Motivations

August 16, 2008

Yesterday I spoke to a younger Marine officer. He was a first lieutenant and a student naval aviator (flight student) who was clearly flustered with his performance on recent flights. I was trying give him a little morale boost while telling him to watch his bearing, as looking flustered and stressed does not inspire confidence in your peers, superiors, or subordinates.

He then confessed to me why he joined the Marines: To become a pilot. I told him not to say that ever again. I cannot answer to the purity of his motivations, save for the fact that in the Marines, and especially in the officer corps, it is “not about you.” The second you start thinking that it is about you is the second you start to fail in your obligations to the Constitution, to the mission, and to your Marines.

His self-motivation is somewhat dangerous: There are countless avenues by which on can become a pilot, and becoming a Marine to become a pilot is perhaps one of the toughest routes to wings that one can undertake. Yet he’s willing to go that distance for himself, and himself alone. This speaks to incredible selfishness. He needs to be watched.

Hopefully, when the pressure is on, at night, with dogshit visibility, and assholes shooting, and he’s flying a casualty evacuation mission, he will have the fortitude to deny his selfishness and continue the mission, even though it might cost him his life. The Marine Corps, after all, is not always great for self preservation, but we will look after each other.


SE’s Reading Program – With Update

July 12, 2008

I have written on the nature of Professionalism.  An element to true Professionalism is the maintenance of a course of independent, continual study.  Here I will speak to my personal reading program, which is a core part of my Professional military education.

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On Professionalism

July 6, 2008

Col Mike Wyly, of the Marines, has written a piece in Armed Forces Journal on the nature of Professionalism, using Boyd as the exemplar of the subject.  The article is completely correct, and is worthy of reading by all military men.

One of my pet peeves regarding “Professionalism” is the supreme misunderstanding of what the term implies.  On the eve of my first deployment in 2004, my detachment Officer-in-Charge, a Major, took the 43-Marine detachment aside and told us his expectations, which he said could be summarized on two words:  “Be Professional.”  Unstated were what his ideas of what professionalism entailed.  To him, Professionalism meant keeping the appearance of a Marine, combined with a touch of CYA:  Keep hair short, uniforms serviceable, be tactful, and do what you need to do to keep the detachment out of trouble.

This conception of Professionalism is wrong.

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The Greatest General

May 15, 2008

There has been quite a discussion on the nature of scholarship and generalship here, here, here, and here. Much of the discussion related to the utility of having a corpus of military history knowledge, and on the utility of having our military professionals and foriegn policy wonks reading that corpus.

It might be instructive to see who we think is worthy of making our collective list. List in hand, we might be able to deduce a few defining qualities that make for superior generalship, and whether the victor in battle is also the scholar.

Granted, no list can ever be exhaustive, but such lists can be instructive, and fun (I like thinking about these things, anyways).

First, a couple of gudelines:

1) No fictional generals. (I’m a huge fan of Sam Damon and Ender Wiggins, but lets keep it real)

2) Other ranks are fair game: Go ahead and mention the Air Vice Marshalls, Crown Princes, and Dukes of Earl.

My list:

  1. Alexander the Great
  2. Belisarius
  3. Mao & Giap
  4. Napoleon
  5. Rommel, tied with von Mellenthin
  6. Hannibal Barca
  7. Washington, FDR, Truman
  8. Grant, Lincoln
  9. Douglas MacArthur
  10. Matthew Ridgway
  11.  

Honorable Mentions: Patton, Nimitz, Bradley, Eisenhower, Zukhov, HM Smith, Alexander Vandegrift, Spruance, Mitscher, LeMay, Pershing, Lewis Puller, OP Smith, Geiger, Zinni, Mattis, Petraeus

Crossposted at ChicagoBoyz.


The System is Broken: Awards

October 31, 2006

The awards system is broken.

The Marines have a reputation for being relatively stingy on awards, and I think this is still relatively true.

