This really doesn’t make sense until you start asking yourself how Navy Frogmen became the SEALs.
The underwater demolitions unit (called the frogmen) possessed a certain number of unique skills. They were awesome divers who were used to clear the way for Marine transport landings of enemy underwater mines. So they were good at diving, explosives, and early stealth. That made them the first to look at for other teams that needed to be made, such as sneaking into enemy territory via the water for secret squirrel recon missions. From there, they picked up some marksmanship abilities and traditional fighting tactics while maintaining their same old core skills like diving. A few decades later and we have a unit that looks nothing like the divers of WWII, but something much more akin to any other ground based infantry.
In fact their role has changed so much that Chris Kyle (American Sniper), perhaps the most famous SEAL today, often joked that wasn’t really a SEAL. He was just an “L”. To understand that, you need to know that SEAL stands for SEa Air and Land. Kyle’s joke referenced how much he loathed water operations and jumping out of planes. What was odd, was that two core skill sets to the Navy Seals a few decades ago, were so completely unnecessary in the wars of today, that Kyle was able to utilize his “L” skills alone to become the killingest sniper in US military history.
Now the SEALs haven’t lost their old abilities. The killing of the Somali pirates who took over the civilian shipping liner, made famous by the movie Captain Phillips, shows clearly how modern SEALs are still able to execute naval engagements with the same lethal precision as their heritage dictates.
Still, their maneuvering into more and more based land operations asks a few questions. The first to followers of military organization is, “What about DELTA?”
Delta is the United States Army’s primary direct action special operations unit. Traditionally, all the things we think about the SEALs doing, Delta would have done. All of it. So why all the redundancy? Well, the simple reason is… redundancy.
Having two forces with the skill sets needed today hurts no one… well there is an argument about the taxpayer, but that’s another question for another day. In either case, having both units available allows for specialization and evolution of the tradecraft of warfare. For example, Delta is better at black ops, often donning masks and blending in enemy locales vastly different from their own. The SEALs do it too, but not quite as well. The SEALs have more experience with water bound insertions, which isn’t really that useful today, but will be again at some point. The point is, they can handle problems differently, which gives the military as a whole, a better chance of success and new avenues to evolve in the future. For example, the Marine Corps has even finally gotten into the game with their own special forces direct action units built off the old recon units. They are called the Raiders, and if we think about a Marine Corps version of the SEALs and Delta… well, I just hope people don’t dither too much on getting their hands up because those guys are going to kill everything so hard.
Which brings me back to why the Marines are a land force. It might interest readers to know I was a Marine who spent my entire time operating in deserts, from Southern and Southwestern California, Yuma, to my favorite one, the deserts of Al Anbar Province Iraq. Lovely place. It’s like a beach with no water and the bikinis suck.
Anyway, the reason I was in Iraq is because the Marines have a few redundant skillsets. Like the Army, we are great warfighters, and on average, many would argue better, but limited by our smaller size and budget. This is because primarily because, many moons ago, we were tasked with the role of invasion. We would go into a country, deprive the bad guys of a few key assets, bloody them up really good with a few quick assaults and basically leave them completely fragmented by the time the much stronger, and larger, but slower Army came around to secure the field and mop up. This is well demonstrated in the waySometimes, the Marines are set up to do this completely without the aid of the Army, relying on nothing but naval support. Hence the question.
However, it doesn’t make sense to just abandon a mission three weeks after the invasion, hop back on our boats and wave a one fingered salute to the Army, saying to our soldier buddies, “Good luck, suckers.” No. We have the skills and we have the assets to do the job, so we are going to do it too. In fact, we were often sent to the extremely difficult regions, such as Al Anbar, currently in the news for being the central zone of occupation for Islamic State forces and housing their capital in Iraq.
So having said all that, the answer to “Why are the Marines used for long-term missions like Iraq/Afghanistan?”, the answer is simply, “because they can,” and more importantly, “because someone needs to,” because there simply aren’t enough who are both willing and able to do it.
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