Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Resolutions for Marines

Marines . . . . Happy New Year!!!! Welcome to the year 2013 . . . in the Chinese calendar the year of the Snake . . . . 

It has become common practice as we enter the New Year to make resolutions of what we are going to change or do better in our lives or in how we interact with others, both socially and professionally. From losing weight or eating less to doing more exercise, the New Year presents an opportunity to recommit to those acts and behaviors we know are better for us and those around us. So, in the spirit of the New Year the following are some recommended resolutions specifically designed for Marines of various ranks and billets. But first some PME on resolutions . . . “New Year’s Day celebrations began in pre-Christian times, beginning with the Babylonians in March but changed to January by the Romans. January gets its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. Janus was also the patron and protector of arches (Ianus in Latin), gates, doors, doorways, endings and beginnings. The custom of setting “New Years resolutions” began during this period in Rome, as they made such resolutions with a moral flavor: mostly to be good to others. But when the Roman Empire took Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century, these moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting. For example, Christians chose to observe the Feast of the Circumcision on January 1 in place of the revelry otherwise indulged in by those who did not share the faith. This replacement had varying degrees of success over the centuries, and Christians hesitated observing some of the New Year practices associated with honoring the pagan god Janus.” (Bill Petro)

Interesting . . . . I guess observing a religious event lost out to revelry over time.

Now some resolutions for Marines . . .

Things I resolve not to ever say again . . .

“It’s locked on” . . . sorry, but nothing is locked on other than death and taxes. Saying this phrase also makes me think you have stopped monitoring the event.

“To be honest,” or “To tell you the truth.” What else would you do, Marine?

“My Marines.” Or any phrase that begins with I, me or my. The Marines in your charge are not yours . . . they belong to America. In principle, using the words “us, we and our” is always much more cohesive and selfless than the all too common, “I, me and my.”

When briefing to the senior officer present avoid saying, “as you understand” or “as you have been briefed” . . . If the senior officer already understands the issue or has already been briefed, why are you wasting time by covering the subject again?

To a senior, “thank you taking time out of your busy schedule to . . . .” If the senior didn’t have the time you wouldn’t be there, and besides, what are leaders supposed to do but meet and interact with the staff and the command.

I resolve to be a better speller and practitioner of the written and spoken word . . .

Ordnance vice ordinance. Example. “There should be an ordinance against using the word ordinance to describe ordnance. Boom!”

Exacerbated vice exasperated. Example. “The situation was exacerbated by his exasperation.”

Principal vice principle. “A main principle of maintenance is to maintain our principal end items in a high state of readiness, at least according to the staff principal.”

The Nation of Colombia and the District of Columbia.

Lose vice loose. “He did not want to lose his dog due to violating the City Ordinance on leash use, because the animal was on the loose.”

Bare and bear . . . break and brake . . . . effect and affect . . . maybe we should all resolve to use our dictionary more often?

On training, I resolve . . .

That all training will be planned in detail . . . we will not just show up in the field.

Our unit will ALWAYS have a daily training schedule that we will follow to the best of our ability . . . despite changes to our plan by higher . . . and we will NEVER simply put “Daily Routine 0700-1700” as our plan of the day.

As a Commander, our unit is going to provide subordinates with more white space to train.

As a Commander our unit will do everything it can to “protect” scheduled training from being changed/cancelled . . . at Regimental/Group or higher commander, only the commander can cancel training that has been scheduled, planned for, resourced, and is less than 2 weeks from execution, especially training involving ranges, ammo and other hard to coordinate support like aviation.

If the CO provides white space to train, we are going to plan interesting and challenging training focused on combat preparedness, leadership and equipment maintenance and management.

All infantry units will conduct one 10-mile foot march per week.

Our unit will never go to the field without an OPORD and training schedule.

Our unit will never go admin or bivouac during a training event . . . we are always in the offense or defense, even during an AAR. . . we are in an operation until we return to the unit garrison area.

If we finish the training day early and all objectives have been met, we will sound liberty.

Our unit will conduct PME for all leaders, corporal and above, for one hour each week.

Every Marine and Sailor will fire their T/O weapon once a month, ideally live fire, but if that is not possible we will use a simulator.

As leaders, we will spend more effort on developing realistic, challenging training . . . . This training will include input from subordinate leaders.

