Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Marine Corps Innovation: It's Simple. It's About Leadership.

By BGen Dave Reist (USMC, Ret.) and Capt Chris Wood (USMC)

There is an almost endless discussion today regarding innovation. Countless books provide blueprints for organizations to innovate, to routinely turn ideas into increased value and profits. This discussion is mirrored in the Marine Corps and across the greater Department of Defense. But one must ask the basic question: “Are we lacking innovation, and if so, why?” More specific to the Marine Corps’ emphasis on leadership, is our leadership falling short in setting the environment for innovation to flourish?

History is rich with examples of points in time and space that not only encouraged innovation, but also enabled mankind to reap tremendous benefits.  Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy and Silicon Valley are just three to consider.  But what were the conditions that made these instances possible?  Was it the rival governments of Athens and Sparta that enabled the Golden Age of Greece … or was it Pericles’s vision for arts and literature?  Was it the beauty of Florence that inspired da Vinci, Michelangelo, and so many others … or was it the Medici family’s financial and political backing that empowered these artists to create?  Was it the venture capital business model that fostered the Silicon Valley culture of innovation … or was it leaders such as Steve Jobs that delivered a higher vision and then ruthlessly removed barriers to that vision?  Innovation is complex and not easily replicated, but there is a single constant: leaders that set the conditions for innovation to occur by recognizing talent and allowing it to flourish.

Monday, July 18, 2016

TDG #7-16R: Defend the Airfield, Part I*

*originally published in March 1992.


Beginning with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the past several years have witnessed tremendous changes throughout the world. You find yourself the commanding officer of the 1st Special Infantry Company in a provisional rifle battalion that has been formed recently and deployed (without major attachments) on a deployment for training to Dull Garrison Island in the northern region of the Indian Ocean. In part, the deployment maintains presence and replaces the more expensive regular deployment of amphibious forces. It also provides familiarization and training for potential leaders of the local defense force forming on the island.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Are You the Next Napoleon?

For tacticians at the tip of the spear

TDGs return to the Gazette. (Photo by LCpl Nik S. Phongsisattanak.)
In war there is no substitute for experience, no substitute for the intuitive skill that comes from repeated practice. Tactical decision games are a practice field for the tactical leader. This article explains why and how.

Think of the Great Captains of military history—Alexander, Hannibal, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Genghis Khan. We hold these men in high regard because we recognize them as military geniuses, as true masters of the art of war whose mastery of the art form clearly eclipses the mass of the merely competent. Clearly, the art of war places high demands on the intellect of military commanders, and any professional continually strives toward mastery.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Neither Bold Nor Daring...

Yes, they can.
The 2013 MajorGeneral Harold W. Chase Essay contest was won by Captain Lauren F. Serrano, but one really has to wonder why. This contest is meant to recognize “articles that challenge conventional wisdom by proposing change to a current Marine Corps directive, policy, custom, or practice. To qualify, entries must propose and argue for a new and better way of 'doing business' in the Marine Corps. Authors must have strength in their convictions and be prepared for criticism from those who would defend the status quo. That is why the prizes are called Boldness and Daring Awards.”

Unfortunately, Captain Serrano’s article does not challenge the “conventional wisdom”, but instead supports a deeply entrenched position held by the Old Guard that women (like blacks and gays before them) have no place in the infantry. It might be considered a “bold and daring” statement by a female officer, if it hadn't already been made by Captain Katie Petronio back in 2013. 

The idea that women do not belong in the infantry is only the latest in a long string of “women do not belong” quotes; women do not belong in the voting booth, in public office, in the military, in aircraft, on spacecraft, on ships, in submarines. Having run out of places to attempt to exclude women from (because they seem to thrive wherever they’re given a chance) Captain Serrano ignores the legacy of fearsome female fighters from Joan of Arc to Lyudmila Pavlichenko and suggests that no, really, all those other cases may have just been a bit of an oversight, but seriously, women do not belong in the infantry. The U.S. infantry, at least – many other NATO countries have already largely eliminated this form of discrimination in the ranks.

