Toby Straight, division head of expeditionary intelligence solutions (EIS) at NIWC Atlantic’s expeditionary warfare (ExW) department, launched Marine Corps Orientation and Alignment (MaCOA) training in November after internal questions surfaced in the division about its largest customer — the Marines.
“In addition to explaining structure, organization and a whole lexicon of acronyms that seems to grow by the day, we wanted to ensure our work aligned with the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ latest push for naval integration,” said Straight, a Marine veteran and former Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center instructor.
The training functions as a sort of Marine Corps 101, explaining Marine culture, chain of command and force structure from fire teams, squads and platoons to companies, battalions and regiments.
“The Marines are our primary customer, so we have a responsibility to ask questions,” said Lindsay Sakran, an EIS project manager supervisor who has implemented similar Marine Corps 101 workshops in her section in the past. “From explaining the autonomy of a Marine rifleman to breaking down the implications of recent high-level changes in the Marine Corps, everything affects how we think about and accomplish our work.”
Straight said one immediate outgrowth of MaCOA training is digging deeper into a decree released in July by Gen. David Berger, the U.S. Marine Corps commandant. Called the Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG), the 23-page document lays out a strategic but urgent track for the Marines, a sort of road map of where they are going and why.
Topping the list on the CPG is a call for greater “naval integration.”
“Marines were always known as an amphibious force trained for amphibious assault operations,” Straight said. “The CPG, in some ways, returns Marines to those roots.”
Relatedly, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday released a fragmentary order (FRAGO) in December prioritizing integration with the Marine Corps. On page one, Gilday stated that together with the Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy is the bedrock of “Integrated American Naval Power.”
Straight explained that while the CPG is a call to action for Marines, the CNO’s new FRAGO is a call to action for Sailors to help Marines integrate with the fleet.
“As a Navy organization, we are uniquely positioned to advance this joint endeavor for integration,” he said.
As paradigms shift, MaCOA classes seek to inculcate something new. Sakran said success at every stage of product development comes from being well informed and understanding Marines at both the ground and strategic levels.
“We hear something like ‘shorten the kill chain,’ but need to grasp what exactly shortening the steps for intelligence to pass down really means,” she said. “We have to be thinking about that lance corporal making life and death decisions at the fire team or squad level.”
The new CPG and CNO FRAGO prioritize technology and advocate for emerging components of naval warfare, such as expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO), said Chris Sargent, an eight-year Navy veteran who leads the department’s terrestrial collections and identity operations program.
“It’s so important to have a contextual relationship between our daily operations here and how they will affect Marines and Sailors deployed to high-threat environments,” he said.
Floyd Usry, a retired Marine colonel who serves as the ExW department’s customer advocate and an adviser to MaCOA trainers, said that the CPG calls for the forward deployment of Marines to compete against the malign activities of China, Russia, Iran and their proxies, which places a heavy demand on the nation’s naval services.
“One of our primary jobs right now is to see everything through the lens of naval integration,” Usry said. “Certain emerging capabilities will quickly become more important than past ones, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.”
NIWC Atlantic Executive Director Peter C. Reddy already leads Marine Corps orientation for new hires during the onboarding process. But with the ExW department receiving approximately 90 percent of the entire command’s work from the Marine Corps, he said offering Marine familiarization training not only improves the department’s products but also its people.
“Developing our workforce means being intentional with our time,” said Reddy, also a retired Marine colonel. “This new training initiative demonstrates strong and strategic leadership, building an enduring bridge between engineering innovation and the Marine rifleman in harm’s way.”
He added that while the latest CPG signals a seismic shift in Marine Corps priorities, the CNO’s FRAGO “reinforces it.”
“In increasing our competence and advancing effective ideas, MaCOA training ultimately honors the faith our customers place in us,” Reddy said.
Looking to the future, Straight said he is pleased with the feedback on MaCOA so far and plans to make the training a part of his division’s monthly drumbeat.
“I was in the Marines for 10 years, and many others here served,” he said. “Yet, even with those backgrounds, opportunities to learn will always present themselves, particularly as the implications of the CPG and the CNO’s FRAGO continue to be fleshed out.”
The EIS division delivers full-spectrum intelligence to the warfighter through full life-cycle support of critical programs that include sensor development, artificial intelligence and machine learning.