The Marine Corps Must Get Smaller to Get Better, Commandant Says

Gen. David H. Berger speaks with Marines
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger speaks with Marines after a town hall while visiting Camp Shorab, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Olivia Ortiz)

The Marine Corps needs quality over quantity, according to the service's top general.

That's what's behind a newly proposed move to shrink the size of the Marine Corps by more than 2,000 leathernecks next year.

The plan, which Commandant Gen. David Berger said he was considering last year, was formally laid out in the Marine Corps' 2021 budget request. It proposed dropping the Marine Corps' congressionally authorized end-strength from 186,200 personnel to 184,100.

"We will get smaller in order to get better," Berger told after a Tuesday speech on Capitol Hill. "We need the resources. When we shrink a little bit in structure ... we're going to take that money and pour it into the Marine Corps that [the country needs]."

If approved, it'll mark the first time the Marine Corps has trimmed personnel from its ranks since 2016, when it ended a years-long post war drawdown that cut 20,000 people.

Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said on Monday that the Marine Corps likely won't retain as many people in 2021 as it trims the force.

"These were primarily focused on headquarter reductions," he said of the end-strength cuts. "They looked for excess capacity, so non-operational units, per se."

Related: Marines Plan to Cut Thousands of Personnel, Cull Fleets of MRAPs and AAVs

Crites declined to comment further on the communities likely to be affected by the cuts, citing an upcoming Marine Corps force redesign Berger said will be released in the next 30 days.

"I’ll sit down with the leadership at the Pentagon this week and next week, and then we're off to the races," Berger said.

That review will lay out plans for the future structure of the Marine Corps. Berger said in November that the process would result in a "radically different" Marine Corps.

"We are designed ... for a competition behind us, not in front of us," he said last fall. "That's driving the Marine Corps to redesign our force."

The service must adapt to take on threats from countries such as China and Russia, the commandant said. Berger has called China's activities in the South China Sea a game changer for the Navy and Marine Corps -- the two services likely to be called on to respond to threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

Berger acknowledged that not everyone will agree with the decision to cut the size of the force to pay for equipment upgrades.

"I understand the perspective of mass having a quality of its own," he said. "But right now, we need quality. ... And the force that we end up with will be much better."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Force-Wide Review Could Result in a 'Radically Different' Marine Corps

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