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Officials with Marine Corps Forces Pacific are trying to match past doctrine with new capabilities as they return their focus to the Unit Deployment Program, which shrank significantly over the past eight years.
When Marines were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, traditional unit rotations through Japan slowed. It’s shifting back, but many Marines who ran the UDP have moved on to other duty stations or even retired, said Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock, deputy commander with MARFORPAC. In their absence, leaders are relying on the playbook they left behind.
“We’re relearning a lot of lessons about what the Unit Deployment Program is and how to do it,” Simcock said. “You’d be surprised how you lose muscle memory in a very short period of time.”
Simcock said the basic strategy for running the UDP is in place, but improvements in technology and equipment have proceeded swiftly over the intervening years, and the Corps must leverage these new capabilities. That includes, for example, learning how aircraft like the MV-22 Osprey change the dynamics of the program. The Osprey, he said, is a “game changer” in terms of how Marines will move around the region.
“A lot of the other things that we had been doing, those pieces are still there,” he said. “We have a lot of things that still operate the same way. It’s just getting it up and running again, which we’re doing.”
The UDP, which began in the 1970s, is a key component of its plan to shift toward the Asia-Pacific region. The program moves battalions and squadrons through Japan for six months at a time to augment permanent forces.
Two aviation squadrons — with eight aircraft — will return to Okinawa, Japan, this month. The Marine Corps deployed a second infantry battalion to Japan earlier this year and may add a third battalion to the rotation, but no decision has been made, said Col. Brad Bartelt, MARFORPAC’s public affairs director.