Monday, February 14, 2011

First Battalion, Third Marines -- 14 Feb 1997 to 14 August 1998

Fourteen years ago today, the United States Marine Corps made yet another in a decades-long continuous string of bad assessments of the Colonel's ability and potential and gave him command of an infantry battalion.  In front of a thousand Marines and a somewhat lesser number of family, friends, and dignitaries, the Colonel and his predecessor enacted a time-honored ceremony marking the change of command and speechified regarding the occasion.

The Colonel gave one of the most remarkable speeches of its kind ever heard anywhere on the planet, before or since.  With soaring rhetoric, sprinkled with humor and emotion, he touched on timeless themes of thanks and expectations.  It was inspiring.  

The Marines in the ranks heard:  "Blah, bablah, bablah, blah, blah, blah."  

The Marines in the ranks were thinking:  "Here we go, again."  

These Marines had just recently returned from a six-month deployment to Okinawa, Japan.  Nearly a quarter of them would be leaving active duty within the next few weeks.  They were the lucky ones.

Life in a Marine infantry battalion, even in peace-time, is an incredible grind in which a training schedule chock full of ever-increasing physical and mental challenges prepares the Marines and their leaders for a deployment date that looms on the calendar like the date of execution in a death sentence.  Commanders in charge of the training schedule talk in terms of "crawl, walk, run."  For the Marines, it's a daily sprint.

Most officers take the task of preparing their Marines for the upcoming deployment and the grim possibility of combat with the utmost seriousness, leading and challenging their subordinates to reach levels of physical and moral courage beyond the imagination of mere mortal citizens. 

Some officers view their time in command as a golden opportunity to make a name for themselves and boost the upward trajectory of their careers.   A few of these do a good job of masking their intentions.  Many over-play their hands and expose themselves as self-serving.

Then, there are the few who cannot believe their incredible good fortune, given their obvious lack of ability and self-determination that they have achieved their terminal rank.  These recognize the enormous reservoir of talent on which they have been placed afloat and realize that any success they achieve in command will only come from below.    

The Colonel believes he was one of the latter.  

The Colonel's good fortune was to be placed in command of a battalion of officers and men whose professionalism and great ability required that he only recognize the fact and act accordingly.  No idea or talent of the Colonel's was greater than the thoughts and abilities of the Marines over whom he had been placed in command.

When one sees magnificence in his organization, he is best served to not to overshadow their brilliance.

Over the years of his career, the Colonel had the good fortune to work for many great commanders who tried to teach him how to seize the reins of an organization and crack the whip.  Unfortunately, whip-cracking never was a talent the Colonel mastered.

The Colonel is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt in his minuscule military mind that the only reason he refers to himself today as the Colonel and not the Lieutenant is due to the fact that there were corporals and sergeants and lieutenants and captains in his various commands who were much better than he. 

It's days like today, whose dates have seminal significance in the mushy amalgam of under-used cells lying fallow in the recesses of his brain-housing group, that the Colonel misses his Marines.

Even if they were happy to finally see him go at the change of command ceremony marking the end of the Colonel's tenure.

Semper Fidelis, Marines!
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