Monday, July 31, 2006

World War Three?

One of the most intelligent (and one of the most polarizing) people in politics, Newt Gingrich, has been proclaiming loudly that we are in World War Three and we need to wake up and act accordingly. I couldn't agree more. We have actually been involved in this world war since the late seventies and the rise of global terrorism. The parallels to World War Two are striking if you step back and look at the patterns.

While Americans, most of whom under the age of 30 can't even tell you the date, believe that the Second World War began with the Japanese attack on Pacific military facilities in Hawaii and a day later in the Philippines (most don't even know that), the seeds for that war had been planted two decades before and had germinated, taken root, and flowered into open conflict on the European and Asian continents half a dozen years before the re-United States' entrance as a combatant. Appeasement of Hitler's desires for German domination of Europe, and our efforts to keep Japan from becoming a world power through isolation and sanctions, resulted in German and Japanese aggression against weaker neighbors throughout the decade prior to December 7, 1941. Had the Japanese not attacked us at Pearl Harbor when they did, it can be argued that America may very well have remained out of a war which would have eventually brought Soviet domination to the entire Eurasian continent. But, our response following Pearl Harbor was nothing if not unequivocable. We DECLARED WAR and executed that war ruthlessly. As a result, the citizens of the American Empire have enjoyed the greatest and most rapid advances in technology and standard of living in the history of man.

If, the terrorist attack of 9/11 was our generation's Pearl Harbor, where is the formal declaration of war? By the end of 1941, we had formal declarations of war from the Congress of the re-United States on the Axis Powers--Japan, Germany and Italy. Yes, their populations suffered disproportionately more than ours in the ensuing war, but THAT IS THE AIM OF WAR. War is not supposed to be a fair fight, or a kiddies' soccer game following which everybody on both teams gets a trophy. If you are a citizen of a country that allowed a politician to lead you into war, you will suffer the consequences--good or bad. Following 9/11, our president said, and I paraphrase, "you are either for us or against us in this fight against terrorism and the United States will make no distinction between the terrorists and those nations that support terrorism."

We got off to a good start, even without the required formal declarations of war, and toppled the Taliban and Saddam. But, then we stopped attacking the enemy and starting allowing the enemy to attack us. It was as if after kicking Germany and Italy out of North Africa, and Japan out of the Southwest Pacific in 1943, we stopped and let Hitler and Tojo regroup for the next three or more years. The quagmire in which we find ourselves in Iraq is not the result of toppling Saddam. It is the result of not toppling Assad and the Ayatollahs immediately thereafter.

Sadly, it is too late, politically, to do what we should have done three years ago. Unfortunately, we will soon leave Iraq to radical Shia domination. More unfortunately, we will someday have to fight an Iranian/Syrian/Chinese alliance, that will be much stronger because we were so weak when we could have been so strong.

Friday, July 28, 2006

30th WAT

Now that she is safely out of communication with the rest of her world, I can reveal the whereabouts of Miss Brenda and the Colonel, and publish the itinerary for our 30th Wedding Anniversary Trip. I have not told her anything other than what to pack and roughly when we will get back home, and each stop on this trip has been and will continue to be a surprise.

Yesterday morning we departed Panama City and drove along the Redneck Riveria west toward Mobile. We stopped to shop any and every time she said the magic word: "oooh." We finally arrived at our first RON (Rest Over Night for you militarily challenged folks), the thriving metropolis of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; home of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

We rested comfortably over night and woke bright and early for the first of our 30WAT adventures. A quick stop and the ubiquitous and ever-dependable WalMart for supplies and we were off to Sanford, Mississippi to canoe down the raging Okatoma River. Okay, maybe the Okatoma wasn't raging, and maybe it more closely resembles a medium size stream, but we tamed her anyway. Okay, I tamed her. Miss Brenda sat comfortably in the front of the canoe with camera ready to capture for everlasting posterity the flora and fauna of Southern Mississippi. Seven miles and four hours later our butts and backs had suffered enough and we happily beached our canoe and caught the bus back to outfitters.

