Friday, December 23, 2011

Low Standards?

Pfc. Rushi K. Bhatt prepares his Service A uniform,
Nov. 15, to be ready for the battalion commander
inspection. The inspection is used to evaluate
if the new Marines are ready to graduate by
inspecting their uniforms and appearance
while being asked questions that test if
the Marine has retained the knowledge
they were taught in training. Bhatt is
with Platoon 3261, Company M,
3d Recruit Training Battalion.
(Photo by LCpl Eric Quintinilla.)
I received my January Gazette in the mail today to see a letter to the editor from SgtMaj Johnnie Orris (Ret).  Titled "Low Standards," the letter bemoans Marines that don't know how to wear uniforms, walk and park on grass, etc.; ceremonies and the like held in utilities; spaces that look like locker rooms (?); and more.  He accuses us of having low standards and states that the CGIP should be brought back (it never left), to include junk-on-the-bunk inspections.  Commanders who don't uphold his high standards should be relieved, he says.  I was at Cherry Point and in a squadron in MAG-14 when SgtMaj Orris was there in 2001-2002.  I really do not see the glaring change in standards between then and now.  Perhaps I am too focused on trivia like combat readiness and professionalism.  I sent off a letter in response, as I am insulted by some "old timers" episodic suggestions that we just aren't living up to their expectations.  I note that SgtMaj Orris served in long peacetime period of our Corps' history.  Does this explain the difference in mentality?

Really, even though everyone has their pet peeves, can one truly say that the Marine Corps today is any less professional than it has been at any time in its past?  Maybe there is less focus on uniform issues, but when has the force been more combat experienced, better equipped, etc?  Are we really to believe that the Marines who served solely to go to war during WWII or Vietnam were any more spit and polished?  I find SgtMaj Orris's letter insulting.  I wonder what other views are out there.


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  2. You always have some, (we call them 8th & I), Marines that back in the day... The United States Marine Corps has always been the standard in peace as well during war. There maybe a 10% out there, (shit birds) but the USMC has made me proud everytime I see our uniform, Blues or Cammo.
    "God bless our Marine Corps,"
    Sgt Howard
    1st Recon Bn

  3. Gents,
    Thanks for the comments. If anyone is sick of seeing my views and has different ideas, please look me up on the global (active Marines) or email and we can get your views on the blog in a stand-alone post. Our aim here is not to create a one-sided podium, but to create a space for debate that goes beyond the echo chamber that our spaces can sometimes be, and to make for a more active debate than the timeline of the print journal can support. Please join in.

  4. I just read the SgtMaj's letter and thought he had a good idea with the gate guards wearing Alphas. Think about what enemies who are scoping out our front gate defenses would think when they saw a Marine in Alphas (along with the now common helmet, flak, and shotgun as accessories - the sword would already be worn per the SgtMaj's suggestion of course). It would no doubt make them rethink a VBIED through the front gate because if someone is crazy enough to wear all that then just imagine what they would do to an enemy attacking the guard shack.

    Lets get real. There is now an entire generation of young Marines who have known nothing but war now on active duty in the Corps. The fastest way to embarrass yourself and become a laughing stock is to tell them to not walk on the grass because it's a "shortcut". When in reality, encouraging the mentality that Marines always need to follow well established trails and paths (i.e. sidewalks) is something that could get them killed in combat.

  5. As one Marine who served from 1996-2000, I never saw action nor even deployed overseas. We had JOBs, wall locker inspections, CC and CG inspections it seemed at least once a month. We went to the field a lot as well. That of course was the Corps of the late '90s. The Marines after me since 2001 know nothing but combat and numerous deployments with work ups. The training, professionalism, commitment and dedication I have seen of today's Marines should be commended. The changes in the Corps of today that I see are very minimal and not worth noting. I have watched the Corps very closely since my enlistment ended. I could not be more proud of this generation of Warriors. Anyone complaining should show their gratitude that we still have young men and women volunteering knowing the hardships they face today. Semper Fidelis Marines.

  6. Andy Syor (adventurer)with BLT 3/5 Vietnam 1966-67 says. . .
    Entering the Marine Corps after my 17th birthday, I left for my combat tour as I turned 18 years old, and returned to the States after I’d turned 19 years old. One-third of my single enlistment in the Marine Corps was spent in a combat zone. The other two-thirds, spent out of the combat zone, allowed me to recognize the fact that being a career Marine held no interest for me.

