What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Someone asked the following question:

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the USMC?
How are troops and weapons broken down into organized units in the US Marine Corps? i.e. squads, platoons, armies… Also, what rank officer would usually be in charge of these units?
3 Active Marine Air Wings.
3 Active Marine Divisions.Parenthesis indicates who is supposed to command such a unit on paper, but in reality they are often one or in the case of squads and fireteams, two, ranks below that. For specialized heavy weapons units, one rank above what I list is sometimes the norm (Weapons platoons are commanded by 1st Lieutenants, for example).

Divisions (2 star general) are composed of regiments.
Regiments (Colonel) are composed of battalions.
Battalions (Lt. Colonel) are composed of companies.
Companies (Captain) are composed of platoons.
Platoons (2nd Lieutenant) are composed of squads.
Squads (Sergeant) are composed of fire teams.
Fire teams (Corporal) are composed of Marines.

The generalization for how many of each form one higher unit is called the “Rule of Three” and can be approximated with the statement that “three line and one specialized form one higher”. Three line companies and one weapons company form a battalion, for example, and three Marines with one fire team leader form a fire team. The three fire teams that form a squad may have a machine gun team attached when deployed. And so on. There are caveats at every level though, so that generalization is very rough and should be considered a generalization and not an exact rule.When deployed, a provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is formed.

Most commonly, this is done by taking a battalion as the Ground Combat Element, augmenting it with perhaps a tank platoon, adding an Air Combat Element, a Command Element, a Logistics Element, training together for 6-18 months, and then deploying under the command of a Colonel as part of an Amphibious Ready Group commanded by a USN Captain and consisting of 2 or 3 amphibious assault ships of some variety and many more supporting ships.

For Iraq and Afghanistan rotations, the MAGTF is often built around a regiment instead of a battalion, has no ships (obviously), and may not have as much of an Air Combat Element. “Regimental Combat Team” is the term used here, very roughly equivalent to what the US Army calls a “Brigade Combat Team”.

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Irresponsible Journalists, meet an Inexperienced Marine

I came across this story. It’s about a young lady from Indiana named Private Kylie Furnish that recently completed Marine Corps Recruit Training and is upset that she is not being allowed to wear her Dress Blues to her High School graduation. She faces the same choice as every other student – wear the cap-and-gown, or don’t attend.

The story starts;

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A soon to be Leo High School graduate will be skipping out on her big day this weekend because she won’t be allowed to wear her Marine Corps dress blues.

Wait, why is this news again? Let’s continue reading…

…Private Kylie Furnish graduated from high school early and recently graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp. Private Furnish had hoped to walk with her class this weekend wearing her Marine Corps dress blues, which is Marine Corps policy for a ceremony like this.

Any other former Marine at this point is asking himself or herself “what?” right about now, perhaps with a confused look on his or her face. I’ll clarify that point later. But, let us read on. The School District defends its position thusly:

“The attire for all graduates of East Allen County Schools is a Cap and Gown representing the high school from which they graduate. This is a ceremony to recognize the achievements of four years of high school effort as seniors leave us and go on to many different aspects of life: work, college, military, service, homemaker, etc. Whereas we are aware there are many students who would prefer to wear their own choice of clothing at graduation to symbolize all different sorts of things, the Corporation’s policy is that participation is contingent upon the required attire of a cap and gown.

East Allen County Schools is not unlike most, if not all, schools in the state. Each year school districts are presented with requests to alter their long-standing rules and practices regarding the graduation ceremony. The courts have granted school districts the right to continue to follow these rules and practices time after time. It is always a difficult thing to turn down requests which have such emotional ties to them. However, as stated above, graduation is the time that is used to recognize the achievements of our all seniors. The Cap and Gown, most symbolically, does just that.”

Well, that certainly sounds reasonable to me – especially as the Marine Corps policy mentioned earlier does not exist. The story concludes:

Outraged at the policy, Furnish says she won’t be going.

Well, she has the right to be outraged. Just as I have the right to be outraged at the rain and I can refuse to walk outside when it rains. She recently completed a more significant graduation ceremony, anyways: from Marine Corps Recruit Training.

