ABOARD USS TARAWA -- One day out of the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps' whirlwind tour across the globe was spent with a forward-deployed MEU that has seen plenty of action over the past few months.
Gen. James L. Jones and SgtMaj. Alford L. McMichael paid a special visit to the Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group Nov. 19, while the Navy and Marine Corps team was conducting Exercise Iron Magic in the Arabian Gulf region.
Prior to their visit, the 13th MEU (SOC)/Tarawa ARG conducted Operation Determined Response (after the USS Cole terrorist bombing), a humanitarian assistance operation in East Timor, and sustainment training in Hawaii, Australia, Singapore and now the Arabian Gulf. The Commandant and Sergeant Major reiterated the MEU (SOC)'s importance as a premier fighting force positioned on the forward edge, ready to answer the nation's call, and thanked the Marines and Sailors for their accomplishments and devotion to duty amidst the pressures and challenges MEUs sometimes face.
"Your performance in East Timor and actions after the USS Cole incident were terrific, and it shows you are a versatile and flexible force that can cover a wide range of capabilities," said Gen. Jones to Marines in the field. "Whether it's chemical and biological response, peacekeeping or peace enforcement, riot control or whatever, we have been the nation's force of choice."
The Commandant and Sergeant Major participated in a Light Armored Vehicle shoot with D Co., Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, witnessed a riot control demonstration by the MEU's nonlethal force, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, and viewed an Enhanced Nuclear, Biological and Chemical demonstration in the field during Iron Magic.
After visiting Marines in the field, they arrived aboard USS Tarawa to eat lunch with Marines and Sailors and spoke to a mass formation in the hangar bay. They even had time to reenlist three Marines before the day was done.
"Thank you for who you are and what you are doing," said Gen. Jones to a captive Marine audience. "It is what you do out here that makes our jobs easy in Washington. We work hard to be advocates on your behalf and fight to provide you the best of resources, equipment, pay, health care, housing, benefits and other things. We are able to do this easily because of the example you set for the entire Marine Corps."
Pay and benefits weren't the only things on the Commandant's mind.
The 32nd Commandant, who has been in office for more than a year, spoke of changes Marines will see happen to the Corps in the near future. Gen. Jones is implementing a new martial arts program and new camouflage utilities, and is a proponent for the integration of the Joint Strike Fighter and the MV-22 Osprey and the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, among other things.
Gen. Jones said that in eight years, Marines would see a modernized Marine Corps. The martial arts program is designed to give Marines better battle proficiency and quickness to react during times of close quarters battle or riot control. The color-coded belt system would start every Marine off as a tan belt (Marines would actually wear a rigger's belt - tan, gray, green, brown or black - with their camouflage utilities), with the ability to progress to a sixth-degree black belt throughout a career. The goal is to have the entire Marine Corps trained at some level by 2002.
Marines may see the new, more durable, comfortable camouflage utilities as early as next year, but should expect to see something in the next three years. Two prototypes, one with a digital pattern and one tiger-stripe version, were unanimously selected as the two best potential designs as a result of a Corpswide paper and online survey. More than 20,000 Marines cast their votes online. The new utility uniform will cost the same as the current uniform - about $60.
According to SgtMaj. McMichael, the new look for the Marine Corps won't change how Marines value the rich traditions that make the Marine Corps America's most revered, elite fighting force.
"It's not by accident that the eagle, globe and anchor is emblazoned on our chests," he said. "It is our unifying symbol, which has great historical significance and carries on the honor and legacy which we have established."
"It is better than any ribbon or badge we wear, because it is a symbol of our unity," said Gen. Jones. "It is our shining badge of hope as true professionals to carry on the legacy of Marines who have gone before."
SgtMaj. McMichael added some final words of wisdom for Marines and Sailors of the 13th MEU (SOC). "We have to take care of our family and our infrastructure," said SgtMaj. McMichael. "Readiness is as good as it's ever been, and we're doing things to continually improve. Take care of your Marine Corps. We need to transform ourselves for the future and add to our proud history."