- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By "Rick" NFI
Best Defense department of Marine culture, because the Marines have culture instead of doctrine
Many current and former Marines, as well as others, may be aware of the commandant calling for a crackdown on rowdy behavior in the barracks and his desire to institute new measures in the barracks across the Corps to "reawaken it morally and crack down on behavioral problems that are leading to Marines hurting themselves, their fellow Marines, civilians, and damaging the Corps’ reputation."
In addition, the commandant further cited problems of sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization, as well as the failure to maintain personal appearance standards among the issues he wants fixed (speaking of personal appearance, fortunately the current commandant wasn’t around in my day to see my platoon come back aboard ship after trading various parts of uniforms with the Royal Thai Marines … yea, I got a belt).
Do I, as someone that served through similar events (possibly worse) after the early post Vietnam wind-down, view what the commandant is requiring as too draconian and an overreaction to Marines settling into garrison after many years on a high-energy war tempo? I say not necessarily, because without a doubt the safety of our men and women in uniform is of the utmost importance, as adhering to high standards of conduct is a Corps tradition and is surprisingly expected by the public. But rather than dwell on the trivial, such as having personnel on duty wear an appropriate seasonal dress uniform, which is nothing new but rather a return to bygone days when this was normal practice, let me address a primary concern.
Let me remind all what makes the U.S. military, let alone the Corps, different than many of the world’s militaries: It is our cadre of NCOs/petty officers that we ideally empower with trust and confidence to carry out duties and missions normally found performed by officers in foreign militaries. Therefore, when the commandant states that corporals and sergeants will no longer be promoted as a group, but individually, giving promotion a personal nature and meaning, that can only be a good thing and something that was done when I was promoted to those ranks prior to Vietnam.
However, if the Corps is going to talk-the-talk about NCOs being the backbone of the Corps, then it must walk-the-walk and allow its NCOs to supervise what goes on within the bounds of their authority among the rank and file, holding them accountable and correcting where necessary, while certainly making available 24/7 both staff non-commissioned and commissioned officers to assist and/or take over in resolving matters beyond their NCOs’ experience level and/or authority when required, as well as pointing NCOs in the direction to arrive at the correct solution as opposed to doing it for them.
Unfortunately in my view, the commandant, by introducing security cameras in the barracks and having the barracks roamed by seniors beyond the normal staff duty and officer of the day routinely after hours, can create a climate that the Corps doesn’t trust its corporals and sergeants to maintain authority along with good order and discipline. Odd, in a manner of thinking, since many have been carrying loaded weapons around 24/7, supervising other doing the same thing, among other things. Thus, I would recommend local commanders who know their Marines are the best informed to make decisions on how much further supervision, along with "health and comfort" inspections, are necessary within their command/unit. Although, it might not hurt to have a junior officer available after hours and on weekends periodically that is approachable for informal chats after hours, which is something I took upon myself to do once upon a time during the dark days immediately following our withdrawal from Vietnam.
In closing, I would caution that some further discussion take place in regard to what is and isn’t necessary involving supervision, and would point out not using measures tantamount to spying and micromanagement. Because nothing drives young Marines crazier than boring, unimaginative garrison training and assigning make-busy tasks than superiors popping in and out of the barracks at all odd hours, displaying a lack of trust that may lead many living in the barracks to find homesteads elsewhere after sunset, under less ideal conditions, contributing to the very problems the commandant is trying to get under control.
"Rick" NFI is a retired Marine interested in seeing the spirit of Lt. Gen. John A. LeJeune’s belief that the relationship between senior and subordinate should be one of mutual trust, within the framework of a father mentoring and guiding a son (or daughter) without hovering over him (or her).