The Marines of the UNSC

The marines of the UNSC are often overlooked, usually because, on an all too regular basis, they merely play a supporting role to the likes of the Master Chief. But there is far more to the backbone of the UNSC’s ground troops than background remarks and gung-ho attitudes. Marines are heroes too.

The marines in Halo play a part that is just as vital to the future of humanity as any Spartan or ODST trooper. But before we venture any further into their role we should remind ourselves of their fragility in the war against the Covenant. Because marines don’t benefit from powered armour, sealed environments suits or access to the best weaponry in the UNSC arsenal. All marines have is standard ballistic armour, around six months of training and a will to survive. It doesn’t sound like much, considering the enemy they face but they, the marines, have plenty to give.

It must be quite a sobering sight as a marine fighting against the might of the Covenant war machine–being the last survivor in your beleagured platoon, a platoon that for the past few days has held off repeated attacks by thousands upon thousands of grunts and jackals, with the occasional hunter pair thrown in for good measure.

But as the hours turn into days, your numberes have dwindled. Friends are lost in maddening fire fights and suicidal grunt charges. And ammunition, once in plentiful supply, is now almost spent. You are exhausted, thirsty, hungry and weary beyond comprehension and yet you must hold your line. Alone. You must protect the exposed flank of your unit completely unaided and unsupported, or the enemy will push through and destroy what remains in relative safety. Your chain of command depends upon your success and survival. For you are all that stands between defeat and possible extinction.


And now the enemy approaches once more, so you gather what little ammunition remains, say a prayer to a higher power and steel yourself for the coming onslaught. But this attack is different. You’ve seen off the grunts, killing more than you can count and the brutes proved unusually easy to stop, exposing themselves too early in the fight. The jackals are also down, drones dead in the sand and hunters lie in smoking remains beyond your line, so only one other foe remains. A foe that thinks as well as it fights, Covenant Elites. You expect no mercy and show none yourself, firing at the earliest opportunity from your only remaining heavy machine gun. Some fall in a hail of bullets but the rest continue, undaunted, unphased and utterly fearless of your single-handed attepts to stop them.

The machine gun clicks empty. You move forward, throw grenades and continue firing with an assault rifle. Another elite falls, but the rest carry on, swords drawn, wanting your blood.

Then they fire. Plasma scorches the sandbags and earth around you, taking the majority of the fire but a single bolt of blue-white fire catches you in the shoulder, knocking you back. You’re down. Out of the fight. Three elites, each with their energy swords out and ready, surround you as you lie on the ground, a smouldering hole in your shoulder. You see no way out, no respite, no solution. In only a few seconds, all that will remain of you will be in the memory of others.

They raise to strike. You close your eyes.

Shots ring out. You look.

The elites are dead, smoke rising from ballistically placed cavities in their heads. A pair of Spartans then approach, each sporting sniper rifles. Afterwards, your CO praises the arrival of the Spartans, forgetting your own painful, desperate efforts. The Spartans, too, carry on in the same regard, no thanks, no praise for your fight. They expect that of anyone, to pay for victory with their lives.

It’s a common scenario.

In many cases, when playing Halo, we are the fortunate ones. We arrive in the boots of either Noble Six, the Rookie or the Master Chief as the marines are close to losing valuable ground. But if Halo was in fact reality, then the task of the marine becomes all the more difficult. Just imagine it.

They gain little notoriety, with the exception of Sgt Johnson who we all know is actually a Spartan, so I suppose he doesn’t really count. But beyond that are several more problems. The marines and the army are both deployed as standard infantry units, so personal protection is limited at best. Weaponry would also be limited. Sure, in Halo we often use the same weapons but that’s down to the availability of firearms during the game with one obvious exception, the Spartan Laser.

Marines have the difficult tasks to do and a vastly superior enemy to face. They have no augmentations to speed them along or a half tonne suit of MJOLNIR armour to absorb the first few bolt of incandescent plasma fire instead of clothing, kevlar and bare flesh. But despite all of this, marines do make a difference in the Halo universe. They form the mainstay of any surface defence. They man fixed emplacements, operate vehicles and tanks like the Scorpion and are the primary element that faces off against any Covenant assault. They were the largest surface contingent to take on their enemy. But the marines could have had a greater effect on the outcome of the war.

The UNSC’s major disadvantage during the war became its own worst enemy, reaction instead of action. After Harvest, the UNSC was always on the back-foot. It was always reacting to Covenant incursion into UNSC held territory instead of initiating combat on its own terms.

Vast deployments of marines could have pushed the enemy back during surface deployments, while larger space-based engagements take place. Surprise would be the key to achieving this, much in the same way as the German military did during the Second World War with their Blitzkrieg approach to fighting. You must hit your enemy in great force, with little or no warning and push them back or destroy them totally.

Frigates should have been used as surface support craft instead

And at the heart of this decisive victory are marines, not Spartans. What the UNSC truly lacked during the war, besides a more proactive approach with the vast swathes of marines available at the start, was the means to deliver them. The human equivalent of the Covenant Assault Carrier.

Perhaps HIGHCOM will take a good long hard long at this side of their combat capability and rectify it. Only time will tell.

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3 thoughts on “The Marines of the UNSC

  1. I’ve always liked the Marines. If you’ll pardon another 40k reference, I’ve always compared them to the Imperial Guard, the true heroes of the Imperium. They’ll march onto the field of battle despite knowing that even if they win, their chances of survival are slim. Any veteran of even one battle will tell you that their enemies are superior, ready and willing to take their lives (or worse). And yet they fight to hold the line, no matter the cost. In 40k, the Guard were always my favorites. (Except maybe the Sisters of Battle, but that’s a different conversation.)

    Just like in 40k, I always loved my Marines. I’ve always tried to keep them alive, not because they’re a tool, not because they’re squishy, but because they’re trying the best they can to do their jobs without the advantages that I have. It may sound odd, but I feel like they deserve to live more than the Chief… not that I can stop them from charging into combat. Even if I could, I wouldn’t; it would undermine their heroism.

    It wasn’t until I read this that I remembered that while Stacker might be my favorite, there was a time where Johnson filled that role. Thinking back, his popularity in my mind started to wane about the time that I discovered he was a member of the Orion Program. Funny, that. It might also help explain my sense of dissatisfaction with Halo 3’s story.

    I’m going to have to spend some time thinking about that.

  2. I’ve always thought about this myself. I even got into preaching mode. I am a Marine myself and I’ve served in battle. No Spartan can win any battles without the sacrifices of Marines. I want Halo to make a story of Marines. Throughout our Marine Corps history, we were always outnumbered. Our technology and equipment weren’t as always brand new, up to date, or even working… compared to the other branches.. we make due with what we have… and we’ve always accomplished our mission… WHATEVER IT TAKES…

    • Johnson said it best in Halo 2: “Dear Humanity… We regret being alien bastards. We regret coming to Earth. And we most definitely regret that THE CORPS just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!” OORAH indeed. Also a Marine, I take pride of quotes from militaries of FOREIGN countries describing us. Such examples include the Germans calling us Devil Dogs, or the quote: “If it must absolutely positively be destroyed in 30 seconds or less, call in the U.S. Marines.” During OEF & OIF, Marines where well known for Block Devastation, rolling to a town, causing mayhem that only a Marine could, then rolling onto the next village or town. I appreciate Bungie’s & 343 Industry’s keeping to the facts on the Marines in their games. No fight in American history (excluding the Revolutionary War) would’ve ended the way it did with out the Marines. Though the same can technically be said about the other branches, none to the same magnitude. Semper Fi Jarheads, real & video game alike.

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