Tributes & Stories



By Lieutenant Colonel Mathison Hall ’03, USMCR

The Marine Corps is currently undergoing a force redesign in response to the rapidly changing character of war, from the proliferation of once exclusive technologies such as armed drones and precision guided munitions to the potency of cyber attacks on financial institutions and physical infrastructure. Our principal global competitors continue to blur distinctions between competition and conflict, engaging in low grade acts of war such as seizing Crimea or South China Sea islands in an effort to push the boundaries of what will elicit a response. They are effectively calling our bluff and exploiting our nation’s ongoing internal discord, betting and winning on the odds that we will not risk major combat. But where is the red line, and what are we willing to risk?

In July 2019, Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger issued guidance to retool the Marine Corps to face these threats. The current changes to the Corps are arguably the most extensive since Commandant Thomas Holcomb completed the service’s interwar transformation in the 1930s. Broadly speaking, these changes are creating an amphibious force that is no longer focused on large scale opposed landings but rather on operating within the enemy’s weapons engagement zone to support naval campaigns, establishing a foothold for the introduction of large-scale joint forces, and acting as a persistent irritant that the enemy cannot defeat or ignore. The Marine Corps is taking lessons learned from our adversaries, recreating itself not as a concentrated combat force, but rather as a resilient distributed network that prevents adversaries from achieving their objectives while enabling friendly operational maneuver.

That is all great, but what does it mean where the rubber meets the road? What are the graduates of the last 20 years who are serving in the battalions and squadrons of the Fleet Marine Force doing? Our commands, and more importantly our Marines and sailors, must be more versatile and autonomous than ever. All warfighting functions, including those traditionally executed at the battalion level, must be pushed down to the platoon and even squad level. Our Marine Air Ground Task Forces will become smaller in size but greater in capabilities by leveraging emerging technologies and a better trained, more independent force. We must become integrated meshed networks that can hide in plain sight, shoot, move and hide again. It cannot matter if the enemy targets and destroys any given node or group of nodes in this network. Like a swarm of hornets, we must be able to reform, rerouting communications and fires seamlessly. A sergeant must be able to order strikes or change the squad’s mission without permission. The future Marine Corps will be a potent and deadly force, but this transformation will not be easy.

Currently, the reserve infantry battalion I command is preparing to deploy to Alaska to practice and test these concepts in the far north—in mid-winter. Can we command and control small contingents of Marines spread over hundreds of miles of islands? Can we prosecute fires and sustain ourselves in the freezing polar nights? Will Russia and China be watching? The Marines and sailors of the Patriot Battalion—who are also teachers, police officers, students, engineers, tradesmen and more—will be on the front lines of competition short of conflict to push the needle of our emerging capabilities just a bit further as we prepare for a war we all hope we can prevent by being ready.

LtCol Mathison Hall ’03, USMCR, commands 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, the Patriot Battalion, in New England. He served for 12 ½ years on active duty as an infantry officer before transitioning to the Reserve in 2015, where he has been assigned to civil affairs and infantry units, training in Texas, California, New England, Virginia, Morocco and now Alaska. On the civilian side, Mathison leads technology research and development projects at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, including technologies that will support future warfighting capabilities.