- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
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.