I’ve been told by field grade officers who I confide in that these practices are all part of the system. It’s how the game is played. It’s all politics. Sure, it’s dirty, but everybody does it.

What these field grades are saying may be true, but it’s surely not right.

Here are some what-ifs. On my most recent deployment I had the distinct pleasure of writing an award for one of the most outstanding NCOs in the Marine Corps: Sergeant K. This Marine was stellar in every sense. He demanded and received respect from peers, subordinates, and superiors. His technical MOS skills were better than most Gunnery Sergeants I know of in the same MOS. He displayed outstanding physical fitness and moral rectitude. Superior in just about every catagory. I rated him first out of 17 Sergeants I have reported on. He was a Marine who made it a pleasure to write fitreps and awards. I wrote him up for a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (or NAM, in the service parlance).

During the same deployment and some weeks later I found out that:

  • 90% of the Quality Assurance Section of the Maintenance Department had been submitted for the NAMs.
  • Several Lance Corporals were receiving Certificates of Commendation for going to the Base PX in Iraq to pick up submarine sandwiches and pizza for the superbowl party. (note that these Marines were doing NOTHING beyond their normal duties to bring success in combat. Consequently, these Marines are being awarded for doing NOTHING).

Working in an awards system like this, either I’m the bad guy by not writing my Marines up for awards that their peers under different officers are being recommended for. Or I can let the standards degrade and write awards for all of the Marines in my detachment, like the Quality Assurance Marines. There are so many awards that Marines feel entitled to them.

Awards are taking away from the title of Marine. Too often we judge Marines and servicemembers for the ribbons and medals on their chest. We need to get back to the existential value of being a Marine, and get away from the meaningless regalia of nylon ribbons for PowerPoint slide construction.

One Major Peter F. Owen wrote an article called The Institutionalization of Festoonery in the same April, 2000 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette. (The good Major is probably out of the Marines or significantly promoted by now.) In the article the author admits that the bulk of the awards available to Marines are probably here to stay (some awards, for example, are awarded in the name of the President of the United States or the Secretary of the Navy, and action by Headquarters Marine Corps will not get rid of these awards). The author’s suggests instead that Marines only wear certain awards that enhance the value of the uniform (Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Air Medals, etc.), and exclude trite awards such as National Defense Service Medals, Meritorious Service Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, to name a few. Maj Owen would allow Marines to continue to wear unit awards and campaign medals, as these undoubtedly add to the Marine Corps heritage. Maj Owen’s recommendation’s are worthy.

Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes in the same issue of The Marine Corps Gazette advocates removal of all non-combat awards. There is precident for this, when the Medal of Honor was subject to recall in the early 1900s due to awarding criteria becoming too liberal.

The other services have similar problems on their hands. The Army uses the Army Achievement Medal (the service equivalent of the NAM submitted for Sgt K.) as punishment.

What can you do? The current uniform regulations allow for Marines to not wear any medals or ribbons on some service uniforms, or allow for Marines to wear only personal awards and unit awards. Go ahead and wear that lonely NAM and Combat Action Ribbon and omit your National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (two entirely redundant awards, as they are awarded for being on active duty in the period since September 11th). Forego the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. When your fellow Marines ask you why you’re not wearing all of your awards, tell them the truth.

You can also think about the good of the Marine Corps when you are writing awards. I have explained to Marines who have approached me on why I’m stingy with awards to research the battle of Tarawa (Utmost Savagry, by Alexander is a good volume). Barely 5% of all Marines involved in that bloody fight were recognized by an award of any type, including Letters of Commendation by the Commanding General (which are paper awards with no companion medal). Be stingy about awards, and tell your Marines that you’re upholding the heritage of the Marine Corps by doing so. And tell them about how important an honor it is to just be a Marine. It is an honor indeed.

Let your reputation speak for you rather than the nylon on your chest. And let the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (or whatever your service emblem), speak to your professionalism.