Instead of arguing for a “new and better way of ‘doing business’ in the Marine Corps,” Captain Serrano advocates for business as usual – with the infantry reserved as a boys-will-be-boys club, where “men… raging with hormones and… easily distracted by women and sex,” can freely “fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.”

This environment, Captain Serrano tells us, “promotes unit cohesion” – an “essential element in both garrison and combat environments.” Wow. Thank you, Captain Serrano! My Master Gunnery Sergeant and I have been pondering what we could do to increase unit cohesion among our Marines, and your bold and daring article has opened my eyes. I just need to transfer all my stellar female officers, Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, Sergeants, Corporals, and junior Marines to other commands and give my remaining male Marines the go-ahead to engage in behavior that’s clearly outside the bounds of common courtesy, good order and discipline, and the “proper and professional climate” directed by the Commandant in his Policy Statement on Equal Opportunity. Here on the East Coast, it would also clearly be a direct violation of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force policy letter on Equal Opportunity, which requires “every member of this command to promote an environment of dignity, respect, equality and fair treatment.” I suppose while everyone else was enjoying their new-found unit cohesion, I could just go ahead and prepare myself for my Court Martial.

Is it possible that this was reason that Captain Serrano won the contest? Was the bold and daring challenge to conventional wisdom actually to suggest that at least some units should be exempted from the standards that the Commandant has said are “as venerable and important to us as the 14 Leadership Traits?”

Perhaps. But if her real intent was in fact to beat the drum against equal rights for all Americans volunteering to serve their country, allow me to continue to close with and destroy by logic and evidence the rest of the flimsy foundation on which she rests her case.

Because that’s one of the first problems with her paper. If you’re going to make an assertion like “women do not belong in the U.S. infantry,” you’d think it would be on the basis of some pretty solid evidence. But she only gives cites three sources, the first being of “anecdotal evidence” by someone identified only as Colonel Weinberg. The officer in question is in fact Colonel Anne Weinberg, and her excerpted statement from an NPR interview, is used out of context by Captain Serrano; a reading of the full text shows that Colonel Weinberg is actually quite optimistic on the topic – "I think we're going to have a lot of female marines who are able to meet those standards… My generation, you know, is a different breed from the young women who are coming into the Marine Corps now. They are very tough, very strong, and they have that mindset of 'I want to go and do these types of jobs.' "
Captain Serrano conveniently brushes aside whether or not women can pass the requirements to get into the infantry (pssstspoiler alert – they can! Forty and counting…) In fact, she claims, these women (much like those who lobbied in times past for the right to vote, equal pay, etc.) are just selfish troublemakers, who “pose a threat to the infantry mission and readiness.”

These women should shut up and exult in the fact that by being arbitrarily excluded from the infantry, they will avoid long careers resulting in career-ending medical conditions. But wait! The average length of military enlisted service is 7 years (Pages 18-19) - and it’s already a well-documented fact that male infantry also suffer from “blisters, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, shin splints, stress fractures (most commonly in the tibia and metatarsals), anterior compartment syndrome, chondromalacia patellae and low-back strain,” according to this NATO report.

Men, on the other hand, seem to be arbitrarily separated into two categories – those in the infantry, who are 18-22 and full of testosterone and masculinity, and all the rest of male Marines, who are, on the average… Wait, 18-22 years old and full of testosterone and masculinity? Because unless I am very much mistaken, there is no part of the entrance examinations where testosterone levels are screened and masculinity is tested, with those on the high end being shuffled off to don a pack and grab a rifle, and less-virile specimens sent to fill a cockpit, shuffle papers, or issue parts. Yet somehow all the men who aren't in the infantry still manage to get by with a fairly high level of esprit de corps, despite being obliged to serve side-by-side with equally gung-ho women, all without becoming too distracted by their raging hormones or depressed from a lack of raunchy jokes and nude ramblings.

