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.


Stewing–Bumped; see newer posts below.

August 5, 2008

My anger has been stewing. The honor of the the officer corps has been weakened.

Over the weekend, Galrahn at Information Dissemination broke the news that the new DDG-1000 Zumwalt class of destroyers were designed without capability for area air defense, a fatal flaw in the design of the ship. I have been silent on this topic for a couple of days, hoping my anger to settle somewhat, but it hasn’t.

This is a massive failure of the American officer corps.

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Command Climate in the Air Force

July 19, 2008

When I took command my first platoon in 2003, my unit commander, LtCol C., having just returned from the Invasion of Iraq (OIF I), sat me down in his office and told me the most difficult part of command: Setting an effective Command Climate.

What is Command Climate?  I don’t think it’s really definable, but suffice to say that it’s the force that a commander exudes that causes his charges to make a particular decision without specific guidance.  For a platoon commander, this force impacts the Marine’s efforts at basic things like equipment maintenance, physical training, making safe decisions when off duty, etc.  These aren’t usually life-or-death decisions, but when added together, they have a great effect on discipline, morale, health, and effectiveness of a unit.  Command Climate is the thing that guides a Marine when he has to make a decision, and the pluses and minuses of that decision cancel each other out, leading the Marine to think, “Damn it, Cpl X, or Sgt Y, or MSgt Z, or Lt. SE would want me to do this, so I’m going to do it.”  Simply put, Command Climate is a sort of peer pressure that’s exerted on a unit by the Commander.

Command Climate can be positive or negative.  While it is a truism that the bottom 25% of any group will take up 75% of a leader’s time, it also seems to be true that 75% of the problems in a group of units seem to come from only 25% of those units.  Strong leaders create Command Climates that solve and mitigate problems.  Poor leaders create Command Climates that create and worsen problems.  And so it appears to be so with the US Air Force. 

Today, the Washington Post reported:

“The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on “comfort capsules” to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.”

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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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The State of Military History: A Retrospective

July 9, 2008

My recent post on the nature of the Professional ethic (with crosspost and seperate discussion here) brings into focus the requirement for a competent and scholarly academy to produce works of military history, as well as theoretical works on the arts and sciences of war.

A series of excellent posts at Chicago Boyz & ZenPundit are worth reviewing.  Where there are crosspostings, ensure you read both posts to get the full discussions.

These were exceedingly illuminating posts, and must thank Lexington Green and ZenPundit for their roles in the dialog.

As an aside, this academy need not be composed of professors, although they are necessary too.  The academy requires the active participation of practitioners–meaning actual officers.

Update:  Hanson wrote a good essay on military history and the academy (h/t to City Journal).  It can be found here.  It is definitely worth a read, too.


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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On the Record

July 4, 2007

I am in favor of a mandatory national service for the youth of the nation.

I want a draft.

I am a serving Marine officer. I am in a Corps of elite warriors, drawn from the best and most motivated recruits, trained specially for fighting wars, and bred with an élan of professionalism. My brethren and I take our professional obligations extremely seriously. Some of the single-term Marines (who intend on getting out after a single enlistment) look at professionals like me and my peers as ‘lifers’ or ‘careerists’, bringing to mind a slew of negative connotations. Bottom line, I’ve been called to defend the United States and it’s Constitution, and that is why I freely pledged my life to its defense. I’m a member of several associations dealing with the Profession of Arms. The studying of my craft has never ceased since it began ten years ago, and hopefully it will not end for another 30 years. I study my craft on my free time, in formal schools, during exercises, and in actual combat. I have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have sailed on Navy ships, visiting ports and showing the flag to people of a dozen nations. I will continue to do this so long as I am able.

And yet I want a draft. I want a bunch of individualistic, averagely-educated, smart-talking, dirty, rich, poor, and middle-classed people to join my military because the country has deemed it right to force them to.

In World War I, the draft in America was imposed to ensure equal measures of sacrifice were exacted from the population. It was not aimed at whom you would expect: the upper classes. The draft’s goal was to ensure that not too great a sacrifice was exacted on the opinion-makers, tycoons, sons of the political classes, etc, as these groups tended to enlist at far greater rates than the poorer classes. (source: AWOL, p. 108) Perhaps it was a sense of noblesse oblige that was remaining from Victorian times that caused this. Perhaps there was a sense of duty that was bred into the young people, and a sense of obligation to maintain (and restore, as necessary) the freedom bestowed by the earlier generations.

Indeed, military service was common to the political class of those years. And once power accrued to those members of the political class, their young continued to serve. FDR’s son James served in the Marines–not in a cushy staff job, but as a front line combat Marine in the elite 2d Raider Battalion. Another FDR progeny, Elliott, served with distinction in the Army Air Corps. TR’s son served in World War I. Harry Truman and JFK served, though their children did not. GHW Bush served with distinction, and his son GW Bush did as well (although with an extreme lack of distinction, to put it very mildly). Al Gore served.

Clinton did not serve. Nor did Dick Cheney, who managed to escape service by means of 11 draft deferments.

The vast bulk of our representatives and senators have no service under their belts. Rather, they are attorneys. And that is a serious detriment to our national power. What specifically qualifies a person with political connections and a law degree to authoritatively comment on American national power? Sure, after several terms, the Representative/Senator may garner enough experience to muddle his way about the armed forces, but only after several terms of trial and error.