Leaving Sanford we headed due west and arrived in Natchez, Mississippi along with a humdinger of a thunderstorm. We are in a suite on the Louisana side of the river with a view across the river to Natchez Under the Hill. Tomorrow we begin our slow march upstate along the Natchez Trace. Okay, no marching, but lots of slow driving with stops for more photographic capturing of flora and fauna for posterity. My rough plan is to attend church Sunday morning at the little country church to which we belonged for the first two years of our lives together, and then Monday morning be at the little country church at which we married 30 years ago Monday. After that stop, we will head home...maybe.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Vote Democrat!

I'm seriously thinking about voting Democrat this next time around. I know that statement has probably caused your head to swim, but hear me out. Things are looking sort of grim right now, what with an Arab-Israeli induced WWIII threatening to blow us all up faster than global warming can burn us all up. Good Democrats are telling us that things wouldn't be so grim if they were in charge. If we had elected Al Gore President six years ago, my air conditioning bill would be half what it is now. If we had elected John Kerry President in 2004, Hezbollah and the Israelis would be planting peace gardens together instead of lobbing high explosives at each other. If Gore or Kerry could have done that as President, just think what Nancy Pelosi can do for us as Speaker of the most powerful legislative body on the planet.

If we don't put the Democrats in charge of government in the next two elections, we are all going to be very sorry. I, for one, do not want to be responsible for Pelosi having to tell us a year from now that if we had just made her Speaker, gas prices would be down around $2 a gallon, Kim Jong Il and the Ayatollahs (What a great name for a fifties rock and roll band!) would have given up their nukes and allowed free elections, American troops would be back fighting for our freedom on American soil, and Mexico would be helping us round up their citizens in our country illegally. And, I certainly don't want the blame for Hillary Clinton having to tell us that if we had just made her President, unemployment would be under 4.5%, Bill Gates would not have more money than you and I, and her husband (as special envoy) would have convinced the Saudis to treat women better.

Heaven help us if we blow it and put Republicans in charge again!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Here we go, again.

Crystal ball time, dear readers. Actually, it doesn't take a supernatural ability to foresee the future to figure out what is probably going to happen next in the Middle East. What it takes is an appreciation for the central role of human conflict in the history of civilization (or lack thereof in this case). War, in one shape or another, is the norm for mankind.

First, lets look at what is liable to happen in the latest campaign in the Arab--Israeli Long War. By all accounts, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is preparing to mount a limited invasion into Southern Lebanon with the operational objective of eliminating the cabability of Hezbollah to fire rockets and conduct raids into Northern Israel. Israel's strategic objective is to gain as long a period of peace as possible for its citizens. It won't be a permanent peace. In order to accomplish that, the IDF would have to invade Syria and bring down the Assad Bathist dictatorship (Saddam-lite). While Israel has the cabability, it does not have the will to do that. So, what Israel hopes to accomplish is to severely degrade Hezbollah as a fighting force and hope that the UN steps in with peacekeeping forces to implement the resolutions it already has passed calling for the disarming of Hezbollah. I think that is what is likely to happen. In the meantime, the news media will continue to hyperventilate over civilian casualties and the prospect of "escalation" to all-out war between the Arabs and the Jews. Hint: As long as Israel is the only one with nukes and a very good delivery capability, the Syrian Army (and the armies of the rest of the Arab nations) will stay in barracks. By the way, this is merely a repeat of Israeli military operations conducted in Southern Lebanon nearly 25 years ago.

Second, while the world frets over the current Arab-Israeli fracass, my spider sense tells me something big is about to happen in Baghdad. Think Saigon, February 1968. Breaking a truce for the Tet holiday, Viet Cong (VC) insurgents in the south and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops in the north, staged a suprise offensive in Saigon and Hue, respectively. South Vietnamese and US forces were intitially caught off guard but relatively quickly (and very bloodily) regained control. While it was a resounding battlefield defeat for the North Vietnamese and the insurgency they were supporting in South Vietnam, it was a classic strategic victory for the North and precipitated the eventual disgraceful exit of the US from the war. Something similar is about to happen in Baghdad. The Iraqi insurgents are going to attempt to stage a very violent offensive, soon, in the hopes of accomplishing the same objective as was accomplished by the Vietnamese Communists. It will be destroyed on the battlefield, by the force of American arms.

It will win on the American homefront, by the force of American political opportunism and defeatism.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"This ain't no pleasure cruise, Marine!"

