Marines with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, conduct a live-fire training exercise with M777A2 155 mm howitzers on March 8. The training served as a refresher for the Marines before the unit disbanded and they were sent to new assignments. (Cpl. Phillip Clark/Marine Corps)
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As the Marine Corps draws down its active-duty force, much of the focus has fallen on the manpower reductions required to reach the service’s target end strength of 182,100.
But as part of this process, dozens of units are being deactivated and reorganized. In June, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, will complete its 20-month deactivation.
Lt. Col. Todd Perry, commanding officer of the artillery unit, said it has been uncharted territory: How do you lead the battalion during training and operations, while also preparing for its disolution?
“Deactivating units is not something the Marine Corps does too often,” he said. “There is no Marine Corps order or definitive, explicit guidance on how to do these actions.”
He quickly realized it would require a detailed plan of attack. So Perry and other Marine leaders developed an operations planning tool in which they established an action plan and and a timeline for the deactivation, including all the milestones that they would need to reach, and when they would need to reach them.
Now in his last months as CO of 3/10, Perry is preparing an after-action report that he hopes will help other units that are set to deactivate or reorganize within the next two fiscal years. And there are many.
The unit has a particularly close relationship with Lejeune’s 8th Marine Regiment, which is slated for a massive deactivation and reorganization of tenant elements in fiscal 2014.
Still ahead, the Marine Corps plans to deactivate all of 9th Marines, which was reactivated at Lejeune in 2007 after a 13-year dormancy to help swell the force to 202,000 during the height of the Iraq campaign. Later this fiscal year, the Corps also will undertake reorganization of its Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters groups, including a shift that will transition II MEF from a three-star to a two-star command at Lejeune.
The restructure also includes a plus-up of Marine Corps Forces Special Operation Command and Marine Corps Cyberspace Command, among other elements.
Despite all its moving parts, the force restructuring remains on schedule, said Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
A 'phased approach'
Perry, who took command of the battalion in June 2011, had only been there a short time before the results of the Force Structure Review were announced. Of the five tenant units within the battalion, two — Headquarters Battery and Fox Battery — would be dissolved altogether, while India and Kilo batteries would be absorbed by 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, and Lima Battery would be attached to 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.
The realignment of Kilo Battery to 1/10 was accomplished in January, just prior to its deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is now providing a forward-deployed, crisis-response force in the 5th Fleet area of operations.
India Battery transitioned to its new parent unit in April, while Lima Battery will make the move in mid-May. It has been a “phased approach,” Perry said.
Despite all the movement, training has proceeded. In fact, elements of 3/10 participated in direct-fire training in early March. It gave them a chance to refresh their skills with the 155mm M777A2 howitzers before moving on to other units.
While no Marines were forced out of the Corps to accomplish the attrition necessary to close down a unit, some were given orders to different stations after only a year with the unit, while more were pushed to different artillery elements.
“We did a whole bunch of internal moves,” Perry said. “A lot of the Marines got realigned to India and Lima batteries.”
Throughout the process, there was the normal attrition of Marines due to their end of active service, he added.
With nearly 800 Marines serving in five batteries when the battalion was at full strength, Perry expects the process of guided attrition and personnel moves to continue right up to the final deactivation in June.
It was while contemplating the large amount of gear and equipment that 3/10 had to ship out to other units that Perry said he was hit with the emotion of closing down a battalion rich in tradition and history, including a part in key World War II campaigns in the Pacific, including Tarawa, Saipan and Guadalcanal.
To help bring closure , Perry took a trip up to the Marine Corps History Division at Quantico, Va., learning all he could about 3/10 legend and lore.
“It definitely puts into perspective our history,” he said. “You have a different perspective on what your unit has done.”