Generals Say “Time To Fix the Marine Corps” And I Couldn’t Agree More… Sort Of… (Part 4)

Do as I say no as I do.

[This series is a response to a pair of recent article in the Marine Corps Times: “Commandant calls for new crackdown” & “Generals say it’s time to fix the Marine Corps”.]


My final suggestion for this series is bound to be the one that is least likely to be carried out: All officers, regardless of rank or billet, should be limited to 30 years in the Marine Corps, all enlisted Marines should be limited to 24 years, and all promotion criteria should be adjusted accordingly. (As an aside, if promotion requirements are going to be altered, there should also be the addition of MOS-specific testing & “leadership” testing as a promotion requirement. Anybody can run fast, do some pull-ups and accurately shoot a rifle with a scope. If someone is going to be an NCO and fill some sort of leadership role, they should be able to show on paper that they know about their MOS, and that they are at least aware of the basic tenets of Marine Corps leadership.) Frankly, General Amos was commissioned as a 2nd Lt in 1970; that means he’s been an officer for 43 years now. Similarly, Sgt Maj Barrett enlisted in 1981, has been in the military for 32 years, and has spent the last 11 of them as a Sgt Maj.

Does having been in for 30-40 years or more, automatically mean that they’re bad Marines or bad at their jobs? No, not necessarily. I know many Marines have their own opinions regarding the leadership abilities (or lack thereof) of Gen. Amos and Sgt. Maj. Barrett, and frankly, it is beyond the scope of this article for me to defend or condemn them as individuals. What I will say is that being in the Marine Corps for that long is bound to leave you hidebound, institutionalized, and very likely unable even to realize that some changes can be for the better. This is especially evident in Sgt. Maj. Barrett’s comment that “Service Charlie Fridays” is a good idea because it’s the way that it was done when he was a junior Marine, back in the ’80’s. Realistically, maybe “Service Charlie Fridays” was good enough for a decade where the Marine Corps had no major combat operations – maybe it was good enough for an era when you could go nearly 10 years and be promoted to SSgt before going on your first deployment like Sgt Maj Barrett did – but it obviously wasn’t good enough for a decade of war. Bearing that in mind: Why would the Marine Corps – the “tip of the spear” – ever want to go back to policies that clearly weren’t conducive to combat effectiveness? The only possible answer is quite simply that the current Generals and Sgts Maj. are (and were) so hidebound that they only grudgingly accepted those changes at the time.

Limiting Officers to 30 years and Enlisted to 24 years will help to keep new blood circulating into the most senior positions, reducing the institutionalization, and hopefully allowing for greater efficiency, adaptability, and capacity for mission accomplishment in the Marine Corps.


All things considered, I must say that I agree with the General’s intentions; and it is most definitely time to fix the Marine Corps. The problem is that the Generals and senior SNCO’s only seem to be concerned with fixing the aspects of the Marine Corps that aren’t broken.


This concludes my series responding to the top brass’ plans for the Marine Corps. Please comment below and let me know what you think.

Safety and Peace


Generals Say “Time To Fix the Marine Corps” And I Couldn’t Agree More… Sort Of… (Part 3)


[This series is a response to a pair of recent article in the Marine Corps Times: “Commandant calls for new crackdown” & “Generals say it’s time to fix the Marine Corps”.]


Continuing on, I’d like two issues that really go hand in hand: Uniforms, and Ceremonies:

In the past year we’ve seen the reintroduction of “Service Charlie Fridays”, and now there’s the idea of putting Marines on Duty in their Chucks. Apparently the Generals think that this is a good idea because it lets commanders see “at a glance” if their marines are squared away or not, and it reinforces a Marine’s “pride in their uniform”. There are a few problems with this idea:

  1. If – as a commander – you’re judging your Marines by how they look in their good uniforms you’re not going to have any clue who’s squared away and who’s not. The only thing you’re going to know for sure is which of your Marines are most likely to win a beauty pageant. Frankly, if your plan is to send your most beautiful Marines into combat in the hopes that they’ll awe the enemy with their masculine features… well as Generals that’s your prerogative. I’m just saying that I might suggest a different plan, such as making sure that your Marines are proficient in their MOS. Now, I know that any General who might happen to read this would say, “Well, as Maj. Gen. Nicholson already said, lax discipline in garrison leads to lax discipline in country.” Great! I absolutely agree that there should be discipline in garrison; however, there’s a difference between discipline, and rules for the sake of rules. A crackdown on drunken rowdiness is enforcing discipline. Requiring the Alpha Belt to extend 2 – 3/4 to 3 – 3/4 inches past the buckle is a rule for the sake of a rule that has no bearing on whether or not someone is a good Marine. If  we were to judge every Marine solely based upon his appearance in uniform, then we would have no choice but to declare Lt. Gen. Puller to be – without a doubt – the biggest disgrace to the uniform that the Marine Corps has ever seen. Yet for some reason during boot camp, Recruits are still taught to revere him as a great Marine. Perhaps that’s because he recognized that a beauty pageant was an exercise in futility instead of an exercise in discipline.
  2. I know this will be a shocker to many Marines (both officers and enlisted), but most Marines don’t take pride in their service uniforms. To be perfectly blunt, Marines love their Dress Blues; usually either because they joined in the hopes that they would get to kill a lava monster and then be miraculously transfigured into a Marine in Dress Blues, or because they know that nearly every time they wear them is a good occasion to get drunk. Regardless, the Blue uniform is fancy and Marines tend to like it. Similarly Marines tend to like the utility uniform. It’s reasonably comfortable, easy to maintain, and has the practical purpose of being useful for concealment in combat zones. The service uniforms, by contrast, have no real purpose. They’re not as fancy as the Blues, and they’re infinitely less functional than the utilities. Effectively they’re just another defunct relic of WWII. Perhaps it’s a bridge too far to suggest it, but to be completely honest the Marine Corps could do away with the service uniforms and have lost nothing in the way of combat effectiveness.


Next we come to the issue of ceremonies. Somehow throughout the entirety of the past decade (despite all of the wars and smaller conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in) the brass and senior SNCO’s have managed to ensure that change of command ceremonies, retirement ceremonies, promotion ceremonies, etc etc still remain a top priority. What’s more, General Amos has now unveiled his plan to have Cpls and Sgts promoted individually so that promotions to these ranks are “meaningful”. To be perfectly blunt, the last thing the Marine Corps needs is another reason to waste time that could be better spent training, repairing broken gear, or any number of other things. How many NCO’s or junior Officers move from one base to another on any given day with nothing more than a handshake or pat on the back from their peers or immediate command? Yet when a Sgt. Maj. or a senior officer leaves the whole unit has to effectively shutdown for a week so a lavish ceremony can be held in their honor.

Instead of continuing with this monumental waste of time, I propose that senior SNCO’s and Officers hold a simpler farewell that wouldn’t require so many enlisted Marines to be taken from their work for no purpose other than to march around for several hours. Perhaps Generals could have a simpler – perhaps even informal – ceremony involving his subordinate unit commanders and officers, and Sgts Maj. could similarly have a farewell ceremony involving only his fellow SNCO’s.

This would not only lead to increased mission accomplishment, and a decrease in wasted time, but also to increased morale in the lower enlisted Marines – who have always been taught that the obectives of the Marine Corps are “Mission accomplishment, and Troop welfare” only to watch ceremony take precedence time and time again.


This concludes Part 3 of my series. Please comment below and let me know what you think. Check back next Monday (Nov 11, 2013) for Part 4!


Safety and Peace


Generals Say “Time To Fix the Marine Corps” And I Couldn’t Agree More… Sort Of… (Part 2)

Grumpy amos

[This series is a response to a pair of recent article in the Marine Corps Times: “Commandant calls for new crackdown” & “Generals say it’s time to fix the Marine Corps”.]