The US Navy amphibious task force carrying Marines to Lebanon for non-combatant evacuation duties is built around the latest in a remarkable class of ships. USS Iwo Jima, LHD-7, is the second amphibious ship to bear the name of the Marine Corps' most famous battle. The first USS Iwo Jima was little more than an updated version of the small escort, or "jeep" carriers of the second world war. But, at the time it was built, LPH-2 was designed specifically to haul Marines who would be ferried ashore in the latest technological advance in amphibious ship-to-shore movement--the helicopter. The LHD class of amphibious ships is a remarkable combination of nearly all of the unique characteristics of amphibious shipping developed since the Navy and Marine Corps began experimenting with amphibious warfare as science in the years between the First and Second World Wars. The LHD is nearly as big as our aircraft carriers, and in addition to the ability to carry and support the combat flight operations of helicopters and V/STOL attack jets, the LHD can flood its hollow internal well deck and float conventional and air cushioned landing craft in and out of its stern gate. A truly amazing ship.

I deployed to the Mediterranean for two consecutive six-month tours on the original USS Iwo Jima in the late 1980s. She was an old ship then, with many more years of service ahead. We Marines had a joke about ship-board life:

Q: What's the difference between serving time on a Navy amphibious ship and serving time in prison?

A: In prison, you have cable TV and no danger of drowning.

Officer staterooms on amphibious shipping really do remind you of a prison cell, with two exceptions -- no toilet and no bars. In a ten by ten space, four bunks and a sink. And that is "officer" berthing. The troops suffer much worse crowded conditions...for months at a time.

Another joke we had was that the crowded conditions were intentionally designed to make us more than ready to storm ashore and take out our frustrations on the enemy. We did indeed relish the opportunities to "storm ashore," whether for a field exercise or for liberty in some third world port. And the results were often the same--we fought and tore things up.

Breakfast at sea the morning after a port call was always fun for me--wish I had written down the stories that were told at the time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The June Bug and the Kudzu Vine

There once was a june bug named Jitter, whose laziness was exceeded only by his sloth. One June day, as he sat munching merrily on the leaf of a kudzu vine, he remarked to himself, "Jitter Ole Bug, you are in a good place right now. The leaves on this plant are good and plentiful. The kudzu patch is shady and cool. You have everything you need or want. You could waste a lot of energy buzzing around the countryside looking for something better, but there are things out there in the world that divert and capture june bugs--street lights, malicious children, ducks... So, let's just stay right here on this kudzu vine for the rest of the summer and not leave the safety and security of this kudzu patch."

Now everyone knows a kudzu vine grows FAST. So fast that young snails are admonished by their mothers to make sure they have clean underwear on when they leave the house in case they get run over by a speeding kudzu vine. But Jitter sat contentedly munching on the leaves of his kudzu vine, oblivious to the world passing slowly by six inches below his feet. When the weather started to cool along about the end of September, Jitter looked up from his leafy repast and was shocked to find that he was a whole bug world away from where he wanted to stay at the beginning of the summer. The kudzu vine had carried him along and far away from its roots and his desires.

Life is like that.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Time to Take Off the Striped Jersey

About every ten years on average, since its inception in 1948, the state of Israel goes to war with one or more of its dysfunctional neighbors. The latest flareup in the entirely intractable Middle East soap opera threatens to drag the rest of the world into the conflict. This has potential to be a good thing. Unfortunately, the governments of man rarely live up to their potential.

This latest military operation must be viewed in the context of the current wider cultural war raging between moderate judeo-christian/hindu societies and militant islamic forces. And that conflict must be viewed in the larger historical context of a cultural divide that has existed for several thousand years. If you follow the historical finger-pointing back through time you can trace the current conflict back to an intra-familial squabble that occurred four millennia ago. And, as you view the highlight reel in reverse you will notice that the numerous different outside parties that time to time acted as referees in this great game often did so with malice, stupidity, or hubris, or a combination of the above. In some cases the referees completely changed the rules of the game and the boundaries of the playing field. In other cases the referees threw off their striped jerseys and joined the game on one side or another.

