Friday, January 20, 2012

PME for Peace?

We are at risk of being blind-sided by peace. With the end of the Iraq War and the gradual end to the Marine involvement in Afghanistan, more heads are turning towards the future.  Future threats, flashpoints, and theaters of operations are thrown about in policy papers and casual conversation.  A new Pacific-centric posture has been laid out with a new Marine Corps outpost opening in Australia.  In the military blogosphere, pundits argue about the death of COIN, the lessons learned from the Long War, and the looming budget cuts. However, as an institution, are we adequately preparing ourselves for the impending peace?  Simply put, I am not sure.  This blog post is not to offer the best solutions but to identify an issue and stimulate conversation with like-minded professionals to determine our options.

Like many readers of this blog, I joined the Marine Corps after September 11th and have no operational experience with that murky concept called “peacetime.”  You would be hard-pressed to find a captain or sergeant, even staff-sergeant, who experienced the peacetime Marine Corps.  Almost our entire cadre of company-level leadership is used to a wartime footing.  Beyond stories of the Officer Clubs, which apparently were not always a dying institution, and golf, I am not sure what to even think of the peacetime military.

Like many things, the Marine Corps has been at this crossroads before.  However, there seems to be little institutional knowledge of how we transition to peace.  Marines are familiar with our past exploits from 1775 forward, but who knows how the Marine Corps handled the transition to the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in the 1970s?  How did we handle racial integration, the incredible budget cuts of the Eisenhower Administration, or even the brief peace after Desert Storm?

The Commandant’s Reading List is intended to help Marines study warfare.  We need a list of books to help us study peace with an eye towards future conflict.  This means identifying peacetime training programs that produced a true force in readiness and did not devolve into activities with no bearing on battlefield victory.  All readers of this blog have some activity they consider pointless, or worse, that we devote valuable training times towards.

Personally, I’m only familiar with a few books that touch on peacetime experiences.  These tend to be memoirs that briefly mention the inter-war years before delving into the war stories.  Pages devoted to the peacetime military bemoan the lack of operating funds or the general poor state of readiness.

We need a proper study of garrison to avoid the worst complacencies of peace. We must continue to train like we fight while repairing our damaged equipment, minds, bodies, and families.  This will be an extraordinarily difficult task because while training to defeat our nation’s enemies, we will be training to fight our own weaker tendencies.

We owe our Marines, both our current veterans and the future Marines who will join during peace, the same level of determined professionalism towards peacetime training as we devoted towards counterinsurgency.  An opportunity exists for us to ready ourselves for a seamless transition to peacetime training and mindset.  A mindset that is not characterized by aimlessness and a toxic zero-defect mentality, but one that is focused on integrating the lessons written in blood and mentoring future Marines for our next war.

Fellow readers, I await your suggestions.


  1. The last couple years, I too have wondered what the post OIF/OEF period would hold and I think your post is a great gateway to meaningful, necessary dialogue on the matter. I think it is important though to qualify what we mean by “peacetime”.

    I do not necessarily think this was one of the points of your post but I would caution against equating “peacetime”, or a period where the U.S. military is not involved in sustained, major combat operations such as OIF and OEF with reduced operational tempo for the Marine Corps.

    I would agree that some of our sister services have distinctly different “peacetime” and “wartime” postures and tempos. However, the Marine Corps’ expeditionary nature and mission do not allow us to fall into that trap. Just consider the, “period of brief peace following the Gulf War” as an example. Between the Gulf War and 9/11, the Marine Corps participated in operations (the big “O” type) in Somalia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Haiti, East Timor, Liberia, Rwanda, Kuwait, Zaire, and Kenya just to name a few.

    Marines may not have seen full scale combat in all those locations, but these were also not training exercises.

    1. Ed,

      I agree. Just as the phrase "complacency kills" applies to that Marine on post at 0300, it applies to the USMC on a macro level as well. I hope that we can fill our new found "white space" with the things we put on the back burner while executing PTPs at the rapid rate, and also find a way to commit some new styles of warfighting to enduring doctrine (the latter I think we are doing...). I personally would like to see us muster a larger effort in getting young Marines and NCO's into PME - Sergeant's Course, Corporals Course, etc...(I am sure there are 1stSgts out there that would agree). I fear some officer PME is falling by the wayside as well, to the tune of EWSDEP being limited to "box of books" and Blackboard training (possibly due to budget restraints?). Either way, lieutenants and captains are missing out if they can no longer learn MCPP, leadership ethics and warfighting doctrine from a warm body with a number of years of experience. If anyone can speak on the EWSDEP changes, I welcome the comments for my own understanding. Maybe sometime soon I will "kick my piece" on why we missed the mark with the new Corporal's Course curriculum.

