Marine Forces Reserve: answering the call

Marine Forces Reserve: answering the call – Marine Corps Reserve

LtGen Dennis M. McCarthy

Today’s Marine Reservists are ready, willing and able to support the active component and to serve our communities in peace or war. Marine Forces Reserve (MarForRes) has activated nearly 5,000 Marines, as part of units or individual augments, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Reserve units have filled critical roles in the nation’s defense. For example: Reserve KC-130s have deployed twice to support operations in Afghanistan; Reserve CH-53 helicopters have deployed with Marine Expeditionary Units to increase the heavy lift; two Reserve infantry battalions have been the ready reaction forces to respond quickly to crisis situations; and Reservists have been guarding the fence line aboard U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the past year.

In addition to supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, Marine Reservists continued to provide operations tempo relief to the active forces during 2002. Notably, more than 300 Reservists volunteered to participate in UNITAS 43-02, creating the first Reserve Marine Forces UNITAS. From August to December, the Marines sailed around South America conducting training exercises with military forces from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Chile and other countries.

MarForRes has also been moving forward steadily with plans to transform the Marine Corps Reserve to meet the needs of 21st century warfare.


In June 2001, the commandant of the Marine Corps directed the commander, Marine Forces Reserve, to conduct a comprehensive review of the organizational and command structure of MarForRes to ensure that the Marine Corps Reserve of the 21st century would continue to be as ready and relevant as that of the 20th century. The Comprehensive Review Group (CRG) was tasked with recommending ways to achieve greater operational linkage between MarForRes units and the active-duty warfighters and the advisability of changing the missions of designated MarForRes units to reflect the changing requirements the active force envisions for the Reserve. No changes in end-strength or geographic locations were contemplated.

The path to this reformation of the Marine Corps Reserve began more than five years ago. The Marine Forces Reserve executive committee, consisting of the MarForRes commander and all USMC Reserve generals, established a set of guiding principles as early as 1998. The commandant of the Marine Corps published guidance in 1999 that added depth and direction to the initial guiding principles. The general officer’s futures group meetings during 2000 produced significant recommendations, which were approved in September 2000 at the USMC general officer symposium. All of these previous efforts provided the framework and foundation for the MarForRes Comprehensive Review of 2001. The guiding principles include a Marine Corps Reserve that would be:

* Closely tied to national strategy, emerging trends, and the active-duty warfighters.

* A balanced, complementary force, comparably equipped and fully resourced.

* Capable of a full spectrum of conflict.

* Accessible and routinely used in peacetime and war.

* Relevant and linked to the American people through Reserve forward presence (homeland defense/community support).

* Maximizing personnel for the greatest “bang for the buck.”

* Emphasizing key civilian skills.


Closer operational alignment is the fundamental goal for reconstruction efforts within the Marine Corps Reserve. Operational alignment will enhance interoperability, improve training, and expedite mobilization. It will help ensure operational currency for rapidly changing threats and missions that the Reserve forces of the future must meet. The Comprehensive Review seeks to improve the links within the Total Force by improving our integration of training and exercises. MarForRes has mapped out strategies and is implementing liaison teams with the active-duty operational commanders. Two of MarForRes’s major subordinate commanders will be dual-hatted as deputy commanders, MarForRes East and West, to lead their respective forward command elements collocated with the active-duty operational commanders. These efforts will build on the Marine Corps Reserve’s already highly integrated and well-established efforts to provide augmentation and operational tempo relief.

Enhanced lines of communication will increase opportunities for operational tempo relief and integrated training opportunities. Providing increased exposure between active and Reserve units enhances interoperability. Appropriate planning ensures that Reserve units will train with units from their gaining force commands as designated in various plans. Training will often occur at or near the bases where these units would be mobilized. Integrated training will apply to both complementary and mirror-imaged forces. The combined impact of these evolutions will create a Total Force seamless in its training, operation capabilities and culture.


The CRG also developed the concept of “functional battalions” with independently deployable companies as the key element to achieve the prescribed goals. Although Reserve Infantry Battalions and other major combat support formations will continue to be employed primarily as battalions, this new concept involves reassigning administrative and logistical support from a battalion’s Headquarters and Service Co. (H&S Co.) to the line companies to make them independently deployable while maintaining sufficient capability in the battalion headquarters to provide leadership and premobilization command and control. In the future, the Marine Corps expects to employ certain Reserve combat support and combat service-support units as companies rather than battalions. In addition, the CRG determined that the manpower savings from creating functional battalions could be re-invested in several new capabilities relevant to 21st century issues such as homeland defense, terrorism and information technology. The functional batta lions also require less equipment, another cost savings.

In a traditional battalion, a large portion of the administrative and logistical support for the line companies is resident in the H&S Co. When a Reserve company deploys independently, a portion of the H&S Co. has to be deployed with it and is integrated into the gaining force battalion headquarters. Because most Reserve companies are geographically separated from their battalion headquarters, we have already moved portions of the H&S Co. personnel and equipment to the company home training centers. Creating independently deployable companies essentially eliminates the bureaucracy of the status quo by streamlining the mobilization process (one unit vice two) and providing a more integrated and flexible unit to the operational commander.

Functional battalions make sense for certain formations in the Marine Corps Reserve because operational and contingency plans do not call for certain combat support and combat service-support battalions to be employed as battalions. Rather, companies and task-organized detachments are required to augment active-component battalions. The Reserve battalion command structure is needed to provide leadership and pre-mobilization functions. Marines assigned to the downsized functional battalion headquarters would still he deployable to augment active-component headquarters, as needed depending on the operation. This requires that the active-duty unit revise its table of organization to reflect the appropriate contingency billets to which the Selected Marine Corps Reserve personnel will be assigned.


