Politics & Policy

Battlefield to Boardroom

Veterans of elite units go beyond defending America.

“In the twelve weeks of hell and transformation that were Marine Corps boot camp, I learned the values of achieving a successful life that have guided and sustained me.”

–U.S. Senator (and former Governor of Georgia) Zell Miller, in Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines

Veterans Day takes on a special meaning this year as some of our best-trained, most-committed troops are currently rooting out some the nastiest cutthroats in the city of Fallujah. There, the battle has been billed as the worst urban fight since the struggle to retake Hue City during the TET Offensive in 1968. Then, as now, the brunt of the combat has been borne by the best-of-the-best: Marines, Army special forces, Navy SEALs, and other special-operations combatants and members of elite units.

America has been fielding elite units since the founding of this country. They are vital for both our current security and in taking the fight to the terrorists. But elite military forces serve a collaterally equal cause.

Aimless young civilians always have benefited from military service. It has given them direction and purpose; and they are returned to society as better, more-productive men and women. But service in elite or special-operations units, literally has proven to be an investment in the future leadership of America.

“Our Corps is downright good for the manhood of our country,” wrote Marine Lt. Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak in a 1957 letter to Gen. Randolph M. Pate. “Marines are masters of a form of unfailing alchemy which converts un-oriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens–citizens into whose hands the nations affairs may safely be entrusted.”

Lt. Col. Howard T. Rowell agrees.

A career U.S. Air Force Reserve officer, Rowell contends his three, short years in the elite Marine Corps shaped him far more than his 23 years in the USAFR.

“I built a multimillion dollar business from scratch, sold it at an excellent price and retired,” Rowell tells National Review Online. “Frankly, I couldn’t have done that without the experience of the Marine Corps which taught me a unique brand of discipline that has carried over in for everything I have since done in the way of finance, habits and goals.”

Rowell’s belief mirrors the philosophy of Walter Anderson, the publisher and chief executive officer of Parade magazine, the “largest-circulation” magazine in the nation. “It [the Marine Corps] gave me pride, direction, and confidence, and forced me to believe in myself,” said Anderson, then-editor-in-chief of Parade in a 1996 interview for Marines magazine. “They taught me to trust in the importance of knowledge and learning. What I am today is a result of the Marine Corps.”

Last year, following his keynote speech at a national media symposium in New York, Anderson was asked what was the proudest moment in his life: He answered, “the day I was promoted to lance corporal [in the Marines].”

Former Navy SEAL commander Richard Marcinko–the author of 13 New York Times bestsellers, including Rogue Warrior–points to himself and others as proof that service in elite units builds the real movers and shakers of American society.

“Look at the success of Jesse Ventura,” Marcinko tells NRO. “He made it through UDT/SEAL [Underwater Demolition/SeaAirLand commando] training, tours to Vietnam, got out of the Navy as a Petty Officer 3rd Class. Then he had success as a professional wrestler, mayor of a small town, talk-show host, governor of Minnesota, a visiting fellow at Harvard’s elite John F. Kennedy School of Government, a movie star, a TV sportscaster, etc. It is this drive to succeed at anything which is a result of self-confidence, discipline, aggressive attitude, and an absolute inability to accept defeat.”

Marcinko adds that special-operations training instills in young warriors the idea that one succeeds in life and war, not for self-gratification, but to advance a personal belief or philosophy that can then permeate a group and be shared with others.

In elite or special-operations units, “the food chain works both up and down the chain-of-command,” he says. “Shooters [special operators] attack life daily. They always lead from the front and set the pace and example.”

But is membership in an elite military organization–where killing is considered an art form–a plus on a resume for future civilian, executive leaders?

“So many people–when they think of Special Forces–think of terms like snake-eater and knuckle-dragger,” Army Brigadier General David L. Grange, a former special-operations commander, tells NRO. “In reality, service in special forces does things that opens up your mind, making you think off the map. Thinking is omni-directional in special-operations units, whereas the mindset is more linear in conventional military units.”

According to Grange, “Most special-operations soldiers don’t stay in special operations. They move into other branches within the Army, and their mindset and standards of excellence permeate the ranks. In terms of those who pursue civilian careers and how service in special operations contributes to the future of America, former special-forces soldiers learn to deal with stress and uncertainty, and are the ones who often come up with new, unusual, and effective ideas.”

Major Neal F. Pugliese, commander of the Maritime Special Purpose Force for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom, tells NRO that simply “being a Marine, means overcoming overwhelming odds, everyday without exception, regardless of task.”

Pugliese, who today serves as the Depot and Eastern Recruiting Region’s security manager and antiterrorism force protection officer, says he in fact thrives on storm and stress.

“Like thousands of other Marines, I’m attracted to adversity because of the challenge and the more difficult the better,” he says. “When locked in battle or something less, Marines do not think in terms of winning or losing. In the minds of most Marines, victory is always certain and defeat is unacceptable both personally and professionally. It continues to amaze me how much Marines accomplish with very little in the way of resources.”

He adds, “When I leave the Corps someday, I will take with me a greatly heightened sense of what is possible, because the Marine Corps has demonstrated, times too numerous to chronicle, that anything is possible.”

When asked by a reporter why he left the Corps in 1966, Parade Publisher Anderson responded, “I wanted to be a writer, but I have never not been a Marine.”

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader and paratrooper, W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a freelance journalist and the author of four books, including the Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to American Airborne Forces.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues. He has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. ...


The Latest