After nearly 20 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is on a mission to remind Americans that leathernecks do a whole lot more than fight lengthy ground battles.
A new four-minute video released Wednesday shows Marines leaving ships in MV-22B Ospreys, F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and amphibious vehicles in a push to show the public the Corps is an amphibious force. Marines in the video are seen operating at sea, in the jungle and in snow.
For too long, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger told reporters in a roundtable at the Pentagon, the Corps has been seen as a land force that could get onto a ship.
"We need to turn that upside down," said Berger, whose planning guidance to the force is heavily focused on naval missions.
Critics have in recent years challenged Marine leaders to better clarify its future role in the joint force. As big waves of combat troops began leaving Iraq and Afghanistan and the service stood up several land-based crisis response units, some have wondered when the Marine Corps would again focus on its naval roots.
The new video is not a recruiting advertisement, the commandant said. Instead, it's designed to clear up misconceptions people might have about the service.
"Many people think of the Marine Corps as a desert force," Berger said. The service is often viewed as a second land Army that's still operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.
Marine leaders will show the new video before public speaking engagements, where they'll highlight how the force can dominate in a maritime fight.
"That's our sweet spot, our operating environment," Berger said.
That's a reminder Marines might need to hear, too, said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
"For the vast majority of the Marine Corps ... all they know is Iraq, Afghanistan, that environment," Wood said. "With fewer [amphibious ships] available, there have been fewer opportunities to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit."
Now, Berger is pushing for a big return to naval integration as the U.S. faces threats from China, which he calls "the long-term existential threat to the U.S."
Wood said Marines must think about how they can keep the enemy from dominating the seas. That's going to require new concepts at sea and ashore, he said.
"That's a different way of thinking than doing small-unit patrols in some valley in Afghanistan," he said. "It's a different mentality and understanding that is really where [Berger's] focus is at."