Sure the Marine Corps has problems, but Waddell has more courage than answers
A disconnect has long existed between the Pentagon and operating forces, which is why Pentagon tours are invaluable to mid-grade officers.
By Maj. Korvin Kraics, USMC
Best Defense guest respondent
I applaud Capt. Waddell for writing this article, and the Marine Corps Gazette for publishing it. Does the Marine Corps at times suffer from self-delusion? Absolutely, as do other services. Military Review published an excellent article in Sept.-Oct. 2013 on the services’ cultural mythology and its consequences. But Capt. Waddell’s analysis is unfortunately off the mark here.
A disconnect has long existed between the Pentagon and operating forces, which is why Pentagon tours are invaluable to mid-grade officers. For better or worse, working in the Pentagon, you get to see how the sausage is made. Yes, POM budgeting is painful, but we have to justify our pennies to Congress if we’re to have any hope of purchasing systems and maintaining their lifecycle. Yes, the process for buying things is overly complicated, but we have volumes of regulations to navigate that have no origin in the Marine Corps or, and some cases, even the Department of Defense.
Indeed, it is fun to visit Silicon Valley, play with cool gear, and imagine the possibilities — but are the components compliant with the Buy American act? What is the company’s small business allocation? What does the company’s cost accounting system look like? Troops in the field don’t know that we have to navigate these matters, and they don’t care. They shouldn’t care, it’s not their job to look into these issues. They have other things to worry about. But along the I-95 corridor, officers have to consider these things and many, many other constraining items.
Capt. Waddell also mistakes the Marine Corps’ warfighting role. At best, because of our size, we fight at the operational level of war, not strategic. Yes, we affect the overall strategy, but alleging that strategic losses occur because the USMC may be self-delusional is a stretch.
His biggest mistake though is that he provides no solutions. How would he fix the manner in which we request programmatic funds from Congress? How precisely would he go about seeking acquisition reform? Everybody wants to buy large quantities of cool things faster, but alas, mission analysis reveals legal and regulatory limitations that can bind the USMC. How would he surpass these limitations? Would he, for example, petition the FAR Council to increase the FAR subpart 13.5 Commercial Item Test program dollar threshold? Would he petition Congress to open up other transactional authorities to traditional Defense Department contractors? Would he ask Congress to allow sole-source awards on large multiple award IDIQ technology contracts? Make no mistake, there are I-95 corridor personnel tackling exactly these issues so that we can buy better things faster, but the challenges are bigger than the Marine Corps.
I do not intend my criticism to dissuade anybody from bold intellectual dissension. To the contrary, we could use more contributions from intrepid young officers like Capt. Waddell, and he is correct to some extent. But to be helpful, Capt. Waddell needs to address these types of “how might we” questions with specificity. We need more meaningful solutions and less “the Marine Corps is failing,” even if he’s right.
Maj Korvin S. Kraics is a judge advocate serving as an associate procurement counsel with Marine Corps Systems Command. The views expressed herein are his personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Marine Corps.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.