First to Fight

No one knows where the next conflict or crisis will emerge. Ridding the world of these threats requires
a lightweight, nimble force that not only can respond rapidly, but also take control when it gets there.
When unexpected threats arise, it is the Marine Corps that is best prepared to face them down.


Marines are first to fight because of their culture and because they maintain a forward-deployed presence near various global hotspots. The Marine Corps' forward presence consists of multiple Marine Expeditionary Units, or MEUs.  MEUs spend at least six months training for a variety of amphibious operations before they are deployed. Then, for six months at a time, Marine Expeditionary Units embark upon United States Navy warships and prepare to launch a range of missions—from humanitarian and peacekeeping missions to full-scale combat engagements, on extremely short notice. Few have what it takes to become Marines, but now many have the opportunity to delve into the training and mindset of these elite, prepared warriors. This behind-the-scenes glimpse of an actual MEU training exercise reveals what it takes to maintain this constant state of readiness. You've heard of their "First to Fight" reputation. Now see them earn it.

Hour 01

Warning Order

Aboard three amphibious assault ships, the USS Nassau, USS Mesa Verde and USS Ashland, Marines receive their orders and prepare to respond.

Hour 02

Crisis Action Brief

Marine Commanders and staff of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit begin their planning by reviewing intelligence and developing possible courses of action.

Hour 03

Detailed Planning

Marine Ground, Aviation and Logistics Combat Elements prepare to support a unified course of action.

Hour 04

Confirmation Brief

The MEU Commander approves a plan, and all orders are disseminated to every Marine in the 24th MEU.

Hour 05

Mission Staging

Marines load the gear they'll need onto vehicles and aircraft and prepare to move out.

Hour 06

Execute Orders

Aircraft and landing craft launch the first wave of Marines ashore.


Amphibious Raid

Marines of the 24th MEU put their planning into action on an amphibious raid training mission.



We are this nation's force in readiness. This is our charge, and our distinction, reflected in the way we organize, equip and train our Marines.

Our Congressional Mandate:

[The Marine Corps] must be the most ready when
the nation is generally least ready … to provide a balanced force in readiness for a naval campaign
and, at the same time, a ground and air striking
force ready to suppress or contain international disturbances short of large-scale war.

—82nd Congress – 1952

"The president has got to have the capability to deploy somebody when he needs them now."

—General James Amos
35th Commandant of the Marine Corps


First to Fight is more than a motto. It is a mindset, a purpose and a core tenet driving every Marine to achieve and maintain optimal readiness. Marines live out this mindset for the oppressed and against the oppressive, and in response to disasters—born from man or from nature. These missions illustrate what it means to be First to Fight.

HAITI, January 2010

No one could have predicted the catastrophic, 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, but one force was ready to respond to it. Leading the way were the Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit who, within days of the disaster, were delivering critical supplies to the areas of Haiti that were hardest hit. With very little infrastructure still intact to support such a massive disaster relief operation, Marines relied on their leadership training, ship-to-shore assets and rapid response capabilities not only to provide relief, but also to restore order. Over the next few months, while Haitian leaders worked feverishly to re-establish a working government, Marines provided security and delivered millions of pounds of food, water and medical supplies to the citizens who needed them.


On July 15th, 2006, Marines of the 24th MEU were training in the middle of the Jordanian desert. More than a hundred miles south, fighting erupted between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, resulting in the closing of the Beirut airport and leaving thousands of American citizens stranded. A true testament to the flexible nature of an expeditionary force in readiness, the 24th MEU quickly changed course, and within days was able to facilitate the successful evacuation of some 13,000 Americans to safety. The first evacuees were flown by Marine CH-53E helicopters to the USS Iwo Jima and three other amphibious assault ships in the Gulf of Aqaba. This ability to transition from a training environment to a humanitarian mission (non-combatant evacuation operation) is what's expected of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. Just months earlier, these same Marines were providing shelter, food and water to the displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina.


After the attack on our nation on 11 September 2001, the entire American military focused its might on defeating Al-Qaeda. Two months later, Marines were the first major ground forces in Afghanistan. On 25 November 2001, AH-1W attack helicopters and CH-53E Super Stallions loaded with combat-ready Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit launched the longest amphibious heliborne assault in history. It would become the first U.S. base established in Afghanistan, known as Camp Rhino, and set the stage for the capture of Kandahar Airport just a few weeks later. The Marine Corps offers the most efficient and effective response option when unexpected threats surface. The Marine Corps is most ready when the nation is least ready, and the nation can always turn to the Marine Corps when it must project its power.


During a peacekeeping mission over Bosnia, Air Force pilot Captain Scott O'Grady was shot down in enemy territory. Undetected, he survived by sleeping under camouflage netting during the day and moving at night. Chosen to lead the rescue was the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The 24th MEU was the most qualified and most ready to conduct the daylight TRAP (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) mission. With the rapid deployment capabilities and extensive training all Marine Expeditionary Units possess, Marines from the 24th MEU launched from the Adriatic Sea. Escorted by AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jets, Marines disembarked from two CH-53E helicopters to rescue the downed pilot.  After pulling O'Grady aboard and flying low to the ground, the unit dodged two shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Forty-five minutes later, the Marines and Captain O'Grady landed safely on USS Kearsarge, successfully completing the mission.