|As local Marines prepare this fall for a possible war in Iraq, combat units at Camp Pendleton are planning two top changes in leadership. Lt. Gen. Michael W. Hagee will give up command of the 45,000-member I Marine Expeditionary Force sometime this fall to become the Marine Corps' Commandant. The Camp Pendleton-based command the most powerful among Marine Corps units on the West Coast - is one of three expeditionary forces that provide ground combat, air and support forces to regional military commanders around the world.
Last week, the Senate confirmed Hagee, 57, for promotion and assignment as the 33rd commandant of the Marine Corps. Hagee is on a two-week trip to Washington, D.C., where he is serving on a promotion board that will choose the Marine Corps' next group of one- and two-star generals. "I'm honored by (the) confirmation and look forward to continuing to serve Corps and country as the 33rd commandant," he said in a written statement. Hagee and his wife, Silke, will move to Washington, D.C., where he will pin on his fourth star and replace Gen. James L. Jones during an official change of command ceremony tentatively set for mid-January, said Maj. Matt Mclaughlin, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Jones, 58, will become the next NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, the first Marine Corps commandant to move onto a higher post instead of retiring. The leadership change comes during a period of growing preparation for possible war in Iraq. Military analysts predict a U.S. invasion could occur in late November or in January. Forces likely would include Marines from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in a mix similar to the infantry and armored battalions, combat support units and aviation squadrons sent to the Persian Gulf region for the 1990-91 war.
If President Bush orders a U.S. invasion this winter, it will be the first time in 30 years that the Marine Corps changed its senior leader during wartime. But veterans say changes at the top won't affect the effectiveness of any Marine forces sent into combat. "It's a seamless move, and it's not because it's Jones leaving and Hagee coming in," said retired Col. John P. "Jack" Glasgow Jr., editor of the Marine Corps Gazette, a professional journal in Quantico, Va. "It's because of the way that things are set up (in the Marine Corps). We've got great leaders." More important than the job of commandant during wartime, Glasgow said, are the individual combat commanders, who lead units such as the infantry divisions or task forces assembled for combat. "Whoever is commandant doesn't really make that much difference" in the conduct of war, said Glasgow, a 30-year veteran.
Two jobs, separate roles The commandant oversees and is responsible to train, equip and care for 173,000 active-duty Marines and 42,000 drilling reservists and is often considered the Marines' spiritual leader. He doesn't command Marines as would a division commander or a platoon commander, for example. He and the other service chiefs ---- chief of naval operations, the Army chief of staff and the Air Force chief of staff ---- are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but have no direct role in running a war. They advise the president, defense secretary and National Security Council. Combat forces overseas report to the regional unified commander, who reports directly to the defense secretary and the president. In the case of an Iraq war, it's the U.S. Central Command "who owns the forces," Glasgow said. Hagee's departure at his Camp Pendleton post opens the door for another general officer to take over command of the expeditionary force.
His replacement hasn't been officially announced, but his deputy, Maj. Gen. James T. Conway, has been mentioned as the likely successor. Conway, a battalion commander during the Gulf War, handed off the 1st Marine Division on Aug. 2 to Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, a Gulf War veteran who most recently led the Marines' task force in Afghanistan until early this year. If Marines go to a war in Iraq, "the key to this thing is Jim Mattis and the 1st Marine Division," Glasgow said. Mattis, one of Glasgow's students at the Naval War College, "is one of the best we've got. He's a warfighter." Lawmakers confident The timing of the Marines' leadership changes doesn't worry local lawmakers. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Escondido, said Jones felt enough confidence in Hagee to support his move to Washington even as Hagee's subordinate commanders prepare their units for possible war. "When you get to that level of commander, you've already been through your trials and proved yourself," said Cunningham, a pilot, Vietnam veteran and Navy ace. Few officers in the Marine Corps make it to the highest ranks and by then "they're pretty squared away people," he said. "I would bet my life and my house on their performance." "There is no question he and (Jones) can do this sort of ballet dance in change of commands with no loss," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, a former Army captain, said of Hagee.
The Marine Corps "is a small organization. There's good continuity" among leaders. Marines and soldiers routinely train in combat scenarios where unit leaders are killed or wounded and junior leaders must step up to the plate, Issa said. "Marines, especially a seasoned 57-year-old Marine (like Hagee), from the time they are second lieutenants, spend their careers (preparing for new commanders) when something pops up," he said. "The military trains for these kinds of changes. This will be an orderly change."
SPECIAL to WWW.HISTORICALMILITARIA.COM 7 OCTOBER 2002