Thursday, June 22, 2006

Open Letter to the Corps

The editor of the Arizona Republic fish wrap has created quite a stir among my Marine comrades, by publishing a political cartoonist's denigrating rendition of the Marine Corps' emblem. It painted, with the broad brush available to journalists, the entire Marine Corps as criminally culpable for the acts of a few. Marines have responded with fury and scorn at the audacious editorial cheap shot. As gut-wrenchingly awful as it is, however, my Marine Corps had better pay attention to the allegation and sentiment behind the scurrilous sacrilege.

Marine leadership has touted the "strategic corporal" concept for several years. We believe that the tactical actions of the most junior leader on the battlefield, particularly in this age of instantaneous information dissemination, can have strategic ramifications. We believe it, but we don't bring near the amount of resources to bear that is required to train and educate those junior leaders to bear the brunt of that awesome responsibility. Marines will immediately rise to disagree with that assessment, and I welcome their arguments to the contrary. But let me quickly outline what I think is required.

First, raise recruiting standards. Raise them significantly. Stop waiving criminal disqualification for enlistment. If one of our recruiting mottos is "Quality, not Quantity," then let's practice what we preach. It is long past time for another General Louis H. Wilson to step into the shoes of the Corps' Commandancy, raise standards, and discharge those who don't measure up. It worked dramatically well 30 years ago. General Conway, the state of Arkansas can surely provide as smart a man as Mississippi did with General Wilson.

Second, tighten the screws on the personal conduct of all Marines, 24/7. Put teeth back in the UCMJ and hold Marines to its standards for conduct. Teach young officers to be moral standard bearers. Bring back, in a more modern adaptation, the liberty card. Apply the principles of identification and restriction of liberty risks strictly, not just overseas, but stateside as well. Ask any Marine who served in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in the late 90's what a strictly enforced liberty risk program did for all of those NOT identified as a risk--they will tell you to a man that they had more liberty freedom because the knuckle-heads did not. And, the conduct of the entire battalion, as evidenced by dramatically low rates of NJP, was significantly improved. My gut feeling, no, my firm belief, is that the chances of any one in that battalion committing a battlefield atrocity were lower than most. By the way, lest anyone think me a braggart, the tough conduct standards I applied were not my own ideas. In preparation for my battalion's deployment to Okinawa, in the late fall of 1997, my regimental commander, Colonel John A. Keenan, said to me, and I paraphrase, "One misbehaving lance corporal on liberty in Kinville can do what several divisions of Japanese Imperial Army troops could not--kick the Marine Corps off Okinawa."

Third, do not promote a Marine to the NCO ranks and place him or her in charge of a small unit unless and until he or she demonstrates complete commitment to the standards, 24/7. Do not put a "hell-raiser" in charge of a squad, just because he is a tactical tiger.

Fourth, increase funding for, and the length of, NCO and Small Unit Leader courses and schools. Put the most morally straight officers and SNCOs you can find in charge. Decrease funding for officer candidate training and basic officer education, if you can't find the money required.

Marines, we are correct to be outraged at our emblem's mistreatment and our associated defamation. Let's channel the outrage into actions that will speak louder than any words in our defense.

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