MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Sometimes history repeats itself. As Lt. Gen. James F. Amos relinquishes command of II Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder Aug. 2, they may just recall a similar ceremony, held in 2004, where they passed the flag for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in the Iraqi desert.
By unanimous consent, July 21, the Senate confirmed Amos’ nomination as deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration and commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., as well as Stalder’s assignment to take command of II MEF.
Amos, who assumed command of II MEF July 23, 2004, has been outspoken in his support and initiatives involving training, Force Preservation and Force Readiness, with a bit of an unconventional twist.
When faced with a growing rate of motorcyclists and motorcycle accidents, Amos aggressively sought avenues of reinforcing his firm stance on force preservation and readiness. Rather than forcing riders to sit through endless safety briefs, over and above the usual, he enlisted the aid of more seasoned riders, and working with his commanders, the idea of motorcycle clubs and rodeos was formed.
Just as innovative, his training initiatives are diverse, with far-reaching goals that may have seemed random at first telling. To be sure, the motley first part of his Training Range Initiative was nothing if not imaginative.
On the clock or off, Amos also stood firm in response to the growing number of incidents and mishaps with tactical vehicles both here and in theater. He directed the development and implementation of a means for ensuring all drivers of tactical vehicles be educated in the basics of operation. The Combat Vehicle Operators Course offers them that education and, in the words of the aviator, some “stick time,” requiring the completion of confidence courses and set training hours.
“General Amos was very concerned with providing the best possible training to Marines and sailors deploying in support of the Global War on Terrorism,” said Robert L. Hayes, deputy assistant chief of staff for Operations, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “He initiated the most ambitious and comprehensive program in fifteen years to improve training facilities aboard Camp Lejeune.”
Part one was to “Iraq-ize” the existing Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility and Combat Town, re-working existing facades to replicate structures commonly found in the middle east – stucco buildings, bazaars, narrow streets and role players simulating local natives, with plans to add battlefield effects such as calls to prayer and vehicle borne-improvised explosive devices.
As plan took form, it was obvious there was a method to the madness.
“I have never seen anyone more concerned or interested in ensuring that our Marines and sailors have the best possible training across the board, before they go into harms way,” said Hayes.
The next step was to construct simulated forward-operating bases to replicate those found and used in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing the MEF to practice tactics, techniques and procedures such as security and entry control point practices. Close behind was the improvement of the motorized operations course – a newly-constructed network of roads winding around specific impact areas on Camp Lejeune. This provided combat training and live-fire situations with simulated IEDs and ambush. The MOC is currently being modified to replicate threat conditions commonly found by Marines and sailors in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Traffic circles, junk cars and congested areas will be found on the course which links facilities and FOBs to allow companies to conduct integrated training through Camp Lejeune.
All the enhancements are to prepare our Marines for exercises such as Mohave Viper and will provide some of the best training on the East Coast seen yet, according to Hayes, immersing them in environments and situations they may encounter in combat.
“In his new assignment, General Amos will continue to implement his vision of enhancing and improving training and ensuring that Marines have the best possible gear, across the Corps,” said Hayes.
Reality is, even those with the best gear, even the most highly-trained service member, can be injured in combat. True to form, Amos put his own spin on ensuring Marines and sailors, and even soldiers, injured in combat received the support they needed to survive beyond the wounds, beyond the therapies, to the next step – whatever that step may be.
He was instrumental in the founding of II MEF’s Wounded Warrior program and Injured Support Unit. When approached by Lt.Col. Tim Maxwell - severely injured by a mortar in Iraq – about the need for a facility to house the wounded as they transitioned out of hospital environments back into the day-to-day, he gamely said “Let’s do it.”
Though reticent regarding his own involvement, those whose lives Amos has touched were unwilling to go without mentioning the effect his efforts have had on II MEF families.
“I get emotional every time I speak about the amount of dedication and leadership they’ve shown… walking into hospital rooms, talking to families,” said Shannon Maxwell, wife of Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, “He, and Bonnie as well, were instrumental in ensuring that we had the care that we needed… that any time we hit a roadblock, there was someone to turn to and someone to help get our questions answered.”
“It shows a level of fidelity far beyond the regular Marine Corps mantra ... it shows a devotion,” she added. “He’ll be missed.”
When asked about his time at MEF, Amos, a 1970 graduate of the University of Idaho, was adamant that he was not going to talk about himself. He had no issue, however, with expressing his enthusiasm about his replacement.
Stalder, a fellow aviator, is a 1985 graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and a 1993 graduate of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Defense College in Rome, Italy. He has served tours across the globe as well, in Italy, Germany and combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Keith Stalder and I have been friends since we were lieutenants. We flew together while we were growing up in our Corps, and in 2002 through 2004 we deployed to Kuwait and Iraq and fought side-by-side for almost two straight years during OIF I and II,” said Amos. “I've got the same feeling today as I did when I passed command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to him in Iraq during the summer of ’04.”
Stalder, whose previous command was Training and Education Command, MCCDC, MCB Quantico, will be promoted to the rank of lieutenant general during the ceremony.
“I'm being replaced by a true warfighting general and absolutely wonderful human being,” said Amos. “Keith is a tremendous leader and all-around NFL-quality Marine; buckle your seatbelts II MEF ... you're in for a great ride…the Marines, sailors, civilian Marines and all of our families are gonna love this guy."