My second suggestion to the top brass is once again concerns duty. Brig Gen Kennedy insists that “duty is a privilege, really. It’s to watch over the flock.” Now frankly, Kennedy was a 2nd LT in 1985. I think it’s safe to say that he hasn’t stood a day’s duty in at least the past 20 years. What’s more as an officer, I think it’s fair to say that he’s never been the new PFC who has to pull a 18+ hour shift at the duty desk, with no relief, because his Cpl decided that Duty was a good excuse to catch up on some much needed sleep. So in that respect at least, Kennedy’s ignorance of how Duty works in the Marine Corps can be excused.

That being said, I like Kennedy’s notion of Duty NCO’s being proactive. I absolutely think that Marines should take their duty seriously, and be proactive in preventing stupid incidents. The problem is that Kennedy doesn’t have the slightest clue how to make it happen. I have four major suggestions:

  1. As noted in my previous post: Utility Uniforms, only! No Marine is going to be proactive in preventing incidents when he’s too worried that he might get a spot on his shirt.
  2. Two NCOs on Duty at a time. In this case I agree with Amos, but probably for different reasons. If I had a nickel for every time a PFC or LCpl pulled the bulk of a shift because the NCO felt like playing xbox or sleeping instead, Forbes would be writing a story about me. That leaves junior Marines with the impression that Duty is unimportant and it’s a good way for NCO’s to screw with them. If there were two NCO’s on Duty together and one had to be at the desk at all times, they would be more likely to divide their shift evenly and fairly instead of trying to screw each other over.
  3. Despite my agreement with Amos on doubling up on Duty, his “firewatch on every floor” idea would be extremely counterproductive. Having been to bases in Okinawa, Lejeune, Pendleton, and Hawaii, I’ve never seen a barracks where it would take the Duty NCO longer than 5 minutes to perform a cursory tour (only checking for major problems) or longer than  10 minutes to perform an in-depth tour. That makes a “firewatch on every floor” effectively a useless post; and nothing makes Duty feel more like a punishment than sticking people on a useless post.
  4. Duty must NEVER be assigned as a punishment for anything. If you want Marines to view Duty as a “privilege” then making it a punishment is absolutely the worst thing that could possibly happen. I would go so far as to say that assigning Duty to any Marine, for any reason other than “It happened to be your turn in the rotation” should carry a Mandatory Battalion-Level NJP. Furthermore, attempting to circumvent this by – for example – assigning a Marine to stand at the door to the barracks and open the door for every marine who walks in or out, should be similarly punished.

Do I honestly believe that implementing these ideas will instantaneously change Marines’ ideas about duty? No, of course not. What I will say is that removing several of the negative aspects that make Duty feel like a punishment is bound to give Duty a less negative connotation over time. It may not fix anything over night, but I’ll almost guarantee it will be an improvement in the long-term.

I’d like to move on, very briefly, to Amos’ idea of installing security cameras in the barracks. In theory, this could be a decent idea as it could allow Marines who are being hazed in the barracks to have video evidence to support their claims. However, on the other hand, I could very easily see a command using security footage to NJP a Marine that they don’t particularly like, for such minor infractions as wearing “shower shoes” from their room to the laundry room, or not wearing a belt while walking around the barracks. All things considered, unless there are strict rules regarding how security footage can be used, I see security cameras as a zero sum game. Whatever is gained in security has the potential to be paid for in morale.


This concludes Part 2 of my series. Please comment below and let me know what you think. Check back next Monday (Nov 04, 2013) for Part 3!

Safety and Peace


Generals Say “Time To Fix the Marine Corps” And I Couldn’t Agree More… Sort Of… (Part 1)

I really need to be a meme…

In a pair of recent article in the Marine Corps Times (“Commandant calls for new crackdown”“Generals say it’s time to fix the Marine Corps”) General Amos noted that “we are now seeing signs that are our institutional fabric is fraying.” and he, several other Generals, and Sgt Maj Barrett lay out their plans to “fix the Marine Corps” (esp. problems with “sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization and failure to maintain personal appearance standards”).

