It’s only right that the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia should have come out with a really good account of why the Marines are so terrific, and why former Marines remain great leaders in our chaotic world. They’re trained to deal with it, and sometimes master it.
Marine parents, who are fortunate enough to have their kids trained at the legendary Officer’s Candidate School down the road in Quantico, are sometimes surprised to see that, on any given day, Quantico hosts observers from some of the greatest schools in the world. Business schools, law schools, and just plain schools. Why? Because OCS is the greatest leadership training program on earth.
A few years ago, the son of two of our oldest and dearest friends graduated from OCS, and we all went out to dinner. We knew that our son was just a bit more than a year away, and Barbara asked the young man how he felt about his decision, and he smiled broadly and said, “ma’am, there is nothing in life as great as being twenty-one and a Marine officer.”
And that’s probably right.
Here’s the Marine birthday piece. The rules require me to post the whole thing. Fair enough.
THE MARINES: PREMIER EXPEDITIONARY WARRIORS
by Frank Hoffman
November 10, 2007
Frank Hoffman is a retired Marine Reservist with nearly 30
years of combined active, reserve and civilian service with
the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Senior Fellow of FPRI.
THE MARINES: PREMIER EXPEDITIONARY WARRIORS
by Frank Hoffman
Writing in the Washington Post this past September, the
usually insightful columnist George Will claimed that
America’s ongoing messy missions in Iraq and elsewhere had
generated tension within its Corps of Marines. “No service
was better prepared than the Marines for the challenges of
post-invasion Iraq,” he concluded, “yet no service has found
its mission there more unsettling to its sense of itself.”
It is not that the Corps did not want to be in the fight, or
that it had better things to do. But its naval character has
taken a back seat to fighting the virulent resistance in an
extended land campaign, and some core competencies are
waning. Today, on the institution’s 232nd birthday, we
should amplify Mr. Will’s observations with a deeper
understanding of the Corps’ past and most likely future.
The Marines have a unique institutional culture drawn from
over two centuries of storied campaigns and selfless
service. The most relevant cultural characteristic is what I
call their expeditionary ethos. This ethos is the most
critical contributor to the Corps’ success in combat,
especially in the Small Wars and complex contingencies,
where the Marines excel. Any astute student of military
history can see the roots of this ethos emerging from the
Corps’ Small Wars period in the 1920s and 1930s, when the
Marines were routinely deployed in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the
Dominican Republic. These were protracted expeditions, some
lasting decades, where the Marines established a range of
government institutions and local police forces. It is this
Small Wars experience that is the foundation for the success
the Marines have had in Iraq.
Many military organizations use the term “expeditionary” to
describe themselves or to label distinct units. Marines
believe “expeditionary” encompasses far more than a mission
involving actions beyond U.S. borders, the official
definition. To a Marine Leatherneck the term connotes much
more than the ability to deploy overseas quickly. The
expeditionary ethos is an institutional belief system that
ensures a unit can deploy rapidly, arrive quickly, and begin
operating upon arrival. Supplies, equipment, and
infrastructure are limited to operational necessities; “nice
to haves” are ruthlessly carved out. Such “come as you are”
attitudes are embedded in the force design of the Marine
Air-Ground Task Force construct, which integrates ground
units with aviation and logistics support forces.
From the day recruits join the Corps, they understand that
they are going to deploy and that they must be mentally and
physically ready. The Corps is famous for its physical
readiness, but the intellectual aspect is just as important.
Marines are imbued with the notion of doing more with less,
of fighting and prevailing in an austere operational
environment. They are prepared to use their own initiative
and readily solve problems on their own with a minimum of
guidance. Marines do not look for explicit guidance, formal
doctrine, or tactical templates or checklists. They are
eager to apply their creativity to unforeseen problems,
without doctrine or clear guidance. This produces a mental
outlook that thrives in ambiguity and uncertainty, preparing
Marines to adapt to the conditions found once they arrive.
Fixed schedules, perfect intelligence, guaranteed support
arrangements, and sunny weather are not expected. Murphy’s
Law is built in the mindset of Marines.
Because of this expeditionary mindset, Marines are
constantly prepared to adapt to new situations, and mentally
agile enough to create innovative solutions to unanticipated
circumstances. They do not expect the enemy to conform to
templates or rigid formation, their only expectation is the
need to adapt and win. This institutional culture is the
basis for the Corps’ success in such contingencies in the
past and will continue to give the Marines an edge in
tomorrow’s inevitable contingencies, as well.
Current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pacific
demonstrate the broad range of possibilities for which our
Corps must be prepared. There is nothing new to this and
nothing to unsettle anyone who understands the breadth of
Marine history or the well-honed crisis response toolkit the
Marine Corps provides to the regional Combatant Commanders.
Some in Washington would like to see the Marines specialize
more and take on tasks for which the Army may be better
suited. The Corps’ Commandant, General Jim Conway, has
stressed that the Marines have been prepared in the past
because they recognized that true readiness required a
multidimensional force that is well-trained, broadly
educated, and properly equipped for employment in all forms
This balanced approach is wise given today’s emerging
operational demands. The emerging security environment is
going to emphasize forces that can shift between various
forms of warfare, and most likely engage in all forms of
warfare at the same time. The diffusion of modern weaponry
around the world poses a greater degree of lethality to
modern contingencies, meshing irregular tactics with
advanced conventional weapons into what strategists around
the world are calling multi-modal or “hybrid wars.” A force
prepared to address hybrid threats would have to be built
upon a solid professional military foundation and a modular
force structure, but it would also place a premium on the
critical cognitive skills to recognize or quickly adapt to
the unknown. In particular, American military units would
have to be prepared for very adaptive or protean opponents
and asymmetric tactics and technologies.
The nature of such hybrid conflicts will also demand
uncompromising small unit leadership, tactical cunning, and
creative decision makers at the NCO and junior officer
level. These leaders must be trained and educated to conduct
decentralized missions and rapid decision making under the
highly ambiguous and complex conditions of battle. They must
be acutely aware of and sensitive to unique cultural factors
and their influence on military operations
Dampening the prospects for instability and responding to
emerging crises in the heavily urbanized littorals is the
Corps future. This era will exploit the Marines’ experience
at operating from the sea, as well as its expeditionary
readiness. It is readily apparent that the emerging
environment and the Corps’ expeditionary ethos and skill set
are suited for each other.
The Marines understand their role as an expeditionary force,
and that their sense of identity will always remain linked
with its Navy partners. The new Maritime Strategy that
General James Conway signed in October with his counterpart
Admiral Gary Roughead, the new Chief of Naval Operations,
reflects this enduring relationship. But the Marines are
leaning forward, adapting old training regimens and
implementing new educational initiatives to prepare for
another era of protracted expeditionary operations and Small
Wars. They will continue to march to the sound of the guns,
whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, and fight at sea, from the
sea, and ashore as needed.
If you see a Marine on November 10, wish him or her Happy
Birthday, and hope that more like them will continue to
serve our nation in the future. Without such young people,
willing to sacrifice their lives in some dark alley halfway
around the globe, the chances of preserving stability in the
meanest streets would be insurmountable. Today’s Marines
measure up to the Corps’ legacy, a modern breed tempered in
the crucible of combat against an elusive enemy. With such
battle hardened stock, the Marine Corps will enjoy many more
anniversaries and continue to defeat our adversaries, assure
our allies, and honorably serve our nation as they always
have. You can count on it.
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