The post-Amos Marine Corps: A big sigh of relief & hopes for a change of course
Best Defense guest correspondent looks at the future of the Marine Corps.
By Carl Forsling
By Carl Forsling
Best Defense guest correspondent
Many Marines gave sighs of relief watching General Joseph Dunford assume command as Commandant of the Marine Corps in October. While General Dunford directed his Marines to “continue to march” during his remarks at the ceremony, they eagerly await the publication of the new Commandant’s planning guidance, because many are looking forward to a change of course.
Marines were often dissatisfied with the direction the Corps was taking under now-former Commandant General James Amos. Taking charge during a downsizing is never an easy task in any organization. Nonetheless, measures such as booting sergeants not selected for staff sergeant at 10 years of service bred discontent, especially in slow-promoting fields such as the infantry.
More than the downsizing, some Marines did not appreciate Amos’s often moralistic tone. Starting with his quixotic stand against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and continuing through his much-ballyhooed “Reawakening,” he frequently seemed out of touch. Beyond his tone, Marines were left wondering which of his policies he would reverse, from rolled sleeves to Raider patches.
This might normally be regarded as the usual friction associated with Marines adjusting to any leader’s “pet rocks.” For example, long-serving Marines remember a short-lived and unpopular change to brown t-shirts under General Charles Krulak when he was Commandant. But Krulak also brought substantive and easily-understood improvements to the Corps, such as toughening Boot Camp. Amos’s Reawakening and other measures were widely seen as just overblown administrivia, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Amos also was up against the “what might have been” factor. Marines, almost to a man, worship retired General James Mattis. Many wondered aloud wondered how the famously blunt-spoken warrior-monk would have handled things differently had he been named Commandant.
This comparison was made worse by Amos being a pilot, regarded with suspicion by some ground Marines. Many scoffed at Amos’s lack of a Combat Action Ribbon, representing participation in ground combat. Air Wing Marines looked past that. With them, his want of an Air Medal, signifying a minimum of 10 combat flights, was seen as a much more relevant indicator.
Amos’s paternalism came home to roost several times during his tenure. Marines generally welcome high standards, but always scrutinize the leader demanding them. If a leader says Marines aren’t behaving ethically, he had better be as above suspicion as Caesar’s wife. Whether the criticism was deserved or not, the former Commandant’s public travails doomed his initiatives.
There was his misfire with his “Heritage Brief,” meant to be a kick in the butt to misbehaving Marines, but which became military defense attorney fodder because of his ill-advised remarks. This culminated in a military appellate court overturning a sexual-assault conviction. The well-publicized scout-sniper urination incident went from bad to worse when General Amos allegedly told his subordinate Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser that the Marines involved needed to be “crushed,” then removed the case from Waldhauser’s supervision. After criticizing the Commandant, the Marine Corps Times was threatened with removal from base exchange checkout counters. Even in his last days in office, Amos was confronted with allegations regarding records of his TBS completion.
The combination of almost-monthly scandals and policy pronouncements from Marine Corps Headquarters has left many Marines hoping that “Fighting Joe” Dunford will be taking the Corps back to the basics, focusing on fighting well, and not just looking good.
Carl Forsling (@carlforsling), a 20-year Marine veteran, is a MV-22B Osprey instructor pilot and former CH-46E pilot. He deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and other contingencies, both as a pilot and as a military advisor. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the Marine Corps nor the Department of Defense. He plans to retire in four months and is looking for a job.
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