  7. Maj Munson, spot on with your entire post. I roll my eyes when "old timers" bemoan how we are losing touch with the "little things that make Marines Marines..." Funny, I thought being a Marine was proficiency in combat. The 1980-2000 sect of the Corps was hard over on wall lockers, spit shined boots, don't walk on the grass, Charlies on Fridays, etc. I guess when the biggest event that you could hope to be a part of is a Westpac or a UDP, you have to find something to do in Garrison. I don't say this to diminish anyone's service or contribution as no one picks the world events and climate in which they serve, but it is what it is.

    You are a little more eloquent in stating your viewpoint than me but I believe focusing on simplistic menial rituals as a way of instilling discipline is what is comfortable to those who haven't faced true leadership scenarios as preparing Marines for combat, combat, or dealing with the after effects of combat.

    I am an active duty 1stSgt and am glad I became a SNCO just as we were transitioning from garrison leadership to what the Corps currently is. We have an entire generation of battle-tested Marines and this bodes well for the future of our Corps. They want to be challenged and led and do important things. Lucky for them, in an arena of diminished resources across DOD, business is going to be good for the MC and dranconian stances such as "don't walk on the grass" as a style of leadership are going by the way side.

  8. I believe many of your comments on SgtMaj Oriis letter is missing his point. A garrison environment is different than a combat or field environment and Marines should carry themselves differently. Wearing of the uniform always sat Marines apart from the other services. Our bases and stations were always well kept and maintained. Making of marines has always been about customs, courtesies, traditions and wearing of the uniform. We need to get back to the basics soon or as the SgtMaj said we will be no different than the Army and just be another corps within the Army. All the things he mentioned albeit may seem trivial but is all part of what makes Marines different. I respect his wisdom and service.

  9. Marines still wear the uniform properly. For the most part, our bases are well maintained. We adhere to customs and courtesies. We do a few less JOBs, wear charlies and alphas less, maybe, but we really have not given up the essence of what it means to be a Marine. We still clearly stand apart from the Army. What makes Marines different is esprit, discipline, and the ability to conduct expeditionary operations with a light footprint. It isn't going to be uniform issues that has us being absorbed into the Army, it is going to be the loss of vision of the basics of our COMBAT MISSION that has us become a second, redundant land army. There are still enough chowderheads around to ensure that we focus plenty on trivialities of uniforms more than we should. And even nay-sayers like me still have pride in how we conduct ourselves and wear our uniforms and aren't little slobs in the making. When we talk about going "back to the basics" it needs to be in our combat mission, what the taxpayers pay us to do, not in the baloney that makes old SgtsMaj mist up and hanker for their days at the drill field.

  10. SgtMaj Orris is ridiculous, claiming standards are dropping(they aren't) because someone walked on the grass. Amazing how SNCOs can completely lose it over meaningless garbage especially when there is a war going on.

  11. As a retired SgtMaj I can't believe what a soap box this Major Munson is standing on. Major it is time to stand down and allow other folks to weigh in on this letter. You just keep showing your inexperience.

  12. SgtMaj Jim,
    I will not stand down. Just because you don't like my opinion does not mean I am on a soap box any more than SgtMaj Orris was on his. I have an opinion. I state it. State yours. How am I wrong? Educate me. How is my inexperience showing through? Please state what the problem is with today's Marine Corps and how to fix it? Have Marines not done their legacy proud in the past decade? Do you have real evidence of standards slipping?

    My comments are not to preclude anyone else from weighing in. I actually asked others to weigh in. I have no control over who posts comments. Please take the time to provide your experienced point of view, rather than expressing your annoyance at my inexperience. That is the point of this blog.

  13. Major Munson you just don' t get it. You will not always be in combat. the way Marines look and act in garrison, translates how they act in the community. You have taken completely out of context what SgtMaj Orris said. he never once said anything about the respect people have for the Marines and their combat efficiency. I believe he was just trying to separate the way Marines look and act in garrison vice in a combat or field environment. You have alienated yourself from many SgtsMaj in your condescending attitude towards them.

  14. The Marine Corps Gazette is the perfect place for this type of conversation. One of the things that sets Marines apart from the other services is that we are not afraid to critique ourselves as a means to reform or improve and stay agile in our service of the greatest nation on Earth.

  15. Anon Jan 2, 0808,
    I do get it. I just do not believe that the standards have declined as precipitously as SgtMaj Orris suggests in the past decade. Marines still consistently have excellent bearing and conduct. There will always be that 10 percent or so, and the 10 percent may have gotten worse in the years when we were plussing up to 202K, but I think that SgtMaj Orris's blanket statement is misleading and insulting. As for condescending SgtsMaj, perhaps I have. I'd ask the SgtsMaj who feel that I have condescended them to do some introspection and try to imagine how others see them and the sometimes ludicrous viewpoints they hold. SgtsMaj have an image problem in today's Marine Corps. While there are many outstanding SgtsMaj, the ones who really don't get it sully the image of the lot. You can say I don't get it, however I think you'll find that there are far more in the ranks who think I get it than you get it. I understand that we will not always be in combat, however, I think we always need to be focused on combat readiness, while continuing to uphold the standards of conduct we have continued, yes continued, to uphold during a decade of combat.