As a realist (no true student of history can be otherwise), I believe that there is no permanent solution to the Middle East conflict short of the hoped-for final divine intervention. The Israelis understand this, and their current military operations in Lebanon against the Iranian/Syrian puppet terror army Hezbollah are predicated on the short term strategic goal of eliminating the active threat on their northern border. The Israelis know that destroying Hezbollah's war making capability is not a permanent solution to their quest for ultimate security. But, it can give them peace of a sort, until the next Arab/Persian entity decides to make a living out of terrorizing Israel. By the way, Israelis understand terrorism so very well because they effectively used terrorism to run the British out of Palestine after WWII. Unfortunately for the United States, our history of effective terrorism and insurgent operations is so far back in our history that we cannot recall it (Frankly, anything further back than the last news cycle or last sham celebrity marriage is ancient and irrelevant history to our society.) .

The opportunity in this developing conflict lies in its escalation not in its mediation. Mediation invites more conflict. Escalation exhausts war making capabilities and brings longer periods of inter-war peace. It will be temporarily very painful to take this opportunity to change regimes in Iran and Syria to ones more amenable to our interests. Five dollar a gallon gas will very likely cause a recession. That's okay--we are due for one anyway (and we can't avoid the tyranny of the business cycle).

If we are truly at war, it is time to act like it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Planes, Pains, and Automobiles

I haven't necessarily been the most active airlines customer for most of my life. Most of the "business" flights I took were aboard military aircraft. But I have done enough flying with civilian airlines over the years to be able to compare and contrast air travel today with what it used to be, and the outlook is not good. Bad for me, because I will be more and more dependent on airline travel as my current business grows.

Case in point is the trip I made from the Redneck Riviera to Chicago for a meeting earlier this week. One of the advantages to using a small regional airport to fly from is that the security screening (at least at the airport I use) is relatively humane, and unhurried. The drawback to using a regional airport, of course, is lack of flexibility in flights, and shuttering of flight operations relatively early in the evening. If you are trying to make connections in Memphis or Atlanta to catch the last flight to Panama City, GOOD LUCK! If there is even an isolated thunderstorm anywhere east of the Mississippi River, flights start to back up at the major hubs and, as a half dozen of us found out, they are not going to hold the last flight to LA (Lower Alabama) for even a microsecond to allow folks on delayed flights a chance to avoid spending an unscheduled extra night on the road.

Silly me, thinking I could sprint from Concourse D to Concourse A in under thirty seconds. I haven't put that much stress on the heart and lungs since the Ole Miss--Alabama game two years ago. And the results of my exertions were similar--no joy.

And, of course, the airline was not responsible for that single storm cloud somewhere over a cornfield in Iowa backing up commercial air traffic in the most technologically advanced nation on the face of the earth. (Go back and reread that last sentence out loud and make sure you finish in a frustrated scream.) So, they weren't going to spring for the hotel room, but they could steer us to a hotel that offered a "distress" rate. I didn't consider myself to be in distress when I first stepped up to the counter, but that described my condition quite well by the time I had verbally fenced for twenty minutes with an agent who never looked up from the computer screen to look me in the eye while she flatly denied that the airline to which my company had paid an exorbitant amount of money to seat me next to a screaming baby for an hour and a half flight on which I had to pay a dollar for a snack, was not going to defray the cost of lodging me until they could cram me into another HATE IT (High Altitude Transit Endurance and Intelligence-insulting Tube) to get me to my final destination.

Luckily for me, I didn't have the time once I did get home to dwell on my mistreatment by the world's most advanced airline industry. In fact, my turn around time at home was less than most of the layovers I have experienced in my air travel of late, and within an hour of arriving at the domicile of my very fat cat (the wife and I are never there, lately), I had strapped my pick-up truck to my backside and was on the road headed for my next meeting for which I was already late and had a four hour drive to reach its location. It is only now, with meetings done, sitting in my hotel room, dreading the feel of the truck re-strapped to my posterior, that I have time to reflect on my cruel transportation fate.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to strap on my boat and tie into a redfish or two--that ought to erase the painful memories of the week.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"Grandma, what large teeth you have!"

The breathlessness by all concerned, particularly the press, over Kim Jong Il's missile tests last week is typical of the crisis de jeur mentality of the self-absorbed majority of people in this land and the press that panders to them. It's not that the North Korean militarized personality cult isn't a monstrous threat to world peace and regional survival. It is, and has been for the better part of the last fifty years. Most Americans are just blissful in their ignorance of the danger. What's worse, most of our leaders are just as blissful.

