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Marines adapt for the future in Javelin Thrust exercise

July 27, 2011 | 10:56 am

The future of the Marine Corps may be playing out in the mountains of Bridgeport, Calif., and the flatlands of nearby Hawthorne, Nev.

Several thousand Marines and sailors -- reservists and active-duty -- are part of a 10-day training exercise called Javelin Thrust, polishing skills that could be applicable to humanitarian, disaster relief or quick-strike combat missions.

Training missions in the field, of course, are routine for Marines. The Marines’ Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport and the sprawling Hawthorne Army Weapons Depot are used year-round.

What makes Javelin Thrust unique is its size: about 5,000 Marines and sailors, midway between a Marine expeditionary unit -- which is often about 1,500 personnel -- and the much larger Marine expeditionary force, which can range in the tens of thousands.

Before he retired, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the Marine Corps to redefine its role in a world beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- an environment in which amphibious assaults are less crucial and there is no longer a need for a “second land army” to supplement the U.S. Army.

In response, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos has declared that the Marines -- while not abandoning amphibious assault training -- should also train to be a “middleweight force.”  Such a force is meant to be light, fast and self-sustaining enough to rush to an area and provide stability while a larger force is assembled for the long-term U.S. objective.

Enter Javelin Thrust, an exercise of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The brigade concept is not new but has taken on added significance under Amos' direction.

The goal, said Col. Brennan Byrne, is ensure that the Marines “are the most ready when the nation is least ready.”

Marine ground units are moving through rough terrain ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 feet elevation in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

Logistics and convoy troops are learning resupply techniques. Aircraft from the Marine base at Yuma, Ariz., are conducting live-fire in support of the scenario in which Marines are protecting a weaker nation from invasion by a stronger one.

“All sorts of different lessons are going to be taken out of here,” said Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

After the exercise ends Friday, it will be examined to see what went well and what did not. “We’re taking a pretty strong wire brush to ourselves,” Spiese said.


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines at the mountain warfare center in Bridgeport, Calif., take part in Javelin Thrust. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps