Thursday, April 19, 2012
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome
The Marine Corps: well oiled machine? Or well-polished turd?
The Corps puts alot of pressure on its Marines to be able to adapt to extringent situations. But can the Marine Corps itself adapt to the needs of the nation and Marines themselves? Keep in mind that the Marine Corps has been kept alive in spite of its redundancy to the U.S. military, for good reason. But so little has changed (and so much has changed) since its conception on July 11, 1798. Yet the system is so steeped in "tradition" that it is next to heresy to try to change any part of it. Attempt to do away with a useless appendix of a rule, and you are "disrespecting Marines that died for your freedom." For example, the date above is the actual date of the chartering of the United States Marine Corps. However, Marines are told--since their days in boot camp where they memorized and screamed these bits of knowledge--the Marine Corps birthday is 10 November 1775. This is actually the birthdate of the Continental Marines, which was disbanded some 15 years before the U.S. Marine Corps was born. Yet to point this out to Marines is met with ignorance, disbelief, disdain, even hostility.
"Tradition" is the reason why so many things about the Marine Corps makes little to no sense. The computer networks and web services of the Marine Corps have become essential, while becoming slower and less useful. Why? Tradition. PT gear is green underwear. Why? Tradition. Ranks and authority are ineffective, communication broken, and trust between ranks destroyed. Why? Tradition. "Tradition" is the scapegoat that keeps the Marine Corps in the 18th century, and allowing modern laziness to be a staple of Marine leadership. Since boot camp, Marines are taught that what matters is the outer appearance of the Marine and everything he does. In other words, you don't want to look bad, no matter what. Less emphasis is placed on actual performance and proficiency than on appearance. Now, everyone in every organization has to deal with this issue. Nobody wants to look bad to outsiders, it brings your work into question. This is why Marines always look so good, and why they try so hard to appear impeccable. If they don't, someone might "dig deeper" to find out how they do their job. They wouldn't want that. It's extremely important in the Marine Corps for everything to look good, whether it is or not.
Officers in the Marine Corps are a bit of a redundancy, filling a spot which is just as easily mainained by staff and senior staff. Most Marines despise officers. Why? They operate effectively only through blind, thoughtless obedience of their subordinates, but all the real work and operations of the Marine Corps is accomplished through critically thinking privates, PFC's, Lance Corporals, and Corporals. Supervised or delegated by Sergeants, and responsible to staff NCOs. Most officers, or a good many have never been enlisted and so are not familiar with the actual process and how the Marine Corps actually works. So at the worst, officers impede progress and productivity through endless bureaucracy, and at best stay in their office, or on the golf course, out of the way of the working-class enlisted.
I'm not saying that officers should be done away with. However, why not promote from within? A enlisted Marine could have the option at the rank of Sergeant to continue to staff enlisted, or to qualify and continue to officer grooming. One qualifier could be applying and being accepted into college. Certain other standards would also have to be met. Then remove the 2nd Leutenant and Major ranks. All Officers would be tough and adaptive enough to function as a Sergeant, able to lead Marines, and have a good understanding of the Marine enlisted structure. They would all have plausible leadership experience, and deserve the respect that the officer ranks are assigned. As it stands, while it is true that officers do complete a long and rigorous training course that rivals that of the enlisted's boot camp, a basic officer's most striking and impressive claim to fame is a college degree, and having exhibitted that they WANT to be there (officer candidates can drop out of OCS anytime after the first four weeks, and officers are commissioned, not contracted, so they can resign their commission at any time). Their training is indeed worthy, and they have to be tough to meet the demands of it and be selected. However, the one simple fact that stands between them and a chevron as opposed to a butter-bar, is the first-born mentality, the drive for power or the thirst for leadership. This can be a great power, or it can be terrible, since just WANTING to lead does not necessarily qualify someone to have the chance to. But they want it enough to go through OCS and a degree program. This is why a salty old Gunny who is approaching 20 years will refer to a brand new lieutenant barely over the drinking age as "sir." I don't understand it myself. The main difference between a PFC and a 2nd Lieutenant is that a PFC has been promoted.
It seems that Marines are always adapting to conditions, and mostly adapting to ineffective Marine "traditions," but the Marine Corps itself is very very slow and very bad at adapting to anything for anybody's benefit... of least importance being the enlisted marines themselves.