Six years ago, I was assigned as the Chief of Operations Division for US Forces, Korea (USFK). My job was to maintain current situational awareness over every minor military muscle movement south of the DMZ and every major military muscle movement north of the DMZ. My boss was an Army two-star responsible to the four-star or CINC. I ran the operations center and it was my duty to host the multitude of VIP visitors to our facility in Seoul. Several times a year, congressional delegations arrived and we would usher them down into our large below ground conference room and give them the "Threat Brief."

The Threat Brief was our assessment of the North Korean war-making capability and included examples of recent enemy activities both above and below the DMZ. We made no effort to inflate or deflate the size, shape, and activities of the DPRK's military, but presented just the facts that the security clearance of the particular audience allowed. The Threat Brief never failed to elicit astonishment and/or disbelief from the audience. Most had no clue of the active menace that the North Koreans posed--such as the ability they had to obliterate Seoul with several thousand artillery pieces dug into the reverse slopes of the mountains just north of the DMZ and the constant infiltration they attempted by land and sea into the South. After a brief to one particular congressional delegation, one of the members pulled me aside and all but accused me of fabricating and/or exaggerating the threat posed by the North Koreans. The fact that I was a disciplined and uber-respectful Marine and was caught flat-footed by his asinine assertion gives that twerp the claim of being the only man to call me a liar to my face without seriously running the risk of subsequently bashing his face against my fists.

Add that lost opportunity to my list of life regrets.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Two New Nations, 230 Years Apart

We celebrated the 230th birthday of the United States yesterday. Interesting to watch the different ways Americans celebrated, and even more interesting to listen to the ways they described the meaning of the 4th of July. Most people know that the 4th of July is the date that representatives of the original 13 British colonies in America signed the Declaration of Independence. Few know, or care to know, much more than that. And that is, in my opinion, a sad and frightening fact. Among other more important reasons, knowing our nation's history well is immensely valuable to understanding the Iraq Campaign in the Global War on Terrorism.

Very few American's have an appreciation for, let alone knowledge of, the currents of human events that swirled around the birth of the United States. Few realize that a dissaffected colonial minority, whose leaders rose from a class of educated and very ambitious elitists, had fomented an insurgency against the British crown for a half dozen years prior to July of '76. This insurgency gained strength and support to the point that armed resistance began in earnest in the spring of 1775. At that time only roughly 1/3 of the population of the colonies actively supported the insurgents. Another third was, and remained for most of the ensuing conflict, loyal to the British Crown. The other third was ambivalent, at best.

By the time they signed the Declaration of Indepedence, the outlaw (by British decree) Continental Congress had already authorized the raising and fielding of an army, the building of a fledgling fleet, and the recruitment of two battalions of Marines; all of which saw more defeat than victory in battles against the vastly superior and more professional British forces and their coalition partners. But like any successful insurgency, final victory lay not in tactical battlefield decisions, but in strategic exhaustion of the enemy. Three years into the armed insurgency that we now revere as the Revolutionary War, the British had managed to all but eliminate George Washington's army as a fighting force and had quelled the insurrection in the largely loyal southern colonies. Had the British combined overwhelming military presence with a conciliatory administration at this point, the American colonial revolution of 1775-1778 would be but a footnote in the history of the British Empire.

However, British overreaction (in some cases, attrocious) to continued partisan activity in the South, and failure to commit overwhelming force to crush the tattered and tottering rebel army quickly, breathed new life into the insurgency. France, who had been at war with Great Britain off and on for the better part of the preceding 3/4 of a century (War of Spanish Succession, 1701--1713; War of the Quadruple Alliance, 1718--1720; War of Austrian Succession, 1740--1748; French and Indian War/Seven Years War, 1754-1763; recognized the indepedence of the United States and intervened in the Americas with substantial naval and land forces, against which a politically exhausted Britain was unable to muster sufficient forces, and more importantly, political will, to withstand. In 1781, a combined French and American land force besieged the main British army at Yorktown, Virgina, and a French fleet blockaded any attempt by the British to withdraw by sea. Cornwallis' surrender completed Britain's colonial embarassment in the Americas and the Treaty of Paris, signed two years later, granted the American Colonies their unconditional independence and granted land reaching to the Mississippi river.

