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Marines are getting too comfortable at their dug-in bases in Iraq, the Corps' top officer told an audience at the Naval War College on June 13.
"Due to the available infrastructure in the Al Anbar and the longevity of our presence, Marines are getting used to living at fixed bases and with more comforts of life than we really need," Commandant Gen. James Conway said in comments provided to Marine Corps Times.
Larger, more fortified Marine bases in Iraq, such as Al Asad Air Base in Anbar province, have amenities that stand in stark contrast to more remote outposts. Those amenities include a post exchange, fast-food restaurants and a movie theater.
Keeping the Corps light and agile in combat is an increasing challenge, Conway said.
"Because of the force-protection requirements in the Middle East, we are getting ‘heavier' in terms of vehicle weight and equipment," he said.
Conway's comments point to thinking beyond Iraq, said his spokesman, Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson.
"The comforts and the infrastructure of large bases in Iraq are a byproduct of our sustained presence there, and certainly do contribute to the morale of our Marines. However, Marines must guard against complacency and the expectation that tomorrow's fight be marked by equally hospitable operating bases," he said.
"The ability to operate, fight and win in austere environments is a Marine hallmark," Johnson said. "We can ill afford to lose that edge.
"We have to ensure the gear we procure today marries up well with the methods of transporting it to tomorrow's fight in significant quantities," Johnson added. "We must incorporate the lessons learned in Al Anbar while thinking and planning beyond Iraq."
Conway has expressed concern over the Iraq war's effect on the Corps' traditional missions, saying the focus has shifted almost entirely to counterinsurgency. In his remarks, he admitted that "current operations have produced a strain on our people and our institution as a whole."
Later that day, Conway met with spouses of deployed leathernecks at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and conducted similar town hall meetings last Thursday in Jacksonville, N.C., and Beaufort, S.C.
During his first few weeks as commandant, Conway visited with Marines at a number of facilities, Johnson said.
"Now, he wants to talk to the spouses who have been doing the heavy lifting while the Marines have been gone," he said. "It's a good chance for him to hear their concerns and address them."