The “General’s Armada”- One of the most brilliant Naval campaigns and the Marine who led it.
Categories: American Grit Stories, Military
To say that Brigadier General Joseph Medina (USMC Retired) has warrior blood would be an understatement. His father managed to enlist in the Army at the age of 15 during World War II and would go on to serve 21 years, living all over the world, exposing a young Joseph Medina to different ways of life including time in Taiwan. Brigadier General (BG) Joseph Medina is also the father of a Marine officer.
His biography of 31 years of active duty reads exactly as what you would expect from a Marine Infantry officer’s career. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he held platoon and company level commands within 2nd Bn. 5th Marines, 2nd Bn 4th Marines, and 3rd Bn. 5th Marines. He would go on to command 3rd Bn, 2nd Marines, 3rd Marine Regiment and ultimately serve as the commanding general of 3rd Marine Division, a guidon which he handed over to our most recent commandant General Robert Neller
Company Commander of Fox Co. 2/4 1980
In between these operational commands, BG Medina would hold numerous staff and training assignments, and serve on several joint commands. But there is one thing that sets him apart and quite frankly makes history- he is the first Marine to command a Naval Strike Group.
Concept to Operation
When former commandant General Hagee was the commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), he and other senior leaders within both the Navy and Marine Corps were looking at ways to optimize the Navy/Marine Corps team. Make it even more agile and even more lethal. Shortly after 9/11, Hagee was the new commandant and would be there through the early years of the war on terror.
By 2003 the concept of the Expeditionary Strike Group was put into operation. Expeditionary Strike Group 3 (ESG 3) would be led by Brigadier General Joseph Medina, making him the first Marine to ever hold such a command.
American Grit had the privilege of spending some time with BG Medina and getting an in-depth perspective on both the ESG and him.
American Grit (AG); Sir, thank you for making time for this call today and thank you for all you have done for country and Corps. I’ll dive right in, how did this concept come about and how did you become part of the conversation
BG Medina: During his tenure as I MEF CG, Gen. Hagee was key to the birth of this concept as the first conversations were taking place between I MEF and the 3rd Fleet. I had quite a bit of experience in joint operation planning from the operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, initially under Gen Hagee as my initial boss in European Command (EUCOM). Kosovo doesn’t get a lot of play but that was a success due to tremendous joint service and multinational operations. Admiral Vern Clark, the Chief Of Naval Operations (CNO) at the time, tasked his strategic initiative group, known as “Deep Blue”, to flush out an operating concept, which developed into the ESG and CSG (Carrier Strike Group) concepts. This put the Expeditionary Strike Group on the same level as the Carrier Strike Groups in the operating fleets. I had also previously written about incorporating Expeditionary Operations into the Navy’s “Composite Warfare Commanders” tactical fleet operating doctrine, which was known by the CG, Marine Forces Pacific (Gen “Chip” Gregson), who became the USMC operating force sponsor for the ESG.
AG: So how did the ESG differ from the typical Amphibious Groups that were already in operation?
BG Medina: Well, number one was the ship composition. In addition to the usual 3-4 amphibious assault ships, we had a guided-missile cruiser, two destroyers, and a submarine. Once we were on station in the North Arabian Gulf, 5th Fleet assigned several additional sea-based assets including some coast guard cutters as well as naval elements from the UK, Australia, and Kuwait. Secondly, our “Marine” assets were not limited to just the one Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) we originally deployed with. After we chopped operational command of the 11th MEU ashore to I MEF (where they almost immediately became involved in the Battle of Najaf), we joined 31st MEU and oversaw their in-theater training and prep at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Once they were set, we also chopped them over to I MEF where they participated in the Second Battle of Fallujah. For the duration of the operational deployment, we had a detachment of the UK’s Royal Marines as well as one of the biggest contributors to our mission which was a Naval Special Warfare Task Force assigned to us as TF-58.
AG: Wow, so here you are a Marine Brigadier General, commanding all of this?
BG Medina: Correct…….
With Gen Casey, Commander of Multinational Force -Iraq; having just done a recon by air of the adjoining battlespace.
AG: So, by the time ESG 3 deployed in 2004, most eyes were on land in Iraq. What was happening on the high seas and what was ESG 3 doing?
BG Medina: We sailed out of Coronado and picked up the rest of the ships in Hawaii and by the time we came on station in the Middle East we were tagged the Belleau Wood Strike Group as the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) was the Flagship, as our operation tempo picked up we were also Task Force 58 and assigned coalition assets.
We were conducting several very important operations on different fronts. One that most do not know is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), which often acts autonomous from the Iranian Armed Forces and government, the IRG were taking full advantage of all eyes on Iraq. The IRG was conducting operations to harass and disrupt maritime traffic and were determined to destroy oil platforms near Kuwait and Southern Iraq. And this was just one of our missions.
AG: We talked about the Iranians during the ’80s in a previous article “The Tanker War”, and we all have seen the news over the month or so of renewed Iranian belligerence, so you are saying they were in full force back in 2004 while most attention was on Iraq?
BG Medina: Yes, the Iranians, IRG were a problem we dealt with. This was mainly the efforts of the SEAL assets as well as the Royal Marines, and our trained US Navy Boarding teams. We also had considerable contribution from Kuwait’s navy which had since the Gulf War been heavily trained by the US Navy and Marine Corps. By now most of the US Marine ground combat assets from the MEU had gone ashore to support the fight on the ground in Iraq.
And we had the other mission in these waters which was counter-terrorism.
AG: What did the counter-terrorism entail at sea?
BG Medina: Daily we were intercepting, boarding, and searching ships. Our concern was weapons, logistics, and of course fighters being transported to support terrorist groups mainly in Iraq but also other areas. We are very successful in cutting this off not to mention preventing successful attacks on the oil platforms and deterring actions from the Iranians.
AG: This is seriously amazing in terms of concept as well as operational effectiveness. I wrote recently about Regimental Combat Teams and how the Marine Corps shifted to a true ground combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, talking to you about all of this and the ESG, maritime operations for the Marine Corps was alive and well.
BG Medina: Absolutely.
AG: There was also some other history made on this deployment?
BG Medina: Yes, for the first time since World War II, we conducted an at sea transfer of flag ships. The USS Essex (LHD-2) arrived on station and we transferred our command there from the Belleau Wood.
Cross Deck of the ESG 3 Flagship from the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) to the USS Essex (LHD 2) in the Northern Arabian Gulf
AG: Sir, I think I speak for a very large audience when I say thank you and Semper Fidelis! It has been an honor to speak with you and be able to share this on American Grit.
BG Medina: Semper Fi!
Medina after the ESG and the ESG after Medina
ESG- 3 remained under the command of a Marine and continued to deploy throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom. BG Medina went to be the commanding general of Marine Corps Base Butler as well as deputy commander of all Marine bases in Japan. In April 2007 he assumed a brief command of the 3rd Marine Division which was later commanded by General Robert Neller. BG Medina retired from active duty in 2007. Since active-duty BG Joseph Medina has held several senior executive positions spending several years in the Asia Pacific Region. He most recently became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Asia Pacific Strategies and Solutions Group (APSS) Group.
Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina (USMC Retired) Now CEO APSS Group
An Important Blueprint for the Corps
Just over a week ago the new Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger released his guidance and intent to the operating forces. The cornerstone being an emphasis on the tie in with the Navy. Not only launching operations from the sea but also operations at sea. This is a functional role that is in the DNA of the Marine Corps and critical to the nation’s policies overseas. The concept and success of ESG-3 especially under the command of BG Joseph Medina is an important blueprint for today’s commanders.