Best Defense

A powerful attack on the Marine Corps leadership — by a serving Marine captain

There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.

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Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on Feb. 7, 2017.

There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.

“It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Capt. Waddell asserts.

He adds that he finds that conclusion an “objective, yet repulsive, fact.” And, he writes, that shouldn’t be entirely blamed on civilian leaders or other parts of the government.

Waddell, now a company commander, notes that he lost Marines in the fighting. (He served in Afghanistan with the 3/7 Marines in 2010-11.) “It has taken several years of personal struggle to arrive at the conclusions I am writing now.”

Why does this amount to an attack on the Marine Corps leadership? Because he says it is engaging in talk about how good the Corps is without really doing the things that need the make the Corps good. It has “well-meaning policies [that] are hollow without the corporate environment in which they can be successful. “By repeatedly espousing the need for innovation in the Marine Corps while refusing to foster” innovative practices, he concludes, “we delude ourselves.”

The situation is so bad, he says, that Army units — the 82nd Airborne and 75th Rangers — “have outpaced our capacity for expeditionary communications.” That’s a real shot across the bow.

He goes on to attack several sacred cows. No more talk of “innovation,” he says. Be more careful about hiring military retirees for civilian jobs. “While prior military service can be an asset, it can also be a hindrance to organizational change. Our civilian headquarters billets should not be … akin to a ‘no colonel left behind’ program.” He also criticizes the personnel system for discouraging risk taking and instead, incentivizing “playing it safe and making it to 20.”

He certainly isn’t playing it safe with this article. I admire his courage in writing it and the editors of the Gazette for running it. Let’s just hope the Corps appreciates that.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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