Captain Serrano acknowledges that continued exclusion would be unfair, but claims that it would be justified because we live in an age where “U.S. hegemony is slowly decreasing and nations like China, Iran, and North Korea are building their conventional forces.” But the gender equity in an infantry battalion is hardly going to be a deciding factor in any conflict with the rising powers that Captain Serrano calls out as potential adversaries (ignoring the fact that we have just wrapped up joint naval exercises with China, and are moving toward cooperation with Iran against the unconventional forces of the Islamic State, which already employs its own female battalions) – instead, breaking through increasingly advanced networks of anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons, countering cyber offensives, and defeating asymmetric threats is where we should be focusing our attention.

Similarly, she first acknowledges and then attempts to discredit the successful inclusion of women in the Kurdish Peshmerga and Israeli Defense Force, claiming that only nations (or non-state actors) on the brink of an existential fight for life can afford to include women. Perhaps Kurdish and Israeli men don’t do as much burping, farting, or naked walking as American infantry Marines do – or maybe their female compatriots do it all as well. In any case, it works, according to Serrano, only due to the looming threat of Arab/Palestinian/Iraqi/Turkish/ISIS/insert your boogeyman here. Which makes sense, until you realize that Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Australia and Sweden have also all successfully integrated their infantry forces, and none of them currently face an existential military threat.

In fact, it’s worth reading an excerpt from a study done by the British government on this topic, wherein, referencing the Danish experience:
During deployments, there is no gender-related differentiation between roles and functions performed by men and women. Women are treated and regarded as normal soldiers who are expected to perform as trained, and to participate in all operations on equal terms with their male counterparts. Women have been employed in combat in Afghanistan whilst undertaking a variety of functions from administration to Combat Commander. This number has increased, possibly as a result of an overall change in the number of women serving in the Armed Forces increasing from 715 in January 2007 to 780 in January 2008, and then to 832 in March 2008. As far as the Danish Personnel Policy Section of the Danish Defence Personal Organisation are aware there have been no reported difficulties with employing women in combat roles. Although team cohesion and operational effectiveness have not been assessed, there have been no reports to indicate that this may be an issue.
The same study makes some interesting notes on how the sort of discriminatory message exhibited in Captain Serrano’s essay, and in similar writings by male Marines may be impacting current or future female Marines, and also shows how to fix it through positive, engaged leadership:
As far as the women are concerned it makes little difference where the negative attitude towards them comes from, but it leaves them feeling angry and frustrated, their confidence is undermined, and a strong need to prove their abilities in combat is felt. Motivation to serve in combat positions is relatively high, and as many as 20% of prospective female soldiers have listed combat as one of their main preferences….
Interviews with female combatants who participated in the Second Lebanon war, revealed that… if the Commander was to express belief in their ability and considered them to be equal to their male counterparts, then they would eventually become ‘one of the gang’. Surveys of females serving in combat roles in the IDF have therefore concluded that whilst the incorporation of female combatants has been a success, there is still much progress to be made with regard to allowing them to utilise their full potential.
The same old predictions of “ruined unit cohesion”, which were used to delay the integration of black and gay servicemembers are dutifully trotted out – in her bid to be bold and daring, Captain Serrano leaves no tired, dis-proven argument unused.

Her assertion that women in the infantry will “disrupt the brotherhood,” and “take the focus off the mission” are the same clichés voiced by the current Commandant, General Amos in reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (“strong potential for disruption at the small unit level…”) andthose of  the 19th Commandant, General Cates in his opposition to integrating blacks (“a dangerous path to pursue inasmuch as it affects the ability of the National Military Establishment to fulfill its mission.”)

Time has proved both Commandants wrong; it will prove Captain Serrano wrong as well, but the fact is, we don’t have time to waste, because, prejudice has a long reach – recent studies of Marine personnel still show that blacks are significantly underrepresented in the infantry and combat arms specialties, over 50 years after those fields were opened to them.

I’m not going to waste space by dignifying the questions of whether allowing women to serve will require special provisions for “womanly needs” (whatever those may be) or whether we should care that some spouse back in garrison is worried because their significant other is serving beside a member of the opposite sex – news flash – that happens every day in the Corps. Nor am I going to try to figure out what the “drama” that Captain Serrano repeatedly refers to is, but judging from at least one infantryman’s popular perspective, I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of it in the infantry, too.