Furthermore, how many Senators and Representatives were bruised at being called ‘unpatriotic’ in the run up to the Iraq War? Many claim this, and there may be some truth to it. But a large reason they are vulnerable to this charge is that they lack any terms of service as a soldier. Notice that nobody questioned the patriotism of James Webb (Democratic Senator from VA), or the few others with national service.

Widespread service would allow us to escape the paralyzing ‘Support the Troops’ politics. Having served, we would know what real support is. Having children who are currently serving would ensure we are intimately connected to their needs at all times–not just when it is politically advantageous during the election cycles. Furthermore, it could prevent unnecessary foreign wars, as our sons and daughters would be intimately familiar with the front lines and decisions in Washington would have grave or wondrous effects on the battlefield. And for those wars we are engaged in, a draft army would stiffen the resolve, as those who do serve know that war are not ‘Ended,’ as Code Pink would have you believe. Rather, they are ‘Won’ or ‘Lost’, in proportion to the resolution, generalship, technical ability, and moral clout of the nations fighting.

A draft is certainly demanding. It is demanding to the corps of military professionals to deal with, frankly, a mass of amateurs. More so, it is straining on the individual Americans who would be obligated to serve. Yet this is not immoral, unjust, or wrong.

The professional military can cope with masses of citizen soldiers. Not overnight, but given time, we will rediscover the institutions necessary to make good soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We have done so in the past, and other militaries continue to do so today. This problem is not insurmountable.

It would seem immoral, unjust, or wrong only to those who have been so pampered by “safe” existence provided by over-protective nanny-parents, and to those who have escaped the burdens of guarantying freedom by wealth and influence. Is it too much to ask that we, as democratic citizens, require, in equal measure, to pay our debt incurred by the freedom we exercise? Are we content to rely only on the professionals (those who have been called) and the bribed (those who receive astronomical bonuses to stay in) to guaranty defense?

There is the economist argument against the draft, too. Milton Friedman, conservative arch-economist, famously argued against the draft, saying that it is not economically efficient for the individual or the state. There may be some truth to that. Nonetheless, I do not subscribe to economism–that all worth is determined by monetary value. Furthermore, capitalists understand the importance of the liberal order they conduct business in. The institutions of private property rights, political freedom, transparency, due process, and fair regulation are all prerequisites for a successful market capitalism. These prerequisites must be guaranteed, such guaranties are not always economically efficient.

Nor does economic efficiency translate into military effectiveness, except at the grand-strategic level, where political, military, economic, cultural, and other forms of national power are indistinguishable. At this level, a nation more-solidly and resolutely under arms only adds to national power.

Now, surely, I would allow those with demonstrated conscientious objection to decline military service. They would not escape service–there is other work to be done as well.

Nor would I take away the volunteer complexion of the Marines or of other special units like the Special Forces, Rangers, or Submarine duty. Volunteerism also counts, especially in elite and special units.

I would also maintain a professional officer corps and a professional corps of senior enlisted troops, as a single term of duty is insufficient to provide the leadership at high levels that is due to the sons and daughters of America.

National service, especially military service, strengthens our democratic society. It ensures the sacrifices are levied in a democratic manner with equal hardship to all. It ensures a more informed polity, more familiar with the good and bad aspects of American power. It would help us to avoid conflicts not vital to our interests, and would stiffen our resolve in the fights we do engage in.

Most of all, a draft would ensure freedom is maintained by all, for all. Not by the few, for the remaining.

Recommended Reading:

The Emergence of a Seperate American Warrior Caste, by Dymphna (at Gates of Vienna)
On Forgetting the Obvious, by Kaplan
AWOL, by Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer
Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose
One Bullet Away, Fick
Carnage and Culture, Hanson


Military Professionalism and Politics of Wanting It Both Ways

November 4, 2006

I will now address the concept of military professionalism.

Professor Cole writes:

The entire Third Infantry Division, some 20,000 soldiers, seems set to return to Iraq for a third tour in 2007.

The comments in this article by Gen. Rick Lynch alleging that the guerrillas in Iraq are trying to influence the US elections strike me as inappropriate for a serving officer, insofar as they are themselves a form of intervention in the election.

I disagree.

The Officer Corps has two obligations: To the Constitution, and to itself. The former is the external obligation of the Officer Corps, and it’s reason for existence. The latter is internal, and relates to self-maintenance of the ethical/moral aspects of military leadership, educational development, upkeep of professional standards of excellence, etc. This does not prevent officers from engaging in politics as they relate to warfighting. Indeed, Clausewitz recognized that war is an inherently political act. At the upper levels of command, military and political action become more and more intertwined. Furthermore, insurgency/guerrilla warfare, is perhaps the most political of all forms of warfare. To be removed for politics in such a war is to negate your own objective, which, of course, is antithetical to the political nature of warfare itself. Soldiers are political and military beings at once.

Another incongruency is that Professor Cole denies our military’s authority to state the obvious in terms of what the enemy is trying to do within the context of the American political process. Yet he has nothing to say of the insurgent’s authority do engage in American politics.

The left wants it both ways. They want to deny the soldier is a professional when he speaks on political matters, yet were they castigating GEN Shinseki when he was giving professional advice on necessary troop strengths in Iraq? Of course not! Shinseki is being a good soldier. But MG Lynch is engaging in politics in wartime! The horror! There are other examples too numerous to mention. Nonethless, the left believes the generals are military professionals so long as their opinions are in alignment with liberal dictums or are at least against the conservative line of reasoning.


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.