- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
In my response to my request for someone to tell me about what is going on at The Basic School, the Marine training school for new officers, a friend writes:
Under Dale, TBS had a focus on tactical proficiency and ethics training/acculturation for lieutenants. Dale made changes like taking out administrative humps and incorporating them as tactical marches into the POI, made field training more realistic and demanding, and really put a lot of attention into ethics and character. And he solved cultural problems fairly thoughtfully — remember, this is our best COIN guy. Instead of having a war with lieutenants over consensual sexual relationships — forbidden, difficult to enforce, and leading to punitive action when discovered — he ended the dating restriction, but mandated a fairly enforceable ban on any romantic activity in the BOQ (enforceable because the populace supported it). The flipside is that the staff had a lot of freedom — you could PT when you wanted on your free time and wear whatever athletic attire you wanted, uniform spit and polish wasn’t a focus — and there were a few captains who abused that ("look how salty a Tactics instructor I am — I don’t wear a skivvy shirt since I was in the ‘Stan").
Under Todd, there have been some ambitious and interesting changes made in NCO professionalization. But there has also been a maniacal focus on garrison stuff, and a loss of focus on tactical/professional preparation of lieutenants. If you PT on your own, green-on-green only; if I catch windows open in the BOQ, I will summarily fire the Co. commander (no shit, that actually happened). Captains in the bullpen will be used as a labor force for stuff like painting rocks. That last one has become symbolic of the madness there — painting rocks is something we did at the worst commands in the ’90s because it was easier to make your garrison area look nice than come up with a creative, challenging training plan that prepares Marines for operational and life challenges. BTW, I don’t mean policing your area and having it squared away, I mean stuff like captains on their hands and knees edging the grass and painting/arranging rocks to make stuff look pretty. That inspires rage and contempt in the staff
Talked a little earlier to a friend who recently left TBS, asked him his take, and he said (not a direct quote, paraphrase): The difference is that Col. Alford was really concerned about critical thinking — he wanted Lt.s to be able to figure out "What are the rules I can break on my own, or who can I ask permission to break, because it’s stopping me from doing the right thing, or making me do something stupid?" On the other hand, Col. Desgrosseilliers’ favorite saying is, "All I want you to do is follow the fucking rules" — he says that all the time.
I thought that was an interesting perspective.