Even with nearly perfect peace and security, it still took the new American nation another four years to agree on a constitution. Kinda helps to put our current involvement in the New Iraq in perspective, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Sixteen years ago this week, I began one of the most challenging chapters in my time as a Marine. For the first 12 years of my Marine Corps career, I served in a variety of positions as an infantry officer, interspersed with time in the school house as either a student or an instructor. In those 12 years I learned a great deal about leadership, mostly by trial and error (with emphasis on the latter). By the time I was selected for, and advanced to, the rank of major I had managed to become a relatively effective leader, and, by my admittedly biased self-evaluation, a darn good tactician and practitioner of military operational art. The next three years would challenge every ounce of my leadership ability, introduce me to the compelling science of strategic planning, completely change my view of the Marine Corps, and redirect the path that my career had theretofore taken.

In the early Spring of 1990, I was aboard the USS Iwo Jima headed west at the conclusion of my second 6-month deployment to the Mediterranean in the past 2 years. On my first deployment I had served as the helicopter-borne company commander for Battalion Landing Team 1/8 with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), or, in the abbreviated parlance of military professionals, BLT 1/8, 26th MEU (SOC). As harmless as a "mew sock" sounds when pronounced, it was in fact a lethal combination of amphibious raid-ready units, for which my rifle company was one of the main weapons; and I had the time of my life leading the "best rifle company in the Marine Corps" on some of the most exciting escapades imaginable in some of the world's most interesting places.

On my second deployment, I served as the Operations Officer for the same BLT but with a different MEU, this time the 24th. The six months of preparation and six months of execution of that particular deployment added up to one of the most frustrating years of my life. Whereas my job as a company commander was short on planning and long on the fun of execution, as operations officer it was the reverse. Add to that the facts that I was a captain filling a major's billet (I had been selected for major, but not yet promoted), with all of the higher headquarters difficulties that produced; and I was working for one of the smartest and most connected colonels in the Marine Corps (he is the current Commandant), with whom I always felt two steps behind; and my frustration level was nearly crushing.

So, while I was loathe to leave an infantry battalion, the summer of 1990 represented the end of a three-year tour in "the fleet" and I was due for a reassignment and a respite from the break-neck pace of life in a deploying battalion. On the way out of the Mediterranean at the end of our deployment, we stopped in Rota, Spain and I took the opportunity to find a phone and call my assignment monitor at Marine Corps headquarters. His answer to my query regarding my next assignment was, "Ed, I have some good news for you. Your record is very competitive. Because your record is competitive, you have been screened for recruiting duty and chosen for the privilege of commanding a recruiting station."

I responded immediately with, "What's the good news?" and, "Take another look at that record, it's not that good."

But true to a pattern that had become and would remain all too prevalent in my life and Marine Corps career, I found myself thrust into a job for which I was too young and inexperienced. Still not officially promoted to the rank of major, I was "frocked," allowing me to wear the rank but not receive pay for it, and ordered to Macon, Georgia. A Recruiting Station can be likened to an infantry battalion in scope of action and battlefield effect. And Recruiting Station Macon, command of which I assumed on the 3rd of July 1990, was a monster. The largest in the nation at the time, in terms of numbers of recruiters assigned, RS Macon was responsible for officer and enlisted recruiting in Georgia and South Carolina. When I took command, we had nearly a thousand young men and women in our delayed entry program pool, waiting to ship to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Most daunting to my leadership acumen, or lack thereof, was the dozen or so senior NCOs who comprised the organization's complement of recruiting professionals. These Marines had proven so adept on their first tour of recruiting as junior NCOs that they had been permanently assigned as recruiters for the remainder of their careers. These Career Recruiters were a leadership-challenging mixture of super sales ability, seniority, and independence by virtue of distance from the flagpole.

At the reception immediately following my change of command ceremony, one of the crustiest of my Career Recruiters sidled up to me and welcomed me aboard. "Major," he obsequiously began, "understand you just came from a tour as operations officer for an infantry battalion."

"That's right, Master Gunny," I proudly answered, "BLT 1/8, 24th MEU (SOC)."

"Well you can forget all that crap, Major. You can't run an RS like an infantry battalion."

"Master Gunny, that is great news! Means I won't be here long, because running an infantry battalion is all I know how to do and don't expect I'm going to try to adopt a style that I don't have the training for. If running this outfit like an infantry battalion won't work, I expect they'll fire me and send me back to the fleet, where I belong."