The Marine Corps’ general guidance is that a uniform may be worn at ceremonies such as this. “May” is the operative word. There is no requirement or policy saying that a uniform must be worn at such civilian ceremonies. In my opinion, the only possible way these two journalists could possibly have received information to the contrary is if they are willfully and negligently (perhaps maliciously) pretending that an 18 year old Marine Private as an expert on Marine Corps uniform regulations. Five seconds on Google, just five seconds of responsible journalism, would have brought them to the relevant policy in the form of a PDF that can be searched through for key words such as “uniform regulations,” as I have done below. (pages 75, and 78, emphasis mine):


1. The blue dress “A” uniform may be worn for parades, ceremonies and formal or semiformal social functions… The blue dress “A” uniform will be is worn for the following official military/social occasions:

What follows is a list that includes events at the White House and the Marine Corps Ball, but not anything resembling a high school graduation. It also goes on to specify which variant of the blues can and cannot be worn on leave or liberty (ie, off work) but that isn’t relevant to us here. The words “may” and “will” for unofficial/civilian events and for official military/social events respectively are consistent, and not ambiguous. The language is exact and the document incredibly easy to find. It wasn’t rocket science for me to find that, and I’m not the one claiming to be a professional journalist.

While true that the young Marine is mistaken (if her words are indeed the source of the incorrect statement regarding the policy, and the journalists didn’t simply make it up) and perhaps also being a bit dramatic, the reporters that wrote the story are being irresponsible and sensationalist by attempting create a dramatic story when, in reality, there is no story.

Teenagers say and do silly and dramatic things for a variety of bizarre reasons, Marine or otherwise. She didn’t instantly become an expert on Marine Corps Policy by virtue of completing recruit training – she demonstrated that she understands the basics about what it is to be a Marine, and she is allowed to make a mistake here-and-there that she hopefully learns from. “Basic” training is not “Advanced Law and Policy Training”.

What she doesn’t need is to be taken advantage of by two journalists in such a way that her error will be immortalized, the way some journalists love to do with anything military. Being a Marine Private does not entitle her to speak for the entire US Marine Corps, and the journalists know that. If they hadn’t built a story around such an easily discovered misunderstanding, I wouldn’t be complaining. But, they did. So, I am.

I’m making a story out of a non-story by publishing my response. The story is simply that two journalists (presumably college educated and experienced in the field of journalism?) ought to know better and be capable of very basic fact checking. There, now your error is also immortalized Scott Sarvay and Krystal Shull.

Irresponsible Journalists, meet an Inexperienced Marine

New York Federal Judge Assumes Role of Thought Police?

New York Federal judge Nicholas Garaufis did not like the way a woman answered her juror questionnaire for a death penalty trial of an alleged mobster, saying that her three “least admired” people were “African-Americans, Hispanics, and Haitians” because “You always hear about them in the news doing something”.

When the Asian-American woman was confronted about her relative who was in prison for murder and asked why she didn’t put Asians down as one of her Big Three, she responded with “Maybe I should have.”

The enraged judge declared that, for jury duty, “She’s coming back [today], Thursday and Friday – and until the future, when I am ready to dismiss her,” even though she wont actually be on the jury. Apparently as an indefinite sentence of jury duty as punishment for her answers to the questions posed to her.

Judge Garaufis:
Image of a gray-haired white man wearing a striped dark gray suit with an orange tie, and glasses.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

A few things come to mind regarding this. First, the entire situation is hilarious. The classic “say ridiculous things on your jury questionnaire to get out of jury duty” scheme, the possibility that the 20-something Asian-American Seamstress may actually think like this, the judge’s blatant abuse of his own authority, and that she forgot to mention her disliking of Italians (the defendant’s name is Vincent Basciano).

The next thing that comes to mind is what must have gone through the judges head. Two possibilities are likely.

The first possibility is that the judge believes that the woman actually does believe these things she wrote down and said. In that case, if the judge didn’t want to know then he shouldn’t have asked. In America, we generally believe in the principal of freedom of speech and we almost universally believe that people should not be punished for the feelings (such as dis-admiration and contempt) they hold. We may attempt to persuade others away from holding negative feelings towards a broadly defined and diverse group (such as Hispanics or African-Americans), but we will not deprive them of freedom for having these feelings. It is important to remember that this woman did not go out of her way to preach her feelings on the subjects – the questions were posed to her, and she answered. The judge punishing the woman for holding a set of beliefs and answering questions about them honestly is beyond preposterous, so the answer to the question “[is this] New York Federal Judge assuming the role of thought police?” is almost certainly a “no”. Because, unlike the judge, I believe in the presumption of innocence, I will assume the woman is not being punished for her feelings.

