The military service branch that defines itself on the ability to storm and seize enemy beaches at a moment's notice will soon classify desk jockeys among its most important warriors.
Cyber security will play a key warfighting role in the Marine Corps' post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan mission, according to the general officer tasked with formulating the Marine Corps' objectives for the next 20 years. Battling cyber threats falls under Marine Forces Cyber Command, a division of U.S. Cyber Command, established in early 2010 at Fort Meade, Md.
The rise of the cyber warrior comes at a time of shifting defense roles, where drone pilots who aren't themselves in harm's way are eligible for a medal that outranks the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
"Cyber considerations are now fundamental to everything we do," says Maj. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Marine Corps' representative to the Quadrennial Defense Review, the congressionally-mandated assessment of military threats and objectives due every four years.
"We're going to put resources to begin to train Marines for MARFORCYBER," he says. "We're going to fully embrace that as we go forward. If you don't embrace it, you're going to be killed by it."
President Barack Obama announced last year the U.S. military and foreign policy might would "pivot" to the Pacific region in the coming decade. Senior Marine Corps officials rarely contain their enthusiasm for returning to the service branch's "amphibious roots" in support of this policy.
McKenzie describes dealing with cyber threats as "a core warfighting capability," of which the Marine Corps will want to have control. Every service branch must protect its networks and know how it fits into overarching military networks, he adds. "That requires people trained in cyber."
MARFORCYBER likely won't employ offensive cyber attacks on its own, but could provide its Marines to a joint command control for these missions, McKenzie says.
The all-Marine force is currently growing to "several hundred people," McKenzie says, adding that it will likely continue to grow in the coming years.
Obama nominated a new commanding general for MARFORCYBER on Friday. Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck Jr. currently serves as the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and commander of Marine Forces Japan. His nomination also includes an assignment as deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration. Glueck began his military career as an attack helicopter pilot.