April 7, 2012:
The U.S. Marine Corps is changing its training and recruiting for post-war on terror operations. This means a return to training for amphibious missions and various special operations situations (hostage rescue and quick intervention to, for example, remove American diplomats and civilians from a crisis zone). Also getting more attention is disaster relief operations. These are seen as a good test of marine readiness and skills, as well as excellent diplomacy. People tend to appreciate a little help after a disaster. To that end, the marines are also modifying their recruiting pitch to include mention of relief operations. This attracts qualified young men who might otherwise be put off by the marine emphasis on combat.
The marines are also turning their focus (and more of their forces) towards the Pacific Ocean. Natural disasters in the Pacific (typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunami tidal waves) are also abundant and in the last seven years the U.S. military was much in demand for this kind of work. American aid usually consists of C-17 transports carrying in relief supplies to Guam, while U.S. Navy ships, especially the amphibious ones with all the helicopters and marines, moved in to deliver medical and transportation assistance.
The most notable recent example of this occurred in 2005, when a major earthquake off Indonesia, and tidal waves generated by it, killed over 100,000 people in western Indonesia’s Aceh province. This was a place long noted for Islamic conservatism. But most of the aid that showed up was from infidels. Even the U.S. Navy soon arrived, with supplies and huge helicopters. The Islamic radicals in Aceh took a beating in the PR department when years of painting foreign infidels as devils disappeared in a few weeks. Americans, including the navy, marines, and State Department noticed.
Since then, the Department of Defense began to plan and train for more such disaster relief and peacekeeping efforts. Many admirals and generals have resisted this in the past. But the Indian and Pacific Ocean operations showed that combat ready personnel had no problem carrying out relief operations. The sailors and marines got some good training while doing it, as they had to use their equipment under adverse conditions.
The U.S. Army has already learned that lesson during the 1990s peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Although the troops were not fighting they were operating under stressful conditions. Patrols still went out and intelligence operations were intense. That peacekeeping experience proved very useful in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of officers and troops were able to draw on their Balkans experience when confronted with similar situations in Iraq. Even something as seemingly mundane as patrolling among hostile civilian populations, conducting raids and searches, and manning roadblocks, was a lot easier in Iraq as a result of Balkans experience. This reminded everyone that operational experience, even when you're not shooting at people, has substantial benefits for the troops. The war on terror is likely to require more peacekeeping, than warmaking skills, and the Department of Defense is moving towards developing better training and preparation for these operations.