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MARINE CORPS BASE, CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., (June 5, 2009) -- The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, addresses the Marines and sailors of Camp Pendleton at the mainside football field, June 5.::r::::n::General Conway addressed concerns about continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, highlighting the operational shift in the Central Command area of operations. While advisory groups will continue training the fledgling Iraqi Marine Corps, most Marine Corps efforts will be aimed at Afghanistan in the near future, Conway said.::r::::n::Conway's senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, called on Marine noncommissioned officers to listen and take action regarding their junior Marines, citing an unacceptable number of suicides in recent years.

Photo by Cpl. Timothy T. Parish

Corps’ top leadership visit Marines, discuss Iraq, Afghanistan

5 Jun 2009 | Cpl. Timothy T. Parish

The two top Marines in the Corps visited Camp Pendleton, Calif. June 5 to speak with Marines about the condition of the Corps.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, spoke and took questions during the event. Conway spoke to the proud tradition of Marines in battle, emphasizing continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I don’t ever talk to a group of Marines without talking about our number one priority, and that is support of troops at the point of the spear,” said Conway. “And that today has us talking about Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Conway said the west coast Marines should be proud of their efforts in Iraq, through multiple troop rotations, and for facing down the insurgents and defeating them. By teaming with the Army and tribal sheiks, the Marines helped establish a stable, functioning government in Iraq, Conway said.

Although operations in Iraq are winding down after nearly six and-a-half years, the Marine Corps will now focus almost exclusively on defeating terrorists in the hills of Afghanistan, Conway added.

“The most important thing coming out of Iraq is that the Islamic extremists who attacked us eight years ago are in the process now of being crushed themselves,” said Conway. “It started in Iraq and it’s going to continue in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. So as we come out of there, we do so under a victory pennant and we can be very pleased with the results of our efforts.”

With deployment to dwell time a concern, Conway hopes to see a one-to-two ratio in the near future, meaning seven months deployed followed by 14 months at home. The longer dwell periods will allow Marines to focus more on broad spectrum training which has taken a back seat in training to defeat insurgents in recent years. 

“In that fourteen months you spend at home, we’re going to get back to being Marines in a very real sort of way,” said Conway. “What we have been is the world’s finest counter insurgency force. What we’ve sacrificed is our amphibious skills, our mountain skills, cold weather skills, jungle skills, and not least, the ability to hook and jab as a combined armed maneuver force.”

In the future, Conway wants to move closer to the pre-Iraq war mindset of ‘Maneuver Warfare’ training which led to great effect during the invasion of Iraq.

“(Combined arms training) is what allowed us to do what we did in 2003 and that now is a long way from where we need to be. We have to be ready, whatever the nation asks us to do, whenever it calls, we have to be ready to execute our core competencies and that’s why we have to take advantage of some of that time at home to simply train.”

Conway’s senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. Kent, lauded the ability and courage of today’s Marines, many of whom he lead as Sgt. Maj. of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force until assuming the post of Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps in April 2007.

“First of all, I’d just like to say thank you. The Commandant and I are extremely proud of what you are doing for our Corps,” said Kent. “It is you who truly live up to the legacy of our Corps each day. You know, we have a rich legacy, from 1775 to present, and you have not missed a beat since 1775.”

“And I will tell you right now, each and every one of you came in the Marine Corps because you wanted a challenge, and hopefully you are getting that challenge today.”

Kent called on the ranks of noncommissioned officers to face up to the challenges facing the Marine Corps today, calling NCOs “the backbone of the Marine Corps.”

“The NCOs are closest to every Marine. Right now we have a problem with suicide. We need the NCOs to be out there talking to their Marines, telling them that it is okay to come forward if they are having problems. Because we need to fix the Marine’s problems so we can get them back in the fight,” Kent said.

Kent also highlighted the high retention rate in the Marine Corps, attributing it, in part, to the leadership of Gen. Conway. Bonuses aside, however, Marines reenlist for a deeper purpose, Kent said.

“We have Marines right now reenlisting at the highest rate that we’ve ever seen in my over thirty years as a Marine. And I will tell you, you get great bonuses, but you are not reenlisting because of the bonuses,” said Kent. “(The Commandant) gets you bonuses, he gets you funding, but if that funding was to go away tomorrow, and these bonuses go away tomorrow, we know you would reenlist. You would reenlist because the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is branded on your heart.”