  2. Here are a few archive articles to provide some context to the ongoing dialogue:

    Let's Make Peacetime Pay! by LtCol D. R. Tyler, Marine Corps Gazette, (published in November 1970).

    The Corps' Peacetime Functions, Marine Corps Gazette, (published in May 1990).

    Let us know if there's a particular article in our archives you're looking for and we'll go digging.

  3. Rodney,
    I would expand your emphasis on PME to include “education” in general. Now is the time to take advantage of not only our own corporate knowledge that has been tested and validated over the last decade but also to look outside the club for inspiration. Resources abound that can help us sharpen our sword as well as more effectively run a staff, more efficiently manage finite resources, and develop the critical skills required to tackle the strategic decisions that will guide the Marine Corps through the next era.

    Another area that I feel is critical to “resetting force” is getting back to the fundamentals of taking care of our people and gear. Yes, I am talking about comprehensive formal inspection cycles such as CGI, LRE, FSMAO, etc. I am not saying we have been completely neglecting our people and gear but I am saying both have been ridden hard and put away wet over the last decade.

    I can remember spending significant time as a Lieutenant preparing for, standing, or recovering from such inspections and I was not even the specific target of the inspection teams (as were the SupO, MMO, Adjutant, etc). From my perspective at that time, it seemed like a monumental waste of time and resources; it was time not spent going to the field and honing our skills as “warfighters” (so I thought).

    Some years later, I had the opportunity to undergo these inspections again, but this time as a Battalion XO. Like many units, ours had just returned from a deployment and experienced significant turnover of leadership and key staff personnel. Preparations involved a lot of work and the inspections themselves were, at times somewhat unpleasant, but overall the experience was invaluable. In many cases I observed relief in the Lieutenants and SNCOs on the staff that either had schoolhouse knowledge still fresh in their heads or remembered business before OEF/OIF. In their hearts, they have known how to conduct business but had been doing what they could to keep pace with the blistering optempo.

    Now I recognize that for some, these inspections hold a stigma or possibly some horrible memories. That is an entirely different discussion by itself. However, like PME, events such as FSMAO and CGI should incorporate the lessons learned over the past decade. They should not be an inquisition (“zero-defect mentality”) or worse, a check in the box (“aimlessness”). They should provide Commanders with an accurate evaluation of how his staff and leadership are taking care of people and equipment while simultaneously providing the staff with a valuable learning experience.

  4. Ed (sir),

    I agree with your take on general education. Below is a link to my blog that (coincidentally) I have just started addressing just that. Feel fee to recommend it to anyone you think it could benefit or would find it interesting. It is in its infancy right now but will grow quickly. I think the easiest and most cost effective method the USMC could use to get leaders some immediate outside the box education would be to make some additions / changes to the professional reading program list. "Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell is on there for captains, but the rest is very military specific. I think lieutenants, captains and above could benefit greatly from reading Drucker, Jim Collins, Eli Goldratt and the like and maybe do with a little less Rommel.

  5. All,

    I absolutely agree with the need to reset our broken equipment and bodies. Our Marines need to take time to help torn shoulders and destroyed knees as well as abused vehicles and weapons.
    However, I'm worried that we'll reach a point of diminishing returns if we keep our focus on equipment readiness vice complete operational readiness. JOB inspections are ways for NCOs to develop as leaders and ensure gear accountability but there is a difference between HAVING your gear and MASTERING your gear. I'd rather see Marines burning through green glove inserts because they are in the field so much than having a a pristine wall locker.
    Also, some notes on the current EWSDEP program (which I finished this summer while attending NPS). Personally, since I conducted lots of inter-staff planning in Afghanistan, I learned very little from the course. However, deployment experience will soon be in short supply for junior officers so I think it will mean more in the next few years.