Instead, I’ll close by addressing her most egregious, unsubstantiated, and untenable reason for keeping infantry closed to women. Do it for their own good – do it to prevent sexual assault and harassment. No. Absolutely not. The way to prevent sexual assault and harassment is not to attempt to blame the victims, to keep men and women separate and unequal – it is to educate all servicemembers, male and female alike, create a culture of respect and consent, and absolutely crush with the full weight of military justice anyone proven guilty of breaking the shared ethos where we stand by our brothers and sisters, protecting them equally on the battlefield and in garrison.

Captain Serrano suggests that without women in their midst, infantry Marines are less likely to commit sexual assault – but she conveniently ignores the fact that sexual assault is not just a male-on-female problem, and that even those specific assaults are still perpetrated by infantry troops. To give an idea of the scope of the issue, note that the Army’s 25th Infantry Division had 52 reported cases of sexual assault in the 9-month period from July 2012 to Mar 2013, with 60 percent (31 cases) being substantiated. Clearly, sexual assaults can and do occur in infantry units whether or not female Marines or soldiers are serving within them.

if you’re the kind of piece of shit that will sexually assault someone, it’s you that is in fact the problem… I hate that sentence, “We can’t let women in the infantry, think of all the sexual assaults,” is basically giving shitty men a free pass to rape women. One can only hope that if, in fact, sexual assault does occur in the infantry, that the men perpetrating it will be punished accordingly.
The Marine Corps infantry is broken. It lacks the amphibious lift to get it into the fight, its members are more heavily laden than any infantry soldiers since the dawn of time, and its primary weapons systems are decades old. But beyond that, its continued exclusionary policy stands in stark contrast to the sentiments enshrined in our Constitution and its Amendments; that all Americans are created equal, and should be treated accordingly. We don’t deny the other broken aspects of our infantry battalions or shy away from working to fix them - let’s not deny that our gender bias needs fixing, too. 

Maj Edward H. “UTAH” Carpenter is an Aviation Logistician, a Foreign Area Officer, and the author of "Steven Pressfield's THE WARRIOR ETHOS: One Marine Officer's Critique and Counterpoint"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Open Letter to the Editor of the Marine Corps Gazette

Dear Colonel Keenan,

Please excuse my addressing you directly, but I feel it is imperative to draw your attention to two significant fallacies in your recent open letter to the Secretary of Defense.

The first is your assertion that arguments for the full integration of women in the military fall into two categories; yours, and those that are “uninformed opinion… agenda and ideologically driven.”

Let us be honest; there are two sides to this debate, and both are driven by agendas and ideology. Neither side, one hopes, bases their arguments solely on uninformed opinion; both sides seek to leverage expert testimony, scientific research, public opinion, and all other relevant material which will benefit their side of this war of ideas, a struggle which is, as our foundational publication Warfighting describes it, “fundamentally an interactive social process”, the very essence of a Clausewitzian Zweikampf.

The second and more troubling fallacy is your statement that “the issue is putting women in a position where the majority will fail unless standards are lowered.”

The key word here is “standard”. What is this elusive standard of which you write? Like many Marines and others on your side of this debate, that so-called “standard” appears to be the current Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and in particular, the dead-hang pullup, which is not, in fact a standard measurement of upper body strength in either the U.S. military as a whole or for many of our Coalition partners, and has only the most tenuous historical basis in the Corps itself.

Not a single Marine who charged machinegun nests in Belleau Wood, raised the flag on Iwo Jima, or marched back from the "Frozen Chosin" passed the “standard” that you and your supporters deem critical to success in combat, since the original USMC "Physical Readiness Test" (PRT) wasn't instituted until 1956 (MCO 6100.3) and pullups weren't part of the routine - chin-ups (forward grip) were mandatory, and 3 was the "satisfactory" score for a man (as were 25 situps in 2 minutes, and a half-mile jog with no time limit). The other signature events of the original PRT included the "duck waddle", the "broad jump", and the 440 yard dash, 21 pushups (it seems Chesty was already getting his) and 15 squat-thrusts for good measure.

