The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab: Hundreds of Thousands Spent in Travel Costs

With looming cuts in defense spending, it seems remarkable that any command would peg the Spend-o-Meter while others cower and circle the wagons to fend off the Budget Huns.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, it seems, trampled the reasonable cost threshold supporting a recent “experiment.”

From our estimate, the command flew at least 100 of its people from Quantico, Va., to Hawaii for two weeks; some much longer. Some had little to do. The Oahu experiment itself only ran 3-4 days. This sundrenched, semi-private beachfront fete cost nearly $1 million in travel, lodging, per diem and the like.

The lab billed this Hawaiian odyssey as its capstone Limited Objective Experiment Four. It was a final amphibious test to see if an enhanced company could perform the functions of a traditional battalion landing team.

After working the numbers, it is our estimate the travel price tag for the LOE-4 Hawaiian Holiday may be closer to $800,000. (Even a conservative $600,000 tally should have Defense Secretary and Occasional Superhero Robert M. Gates and some members of the House who actually care about us poor schleps funding this lunacy crying, “Foul.”) It is a remarkable chunk of change with little justification. Daily per diem was $107. Hotel rooms (including the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort at which many lab personnel stayed) ran $177.00/day minimum. Add tax and parking and you have $230/day. It seems everyone had a personal rental car averaging $500 per week. Airfare was a relative bargain, running between $950 and $2,000 per person. You see where we’re going with this: Big money squandered.

We have not included the cost of the 80 or so Afghan role players the lab contracted for the duration of the experiment. Nor have we accounted for the months in work-ups— numerous, lengthy meetings in San Diego and Hawaii, far from the lab’s home turf. (The lab has an extensive video teleconference capability.)

When asked to justify the tremendous travel and financial burden placed by the experiment, the lab maintained Hawaii was the only place it could get the ships (they used one) and the Marines to carry out its enhanced company operations dream. The lab needed a Marine company-plus. We have heard, but don’t hold us to this, there are thousands of Marines, notably the Second Marine Division, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. We have it from a reliable source there are a large number of U.S. Navy ships between Norfolk, Va., and Mayport, Fla. Did we mention the plethora of training areas that are good enough for the warfighters? Apparently they don’t meet Warfighting Lab standards.

In what could be considered a small deployment, the lab shipped (literally, on a ship) hundreds of pounds of gear plus a number of vehicles to support the experiment. The move was said to be an effort to save money.

Admittedly, the lab has saved its pennies in other areas. It has maintained its coffers are empty to fund adequate office equipment, like a chair to help a sight-impaired individual work on a government computer. The lab does not keep or have access to additional cubicle partitions to block out noise, despite running a Welcome Center party headquarters second to none. It maintains it cannot provide adequate office space to its so-called scientists. But it can throw a million dollar party in Hawaii. Islanders rejoice!

If the Marine Corps continues to spend money in this manner, the Gun Club will have to find new and thrifty ways to fight. Hey, Afghanistan Marines, did you catch the Turtle Bay link? Nice, and on your dime.

The lab did not respond to our request for verification.

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