Neller tells Okinawa Marines they must adapt for new adversaries
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Marine Corps commandant told his forces on Okinawa they must adapt to face new adversaries as the United States shifts from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to preparations for potential future foes like North Korea, China, Russia and Iran.
Last November, Gen. Robert Neller told Marines here it was up to the politicians in Washington to decide what would come after the defeat of the Islamic State. During a town hall Thursday at Camp Kinser, he remained cognizant of the extremist group but looked toward future and emerging threats.
“We have a very good Marine Corps, but we’ve been at war for 15 years,” Neller said. “In the future that I think we’re going face, fighting different types of adversaries means we have to change.”
Neller said potential future adversaries have been studying the U.S. military during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and have modernized based on the lessons they have learned. He said the next conflict will likely feature electronic and space warfare and will be all about technology. He cited areas that need — and will receive — attention: people, readiness, training, naval modernization and technology.
“We’re going to leverage technology in everything we do,” he said. “Change is inevitable. Embrace it.”
Neller said that even the Islamic State is using personal drones to scope troop positions in Iraq and deliver explosives.
Neller said Marines on Okinawa are the tip of the spear for potential future conflicts. He asked the audience if they were ready to fight tonight.
“I’m not looking to pick a fight with anybody, but you have to be ready to go,” he said.
Neller also touched on a number of topics, including suicide, hazing, sexual assault and alcohol abuse.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I keep reading the same stuff,” he said after telling several tragic stories about Marines abusing alcohol. “We’ve got to do better. Alcohol is killing us — literally. It’s killing us. I need your help. I can’t fix this. Only you can fix this.”
Neller said the Islamic State would soon be defeated on the battlefield, but the fight against its ideology would continue, with hope and economic opportunities needed for those most vulnerable to recruitment.
He questioned whether most Filipinos agree with new President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-American comments and calls to end joint exercises, but “I don’t see how we have any other choice but to comply.” He added that relations have cooled in the past, only to improve with changes in political leadership.
Neller said it remains unclear how humanitarian and relief cooperation would work if exercises end. However, he said the U.S. always stands ready to help in a crisis.
He acknowledged that plans have been pushed back for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s remote north. He didn’t elaborate, but it is most likely due to the fervent opposition by Okinawa’s Gov. Takeshi Onaga and concessions by Tokyo after a string of high-profile crimes linked to American servicemembers and civilian base workers.
Neller told Stars and Stripes after the meeting that the Marine Corps would adjust to delays and any other issues that may arise.
“It’s just part of the landscape,” he said. “We’ll see what the Japanese courts say after the first of the year and how that works between the Okinawan prefecture and the mainland Japan government, Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe, and we’ll address it.”
Neller said the Marines have refrained from making improvements to barracks and other facilities on Futenma because of the impending move but now will proceed because of the significant delays. He asked Marines to make do with aging facilities in the meantime.
Regarding the nuclear capabilities of potential future adversaries, Neller said the Marine Corps is supportive of U.S. efforts to recapitalize its nuclear capabilities as a deterrent. Marines will likely see more training in the future for biological, chemical and nuclear attacks, he said.
“It’s almost kind of back to the future, like we were during the Cold War, when we were addressing the Soviet Union,” he said.