The PFT as we know it didn’t come into existence until 1972 – and the very same scientist that you have picked as your “expert witness” this time around, Dr. Davis, wrote in 1981 that the PFT:
Represents a fitness battery consisting of Items whose capability of predicting combat readiness has not been scientifically validated… Scoring the fitness battery is arbitrary, and does not take into account such factors as environment, loads carried or numerous other factors that will no doubt have a profound impact on combat capabilities and readiness. Once again, the relationship between combat performance and scores on the PFT has neither been investigated nor established on the basis of any empirical work.
Between 1972 and 1996, tens of thousands of Marines used their minds and momentum to work “smarter and not harder”, kipping their way to high scores that rewarded rhythm versus brute strength to knock out the “standard”.

And today’s dead hang pullup? As an arbitrary measure of upper body strength, like a push-up, a bench press, or any other number of exercises, it’s a good measure of how well any person can perform that particular movement.

But I challenge anyone who prides themselves on doing 20 pullups during the PFT to join me in donning a minimal combat load consisting of a flak jacket with front, back, and side SAPI plates, an IFAK, a dump pouch, an M-4 with 6 loaded magazines, a Kevlar, and a full Camelbak and then jump on the bar, preferably in 100+ degree temperatures after we’ve run for at least 100 meters. I guarantee those impressively high numbers will vanish.

As for the “standards” for the Infantry Officers Course, again, one should be careful what we call a “standard”. Unlike the enlisted Infantry Course, which is designed to build Marines up into basic infantry personnel and from which over 50 female Marines have already graduated, the first goal of IOC is to break down any officer who lacks an extreme degree of willpower, physical strength, endurance, and determination. The Combat Endurance Test, that infamous introductory gauntlet for IOC should not be confused as anything but what it is – a selection mechanism to weed out approximately 25 percent of the officers who attempt it. This is not a standard infantry-training event; enlisted Marines do nothing comparable at the School of Infantry.  It does not teach the officers anything they have not already learned in TBS – it is specifically designed to eliminate a significant percentage of the individuals who attempt it. Why? Because thirty percent of officers graduating from TBS will request an infantry MOS as their first choice. That’s approximately 510 officers, and the Corps only has a need for about 350 Second Lieutenants to serve as infantry platoon commanders. The Combat Endurance Test and other make-or-break aspects of the IOC curriculum are designed to winnow the number of candidates down to the Corps’ requirements. It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to pass the Combat Endurance Test to be a great infantry officer – the course has only existed for the last 35 years, meaning that none of the storied officers of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam ever had to pass that particular test. Yet, somehow, they managed to lead their Marines to victory in battle.

Standards change; physical standards, standards of dress, standards of behavior. We no longer powder our hair or carry swords at all times; we no longer challenge officers from other services to duels. We don’t physically abuse recruits, we don’t haze our fellow Marines. We don’t sing racially or sexually offensive cadences anymore, and thankfully, we no longer do “the duck waddle”. And yet, the Corps is stronger today than it has ever been.

So, Colonel Keenan, I will close this with a few of your own words – “the issue is not women in combat – they have performed magnificently, as well you know.”

They have, Sir, performed magnificently when and where it counted; killing the enemy, saving the lives of their fellow fighters, and giving their lives in the Long War. Let’s recognize that performance by opening the closed doors, breaking the glass ceilings, and acknowledging that potentially updating arbitrary and outdated standards is not the same as lowering them.

Most Respectfully,
Major Edward H. Carpenter, USMC

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Incentives Matter: Women and Pull-Ups

The Issue

The Marine Corps currently allows female Marines when taking their Physical Fitness Test (PFT) to choose between the flexed-arm hang and pull-ups, each selection providing a possible 100 points.  The current policy creates an incentive for women to stick with the flexed-arm hang because it is easier to achieve a higher score than doing pull-ups.  If we continue to present both options as weighted equally, women will have little incentive to get up on the bar and learn how to do a pull-up.  Since we are in a period of transition as we open the ground combat arms to women; it may be appropriate to maintain the flexed-arm hang alongside pull-ups.  However, we should do so in a way that gives women an incentive to do pull-ups, not continue with the flexed-arm hang. 