On counseling/engaging the Marines in our unit I resolve to . . .

Ensure all Marines are personally counseled by a SNCO and Officer on the pro/cons.

Ensure all Marines receive a meaningful constructive discussion on their performance during fitrep counseling.

Commit as a Senior SNCO and Commander to having frank discussions with all Marines during retention interviews and tell hard truths to those who might want to stay but are not the best and most qualified.

On logistics, supply and accountability . . . I resolve . . .

That the Responsible Officer will be an Officer and those CMRs will not be delegated to SNCOs when there is an Officer who can and should be the RO.

That as an RO I will find and account for all the gear the unit possesses, not JUST what is on the CMR. There is a word for failing to do so and it is called fraud.

That our unit will find and account for all SL-3 and ensure that we inventory it monthly, at a minimum. This includes all the SL-3 in desks, lockers, chests, closets and POVs.

That the SOPs/desktop procedures we have developed will actually be followed for maintenance management procedures.

On individual performance . . . .

We will all PT more and sleep/get more rest.

We will drink less alcohol and eat a better diet.

We will do our best to quit using tobacco products.

If lifting is my thing I will do more aerobics and stretching.

If running is my thing, I will do more strength work.

If Cross Fit is my thing, I will get 5 fellow Marines to join the sessions.

Our goal is to read 5 books this year off the CMC’s reading list for our rank/grade.

We will expend as much effort on improving our mental fitness and agility as on our physical fitness.

On being a Marine . . .

We will respect our institution by setting a superior example for all around us, regardless of our rank.

If we see another Marine doing the “wrong thing” we will correct, him or her . . . don’t assume all know the right thing and just choose not to follow the rules . . . don’t be a bystander.

We will not do anything to embarrass ourselves, our unit, our family, or our Nation.

We will love each other, our unit, and our family and friends and do everything to make all around us better by our presence and actions of deed and word.

We will be Marines.

Happy New Year to all!


  1. General,

    This is a great post with some much needed resolutions in it. One resolution that you made that I'd like to advocate the flip side of is possibly this one:

    "Our unit will never go admin or bivouac during a training event . . . we are always in the offense or defense, even during an AAR. . . we are in an operation until we return to the unit garrison area."

    Speaking as an infantryman who served in A/1/8 from '95-'99, I'd respectfully suggest staying tactical for entire training operations is a bad idea. Here are my reasons why, though they may be dated since op tempo is different now (When I served we did many and long field ops, even up to six to eight days on work ups; these, obviously, wrecked havoc with your body and fitness).

    [ ] First, it's miserable staying tactical, especially when you're not in leadership. I can remember vividly two different days laying in the prone behind my rifle for hours and hours on end. I nearly went crazy, as did all the others I served with. Staying tactical makes the Marine Corps more miserable than it has to be, and encourages great Marines to get out, in my opinion.

    [ ] Second, it doesn’t require a lot of training and practice to learn how to remain tactical. You spread out, you stay alert, you practice light and noise discipline.

    [ ] Third, that time wasted behind your rifle -- pissed off and wishing you were anywhere but laying in the mud -- could be used for cross-training on other weapons systems, leadership/history lessons, PT, and dozens of other more effective things, in my opinion.

    One of the best field ops I ever had involved us getting in boots and utes and going for a hard run with our weapons and load bearing gear. In my opinion, it should be a rare day that you lay behind your weapon an entire day. Adding just a good lesson or run into it would do wonders for re-enlistments, morale, and both physical and mental fitness.

    I end with this thought. Let’s not forget that when I was in, you could only re-enlist as a B billet, so at the end of four years, you were forced to contemplate the next sixteen years, most of which would be in the infantry -- or something super taxing like DI, range instructor, or recruiter -- and much of that time you served in the infantry would be in the field, which means only one thing to a guy who just spent four years you’re in the infantry: You can about be guaranteed that you’re going to be tactical and bored out of your mind for much of the next ten-plus years. That, no matter how tough you are, is not a fun future to contemplate.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Stan R. Mitchell
    Oak Ridge, Tenn.
    Honorably discharged as a Sgt. from A/1/8 in 1999

