One of the perks of my work at Hammock Inc., is the chance to visit interesting, often unusual places in order to immerse myself more fully in our clients’ activities. Or maybe embed is a better word to use when describing my trip to the annual Modern Day Marine Military Expo aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA.

Co-sponsored by our client, The Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM), the event brings together Marines of all levels of experience and military suppliers for three days of equipment inspections and discussions.

The show has grown steadily over the years, and took an enormous leap this year, growing by 30 percent over last year, with 400 vendors and 8,200 attendees. Besides producing the League’s member magazine, Semper Fi, we also produce the Expo directory; we increased the number for this year by 16 percent, and they were all gone halfway through the three-day show.

Besides attendance, this year’s show may be regarded as a turning point because it occurred as the Marine Corps reshapes itself for future challenges. Every few years, The Marine Corps steps back, looks at the world in which it has to function and makes shrewd calculations about how that world will change in the near future and what the Corps must do to adapt.

This year, the Corps’ new Commandant General James Conway signed off on the Vision and Strategy 2025 report.

Traditionally, the Corps has been America’s “First to Fight” force, moving first and fast to trouble spots to take and hold positions, then turning them over to more permanent forces such as Army troops. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, however, the Corps has maintained an ongoing military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not unheard of for the Corps to play this role, but it’s not their preferred modus operandi. The Corps’ leaders are looking forward to relinquishing that role in the near future and resuming its “expeditionary” function – with Marines based on ships close to potential trouble spots and areas with critical American interests at stake.

The report sees the Marines of 2025 as lean, agile and flexible – able to fight or conduct community and ally building activities or both at the same time. And, as General Conway said at a formal dinner during the Expo, the vendors have to bring the Corps the tools it will need to turn that vision into reality.

Those tools will include new land, sea and air craft, new weaponry, new armor for vehicles and troops, integrated and protected digital communications that will give corporals battlefield awareness and intelligence that today’s commanders lust after.

They will also include robots – which were a special focus of the show, at an “obstacle course” where ‘bots ranging from lawn-tractor sized automatons to toy-like devices the size of shoeboxes. Far from your sci-fi robots such as that on Lost in Space or “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” these machines can nevertheless save lives by doing reconnaissance, bomb detection and disposal, retrieval of wounded and, yes, fighting.

As for the Marines at the show, their interests seemed to correlate with rank and experience. Junior Marines – including a number of newly minted lieutenants, boggled at all the “toys.” Many went for personal items – knives, boots, lights, weapons, flame-resistant apparel. Older, more senior Marines spent more time examining critical tools for battlefield success; their recommendations could soon show up in their hands.

There was a celebrity sighting – R. Lee Ermey, of drill instructor fame from “Full Metal Jacket” – is a regular guest at the show, playing in a golf tournament and signing autographs to help raise funds for the Marine Corps League’s Young Marines program.

More photos of the event may be seen here.