The manpower savings from the creation of functional battalions will be re-invested (at the same home training center) in new capabilities, primarily two anti-terrorism battalions and an intelligence battalion. The security battalions will have eight independently deployable anti-terrorism/force protection platoons each, as well as an augmentation element to the chemical/biological incident response force, nuclear-biological-chemical platoons, military police companies and a mortuary affairs platoon. The intelligence battalion will coordinate the efforts of existing Marine Corps Reserve intelligence units, which will be aligned geographically and drill at the 27 Joint Reserve Intelligence Centers located across the United States in support of real-world initiatives. These units will be dual-mission capable for overseas deployments as well as homeland defense.

Additional new capabilities include an information technology detachment; increased individual Marine augmentee support for the Marine Corps recruiting command, judge advocate division and active warfighter staffs; increased linguist augmentation to our civil affairs groups; and added environmental service detachments.

By using the functional battalion as the basis for changes, MarForRes can maintain all of its current warfighting capability, integrate more closely with the active component, reduce procurement costs and create a number of new capabilities relevant to 21st century warfare without increasing end-strength or changing the geographical map of MarForRes.


Changing demographics in America demand changes in the Marine Corps Reserve to provide optimum opportunities for Reserve service. The Marine Corps Reserve has many Cold-War manpower management systems ill-suited for the 21st century economy. The Reserve Manpower Management System of the 21st century (RMMS21) and Marine For Life (M4L) are programs that promote and enable the Marine Corps to attract and retain quality individuals. RMMS21 provides integrated manpower management life-cycle support for Reserve and retired Marines. M4L achieves the vision of improving assistance to the thousands of Marines who honorably leave active service each year.

RMMS21 will integrate and interface with every manpower management-related model and system in Headquarters Marine Corps that touches on the Reserve component. It will integrate or eliminate current stovepipes. The system will provide a coordinated manpower management vehicle for the Marine Corps Reserve and the individual Marine. The system will have the capability to identify vital and key Marine Corps Reserve and civilian skills resident in MarForRes to support real-world contingencies, mobilization scenarios and mission readiness. The interactive dimension of RMMS21 allows the Marine Corps to stay connected to the widely dispersed Reserve population. Marines will be able to access all personnel data in the Marine Corps Total Force System and the Official Military Personnel File. Active-duty commanders will be able to view Reserve assets. This is a Total Force administration process that is being developed to be interoperable with Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System.

The M4L Program is being developed to achieve the commandant’s vision of “improving assistance for our almost 27,000 Marines each year who honorably leave active service and return to civilian life, while re-emphasizing the value of an honorable discharge.” The M4L Program will build, develop and nurture a nationwide network of transitioning Marines, veterans, retirees, Marine Corps-affiliated organizations, and friends of the Corps.


The ability of the Reserve to rapidly mobilize and integrate into the active component in response to the Marine Corps’ operational requirements is a tribute to the dedication, professionalism and warrior spirit of every member of MarForRes. Our future success relies firmly on the Marine Corps’ most valuable asset: our Marines and their families.

We need a truly “portable” health-care system that will allow our Reservists to move freely between full-time and part-time service without jeopardizing their family health care. The absence of a truly portable family healthcare system is the showstopper for a true “continuum of service.” The Reservist must have the flexibility to move across the availability spectrum. Breaks in family health care frustrate that movement.

We also continue to seek congressional approval to expand Montgomery GI Bill eligibility. Currently, the MGIB requires a six-year drilling Reserve commitment with a two-year non-drilling Ready Reserve commitment. The incentive should be expanded to include the four-year drilling Reserve/four-year Ready Reserve commitment payback so that it better matches the benefit it provides: financial assistance for a four-year college education. The Marine Corps has a large percentage of young, non-prior-service enlistments and this will enhance retention.

The Marine Corps Reserve is an integral part of the Marine Corps Total Force and the transformation of Marine Forces Reserve must be complementary to that of our active-duty operating forces to provide the greatest and most-needed capability. Our efforts to transform our training, organizations, and support systems will ensure that the Marine Corps Reserve retains its relevancy into the 21st century.

LtGen Dennis M. McCarthy graduated from the University of Dayton and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1967. Upon graduation from The Basic School, he served in Vietnam, Quantico, Va., and Worcester, Mass. He was then selected to attend law school and upon graduation, served as a judge advocate at Camp Lejeune, N.C. After promotion to major, he resigned his regular commission in 1978 and transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve.

General McCarthy was called to active duty during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and then in 1991 commanded the U.S. Joint Task Force, Chile in 1992. He was selected for promotion to the grade of brigadier general in 1992. He has been commanding general of the Marine Corps Reserve Support Command; has commanded the Augmentation Command Element of the First Marine Expeditionary Force while concurrently assigned as deputy commander, I MEF. He was appointed to the Defense Reserve Forces Policy Board in 1996.

In 1997, General McCarthy assumed command of the Third Marine Division, becoming the first Reserve General Officer to command an active-duty Marine division. He was then assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Command, where he served as the vice director of Operations, and then in 1999 as director of Operations & Plans. He then served as the director, Reserve Affairs Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, until he assumed his current duties as commander, Marine Forces Reserve, on 2 June 2001.

General McCarthy’s military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal with “V” and the Combat Action Ribbon.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reserve Officers Association of the United States

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