  16. Remember Attention to Details. The same details that are taught in garrison have carry over value to the field. Attention to detail is started on the yellow footprints and instant obedienace is the result, ther is a carry over value. Remember the rifle ranges and the details that go in to shooting a weapon properly, there is a carry over value. Remember the drills and the necessity of proper spacing, there is a carry over value. The details of ITM (individual movement techniques) have carry over value, learned in training carry over to the real deal.

  17. The young Major because of his rank has no idea how valuable the SgtMaj is to a commander. I bet 98 percent of commanders whould say their Command SgtMaj was a valuable trusted adviser and they could not have been successful without him/her. The SgtMaj will never be very popular with the young Marine by virtue of His job to ensure all orders and regulations are enforced. Once we pull out of Afghanistan within four years there will be very little combat experience in the Corps and the cycle will begin all over again building young Marines to carry on all the traditions of the Corps.

  18. Point well taken, but would we be better served conducting more drill and more JOBs, or more battle drills? I'm not saying we should change recruit training or OCS, but I think back to the basics means taking the extra time to drill attention to detail within the parameters of one's MOS. Attention to detail is important. The foundations are laid in entry-level training. We can teach attention to appropriate details in a more meaningful way by focusing on MOS-related drills, while still upholding the uniform standards without going overboard on a back-to-the-basics program interpreted as back to boot camp.

  19. Anon,
    I do understand the role of the SgtMaj and have worked closely with them in many roles. I have respect for the ones who "get it" and act as enablers, mentors, and guides in the professional conduct of the unit's mission, but little time for those who like to play games of petty tyranny and focus entirely on trivial issues. I also have little respect for those who would accuse an entire generation of Marines of having low standards. Additionally, I find those who assume that someone of a given rank is ignorant and cannot have sufficient experience to form an opinion to be generally unworthy of any position of influence. Finally, it will be far more than the SgtsMaj who will build the young Marines of the Corps. In fact, it will be those young NCOs recently returned from Afghanistan who will pass on the traditions to the next generation, and so on down the years.

  20. I found the replies to Sgtmaj Orris' article interesting. It seems that the general theme that ran through the comments was that a "peacetime Marine" obviously did not have any insights to offer "war time Marines." It seems that such things as dress uniforms, staying on the side walks and junk on the bunks are inconsequential when compared to war time experiences.

    But not one of these individuals considered that it was those very peacetime Marines that were the repositories for the lessons learned in WWII, Korea and VietNam. Peace time was used to develop the MPS shipping strategy, to computerize the Corps and to apply cutting edge technology to time honored warfighting skills. Remember is was peace time Marines that went to the 1st Gulf War and originally to Afganistan.
    Even a cursory review of military history will show that those who prepare for war during peace time are more able to adapt to a fluid tactical situation. Part of this preparation is to instill attention to detail, unit cohesion and lessons learned to the next generation of Marines.

    The Marine Corps is changing. Today's warfighters will become tomorrow's garrison Marines. How will you train, foster leadership and instill pride in your Marines? Could it be that you will turn to the time honored methods of inspection and personal attention to detail to make sure that leadership skills are developed and warfighting lessons learned are internalized?

  21. Martha,
    Good points. Peacetime Marines are no less Marines and have contributed significantly. Marines during any period often find themselves at the point of conflict, even if it falls short of well remembered wars.

    For those who may not have read SgtMaj Orris's letter, it was not so much the focus on uniform issues that I took issue with, but it was the terms he used. "I am appalled by what I see..." Marines of all ranks, from field grade to private, who do not know how to properly wear their uniforms..." Saying that commanders do not do today what "commanders did in the not too distant past." "Now too many find too many excuses..." "Too many commanders... are too lazy to implement and enforce." He is painting an entire generation of Marines as subpar with extremely harsh terms.

    What is more, his tirade does not tie any of these insults to the nuance some of you cite as reasons for attention to detail. Finally, when he calls for commanders to be relieved for these issues, he is doing this in an atmosphere where commanders are not being relieved for much more significant failures of leadership.

    Understand the extreme nature of the position he holds and the language he uses against today's Marines when you consider my counterpoints.

