After 236 years, same mission, different means

10 Nov 2011 | Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

When Congress created the Navy and Marine Corps, it was to protect American interests overseas. Today, the Marine Corps celebrates 236 years of fulfilling the same mission but with different tools.

“Marine detachments aboard naval vessels are in keeping with our traditions,” said Sgt. Maj. Mario P. Fields, sergeant major of Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2. “They were expeditionary, it was a forward-deployed element. In the past, just like in the present, their mission was to provide security and be an asset for that commander, for that commander to use them based on the capabilities they brought to the team.”

Marines protected the ship’s officers from mutiny, fought against enemy boarding parties and went ashore to take enemy positions or protect American lives and property in foreign countries.

The Marines immediately set to work after they were formed. The Navy was tasked with seizing supplies in the British held Bahamas in March of 1776, during the American Revolution. A shore party of Marines and Sailors seized Fort Nassau, which is celebrated in Marine history as the first amphibious operation. Marines continued their actions in support of the Navy during the Revolution. After the war, both the Navy and the Marine Corps were disbanded.

Foreign navies and pirates preyed on American merchant ships and Congress reinstituted both the Navy and Marine Corps to protect trade routes. Marines provided detachments for ships until 1998.

Amphibious operations, as a Marine Corps mission, took time and new technology to develop. According to the History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II Vol. I by Hough, Ludwig and Shaw, the development of steam-powered ships propelled the Corps into amphibious operations. Previously, sailing vessels didn’t have to refuel at ports. Steam ships, however, needed large quantities of coal and limited the range of ships. If enemies lay beyond that range, a force was required to either seize or build a new base where ships could get more coal.

During the Spanish-American War, the Marines landed and took Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allowing the Navy to operate with a fuel base in the Caribbean and solidifying the Corps’ role as amphibious warriors.

Though operations for the seizure of advanced bases had already been carried out, the theories behind the operations still needed time to develop. Over time, a doctrine was created, troops were trained, capabilities were evaluated, and in 1933, the Fleet Marine Force was created for the sole purpose of the advanced base concept. This force enabled the island hopping campaign necessary to dislodge the Japanese Empire from their hold on the Pacific in World War II.

In 1955, the Corps took a major step to increase readiness. The 1st Provisional Marine Air Ground Task Force was formed in Hawaii as a brigade-sized force ready to respond to emergencies. This new concept of forward readiness eventually became the basis of the Fleet Marine Force we know today.

“Even though Marine detachments are no longer deployed aboard aircraft carriers, the capability of a small element being called up to do a mission within hours anywhere around this globe hasn’t changed,” said Fields. “We’re still capable of doing whatever we have to do regardless of what has changed.”

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point