Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller addressed a number of issues facing the Corps during an Atlantic Council “Commanders Series” in Washington D.C. on Thursday. Among them were modernizing and maintaining the force, potential changes to Marines operational tempo, and the future of transgender service members within the branch.

Neller cited Marine Corps aviation specifically when addressing the way this year’s budget will allow for an expansion and continuation of the ongoing effort to modernize the branch after nearly two decades of continued combat operations in multiple theaters. He didn’t specifically address the recent rash of incidents involving Marine Corps aircraft crashing or otherwise malfunctioning both domestically and in the Pacific, though it can be assumed that a part of that modernization effort must be getting the existing platforms the repair and maintenance they need.

Is there enough money there? Yes, I think there is; we stated what our requirement was and congress voted us the money,” Neller said. “So our job now is to spend it wisely to create the capabilities that we need to keep America safe.”

From there, Neller moved on to addressing a potential shift in the way Marines deploy that he believes could allot more opportunity to conduct the training required to ensure Marines are successful in their varied warfighting endeavors. Like issues with maintenance, a number of senior defense officials and politicians alike have pointed a finger at a lack of training as the culprit behind a number of high profile and deadly incidents involving American service personnel, including a rash of collisions between U.S. Navy vessels and commercial ships (or even the ground) over the past year.

Neller believes a shift in operational tempo away from the current model of 12 months in the rear for every six months deployed that allows for longer rotations at home would benefit that effort. Instead of 12 months at home after each deployment, Neller hopes to extend it to 18.

There’s two ways to do that — you either make the force bigger or you decrease the requirements,” the general said. “So we are trying to figure out a way where we can cover down, and where we need to cover down. The force size is locked in at about 186,000 Marines, so the Corps is looking at changing other requirements.”

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Some ideas Neller floated regarding a change in those requirements included shifting Marines away from land based positions and re-emphasizing the use of maritime force packages, but Neller admits that these ideas are still in the infancy.

Right now … we are working to make the best and capable Marines we can,” he said.

Before concluding his time with the panel, Neller addressed a hot button political issue with what could be considered a textbook answer from a military leader. The General acknowledged that the country’s politicians are currently amid a debate regarding whether or not transgender people should be permitted to serve openly in the military, but made it clear that the Marine Corps is focused on winning wars, not getting involved in the political process. Instead, Neller said plainly that, until he’s told otherwise, all Marines that are serving within formal standards will remain in service.

And, as long as they do so, until we hear otherwise, they’ll continue to wear this uniform and serve their country.” the commandant said. “I know there’s a lot of litigation going on, and I’m not going to speculate on that. In the meantime, they’re United States Marines and they know how to do their job.”

Neller then cited former Navy Admiral Dennis Blair when explaining how he establishes his own priorities, as well as what he instructs his Marines to do, when it comes to political issues like these.

As Blair said, ‘The service chief’s job, as a service chief, is to provide trained and ready forces to combatant commanders.’ And we’re there to provide those trained and ready forces so that the nation is secure globally, and that’s our lane,” Neller said.

“And so, when I go talk to Marines, I remind them, I say, ‘Look, you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies, foreign and domestic. So do your job.’”

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense