More Marine Corps Personnel Cuts Are Coming, Commandant Says

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Marine stand in formation during a celebration of the Marine Corps’ 233rd birthday.
Marines of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, stand in formation during a celebration of the Marine Corps’ 233rd birthday at Camp Ramadi, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The plan to shed thousands from the Marine Corps' ranks next year won't be the only cut -- and it won't be the biggest reduction the force will face either, the service's top general told lawmakers Thursday.

Commandant Gen. David Berger gave a glimpse into a much-anticipated review that will shape the Marine Corps for years to come while testifying before members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, asked Berger when "we're going to start seeing you take the knife out and start taking some action."

The Marine Corps' 2021 budget request includes a plan to drop the service's end strength from 186,200 to 184,100.

"That probably won't be the largest [cut] or the last," Berger said. "Why? I think every service chief would love to have a bigger force, but you need us to be lethal. You need us to be mobile. It needs to be integrated with the Navy.

"So, we're going to reduce the size of the Marine Corps some this year, more next year," the commandant said.

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

The Marine Corps has completed the first round of a force-structure review Berger directed last summer at the start of his tenure as commandant. But the work to reshape the service to deal with a near-peer threat will be ongoing, Berger said.

"We know the size of the Marine Corps we think we'll need 10 years from now," he said. "... You'll see the impacts to programs I think later this summer and into the spring of next year."

The general did not specify the future end strength or the programs that will be cut as a result of the review. Next year's budget documents state that the Marine Corps will begin phasing out the decades-old Amphibious Assault Vehicle, along with Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

The future Marine Corps, Berger said last year, will look radically different than the one in place right now.

"And that's going to not be easy, fiscally or emotionally," he said at the time.

In his planning guidance, Berger called the need to redesign the Marine Corps his No. 1 priority. He also told Military.com earlier this month that the service needs to get smaller in order to get better.

"We need the resources," he said. "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]."

Not all lawmakers were sold on the idea of cutting military personnel, though. The Navy is in the process of building its end strength back up after a previous drawdown left manpower gaps at sea, which officials found contributed to two fatal ship collisions in 2017.

Rep. Trent Kelly, a Mississippi Republican, warned against making long-term cuts for short-term gains. It's tough to replace experienced troops the services lose in the process, he said, if leaders later find they cut too deeply.

"When we make cuts in personnel to the Marine Corps or the Navy or the Army ... and then the next year we go, 'Well, that number was a little too low, so we'll just build it back,'" Kelly said. "You can't replace an E-6 with a trainee. That's 12 years of experience to get there that we can't replace."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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

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