A Marine artillery battalion on Hawaii that fought in seminal battles in the Corps’ history deactivated May 26 as part of a broader reorganization of the Marine Corps.
Under Force Design 2030, as the Corps’ reorganization is called, the Marine Corps is cutting some units to free up resources for other capabilities.
That means, in part, “exchanging cannon artillery batteries for rocket artillery batteries,” Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in May 2022.
Some retired Marine leaders have publicly criticized aspects of Force Design 2030, including the plan to cut some artillery units, though current leadership has defended the changes as necessary if the service hopes to compete with the high-tech Chinese military in particular.
In recent years, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, “has been at the forefront” of Force Design, a news release stated.
It has applied expeditionary advanced base operations, in which dispersed groups of Marines lie in wait at temporary bases near an adversary, and experimented with foraging, which Marines may have to employ while in those forward-positioned groups.
At a 2021 exercise, Marines from 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, fired the Corps’ new ship-sinking missile ― the Navy-Marine expeditionary ship interdiction system ― which flew more than 100 nautical miles before hitting its target, a decommissioned frigate.
“The battalion’s efforts have increased the lethality of the 3d Marine Division and influenced the way we’ll fight for the foreseeable future,” Lt. Col. Joseph Gill, the battalion’s commanding officer, said in the Friday news release.
The Okinawa, Japan-based 12th Marine Regiment, of which the battalion was a part, has been preparing for some big changes of its own. By 2025, the regiment will transition into the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, a dispersed quick-reaction unit, the Marine Corps announced in January.
The deactivation of 1st Battalion, 12 Marines, isn’t linked to this revamp of 12th Marine Regiment, Marine spokesman Maj. Clay Groover told Marine Corps Times.
Marines formerly in the battalion may have moved to other bases or switched to other units in Hawaii, according to Groover.
The unit has a history that dates back to World War II. It activated in September 1942 as 4th Battalion, 12th Marines, at Camp Elliot, California, according to the Marine Corps release.
After participating in some of the key battles in the Pacific Theater — including Bougainville Island, Guam and Iwo Jima, Japan — the battalion briefly deactivated. It reactivated during the Korean War and went on to fight in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf region, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the release.
Former Capt. Mark McGrath, who served in the battalion from 1999 to 2002, recalled the battalion as a wonderful place to work.
The Hawaii location offered constant reminders of the Marine Corps’ legacy in the Pacific and made him feel like a part of that legacy, he said.
Retired Col. Brian Duplessis, who served in the unit from 1995–1998 and again from 2008–2010, described it as his favorite of the battalions he has served in.
“Everyone brought their A game,” he said. “A lot of the Marine Corps had a mistaken impression that, you know, we didn’t do anything and just went to the beach and left work early on Friday and drank Mai Tais.”
But in part because it was harder to do artillery exercises on Hawaii’s islands than, say, in the vast California desert of Twentynine Palms, Marines in the battalion worked hard to make the most of what training opportunities existed, according to Duplessis.
Duplessis said the deactivation saddened him, but he understood the rationale for it.
Retired Maj. Andy Roberts, who served in 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, from 2000–2003 as a lieutenant, said his last job in the Marine Corps was developing the expeditionary advanced base operations concept, “which means I had a hand in the chain of events that lead to the deactivation of 1/12.”
“While I may be a bit sad that my first unit is now deactivated, I am proud that the Marine Corps is staying true to its heritage of changing to stay ready, relevant, and responsive to both today’s and tomorrow’s security challenges,” Roberts said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times.
All three vets fondly recalled the opportunities to work closely with the infantry Marines at the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Regiment, which the battalion often was paired with. And they all remembered it as a unit that shaped them as young lieutenants.
“The Marines of 1/12 will always be the Marines of 1/12,” McGrath said.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.