From the letter:
“Although I think “The Attritionist Letters” and the thoughts of the Maj Munsons of the world are a bit overstated, especially the inexplicable correlation between centralized, directed training executed in a decentralized manner equating to a lack of trust, it is done, I believe, for effect.”
I, like LtGen Neller, find it hard to believe that senior officers simply do not trust junior leaders. I think that senior decision-makers respond to a perceived need for Marines to be trained in a certain area and take steps to ensure that they receive training to address that need. I also know that many training requirements arise not just from the Marine Corps, but from sources such as the combatant commands and from the Department of Defense. Marines in the supporting establishment have little or no control over these directives. Thus, LtGen Neller’s frustration over this issue is justified. The intentions of those who put these training requirements in place are good and are not, I think, brought about by a lack of trust.
However, to those junior leaders who must implement the training requirements, it feels like a lack of trust. While Marines are sometimes quick to dismiss feelings as a valid argument, they can have deleterious effects. The Marine Corps takes great pride in its outstanding training at the recruit depots, MOS schools, OCS, and TBS. Marines justifiably take great pride in completing the programs successfully. Officer training especially is focused on producing a responsible Marine capable of making decisions based on his or her own judgment. When Marines arrive at the fleet and are presented with simplistic training requirements and courses, they cannot help but feel that those who mandate the training are being condescending. This feeling is particularly strong amongst the junior enlisted community. While junior enlisted Marines and junior officers are new to the Marine Corps, they are not boys and girls. They are grown men and women who should be treated as such. Additionally, many junior Marines are veterans of combat. Being treated as just another Lance Corporal is particularly galling for a combat veteran. There are two major problems that this feeling will cause. One, the training will not be taken seriously and thus will be ineffective. Second, good Marines who consistently feel like children of condescending parents will leave the service. MCDP-1 expresses this sentiment as well: “There are several points worth remembering about our command philosophy. First, while it is based on our warfighting style, this does not mean it applies only during war. We must put it into practice during the preparation for war as well. We cannot rightly expect our subordinates to exercise boldness and initiative in the field when they are accustomed to being over-supervised in garrison.” (MCDP-1, page 81)
So how can senior Marines ensure that this training is accomplished in such a way that is both more effective and more palatable to junior Marines? First, there is very little feedback from the operating forces to the supporting establishment when it comes to training requirements. Either the system for such feedback is insufficient or broken entirely. The tenants of maneuver warfare are frequently forgotten when it comes to training. The operating forces are not just told what to accomplish, but how to accomplish it and how long they must spend on it. Second, the operating forces must be allowed the freedom to tailor training to specific units. A unit with a high rate of alcohol abuse incidents should receive more focused training on the issue while a unit with a low rate should be granted the time to focus on other areas. This, again, requires a robust feedback loop between the units executing training and the leaders who mandate it. The chain of command is supposed to act as this feedback loop. However, if there are too many links between the decision-makers and the decision-implementers, the feedback it may not work as intended. The fact that this debate is occurring in the pages of the Marine Corps Gazette is itself evidence that the feedback loop is not operating as it should.
I’d really like to hear the views of some junior enlisted Marines on this topic. Leave a comment or send me a tweet on Twitter. My handle is @brettfriedman.