    Finally, does anyone know about Marine officers serving as observers in other wars? Its a chance to learn from other's mistakes without paying in blood. LtCol Galula witnessed the Chinese Civil War first hand after serving in World War 2 and took those lessons to Algeria. I think MCIA, MCCDC, etc would benefit by getting our officers and SNCOs on observation missions in other hot spots like the Naxalite insurgency in India or parts of Africa.

    1. When they were included, JOBs with pristine wall lockers and uniform inspections were a small aspect of the CGI. In fact during my command’s CGI in 2010 they were not even conducted. The focus of the inspection was personnel readiness and training management. More specifically we were evaluated on how effective the command was at taking care of its people (administratively and medically) and how well we managed and conducted HQMC-mandated training. I see administrative, medical and training readiness as being significant components of “complete operational readiness”.

      Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that formal inspections by themselves constitute the silver bullet for combat readiness. I do however believe they are important pieces to the puzzle.

      I apologize if I brought this topic in a direction not intended by the author. Joe, to re-center the discussion, perhaps you (or anyone else) could offer some examples of, “worst complacencies of peace” and “our own weaker tendencies.”

      I would argue that the last decade of OEF/OIF has resulted in some weaker tendencies; for one we have, in the words of the Commandant, grown into a, “culture of plenty”. Fiscal austerity is knocking on the door and something that we have not had to deal with for a while now. Even in the bountiful years of OEF/OIF, the Marine Corps has remained loosely tied to its frugal roots (relative to some other services) but the same generation of leaders that has known only a “wartime” Marine Corps, has also never really had to get the job done with truly finite resources.

  6. Ed,

    I also went through a CGIP in 2009 and, especially from a H&S company perspective, think it was necessary. It got my intel shop in order and my Marines and myself learned a lot.

    With no personnel experience with the peacetime Marine Corps, I'll mention a story told to my TBS class by Colonel B.P. McCoy. As a 81mm platoon commander in the 1980's, he mentioned that the battalion's forward observers went to the range with lawn chairs until he corrected it. That is the tendency we need to fight like the plague. We have to still train like we fight and, as our experienced Marines move on, try not to forget how we fight.

    Again, I also concur on the "culture of plenty" problem. Luckily, some of the truly basic riflemen skills don't require a lot of resources (relatively speaking) to master.

  7. Joe,

    Thank you for what you posted to start this thread. My foremost impression from carefully reading and weighing what you wrote there is, there is no peacetime for Marines on active duty. As far as I can see, distinctions made between war and peace are by and for the sake of those who have not worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

    After enlisting, I served 25MAY83 to 24MAY87. While at MCRD, our Series Commander said offhand, "the call can come at any time." Then events overseas, fall '83 thru spring '86, seemed to conspire to prove the point! I lived through history in the making, entirely during peacetime; others did not.

    The reading list as I recall includes the book, First to Fight. It was published in 1984 and, I say, it remains relevant for Marines. In 1986 was the movie, Heartbreak Ridge. Though it may be hokey, it was no less true about the Corps as I know it.

    Marines, those drawn to the Corps, make it what it is. But success cannot be taken for granted. Besides Semper Fidelis, I found certain everyday expressions helpful in trying to persevere -- heart, character, and so on. Moreover, people at large trust Marines and remembering that also helped me in being one.

    Thanks, again!

  8. Sir,

    You present a valid point and question at the same time. What will we do when the the Marine Corps reverts back to a peace time Corps? The answer is simple, we will continue to do what we have always done. Train. Train as if the the next fight is tomorrow. I joined the Marine Corps in August of 2000 as a private and had a UDP to Okinawa before the events of September 2011 ever occured. For our work up for the UDP we did multiple platoon and company field ops (non-live fire) before we deployed. Our only major training evolutions conducted were a winter and summer bridgeport, a BN offense and defensive fex and a CAX. Throughout the course of the work up we conducted JOBs, uniform inspections, and other events now long forgotten and looked at as garrison wastes of time.

    I am an 0369 Gunny now, young by USMC standards, but looked at by my junior Marines as an old dinosuar from a distant past and a different Marine Corps. But they know that I can still run circles around 90% of them and I always have a way to solve tactical problems they don't know the answer to. My point is that it will be up to the Company Gunnies and the Operation Chiefs in the Heavy Weapons Companies to help guide and mentor the Company and Platoon commanders into a smooth transition from 10 years of constant combat. This will provide them the other half of the Marine Corps that so many Marines both officer and enlisted have never had to experience.

    Semper Fi