    1. Stan,
      Point taken . . . probably overstated the point to make the point . . .your comments made me remember running PT in the field and the positive impact it had . . .I guess what I was trying to say was to make going to the field an operation and we should not just because we ran out of ideas/things to do, forget the needs for security and to always keep our guard up. V/R Neller

    2. Sorry, General. I probably over-reacted, but it's a real sore point with me.

      I fired mortars one time, in Squad Leaders Course as a Cpl.
      Prior to that, I'd never even handled them. Why was that? When so many times they were in our perimeter while we were staying tactical facing outboard and completely bored beyond belief. Same thing with 240s. I got very little hands on time with them, and when I did it was SOI and Squad Leaders Course. And given that mortar platoons used to be on alert to pick up downed pilots, which means you could lose well-trained men, it just never made sense to me. And why straight riflemen aren't better trained with medium (and especially heavy) machine guns is beyond stupid. Turret gunners go down. A lot.

      But your comment is dead on for non-infantry units. They should certainly practice tactical operations as much as they can.

      I must shut up. Thanks for your comment. I've never spoken with a General, and I half expected two MPs to show up at the door. : )

      Semper Fidelis,
      Stan R. Mitchell

  2. Sir,

    Your article was sent to me by a retired US Army SF Colonel. As our Army Brigade is in the training business, it was refreshing to see your focus on the professional development of subordinates, particularly their communication skills. The use of singular personal pronouns betrays the speaker as concerned more with self than team. I'd agree with your position regarding tactical posture during training events during all else other than the AAR portion, as we have found having everyone paying attention and somewhat comfortable puts them more into an educational rather than training mindset. Making sure folks take notes at AAR is a real pet peeve, too. Many youngsters never take notes, mostly because they were never taught to do so. Thanks for sharing your career's worth of wisdom. COL Rich Creed, USA.

  3. I have to smile when I see general officers recommending more of some kind of quality or quantity of training- or recommending more honesty, etc. The difference between the reality of the generals and the company-grade folks is alarming- and only growing more so.

    The sad fact is that the requirements and non-combat related training that units have to do gets more in the way of what is recommended in this post than anything else in my experience. What is left is very little time to do what is important- and none left for professional development, social functions, and family time. Suicides, DUIs, and discipline problems are doing nothing but rising- and the institution doesn't know what to do about it.

    I don't think generals wake up every day consciously bent on making life miserable for company-grade folks- NCOs and junior officers. But, I do think the system that they have advanced in has resulted in some emergent phenomena that get in the way of everything they recommend in public. In private they are either blind to it, deny it, don't care, or realize they can't do anything about it.

    The solution in my mind is to scrap the current system and start over. Of course, we won't do that- there's nothing threatening us that much and Congress and the President would have to act to make that happen. In the absence of that- what do we do? THAT is what I'd be interested in the generals blogging about. But, of course, that would take them recognizing that is a problem. I submit half an hour at the company level talking HONESTLY would reveal that problem to them.

  4. Anonymous,

    First of all, this was the General's first post. I doubt anyone's ever tried to, or successfully solved all the world's problems on their first blog post, let alone the more pressing issues of the imperfections in the Marine Corps.

    There are two research papers by CNA, requested by senior leaders of the Marine Corps, regarding constrained training time. These papers stastically demonstrate what you're suggesting when you say "The sad fact is that the requirements and non-combat related training that units have to do gets more in the way of what is recommended in this post." Just for a sneak peak, the problem for line Companies, and line Battalions, however, is hardly as significant as it is for, say, the air wing. So perhaps your recommendatin to sit for a half hour at the company level isn't as important as sitting for a half hour with a Squadron.

    If you are an active duty Marine in the GAL, shoot me an e-mail and I'll send the documents to you. I'm the only Mazzara in there.

    Second of all, is there a disconnect? Sure, as there always will be, regardless of how perfect one imagines a given system is. When you say scrap everything and redo it, what exactly are you talking about? How we train recruits? How we train junior officers? How we educate our NCOs and Officers throughout their careers? Or do you mean the hierarchical system that allows individual commanders to set their own command climate, a command climate that more proximately affects the mentality, attitudes, and time responsibilites of the Marines in that Commander's unit than a Commanding General?

    I feel you and what you're saying. Every time a General came out to the field, it was a big deal, dog and pony show, and naturally the Battalion Commander cared greatly about how his Command was perceived, and so there'd never be a real feeling of the pulse.

