain of which ideas, which he then expresses in a clear, concise, organized and powerful way.”

Do you think this analysis is spot-on or a little suspicious? What do you think the signature says? To read the full story with full analysis of all the service leaders’ signatures, and that of Military Times staff write Jon R. Anderson, pick up a copy of Marine Corps Times on news stands today or get the full print version online with a one-day pass on MarineCorpsTimes Prime.

Amos: Marines sticking to their MARPAT “like a hobo on a ham sandwich”

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Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, reassured Marines in Hawaii last week that he was committed to keeping the distinctive MARPAT camouflage pattern for Marines, even as lawmakers consider adopting one single camo pattern for all the services.

Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, addresses Marines at the base theater, July 15, 2013. Amos and Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, both visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii to discuss issues circulating within the Marine Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Dietz)

Amos has so far been quiet regarding the proposed changes, even as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has come out in support of a common camouflage–or at least a reduction from the ten-plus patterns now being utilized across the services.

But on July 15 he had some folksy fighting words regarding a change for troops aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“We are on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich,” Amos said, according to a Marine Corps news release. “I love the hell out of this uniform and I don’t have any intention of changing it.”

What’s not clear from Amos’s comments this month is his perspective on a change that would lead to the other services adopting a camouflage similar or identical to the Marines’ proprietary camouflage pattern.

In 2011 Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett suggested it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the other services to follow the Marines’ lead in their camouflage research.

“I encourage all services to research our MARPAT during their tests to field a new combat uniform,” he said. “We have the best camouflage pattern in the world, and I believe that it helps save the lives of our Marines and sailors. Our uniforms are distinctive, but what distinguishes [Marines] is our ethos, combat mindset and martial spirit.”

But earlier this year, Barrett pushed back against changes that would lead to a common camouflage.

“There are tactical and psychological advantages unique to our [combat uniform] in terms of morale and culture,” Barrett told Marine Corps Times in a written statement for a June 17 cover story. “Like our dress blues, the [combat uniform] is a visible indicator of our identity as United States Marines, globally! It’s part of our Corps’ identity. Where we walk or sail, people are safer — unless you screw with us!”

Famously, the Marines developed MARPAT on an efficient $319,000 budget. That’s compared to $3.1 million the Air Force spent in 2007 to design a “tiger stripe” pattern that was later determined to be flawed and unfit for combat deployments, and $3.2 million in 2005 to develop an “Army Combat Uniform,” or ACU, which is also being retired due to poor performance.

So far, the House and Senate Armed Services committees have approved language that would require the military services to transition to a common combat uniform by 2018.


Cancer survivor becomes honorary Marine

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Daran Wankum of Merriam Kansas has always wanted to be a U.S. Marine and follow the footsteps of his grandfather, reported KBMC 9 of Kansas City. Unfortunately, at age 18 and before he could get the chance to ship to boot camp, Wankum was diagnosed with a massive tumor located in the center of his brain.

“I didn’t think at all. I just stopped the car and started crying, that’s what I did for 5 minutes,” Wankum told KMBC.

Daran Wankum, the 22nd honorary Marine in Marine Corps history, talks to the Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., ceremonial firing party after a wreath-laying ceremony for Wankum at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., June 13. (Cpl. Mondo Lescaud/ Marine Corps)

His future seemed shattered because he knew this was a disqualifying factor for entering the Marine Corps. However, the Marine recruiters that he had become well acquainted with were not going to give up on him when he needed them most.

KMBC reports that the recruiters from Wankum’s area stood outside of his hospital room on the day of his surgery, guarding him as he recovered after his risky procedure. His bravery and perseverance attracted attention at the top.

After his story was recognized by General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Wankum was sent to Washington D.C. to be made into an Honorary Marine. His father, Eric Wankum, proudly told KMBC that his son had the same perseverance you would expect to see in a Marine, “Strength, and the ability to move on.”

There have been few Honorary Marines who have earned the title throughout the service’s history. It is an honor given only to civilians that exhibit extraordinary commitment and contribution to the Marine Corps.



Behind the Cover: How a commandant’s son escaped controversy to become a battalion commander

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Marine Corps Times’ cover story this week dives deeply into an issue that has rubbed a number of Marines raw, following the recent publication of news stories about a pending inspector general complaint filed against Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and several members of his staff.

The complaint, among other issues, questioned whether the commandant showed preferential treatment to then-Maj. James B. Conway, the son of retired Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, as the Marine Corps investigated Marines caught on video urinating on the remains of dead Taliban fighters.

The complaint, filed by Maj. James Weirick, a staff judge advocate with Marine Corps Combat Development Command, notes that top Marine officers decided to release James B. Conway from all legal holds last year, enabling him to be promoted to lieutenant colonel and take command of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Meanwhile, other members of his old unit — 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. — were kept on legal hold, unable to take new assignments or be promoted. Lt. Col. Christopher Dixon, the battalion commander at the time, still is, more than a year after the investigation was launched.

Weirick filed his complaint as the trials for several members of the 3/2 scout sniper unit implicated continue to play out.

No one has accused Lt. Col. Conway of any wrongdoing, but a series of emails and memos obtained by Marine Corps Times show senior Marine officials contradicting Conway’s own report to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service while deciding to cut him loose from the investigation. They said he and another officer in the unit, then-1st Lt. Edward Leslie, were not in contact with the scout snipers or have influence over them. However, Conway told investigators he watched the July 27, 2011, operation that day, and eventually handled the bagged bodies of the insurgents when they were transported back to the base for intelligence collection.

Weirick’s complaint will certainly be brought up as the scout sniper cases play out. It also will be tracked by the many advocates who think senior leaders want to throw the book at the scout snipers, a decorated group that braved enemy fire repeatedly and is credited with more than 200 insurgent kills on their deployment, which spanned February to August 2011.

The story is on newsstands now. It’s also posted here as Marine Corps Times Prime content.

Bonnie Amos, wife of the Marine Corps commandant, launches Facebook page

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Bonnie Amos, wife of Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, addresses Marine spouses Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College at Quantico, Va., in January. (Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

Bonnie Amos, the wife of Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, has taken her work to Facebook.

The First Lady of the Marine Corps’ page was launched online recently, and pointed out by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett on Twitter today. Mrs. Amos page is online at

In an introductory post, Mrs. Amos said she is “catching up with the times” and launched the page to reach as many Marine Corps families as possible.

“My hope is that this allows for quick and effective communication with all of you Marine Corps Families out there to keep you posted on the wonderful things going on, from Family Readiness updates, to sharing the inspiration that I get on a daily basis from YOU!” she said. “I’m so excited to be in touch with all of you!”

The page has a handful of posts far, including photographs from the Warrior Games held in Colorado this month.

Barrett joined Twitter late last month, but there are no signs that the commandant will be following suit with social media anytime soon.

“No,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Plenzler, a spokesman for the commandant, last month. “The commandant won’t be tweeting any time soon.”