  22. If we are not going to wear our service dress uniform except when we check into a new unit why issue them? I remember when in a flying squadron/ wing you only wore your flight suit when in a flying status, two hours before and to ours after your flight. The rest of the time all pilots/officers/snco's and administrative personnel wore service dress uniform as the uniform of the day. we lowered our standards to allow the flight suit to be worn in place of the uniform. Pilots wanted to be special and stand out . Standards lowered and we became more like the USAF in appearance. Now you see enlisted Marines not in a flight status in the maintenance department wearing flight suits as coveralls. What's up with that? I thought camies was the working uniform.

  23. Major Munson,
    You are the only one who seems emotional and in a tirade. The SgtMaj simply wrote a letter with his opionon which he earned with more than 30yrs service.

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  26. Ret SgtMaj - let's be fair now, the Major already explained his strong response... "Understand the extreme nature of the position he holds and the language he uses against today's Marines when you consider my counterpoints."

    A question for you SgtMaj - at what point does one earn the right to speak their opinion? Obviously you believe that 30 yrs is sufficient, but what about 20, 10, 4? My question is rhetorical, and I apologize in advance for the tone, but a personal pet peeve (and I believe you would find it amongst many Marines) is when a Marine qualifies their opinions as accurate based purely on years of service. While time in service leads to invaluable experience, it does not necessarily make their opinions more accurate than someone with less time in service. It is much the same as assuming that someone of a certain rank (see Anonymous above) is young and inexperienced therefore they just don’t get it. Far from the truth, and we all know it.

    The Marines of today continue to uphold the high standards of the Marines of past. They are asked to fight under extremely challenging combat situations in an extremely politically charged war. Guess what – they continue to impress. Field day inspections, uniform inspections, CGI, et al. continue much as they have in the past. It might not seem like they take place as often mainly due to deployment cycles, and while some are of the opinion that they are a waste of time (again, mainly due to a units op tempo and trying to find time for inspections amongst a growing number of “requirements”) a majority understand the importance.

  27. @ Retired Sgt Maj,

    Maj Munson is merely being assertive, a trait commonly found among Marines. Hardly emotional.

    He also brings up legitimate counterpoints to SgtMaj Orris' (ret) letter, none of which you address. You just resort to ad hominem: "You are the only one who seems emotional and in a tirade."

    And a fallacious appeal to authority: "The SgtMaj simply wrote a letter with his opionon which he earned with more than 30yrs service."

    No one earns an opinion, we all just have them. Not to mention that 30 years doesn't necessarily make SgtMaj Orris' or anyone else's opinion better or more weightier than another.

    Answer the arguments, stop trying to dismiss Maj Munson's opinion as irrelevant and not an important contribution to a subject important to Marines.

  28. SgtMaj Orris (ret)January 3, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    I am delighted that my letter has aroused so much passion. I thank the Marine Corps Gazette for this forum. If I see you at the VFW you can buy me a beer!!!

    The US Marine Corps is second to none, you have written again during this conflict a great chapter for future generations of Marines to aspire too.

  29. Rich,
    What happened to you?

  30. Good comments. The history of the Corps is based on adaptation and initiative. There is nothing wrong with conversation and debate amongst Marines. The one ingredient that no one can ever forget is the warrior ethos that was injected into the individual Marine years before this debate and will continue beyond today's debate. The name "Marine" to most American citizens means bearing, discipline, espirit, and the will to fight. That cannot change.

  31. A lot of great comments and passion. In all candor, I don't see a lessening of standards or discipline. It is a matter of focus and emphasis. Everything we do is resource competitive and one of those resources is time. I would be the first one to decry a return to the old JOB. A commander doesn't need an IG to tell him the state of his equipment. If honest and asked, I bet some of the "old salts" who have commented will offer tips if we do return to those types of inspections. Tips like every Marine should have five pair of skivvies he only breaks out for inspection or have one Marine tie everyone's tie so they all have dimple and look the same. I would rather a SNCO be able to give tips on how to think and fight. We have our eye on the ball now and it is "warfighting." If it doesn't make us more effective in combat it isn't needed. We removed a portion of drill and ceremonies from numerous corporal courses. Why? Because commanders thought it was more important that corporals knew call for fire vice column of files. Don't confuse Marines in full battle rattle on the gate with a drop in standards. They are there to deter and respond not decorate. I do take umbrage at comments that Maj Munson is inexperienced and should not have an opinion. The best ideas I had as a colonel I often purloined from corporals or lieutenants. I have had a lot of senior enlisted advisers while in command. The best were good listeners. They may not agree with everything they heard from the deck plate but they didn't automatically discount it either. Finally if you like this debate wait until you read Lt Col Mike Grice's article in the February Gazette, "What Color Are Your Socks." I suspect that will really kindle a debate. At least I hope so. Semper Fi

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