- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

Our military services have long been steeped in tradition particularly the U.S. Navy, where traditions such as keelhauling endured much longer than a civilized society should ever have tolerated.
A recent bill, HR 3478, submitted by Rep. Walter Jones, North Carolina Republican, seeks to address another needed break with tradition in the U.S. Navy that also has long been overdue.
By way of background for those unfamiliar with its organization, the Defense Department, with one exception, is structured along separate but equal service lines. It is headed by a civilian secretary to whom each uniformed branch reports via its own individual civilian secretary. These include the secretary of the Air Force, the secretary of the Army and the secretary of the Navy. The problem lies in that these three secretaries represent four uniformed services. Conspicuously absent in the aforementioned secretarial titles is the U.S. Marine Corps. (The military heads of each of these four services make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or JCS, with the chairman of the JCS traditionally selected on a rotational basis from among the Air Force, Army or Navy a position yet to be held by the Marine Corps.)
Although originally established under the Navy Department, the Marine Corps has always existed as a separate entity unto itself. Originally organized to fulfill a support role for the Navy almost 227 years ago, the Marines logically fell under the Navy Department. But during the ensuing 2 centuries of Marine Corps history, the role of the Marine Corps significantly changed.
Accordingly, while the Navy and Marines remain a dynamic team, the time has now come to recognize the team is truly an equal partnership rather than to allow the perception to linger that the Marines are a service subservient to the Navy. This can be done, as proposed in the bill submitted by Mr. Jones, with a simple stroke of the pen that would effect a name change.
The title of the civilian head of the Department of the Navy is the "secretary of the Navy." To put the Marine Corps on equal footing with its sister services, Congress need only change the secretary's title to the "Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps." As stated, this change is in name only there would be no provision for the creation of a new organizational structure for the Marine Corps to parallel what already exists.
In 1775, a team relationship was first established between the Marine Corps and the Navy. The Marines supported their sister service by manning the riggings of her sailing ships to fire down upon the crews of approaching enemy vessels. In effect, the Navy was the sine qua non for the Marine Corps.
By 2002, technology has significantly changed the roles for both services vis-a-vis each other but not the importance of their working together as a team to effectively and efficiently accomplish the Navy-Marine Corps mission.
Today, the Navy, with its uncontested control of the seas, can provide the Marines with access to the world's littorals, from where the Marines can close with and destroy an enemy force on the ground. (Afghanistan has now shown us the Marines can perform their mission beyond those littorals as well.) Today, the separate-but-equal roles that must be performed by the Navy/Marine Corps team to secure enemy territory ashore cannot be disputed.
Similarly, the fact that the civilian secretary heading the Navy/Marine Corps team has two separate but equal military services under his charge must now, in all fairness, be recognized by allowing equal billing for them within the title of the office he holds. Hence, Mr. Jones' initiative to redesignate the title as the "secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps" is most appropriate.
The timing of this legislative name change to recognize separate-but-equal status for the Marine Corps has been appropriately underscored by a recent development. Although the Marine Corps is the only uniformed service never to have had one of its own selected to serve as chairman of the JCS, a few months ago President Bush did select a Marine general to serve, for the first time, as its vice chairman.
With the passage of HR 3478 and the mandate of equality for the Marine Corps it seeks to achieve, perhaps a Marine may soon be selected as chairman for the first time as well. It would be a deserved and fitting tribute to America's finest.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.


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