Of course what the old, out of shape NCO was trying to tell me was not to get too wrapped around the axle about enforcing Marine Corps standards. He, and his kind, also had a vested interest in keeping the tactics, techniques, and procedures of conducting a recruiting attack shrouded in the mysterious and alien language of systematic sales, and he was warning me not to try and make military sense of recruiting. I, however, had come to believe that every endeavor of man can be organized, planned for, and executed according to the principles and tenets of military operational art, and I was going to successfully apply them to recruiting or find another job.

On one of my first visits to an outlying recruiting substation, I took the NCOIC for a run on his Physical Fitness Test (PFT) three mile run course. We crossed the finish line in 17 minutes and 45 seconds. When I told the Gunny that I had only run three miles under 20 minutes once in my life--a 19:26 at OCS 13 years before--he didn't bat an eye. "Congratulations, Major! A new personal record!"

"Gunny, either your course is too short, or my watch is too fast."

"I'd go buy a new watch this evening, Major. Those cheap plastic ones don't keep good time."

Needless to say, we ceased the previous "time-saving" practice of allowing each recruiting sub-station to run their own semi-annual PFT and send the results to my headquarters. From then on, all 75 recruiters made the trip to Macon and ran the PFT with me. After an initial drop in scores, the embarrassment factor kicked in and run times, as well as waist lines, began to diminish.

Shortly after I began my recruiting tour, Saddam did the stupid and Bush the Elder drew a line in the sand. Convinced there was going to be a bloody fight, requiring lots of replacements, Marine recruiting went into overdrive through the fall and early winter of 1990. When the ground war resulted in less losses to the Corps than traffic accidents on a 96-hour pass, we were in a never-before-experienced position--we had too many recruits. As a result, we had unprecedented mission (quota) reductions for the last quarter of FY 91, and while many in recruiting saw an opportunity to rest the troops, some of us saw opportunity to advance our strategic position. It was during the long, sleepless nights of that fall that I read "The Deming Management Method," a book that turned my life upside down. I became, in short order, and much to the chagrin of my recruiting superiors, a Total Quality zealot.

Marine Corps recruiting has historically had a production mindset. Meaning that, while we say "quality, not quantity," we actually practice "quantity, at the minimum standard." Dr. Deming's theory, proved in the post-war Japanese industrial miracle, rested on a principle that I simplified for my pea-sized brain in the following equation: Higher Quality = Less Mistakes/Rework = More Time = Higher Quality. I was convinced, perhaps more than a bit naively, that I could retool my outfit's recruiting effort to focus on quality and still remain within the strictures of the official Marine Corps recruiting effort. The reduced missions during the summer of 1991 offered a golden opportunity to impose my version of Total Quality Management. I called it Total Quality Effort (TQE). The Department of the Navy later came out with their own version of Deming's departure from the American industrial practice and called it Total Quality Leadership, a name for which I did a headslap when I saw it.

Given a 1/3 reduction in our recruiting mission for 4 months, I arbitrarily raised (not exactly Deming's way) the quality standards (as measured by performance on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB) for my recruiters. The Marine Corps minimum standard was that 63% of our recruits had to score in the top 50 percentile on the ASVAB, and we constantly struggled to meet that minimum. For that 4 months, I told my recruiters that 100% of our recruits had to score in the top 50 percentile. At my first announcement of this, several of my recruiters clutched their chests in panic. Then I proceeded to show that the total number of "quality" recruits would be the same as we had recruited the year before; we just wouldn't recruit any who couldn't score a 50 on the ASVAB for the next 4 months. Since the majority of the young people we recruited in the summer months were rising high school seniors, my strategy was to present the Marine Corps as the "smart" choice when school went back into session in the fall and seniors started making decisions about what to do after graduation.

Although it was a near-run thing, my perturbed and occasionally apoplectic recruiting superiors did not follow through on their threats to relieve me as I experimented with a significant percentage of the Marine Corps' recruiting effort. In my estimation, the quality refocus we accomplished my second year on recruiting, made my third, and last, year dramatically easier than my first. My tour as a recruiter was a turning point in my career. Successful completion of my recruiting command tour placed me in serious contention for future commands, and successful implementation of an attack based on principles of quality improvement cemented in my psyche an approach that would color the rest of my career.

Stay tuned for "The Little Bald Colonel Imposes Total Quality On His Family."