Providing the choice between two equally weighted options is antithetical to our culture because it encourages an attitude of and eventual failure among females, especially those considering the combat arms.  Instead of being given a mission and expected to succeed, old stereotypes are reinforced and an attitude of seeking the lower of two denominators is encouraged.  Studies have shown a correlation between an ability to do a pull-up and certain combat tasks.  There is no correlation between getting a 100 on the flexed-arm hang and being able to lift a Mk-19 for mounting on a gun truck, or dragging a 180 lbs comrade out of a kill zone.

There will be nothing more destructive to the idea that women can do pull-ups than allowing them to choose between getting 100 points for a 70 second flexed-arm hang, and 100 points for 8 pull-ups.  If it remains easier to achieve a higher score on the PFT by exerting the same or less effort by allowing the flexed-arm hang, we create an incentive for women to stick with the flexed-arm hang.  As a result of societal myths regarding the “inability” of women to learn how to do pull-ups, creating this incentive is at the expense of a good faith encouragement to do pull-ups, and it will reinforce biases against women.  True or not, after letting the two tests exist side by side, with no incentive to attempt the pull-ups beyond personal satisfaction—and frankly speaking, pride—we may end up reinforcing the belief, whether one believes it or not, that women are biologically indisposed to do pull-ups.  When women are still not able to do pull-ups as a collective after a period of time with the option to do pull-ups, most who think women can't do pull-ups will point to this as evidence for their opinion.

We can do better.  We can provide a solution that creates an incentive to do pull-ups, while not overburdening the females in the Marine Corps, or new recruits. 

The Solution

There is an idea for a PFT floating around, where the 70 second flexed-arm hang will be worth a max of 60 points, but if choose to do pull-ups, the first pull-up is worth 65.  It is still a Marine’s choice test, the difference being that each pull-up is worth 5 points, like the male PFT, except for the first pull-up that will start the woman at 65 points, a higher score than the flexed-arm hang.   

This test structure is a common sense solution in the interim which addresses the current skewed incentive to female Marines.  It will encourage those who can’t get one pull-up to get to one pull-up so they can get a higher score than they would with the flexed-arm hang.  It is far less draconian than a sudden, unexpected all or nothing requirement.  In many ways it keeps faith with our standards, the policy objectives laid down by both Congress and the current Executive administration, and our Marines.  

If for one pull-up an individual gets more points than with a 70 second flexed-arm hang, women will move over to the pull-up standard to get those 5 extra points to remain competitive.  They will find a way.  They will adapt over time.  The current problem is not a biological inability to do pull-ups, it is a lack of knowledge of how to properly train and prepare for the PFT.  Most men have always been able to do a pull-up most of their lives.  Most women have never been able to do one, and so getting to one is probably daunting.  If the institution provides an unavoidable incentive to do that first pull-up, and units exercise appropriate leadership, and the males in those units show appropriate camaraderie and encouragement, i.e. help; within a year you’ll see most women doing one pull-up.

And once they have that one pull-up they will make two.

Does it sound harsh?  It is the easiest way to transition without sending mixed signals by establishing incentives that encourage continuation of the flexed-arm hang.  Will there be a dip in PFT scores?  Quite possibly, but the ship will right itself.  There can be a top down policy that establishes  a transition period of two years.  The policy will require promotion boards to take adjustment period into account, so long as “P/U” is somehow annotated next to a female’s lower than usual score (assuming it is lower than usual).  After two years, we can transition to the pull-up only standard.  If there is still an issue with new recruits at the Recruit Depots, then the policy can include a similar, maybe permanent incentive for junior enlisted who are not combat arms until they reach Corporal; the ability to do a pull-up being a requirement to make NCO.  Of course, pull ups should be a requirement to get into the Combat Arms.

What is best for our female Marines is to not create an incentive that maintains the status quo and encourages mediocrity.  What is best is giving them a difficult task, and trusting them to meet the standard.  This is the Marine Corps ethos.  We are a "force in readiness."  If we take our profession seriously, then we will encourage the sort of behaviors that will make Marines, regardless of their sex, combat ready.