The second and much more likely possibility is that the judge believed the woman to be playing the “say ridiculous things to get out of jury duty” game, and that the judge believed this would be an effective way to discourage such behavior. The message sent would be, “Jurors, your choice is as follows: say ridiculous things and waste lots of time doing nothing, or do not say ridiculous things, and spend an equal amount of time participating in the judicial system as a good citizen. The time cost to you will be identical; make your choice.”

If this is the case, and it probably is, then the judge is either a mind reader or he seems to have forgotten about the presumption of innocence. We established that the judge does not believe himself to be the mind reading thought police above. That means he is making a guess about the woman’s motives. The judge ought to know that even if she probably did have dishonest motives for answering the questions, we don’t punish people for probably being guilty. Yet, this judge has acted unilaterally and deprived this woman of her freedom in a manner that the woman has no right to legal defense, recourse, or appeal. Even if she is released from jury duty after a time, she will not be able to get that time back – it is lost to her forever. And let’s not kid ourselves: she isn’t actually doing a civic duty at this point – there is zero chance of her being on that jury. She will simply be sitting in the courtroom doing absolutely nothing.

If we, as a society, want to remove the motive for answering juror questionnaires in an intentionally provocative manner, then we should do so by requiring all jurors to attend the trial until it is over even after they have been disqualified from the jury. It would anger a lot of people, and it would be foolish, but it would be more equitable and less-crappy than the precedent being established by the NY judge in question. This precedent simply states that clever dishonesty is to be rewarded with a free pass from jury duty, whereas obvious dishonesty is to be punished without mercy.

(A bit of dry satire and self-deprecation incoming.) Her vocation is semi-skilled labor, we should not be surprised if it shows. Of course her comments are crass, it’s been the same with every job I’ve ever had in a semi-skilled labor work environment. We expect construction workers to comment amongst themselves at an attractive woman walking by, do we not?

Elanor Roosevelt put it well, when she said that

“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”

That doesn’t mean that this woman or those construction workers or Marines are all bad people, it means we are all affected by our work environment and the type of jobs we do. We can either accept it at face value, or live in a world without form-fitting dresses on attractive women, buildings of complex construction, and US Marines. As someone who is appreciative of form-fitting dresses on attractive women, someone who enjoys having a roof over his head, and as a former Marine, I say thank god for seamstresses that are bitter at the world, don’t give a damn for anything that takes them away from productive work, and aren’t afraid to show it! Here is an American Flag and an Apple Pie for good measure:

Sterile image of Old Glory

mmmm, Apple Pie... I should ask my girlfriend to bake me one.
(Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Had she been selected for the jury, does anyone doubt that she would have held an emotional grudge against the defendant, who’s alleged crimes are now taking money out of her pocket (to her)?

To pick on this single woman simply for having the intellectual integrity to be more obvious about the “ridiculous things to get out of jury duty” game than others is silly, and a corruption of the institution of jury duty. In essence, the judge’s decision boils down to “You want to corrupt the jury duty system? Fine, I’ll corrupt it more.” The woman is simply a common seamstress, but the federal judge ought to know better. And yes, a double standard is absolutely in place here – society has entrusted the judge with life-or-death decision making, whereas the seamstress has been entrusted by society with making women look sexy. Both are clearly important, but I’ll have to give a slight edge to the judge in terms of the importance of what society has entrusted him with.

The judge is acting like a child. He should offer sincere apologies to the woman and send her on her way, or he should be removed from the bench.

New York Federal Judge Assumes Role of Thought Police?

An Offer and Invitation From Libyan Rebellion

EDIT on April 2: April Fools 🙂

I made this ridiculous image to go with the prank, but decided not to use it yesterday because it would have introduced a plot hole into my elaborate scheme.

Me, sitting on a bench. Baseball cap backwards, aviators on, smoking a cigarette. I have an M-14 rifle in my hands, and am wearing a bou-bou over camouflage and a rambo-style bandoleer. I look completely ridiculous.

Original post continues…

April 1, 2011

Apparently, some of the right people have been reading my blog. Three days ago, I got an e-mail from Khalifa Hifter who took command of the Rebel Army in Libya last week. Hifter was a senior military officer in the Libyan Army under Gaddafi and led Libyan forces against Chad in the war they fought in the 1980s.

