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Interview with Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox

Commanding General, Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM)

The Marine Corps Training & Education Command is a key component of a broad and growing Corps focus on training – especially pre-deployment – and continuing education for all ranks. Specifically, TECOM’s mission statement says it was created to “ develop, coordinate, resource, execute and evaluate training and education concepts, policies, plans and programs to ensure Marines are prepared to meet the challenges of present and future operational environments.

 

After a decade of war, there has been a significant reduction in dwell time between deployments – time traditionally used to re-establish family ties, participate in debriefings designed to identify and retain lessons learned, attend new schools and classes – both degree-oriented college-level and professional military – train on new or updated equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and go through a series of increasingly complex and thorough pre-deployment exercises.

 

As a result, TECOM and other Marine Corps training and education components have had to condense their programs – often in addition to adding more hours to the day and days to the week – while still ensuring Marines headed into combat in Afghanistan (for the first time or the fourth), as well as those deployed to combat, joint and allied training and “presence” missions, are better prepared with each new round.

 

Almost one year after taking command of TECOM in August 2010, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, who had been commanding general of the Marine Corps 1st Air Wing in Okinawa, discussed that mission and its challenges with Defense Media Network senior writer J.R. Wilson.

J.R. Wilson:  What is TECOM’s primary role in the Corps?

Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox: As TECOM’s commander, I basically fulfill the commandant’s Title 10 requirements for training the force. We have two boot camps – in San Diego and Parris Island – which are the start of our training continuum, transitioning new recruits from civilians to Marines. We also have a one-star training command that is basically all the follow-on schooling after boot camp, then MOS [Marine Occupational Specialty]-specific training.

TECOM also owns the Officer Candidate School, initial and some advanced MOS training, the Marine Corps University, the Expeditionary Warfare School, Staff School, School of Advanced Warfare and enlisted Professional Military Education.

The last part of this Command is the MAGTF Training Center at 29 Palms [Calif.], where we do combined arms Phase 4, which is fairly robust training before deploying, originally to Iraq and now to Afghanistan. We have about 15,000 permanent personnel in all those elements and, last month, about 23,000 undergoing training.

How did the end of combat operations in Iraq, then the surge and now planned drawdown in Afghanistan, affect your training programs?

When the OPSTEMPO increases, as it has for Afghanistan, we have to accelerate the training cycle, sometimes moving up three or four months. We [TECOM] have been able to react to that; it’s usually harder on the units involved, which may not have completed other training they normally would get first.

When we start reducing forces in Afghanistan and get to what we call steady state, with a hopefully more predictable OPSTEMPO, we will have more time to train individuals and units, including going back to redo an event on which they may not have performed [as desired]. So it should be a much more predictable training path and more reasonable OPSTEMPO, giving the staff more time to reflect on those areas, such as command and control, where they will have time to focus on the effort and what they have and have not done well.

We’ve still been able to do all that the past eight years, but with a longer dwell time, we will have a more rested and ready force.

What changes do you see in the near-term at TECOM – especially with regard to other major new commands, such as MARSOC (Marine Forces Special Operations Command) and MARFORCYBER (Marine Forces Cyber Command)?

As complicated as the world is now, we have to train a force that is able to deal with anything, including what they may not be anticipating. It actually will be more difficult after Afghanistan, because at least now we know what languages and cultures to train them to, but afterward . . .

As to the new specialized commands, we’re responsible for training the initial Marine before he joins MARSOC, then [MARSOC commander Maj. Gen. Paul E.] Lefebvre trains them for what they need to know there. Our job is to ensure we have enough trained applicants to meet MARSOC needs.

MARFORCYBER is still very new [stood up in January 2010]. We’re looking at an increase in demand for cyber-trained individuals and the amount of time it takes to train an individual in that field, which can be two or three years before he can work on or inside the network. As a result, the cyber career path will be radically different from [big Corps] Marines. We’re working on all that on the training manual side and on what training is required for the individuals going into that field.

Operating in Afghanistan, a landlocked nation, has taken Marines outside their comfort zone of amphibious operations – how has that affected training now and how will that likely change in the future?

Have we retained our amphibious nature? We certainly have had a lot of forces landlocked in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’ve still had the same number of MEUs out.

True, there are Marine captains today who have never been on a Navy ship, so part of what we have gotten conceptional approval on for post-OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan] is to make sure those Marines understand amphibious operations through the schools. And all our exercises will have an amphibious part, although some of it may be simulated.

But we actually have retained some sophisticated amphibious expertise [among senior officers and NCOs, who will help teach] up to MEB [Marine Expeditionary Battalion] level operations.

