WASHINGTON — Within the next few years, U.S. Marines could once again be knee deep in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said he would like to see Marines training in Vietnam. His remarks came while speaking to local reporters at a conference in San Diego last week.
Amos said he wanted to see additional Marines training on the ground in Vietnam and other locations around the Pacific as part of the U.S. military's pivot toward Asia.
"I'm optimistic," Amos said about the possibility of getting back into Vietnam. "We're not training in Vietnam, but I would hope that someday down the road through relationships that we build over the next year or two that we'll be able to train in Vietnam."
Vietnam has drawn keen interest in the Pentagon, which wants agreements for American warships to use Cam Ranh Bay, a strategic harbor in Southeast Asia. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the bay aboard U.S. naval sealift ship, last summer. In a moment of bluster in the harbor, Panetta recalled a line from the movie "Master and Commander," saying "The captain of the ship says, 'We may be a long way from England, but this ship is England.' Well, this ship is the United States."
Amos last week said Marines already are fulfilling his goal to expand training in the Pacific. Two new F-18 squadrons already are flying off of Tinian Island, in the Northern Mariana Islands, north from Guam. The Marines, he said proudly, evoking an even earlier American war in the Pacific, once again are taxiing down the same runway used by the Enola Gay, the World War II B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
The squadrons on Tinian are living under "very austere conditions," Amos said. For now, the Marines in training are "limited," he said, "but there."