He agreed with most of my assessments of the problems facing Rebel forces, and with most of my solutions. Our back-and-forth discussion since that first e-mail from him is the reason I haven’t blogged in a few days. My blog is about a month old, and I appreciate the support that you folks have given me, but I may continue to be missing from the blogosphere for some time. Noting both the content of this blog and my experience as a Sergeant of Marines, Hifter has invited me to join his staff as a junior advisor, with the task of helping to forge a corps of non-commissioned officers among the Rebels, and as an advisor on how to maintain positive American public opinion towards the Rebellion. Given how well educated many of the Libyan rebels are, I do not think the language barrier will be insurmountable.

A ticket has been purchased for me, from San Francisco to Rome, departing this Monday. I believe I will be met there and given enough money to make my way to southern Italy and then to Benghazi – I’ll be taking the same route using the same methods that Libyan illegal immigrants use to get to Italy, except in reverse. Wish me luck, and thank you again for your support since I started this blog. Without that support, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

An Offer and Invitation From Libyan Rebellion

No Fly Zone, One Week Later

It’s been about a week since NATO implemented a no-fly zone over Libya, with the approval of the UN security council and at the request of the Arab League.

The boy below has pointed out an error of mine. I’ve been spelling the city Misrata, he seems to be indicating that it is spelled Musrata in English. Very well, young man, correction noted and thank you.

Pre-teenage boy holding sign in red that reads Musrata. Behind him, another boy holds a mocking cartoon of Gaddafi.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

Another interesting image I’ve come across is this, a Marine Harrier “jump-jet” landing vertically on the USS Kearsarge as it returns from strikes on Libyan Government forces outside of Musrata. This isn’t from the next Transformers movie, I promise you. Click for full size and resolution.

Night vision image of a harrier lowering vertically towards a barely visible flight deck. The flames from the jet engine can be seen pointing down towards the flight deck.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

This is that warship, the USS Kearsarge, off the coast of Libya during the day. The ship is nearly identical to its sister ship, the USS Essex, who’s capabilities I described last week.

USS Kearsarge at sea during the day. Flight deck is quite prominent, and harriers are visible on it.
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera Live)

Well, that is enough hardware talk. Wikipedia has extensive documentation of the various assets at work.


It has been about a month since resistance began in Musrata. Government troops laid siege to it after finishing their conquest of Zawiya, and Musrata has been the most brutal operation conducted by Gaddafi’s forces yet. Features of this siege have included systematic leveling of buildings and rampant killing of civilians. As a result of NATO strikes over the last few days, the Siege of Musrata has effectively ended.

The killing, however, has not. NATO aircraft can locate and destroy combat vehicles of Gaddafi’s Army, but individual government marksman cannot be located from the air. By stating that the siege has ended, I am conveying that earnest efforts to capture the city have ended for the moment. Gaddafi’s troops are reported to be killing unarmed people indiscriminately, and people are not being allowed to leave the city. The primary hospital of Musrata has Government marksman on the rooftop, shooting injured people as they approach. For obvious reasons, there isn’t much that NATO Aircraft can do about this – heavy machine gun bullets from aircraft will penetrate the roof of the building, and likely kill or injure people within the hospital.

No Fly Zone, One Week Later

Exploiting Foreign Labor

In Mauritania, the 5-man detachment of Marines guarding the US Embassy worked about 70 hours a week and thus we didn’t feel like cooking for ourselves.

So, we employed Mohammed. He was paid $200/month, translating to about $1 per hour. He also kept up the common areas of the house.

On that so-called “slave wage”, he purchased land, hired an architect, and was having a two story house built with indoor plumbing. This also meant that his daughter could go to school instead of working or being married off at a young age.

If we’d been forced to pay him even $2 per hour, we simply would not have employed him. The time cost of cooking for ourselves would have been deemed less than the financial cost of employing Mohammed. We would have ceased being lazy and cooked for ourselves. His daughter would likely be less educated, the architect would never have been hired, and those construction workers would never have had that employment. It is also worth noting that, in his 50s, Mohammed was approaching his life expectancy in that countryemployment translates into access to semi-modern health-care.

Not that I am defending Nike workers that are paid less than $1 per hour in China — in order to do that, I would have to at least know how much a loaf of bread costs at the grocery store closest to that factory. I don’t have any idea what the costs of living are in the various cities containing Nike factories in China, so I do not have enough information to pass judgment either way.

