- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Capt. Lindsay L. Rodman, USMC
Best Defense office of company-grade issues
I have been thinking a lot lately about whether to leave the Marine Corps at the five-year mark. In response to "We’re Getting Out of the Marines" — I hope I can contextualize what many company grade officers (or "junior officers") are facing.
The problem with anecdotal observation is that we all only have our own experiences to draw from. If the lieutenant who wrote "We’re Getting Out of the Marines" is coming face-to-face with incompetence, in a short four or five year career, how does he get a sense of whether that problem is systemic? Or how thoroughly it pervades? One’s experience is 100 percent of their exposure, regardless of whether it represents the bottom X percent.
I am career designated and my commitment is up. I am taking note of every bad leader and every good leader I come across. Everyone is an input into the final decision. I know that other top company grades/JOs are doing the same thing (if they have not already decided to get out).
Anecdotally again, and I understand that this is flawed analysis, it really feels like my most qualified and competent peers are getting out. I look at the lists of who is still in (at five years), and the glaring holes are the most intelligent and self-possessed of my cohort. That is not true for everyone, but the percentage of those who are still in is dwarfed by the number of those that have left — and that number continues to rise.
I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t really want to be anything other than a Marine, so for the time being, unless something crazy happens, I’ll stay. But I also fear what the future brings, when our current ranks feel like they are being gutted.
I was recently forwarded the following link by Phil Carter: http://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg94185.html. It is an eerily-similar string of discussion regarding essentially the same cast of characters, including the disillusioned company grade and his decision to get out. Phil’s and other sentiments I have read from ten years ago are humbling and have really made an impression on me. We all think our own experiences are novel, and that no one could possibly understand what we currently face. Obviously, not true for me and my peers. I have no doubt that the current company grade/JO perspective is similar, if not directly analogous, to what company grades/JOs have faced for decades. In some ways, though, that is more cause for concern – why have we been complacent for decades? And why are we resigned to that complacency now, when we may have a window of opportunity (more societal interest in preserving competency in the military than in the ‘90s, fewer distractions than in the ‘00s) for change? We have known forever that this bureaucracy needs better meritocratic policies, and better quality management at the field grade level (and I read a good book lately on similar concerns with respect to generalship).
I hope these concerns don’t fall on deaf ears because they resonate – that seems problematic. Rather, I’d hope that they would provoke a desire for change. There is a lot of misfiring when it comes to incentive programs, graduate school, bonuses, promotion systems, etc., that could be used in a targeted fashion to improve retention rates at the top.
Capt. Rodman is a judge advocate currently stationed at Headquarters, Marine Corps. She has been in the Marine Corps for nearly five years, serving in Okinawa, Afghanistan, and the Pentagon. She is a graduate of Duke University (AB ’03), Harvard Law School (JD ’07) and the Kennedy School of Government (MPP ’07). The views presented here are her own and do not represent those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.