Amos: Marines ‘Ready to Respond to Any Crisis’

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2010 — Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos today vowed to make win­ning in Afghanistan his top pri­or­i­ty if he is con­firmed as the 35th com­man­dant of the Marine Corps.

Amos, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nee for the post, also pledged dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee to always be forth­right in assess­ing Marine Corps needs for Con­gress.

“You’ll always have my hon­est assess­ment of what is required,” he said.

If con­firmed, Amos will be the first career avi­a­tor to hold the top Marine Corps post, which has been occu­pied almost exclu­sive­ly by infantry­men. Serv­ing as the assis­tant com­man­dant for two years, Amos said, has giv­en him a broad view of the ser­vice.

“I am keen­ly aware of the chal­lenges our nation faces today, and like­ly will face in the future,” he said. “And, I under­stand the crit­i­cal role of our expe­di­tionary forces.”

Amos said he would ensure that the Marines main­tain the coun­terin­sur­gency skills they honed in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also stay­ing true to their tra­di­tion­al expe­di­tionary force role. “We will shape the Corps to be our nation’s shock force, ready to respond to any cri­sis,” he said.

Quot­ing the Corps’ mot­to of “Always faith­ful, always ready,” Amos said, “We will make sure we are always ready to answer the call.”

Amos cred­it­ed cur­rent Com­man­dant Gen. James T. Con­way with pro­duc­ing what he said are the best Marines in decades. “Our Marines have nev­er been bet­ter trained, or bet­ter led,” he said. “They are sim­ply mag­nif­i­cent.”

Amos called the oper­a­tional tem­po of Iraq and Afghanistan “the best of times, and the worst of times” for Marines, who want to be in the fight, no mat­ter how tough it is. “Troop morale is sky high,” he said. “The bulk of 20,000 Marines in Afghanistan … are liv­ing a pret­ty hard life. But they’re a hap­py lot. It’s almost coun­ter­in­tu­itive that you would put young men and women in an envi­ron­ment like that and they’d be hap­py.”

But they are hap­py, Amos said, and high recruit­ing num­bers prove Marines want to be in the fight. “If you signed up today,” he said, “you couldn’t go to [basic train­ing] until Feb­ru­ary, because we are that backed up.”

The gen­er­al said he is con­fi­dent in U.S. forces in Afghanistan based on his vis­its to Marines in Hel­mand province, one of the most vio­lent parts of the coun­try, where progress can be seen in more gov­er­nance and new schools, and few­er and less-effec­tive Tal­iban attacks.

Amos said he couldn’t say defin­i­tive­ly how the U.S. mis­sion in Afghanistan will end. But, he said, “I’m con­vinced the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary knows how to fight a coun­terin­sur­gency, and we will pre­vail in the nation of Afghanistan.”

Under ques­tion­ing from sen­a­tors, Amos said he is com­fort­able with Obama’s announce­ment that the Unit­ed States would begin its draw­down of troops in Afghanistan in July. “I do agree with it, I think it’s help­ful,” he said. “It will be backed up by con­di­tions on the ground. Every­body under­stands that.”

Amos also spoke about his vision for the ser­vice after it leaves Afghanistan. Forces will need to remain for­ward-deployed in regions of the Pacif­ic, Africa and else­where to engage with nations and train for­eign mil­i­taries in efforts to pre­vent wars, he not­ed.

“We need to be the nation’s cri­sis response force – light enough to get there rapid­ly and fast enough to car­ry the day,” he said. “So when the pres­i­dent says ‘Send in the Marines,’ we’re either there or we can get there rapid­ly.”

A Marine Corps force struc­ture review is under way and sched­uled for release in Jan­u­ary, the gen­er­al said. It like­ly will include a plan to “get well” after Afghanistan, which will entail replac­ing and refur­bish­ing equip­ment and reor­ga­niz­ing the force, he said.

Amos also was asked about a plan to move 8,000 Marines from Oki­nawa, Japan, to Guam. He said the Corps is work­ing with the Defense and State depart­ments to change the make­up of troops to relo­cate. The plan calls for more oper­a­tional and few­er head­quar­ters staff forces to allow for an air-ground task force at both Oki­nawa and Guam, as in Hawaii.

An agree­ment that is sat­is­fac­to­ry to Guam res­i­dents and that shows the mil­i­tary is a good stew­ard of the prop­er­ty will be worked out to solve a con­tro­ver­sy over a planned Marine Corps fir­ing range in Pagat, Guam, a his­tor­i­cal­ly pre­served area, Amos said.

“I think we can work around the Pagat issue,” he said, “and I think it’s head­ing in that direc­tion.”

Sev­er­al sen­a­tors ques­tioned Amos about leg­is­la­tion to over­turn the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, part of the pend­ing 2011 Defense Autho­riza­tion Bill. Amos said he per­son­al­ly is opposed to repeal of the law that bars gays from serv­ing open­ly in the mil­i­tary, but that as com­man­dant, he would ensure that the law is fol­lowed, how­ev­er it is decid­ed.

“We are the most dis­ci­plined ser­vice of all the ones you have,” Amos said. “We fol­low orders. If this [law] is changed, the last thing you’re going to see your Marine Corps do is step in and push it aside.”

In oth­er areas, Amos said:

— Marine Corps fam­i­lies are what he wor­ries most about. “Even though we care for them well and we’re reach­ing out to them, our fam­i­lies are tired,” he said.

— Increas­ing “dwell time” at home between deploy­ments will allow Marines more train­ing in areas such as amphibi­ous assault, instead of just coun­terin­sur­gency.

— He has spent most of his time as assis­tant com­man­dant work­ing on issues relat­ed to post-trau­mat­ic stress and sui­cides. He said he is encour­aged that sui­cides among Marines have dropped to 32 this year, com­pared to 39 at the same time last year.

— The Corps’ wound­ed war­rior pro­gram “has become leg­endary,” and like­ly will stay in place long after troops leave Afghanistan.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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