Something to consider when we arbitrarily condemn US companies that outsource to cut costs.

Exploiting Foreign Labor

Radioactive Disaster, Marines en route

While I often find myself inclined to agree with a significant reduction in Defense spending in favor of programs that help Americans at home, sometimes I’m kind of glad we’ve got a massive fleet of warships floating all over the place carrying things like cargo helicopters and thousands of physically fit men trained and equipped to walk into radioactive fallout in the aftermath of the 4th largest earthquake in at least the last 300 years or so.

I’m going to assume at this point that the reader has turned on a television or read the news at some point during the last four days and is thus aware of the catastrophe in Japan that has ended no fewer than 20,000 lives, and that the reader is aware that tens of thousands more lives could potentially be lost over the course of the next week or so if certain things are not accomplished. If you have no idea what I am talking about, please check out current events in Japan and then come back.

This is the USS Essex in 2008.

Picture of the USS Essex at sea, with helicopters and aircraft visible on its flight deck.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

No doubt, it currently has a similar compliment of cargo helicopters as it nears the Japanese coast. In addition, under that flight deck and similar decks throughout “Amphibious Squadron 11” and the Carrier Battle Group built around the USS Ronald Regan are about 2,200 US Marines and enough food, water, trauma-oriented medical supplies, and Navy personnel that know how to use them for the Marines to engage in sustained combat for 30 days without any additional outside logistical support. They also have 2,200 suits that allow them to enter areas contaminated with nuclear radiation.

As it turns out, the Marines won’t be needing those beans, bullets, and band-aids for themselves – but I’m sure a lot of folks in Japan will soon benefit from their existence.

The assets at work:

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) – The equipment and logistics personnel. The people, boats, helicopters, trucks, fuel, and spare parts that make the “30 days unsupported” thing possible. 30 days of food and water for 2,200 people performing hard manual labor translates roughly into 5 days for 10,000 people not performing hard manual labor, and the ability to move it by land, sea, and air.

2nd Bn, 5th Marines (2/5) – The “ground combat element” of the 31st MEU. 2/5’s website hasn’t been updated in a while because, well, they’ve been out at sea for the last few months and the ships probably don’t have wifi. These 1600 or so men (yes, all of them are men) form the bulk of the personnel of the 31st MEU and are the ones that have the equipment and training to physically step foot into an area of radiological disaster. These men of iron are also physically fit, well disciplined, and have a demonstrated willingness to risk their lives for others. Their motto is “Retreat Hell”. As in, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” said to an officer of the French Army during the First World War.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265) – The “aviation combat element” of the 31st MEU. Flying 40 year old CH-46 helicopters that can move 2,000 lbs of stuff around at 150 miles per hour, these pilots and mechanics are certainly going to be earning their pay over the course of the next week or so. There is also a unit of Harriers attached to the 31st MEU, but I don’t anticipate ground attack jets to be particularly useful in this emergency.

Amphibious Squadron 11 – The USS Essex, USS Denver, USS Harper’s Ferry, and USS Tortuga form this.

USS Essex and her sister ships – USS Essex is the largest of the four warships, carrying about half of those Marines. Denver is older and carrying around 1/4 of the 31st MEU, the Tortuga and Harper are together carrying the remaining 1/4.* Essex and Harper were last in the news while conducting humanitarian operations in the aftermath of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis that killed over 130,000 people. Tortuga’s latest humanitarian operation was 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and Denver’s latest was in Taiwan in the aftermath of the 2009 Typhoon Morakot that killed fewer than 1,000 people.

Carrier Task Force 76 – This is the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) nuclear aircraft carrier and its support fleet. This represents an immense amount of logistics capability, but not many pairs of combat boots. CTF 76 represents more military capability than many entire nations have at their disposal. The personnel it has will include technical experts in nuclear power that have done extensive contingency planning and training to answer questions such as “What if our nuclear reactor suffers catastrophic damage and starts leaking?” – The scenarios these guys run are things that civil nuclear power plant workers would never think to consider. Japanese nuclear power plant technicians have probably run scenarios involving earthquakes causing radioactive leakage, but have they conducted that training while deprived of sleep as they currently are? The sailors on the Reagan have.

* Those fractions are ballpark estimates based on the capacity of the four ships, which exceeds the total size of the MEU and thus could be off.

Radioactive Disaster, Marines en route