I’d like to take a moment to reiterate some of the lowlights of the proposed solutions to this “moral stagnation” before moving on:

  • All Marines on duty will be required to wear service uniforms, either “Bravos” or “Charlies,” depending on which uniform is in season.
  • Two NCOs will be on duty per barracks, and a firewatch will be conducted on each floor of each building. Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy goes on to ask: “Are people really coming back and complaining about [the extra duty]? Their duty is a privilege, really. It’s to watch over the flock.”
  • Marines will no longer be promoted to corporal or sergeant in groups. “Each promotion to these ranks will be personal and meaningful,” [Amos says].
  • Other “near-term” changes [include] the installation of security cameras in every barracks.
  • When the issue of “Service Charlie Fridays” came up Brig. Gen. Kennedy simply responds “But that has all been done before.” and Sgt Maj Barrett relates that, when he was a PFC/LCpl (in 1981-83) “every single Friday… you were in Chucks… You’d walk and step in front of the first sergeant, and he would pull open your personal financial record to make sure everything was right… You’d then sidestep in front of the commanding officer next and do a couple facing movements. And then you’d salute and get your pay and walk away.”

While I agree with the top brass that sexual assault, hazing and the like are huge problems that need to be addressed, I suspect that they are really only symptoms of a larger problem. To wit – the Marine Corps is run by Generals and Sgts Maj who are so far removed from every day life in the Marine Corps that, for all intents and purposes, they don’t even qualify as Marines anymore. Now let me be clear: I’m not saying that the rank of “General” or “Sgt Maj” is itself the problem. The problem is that these positions are occupied by people who are so far removed – both by their billets, and by their time in the military – that they barely comprehend the problem, and can’t even begin to imagine the solution. That’s why we have the Commandant over in Quantico saying “We have this huge problem with sexual assault and hazing, so we’re going to give Marines more Duty, make sure they’re in those fancy-dancy service uniforms as often as possible, and we’re going to have more ceremonies, and make those ceremonies even longer! I’m confident that somehow this will manage to solve our problems.” What this really amounts to is little more than a tacit admission by the Commandant that the only tool that the top brass has is a hammer so they’re going to try to make every problem look like a nail.


Now, far be it from me to disparage the top brass’ plans without offering some better ideas for how to fix what’s really wrong with the Marine Corps. So without further ado, allow me to offer my improvements on the General’s “brilliant” plans:

Firstly, I’d like to address the uniform policy for Duty. Maj. Gen. Nicholson states that “The best guy you’ll ever have on duty is the one who is out stopping problems before they start… He’s taking a Marine who has really had too much to drink and putting his arm around him and getting him up to his room and putting him to bed before that guy has a chance to do something.” I absolutely, 100%, agree with this statement. I’ll even go so far as to say that I’d support having two Duty NCOs and two A-Duty’s so there will always be two people on post: one at the desk, and one wandering around looking for potential trouble. That being said, I have two concerns that I think need to be addressed here:

  1. How likely is a Marine on Duty going to be to help a drunken Marine get up the stairs to his room, when he has to be concerned about getting his Corfam’s scuffed, or maybe even getting vomit on his shirt?
  2. How likely is a Marine on Duty going to be to try to put down a drunken brawl, when he’s reasonably certain that he will be berated by his SNCOs for getting his shoes scuffed, or getting the ribbons ripped off his shirt and soiled, or getting a stain on his pants?

In both cases (and I could go on with additional examples) the Marine on Duty might act to help the other Marines, but in any event he will definitely be hesitant, not wanting to have to spend extra money replacing expensive uniform items. In many instances, the Marine on Duty might simply choose to walk away and let them fight it out; and then return five minutes later to find one of the brawling Marines gone, and the other lying unconscious on the pavement. For this reason, I propose that Duty should only ever be carried out in the Utility uniform (cammis).

This concludes Part 1 of my series. Please comment below and let me know what you think. Check back next Monday (Oct 28, 2013) for Part 2!

Safety and Peace