    That's one way to supervise , let everyone know you may be out on a given day, pencil it in your schedule days ahead. Is that as effective as, say, then-Brigadier General Krulak jumping in a HMMWV, stopping by at a Regimental 3-shop for 5 minutes to get the positions of the battalion, or battery, or company out in the field, and that company or battalion only getting 30 minutes warning before the General shows up? Maybe, maybe not. Just because one General doesn't use the same leadership strategies as another, doesn't mean he isn't working hard to create the best possible situation for his subordinate commands to train given all the responsibilities and requirements he has to answer to. It is not as if Generals wake up and say, "How can I hurt the combat effectiveness of my Regiments, and Battalions today?"

    1. "Scrap everything" meant to scrap DoD and start over. I submit that the issue comes from the system as a whole- which has emerged over time and resulted in some systemic phenomena that are difficult at best to see, impossible to change internally, and getting worse over time. This isn't because we're evil- it is due to the natural evolution of bureaucracies. Humans are naturally (I believe) lazy, risk-averse, and greedy- and thus their institutions naturally evolve into monstrosities that don't get much done, are safer, and reward those who go along to get along.

      How to do that- that would be a problem- maybe while we're setting up something new the current system stays in place until the new one is validated. But- that won't be as problematic as recognizing the need for such drastic change. I really don't see DoD contributing much to our national security at the moment- and the increasing complexity of our world means we can hide that fact in abstract concepts and proclamations. But, really- can we be proud of anything that has happened in the last 12 years- outside of tactical level sacrifice and bravery?

  5. (continued)

    Out of curiosity, what are you recommending, and how do you think it will fix everyone, and not just an individual here or there? Sgt Mitchell provided a good, reasonable response above to this post, I would personally love to hear about your practical solutions in a similarly measured format.

    Third of all, in some ways we at the company level feel pressed because of how we establish our personal priorities. There are 24 hours in a day, not a single one of them belongs to you. That's why our "time off" is called liberty, and that we say we are given liberty. Used to be in garrison that no one had computers. Do you really think we waste more time on PTP reporting than those who had to write accurate rosters, maintain exact accountability of equipment and weapons, and plan and write orders without computers? I would recommend that there may be more efficient ways we could do business at the Company level, senior officers aren't the only ones that can cause unnecessary (or necessary) friction.

    While I agree, for instance with much of Major Munson's criticisms of the way the Marine Corps conducts its training (see his Aug 2012 letter in response to LtCol Elfers, and in part a response to Gen Neller), I can't really agree with your back-handed, detail light and ANONYMOUS criticism that does little more than reflect what appears to be personal emotion over these issues. Maj Munson does an excellent job in that letter (and other prior pieces) of bringing reasonable and constructive criticism. I have to smile when I read someone like you just trying to throw stones.

    1. back-handed? Hmmm... Didn't think it was back-handed. Detail light- perhaps, but I find most people don't like details. And, yes- it is anonymous, because unlike the Marine Corps, perhaps, loyalty above all else is the value the Army espouses- and I would see my career ended if I posted in the open.

      I am not throwing stones- I could repeat what many Marine officers have posted lately, what many on the small wars journal have posted for years, or what Tom Ricks posts almost daily: there is a serious problem in our institution (DoD) and my brothers in the Marine Corps who I've talked to tell me it is the same there as it is in the Army. If nothing has taught me in my deployments- it is that the problem is system-wide.

      - No trust: I had to get the chief of staff of a 3-star HQ's permission 72 hours in advance to eat with my Afghan counterpart. O-6s had the same requirement. What kind of institution do we exist in that doesn't trust their O-6s to make a decision about eating dinner? I could go on- but the lack of trust in NCOs is insane...

      - A perverse personnel/promotion system: there is nothing that holds me accountable for the long-term success of my unit, the country I am in, or my soldiers. In fact, there's every reason to screw people, units, and countries - and those are the people for the most part who I see getting high rank. Not all- but most O-6s.... yes---

      - An insane reliance on training over education and metrics over judgment. How can you measure leadership??? Well- we say we can, so we must be able to. Just like measuring security in Paktika...

      - An acquisition system that doesn't get the troops what they need or want- but does it in the most expensive way possible...

