News & Opinion | June 28, 2018 12:16 pm

Why the New Marine Commandant Wants to Reinvent the Rifle Squad

Freethinking four-star general sees need to modernize small-unit tactics for the digital age.

marine corps
Marines line up on the field in honor of Marine week. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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One of the most brilliant tactical formations of the last half-century is the rifle squad of the United States Marine Corps. Typically made up of 13 marines, the units historically consist of a squad leader and a dozen riflemen grouped into three “fire teams” of four, writes the Wall Street Journal. In One Bullet Away, a best-selling account of the 2003 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, former Marine Capt. Nate Fick compared marine squads to world-class dance troupes. “Everybody’s movement depends on everybody else’s,” he says, according to WSJ. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller now wants to radically change them.

Neller is used to shaking things up—and he started early. His first commander jokingly named him the president of the “I don’t see why” club. And since becoming Commandant in 2015, he has already reconsidered most aspects of a marine’s life, from rifles to socks. He has invested in tablets, drones, and laser-guided munitions, and even offered enlistment bonuses to hackers. He has held town hall meetings so senior flag officers can interact with enlisted marines face-to-face, and he is known for his bluntness. As for the rifle squad, he decided to shrink its size to 12 while adding two additional positions—an assistant squad leader and a squad systems operator focused on technology.