In late 2017, then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller confirmed that the Marine Corps would be phasing out one of its infantry military occupational specialties, known as an MOS.
That MOS ― the 0351 infantry assault Marine ― had hovered in a weird sort of limbo for at least a decade.
The position has been part grunt, part combat engineer: a rifleman that can handle demolition and launch shoulder-fired rockets such as the Mk 153 shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon.
The explosives and rocket-packing infantryman was supposed to spend time in the weapons company and be tasked out when needed to the rifle platoons for certain mission sets.
But, as was the case with many a counterinsurgency deployment, those 0351s over the past 20 years have been tasked with a lot of other missions, many of them very similar to what an 0311 would do.
Marine Corps Times recently spoke with the Marine Corps and infantry advocates about the 0351 MOS to learn more about what will happen with the job field and, more importantly, who’s going to launch those rockets in future near-peer combat scenarios.
A recent “sundown message” tied the elimination of the 0351 MOS to the implementation of the Marine Corps Force 2025. That plan looks to transform the rifle squad and put a lot of new tech and some new positions into the formation.
The message removes assault sections from each rifle company. To provide that support, Marines will add combat engineer platoons.
The plan calls for nine of the 24 infantry battalions to make this transition starting fiscal year 2021. Eight more will do so in fiscal year 2022 and the remaining seven the following year.
That means that the last entry-level training for primary MOS 0351s will happen in early 2020 and for the reserves in 2021.
All existing 0351s will be reclassified to 0311 on Oct. 2, 2020, according to the Marine Corps.
The reason that is happening is so as each infantry battalion converts from fiscal year 2021 to 2023, they can assign the needed MOS-specific Marines to the new formations, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Adrian Virges, with the infantry section of the ground combat branch of Plans, Policies and Operations.
After that period, new 0311s will simply get the assaultman training as they would any other standard weapons system, with no additional MOS, Virges said. They’ll still keep 0351 as an additional MOS until all of the battalions have transitioned.
Even with those changes, for the next few months of this fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1, 0351 Marines can re-enlist and be eligible for an array of bonus options, according to a July bonus package announcement by the Marine Corps.
A Marine re-enlisting as an 0351 is eligible for the 0311 retention bonus and the squad leader operations forces kicker payment.
That means an 0351 sergeant could get both an $8,000 bonus and $20,000 for the kicker for a total $28,000.
Or, one can re-enlist in the 0365 squad leader field and receive $57,000.
One fairly prominent former 0351, at least in Marine circles, is the creator of the comic strip “Terminal Lance,” Maximilian Uriarte. The Iraq War veteran said when he arrived at the School of Infantry he took a test and qualified to do the training, which consisted of a lot of math and handling demolition along with firing the SMAW.
And even in that early training more than a decade ago, instructors were telling Marines that the 0351 would be going away, he said.
“The day I got there, they were saying they were going to phase out 0351s; this is back in 2006,” Uriarte said. “And every day in the Marine Corps I f**king heard that until the day I EAS’d.”
“It looks like it’s actually happening now,” he said.
But once Uriarte got to the fleet and started field training, he said his skills were rarely used and often not even understood.
“It seemed like everybody forgot how to use 0351s for anything,” he said.
Even at predeployment training the 0351s were teamed up with combat engineers who didn’t realize the infantry Marines had demolition training.
But still, Uriarte enjoyed some aspects of the job.
“I fired every weapon we had,” he said. “There was nothing ever more exhilarating than to fire a rocket on the shoulder. It was the coolest thing in the world.”
But that didn’t last long. Soon he was in Iraq and standing behind a .50-caliber machine gun in an assault section of a mounted platoon.
He’s cautiously observing what happens with the skill set. If 0311s are expected to do both the rocket firing and demolition work of the 0351s, he’s a little skeptical that the training will translate as easily as some think.
And actually, for the proposed “near-peer fight” that all of the services and National Defense Strategy points toward, Uriarte thinks that it would make more sense to keep the 0351s around to have more specialized explosives and rocket knowledge in the force.
A big part of 0351 is also identifying armor assets, he said.
But, the Marine Corps has a different plan in mind.
Beyond restructuring the squad, Marine experimentation with new equipment and technology has allowed leaders to use new gear to expand capabilities.
The Corps recently adopted the Carl Gustaf 84 mm recoilless rifle, a shoulder-fired rocket that advocates say is easier to use than the SMAW and provides better capabilities.
The new system means that the current 13 Marines in the assault section of a weapons platoon will now be the infantrymen within the squads, said Lt. Col. David Hart, also with the infantry section of PP&O. Weapons company won’t be replacing those spots with other Marines.
And the formation will see more and better rockets in their arsenal.
The new 15-Marine squad configuration was announced in 2018 and going out this year fully manned with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, battalion landing team on the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. They’ll be some of the first to deploy operationally with the weapon.
If inventory reaches what the planned for equipping is then each company will have nine rockets. The ranges of the Gustaf’s rockets reach out to an estimated effective range of 1,000 meters. It has been in operation in early forms since 1948.
The SMAW, fires fielded in 1984, has an effective firing range of an estimated 500 meters.
While the training now involves using and troubleshooting the SMAW as well as using both electrical and nonelectrical firing systems, construction demolition charges and conducting misfire clears and mechanical breaches, the Gustaf program of instruction of rocket-toting 0311s has not yet been finalized, advocates said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.