      Should I go on?

      As for how to fix things- I mentioned above that I recommended to scrap it all and start over. I wasn't throwing stones- I think that DoD's interests run counter to the countries more than not today. It isn't that we're evil- it is that we are institutionally tied to a system that is incentivized to keep growing- and that underlies all of our other systems. It is natural bureaucratization. I think it will always happen- and so we need to reinvent ourselves everyone now and then. Wholesale change. Bust up the monopoly-like entities that have built empires dedicated to nothing.

  6. My initial reaction when reading this post was "I don't even have enough time to read the entire post, much less act on anything!" My reality at the small unit level is filled with daily, self inflicted friction that prevents many of the things Gen Neller resolves to improve. Combine that with poor leadership at many levels in the hierarchy, and you have a perfect recipe for "the good Marines get out and the rest get promoted."

    I try to be the best leader I possibly can because my Marines deserve nothing less. That being said, those who give everything they have are continually asked to give more. My peers who do "just enough to get by" get paid the same amount, get similar FITREPs, and are promoted at the same rate. Where's the incentive to do your best? Or even to stay in?

    I apologize for the negativity, but my version of a New Year's Resolution is slightly different. I resolve to improve in only two areas:

    1. Say "no" more.
    In my MOS, this is a terrible thing to say. As an officer, this is a terrible thing to say. But if I don't say "no", when does my work day end? I already work 14-16 hour days and on weekends. I'm perpetually behind on the administrative things that I should be caring about (i.e. FITREPs). I cannot do the detailed planning that I am responsible for. I cannot get ahead. Saying "no" more would buy me the time to get ahead and do a better job at a smaller number of tasks. As I look further down the road of my career, the lieutenant colonels I see don't work any less. The colonels I see work more than the lieutenant colonels. I can't even comprehend how the generals travel and work as much as they do. Another 10-15 years of working even more than I already do does not appeal to me, and I'm a work-a-holic!

    2. Spend more time with my family
    I have been sent all over the world many times by the Marine Corps. I've done pretty neat things and been part of incredibly rewarding operations. Those are things I'm willing to take on, and be apart from my family for, because I know I'm a part of the bigger picture. And making a difference!! But on a daily basis, working 14-16 hours a day and seeing my family for only 1 hour each day. That's not something I'm willing to take on. We deserve better. We deserve to be able to spend quality time with our families, BECAUSE we will be apart from them for long periods of time on deployments. I know that, by spending more time with my family, my daily productivity will reduce. I won't get as much accomplished. I won't be able to do the "detailed planning" as Gen Neller resolves. I'll do my best, within a realistic time frame, and then go support my family so they can support me when I need it.

  7. (continued)

    As you evaluate my comments and categorize me in your mind, take one thing into consideration: what is the impact on a unit if all of the officers and SNCOs feel this way? What about the entire Marine Corps? If even half of the leadership in a given battalion or squadron feel as I do, are they really mission capable?

    The only real solution that I can think of is good leadership at all levels. From the top, it means building an institution that rewards forward thinking and out of the box mentalities. Changing from the performance evaluation, assignments, and promotion system we have to one that BREEDS success. I get evaluated on my ability to perform at the next higher rank when my number comes up, that's it. I may be the best captain in my MOS, but I'll still spend 6-8 years in this rank simply because my number hasn't come up. I get assigned to a unit because they need a body, not because they need my skill set.

    In the middle it means putting the right commanders and senior enlisted advisors in charge who can and will establish good command climates. The senior leadership can't evaluate an O-5 or O-6 commander's "command climate" through staff meetings and briefings. You do it by having frank and open discussions with the next subordinate level of leadership.

    At the junior leader level (company grade/SNCO/NCO), it means harnessing their (hopefully) intact motivation to continue to be the best they can. Understanding the command climate that those junior leaders are setting, and holding them accountable when they fail.

    Lastly, at all levels, fire those that are not capable of good leaders. Give them adverse FITREPs. Get rid of them. As the author Jim Collins describes in the book "Good to Great": get the bad folks off the bus and the good ones on the bus. Keeping bad leaders in place does more to destroy a unit than anything else.

    As Gen Neller stated in his follow up post, I sincerely welcome discussion on any or all of my comments. Get fired up. The only way we can change is if people are energized to do so.