A good example is [Exercise Bold] Alligator this summer on the East Coast, with an extremely large amphibious operation landing forces in North Carolina. On the West Coast, 1 MEF has continued doing amphibious exercises and 3 MEF also has maintained a robust amphibious capability beyond the MEU level.

We’re trying to institutionalize more of that with the commandant’s directive to do large-scale exercises every year that involve naval forces.

The 21st century Marine is working with high-tech equipment and receiving training in field medicine, languages and host nation cultures far beyond is 20th century predecessors – how has that changed the type and length of training they receive?

I’m not sure today’s young Marines are much different from those in World War II. Certainly they are challenged to do more and the world is a much more complicated place today, so basically it has ramped up our requirements to spend more time and use all the means of education and training we can.

We use a lot of online training and have invested a lot more time teaching the cultural values of different countries and languages; their equipment also is more sophisticated, which requires better education and training, which also is true with communications. They need to understand how all that gear works before they go into combat.

What has produced the Marines we have today begins with their desire to be Marines, but also includes their ability to grasp the technologies involved, the need to understand culture and language and take those new skills out onto the battlefield.

How does the ongoing Force Structure Review affect TECOM?

I don’t see much change coming right away from the Force Structure Review, which we’re still wrestling with. But what we have learned in the last eight or nine years is valuable because we are certain we will be operating in an IED environment wherever we go in the future. So we are working hard to institutionalize that. We’re also working on cultures, so our Marines will be able to appreciate the environment they are in – and making sure we don’t lose what we’ve learned.

We’re doing a lot of work on lower level development to make the best squad leaders we can, so they can make the right decisions in the environments they will be facing.

Are you increasing or changing the training provided to female Marines?

I personally have a huge problem with the way we use the term “women in combat,” because women have been on the battlefield in this war and the American people have accepted that.

The current discussion with Congress is “should they be placed in units where they have not been used before.” We’ll just have to wait to see how that works out, but there is no doubt women in convoys and other missions in SW Asia today are in combat and have performed superbly in this conflict.

The Marine Corps has become one of the most enthusiastic users of robotics in combat, from checkpoint rolling bomb detectors to small and medium UAVs – how do you deal with that in training?

The EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] teams use robots, we’re working on the cargo UAV now and are on the cusp of going further. There are places they work really well, others where the technology has not yet caught up. At this point, it hasn’t had much impact on the training and education continuum because they haven’t reached that level, but we do have to understand the consequences of this revolution so we are able to deal with it. Marines have adapted very fast and we’re just waiting for the next technology breakthrough to get us to the next phase.

What have been the most important developments for the Corps in the past 18 months – and how do those relate to TECOM?

Overall, the types of operations the Corps has done in the past 18 months, from humanitarian relief to combat, is something the nation should be proud of and reflects the versatility of our MEUS, who have been out there providing everything from countering pirates to reinforcing the force in Afghanistan to helping our Japanese allies. Unfortunately, I think policymakers sometimes take for granted having those forces there without realizing what it takes to get them there.

Obviously, that pride also extends to the superb performance of the Marines exiting Iraq and reinforcing Afghanistan, such as quietly expanding our influence over Helmand province, which often is much more difficult that how it is played out in the news.

The thing we have carried forward, starting well before Fallujah, is it is the MAGTF that wins the fight, sustaining the individual Marine on the ground with ISR, firepower, comms, working with the Coalition. From a TECOM perspective, we constantly reinforce all those, taking into account lessons learned to do better the next time.

And what do you anticipate the next year will bring?

We’re preparing now; we certainly know Afghanistan will end [not in 2012, but eventually] and when that happens we will be ready to achieve our other responsibilities for DoD. We’re working on more generic training events so future Marines will be prepared to operate in any environment in the world. We’re pretty well into that planning effort and in the next 12 months will start doing more, including training staff to understand, in this very challenging and diverse world, we need to walk into whatever comes up with our eyes open.

We believe, as we’ve been fighting a COIN-type battle [counter-insurgency] the past eight years, we haven’t had to do much heavy combined arms, so we need to brush up our skills on that, as well as getting back to the sea and amphibious operations. The Marines in Helmand province, for example, have not experienced mountain warfare training, and we will reinvigorate those efforts. We also haven’t had the opportunity to do jungle warfare training.

Marines also will need to understand more about information operations in the future. And we need to draw clearer lines between special ops Marines and regular Marines so we don’t have overlap.

And what do you want to say to the next generation of potential Marines?

If you want to do something bigger than yourself, something that epitomizes selfless service, while making lifelong friends, we’re the right organization.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...