Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Days before VCRs, Chapter One

My thirteen-year-old daughter looked at me as if I had starred in an Alien movie when I recently mentioned that there once was a time when there were no VCRs. Her look convinced me that I had just parachuted in from another planet, and that I had at least six eyes and some tentacles waving about. “No VCRs, what did you do?”

Interestingly, I believe that this would be the same look that many of today’s Marines would give me, if I fully described the shape of the Corps when I was commissioned in 1978. When I look back it is hard to believe some of the alligators the Marine Corps has wrestled to the ground over the last 27 years. The result of this wrangling is the current shape of the Corps, which I believe may be its acme.

The Marines deployed throughout the world have done a superb job over the last four years. Their skill on the battlefield rivals any period of the Corps history, and they may indeed, claim that this is the finest group of men we have ever sent into combat. They prove it nearly every day.

Plainly put, the Marine Corps was in sad shape in 1978. While we could still claim that we had the finest Marines ever, on an individual level, we had some of the worst as well. Training was disconnected from resources and reality. Procurement programs reflected a shopping mall mentality, vice a requirements driven process. Drugs were omnipresent. There was neither “high speed” individual gear nor improved weapons systems. There was little organization and much disarray. My first squadron had nine Class A mishaps in twelve months. It was a Wild West Show.

Plainly put, we could barely get out of our own way. But the Marine Corps dug itself out of this hole over time, and looking back, it was no small feat. What were some of the things that got us back on track?

Policy changes.

Moving to an all-volunteer force, in combination with drug testing, moved us farther along than any other action. In short, the all-volunteer force eliminated, for the most part, the malcontents and whiners. Drug testing virtually eliminated what had been pretty brazen drug use. Together, they conditioned the people side for positive change. The volunteer basis of the force ensured that at its core, the Marine Corps would be populated by people who wanted to be Marines. Simple, but an absolute requirement to building a profssional team. The drug testing ensured compliance to a policy that correctly viewed drug use as a steep impediment to professionalism and success.

Modifying enlistment terms to lengths that made operational sense was another key in the turnaround effort. Often units would prepare to deploy and lose up to a third of its strength due to personnel losses as FIRST term enlistments expired. By more closely tying enlistment lengths with initial training requirements and deployment schemes, units were able to deploy with the right troops who had the right training. Officer contracts in the aviation specialties also began to lengthen, so that most aviators would be eligible for two deployment cycles prior to their contracts expiring. This practice ensured that each deploying unit would have a highly trained "core" that would be able to tackle nearly any assignment.

Development of the unit deployment scheme helped to establish a rhythm within the Corps that became much like a heartbeat. You began to know what to expect and when to expect it. This lent a lot of stability to the force and allowed for better personnel and asset planning. Integrating scheduled Changes-of-Command began to eliminate the disruption that irregular, or short notice COCs created. This rhythm began to reflect all of the cycles within a unit; turnover, training, deployment, COC, turnover, and on and on. The rhythm cushioned the disruptions and brought a certain "flow" into the blood of the Corps.

Together these policy shifts began to professionalize the manpower side of things, and it gave the Marine Corps the basis in which to begin molding a truly professional force, managed and led, in a professional way.

Chapter Two…Changes in Training, to follow.


Anonymous said...


Sounds like the beginning of a multi part essay on the recent history of our beloved Corps. A good read so far.

I can testify to the effectiveness of the drug policy. You would be surprised (or more properly, disappointed) at how many Marines pop on the pee test when they show up at SOI for either ITB or MCT.

I know one dude who did it intentionally. Guess that makes him both a pothead and a malcontent.

Anonymous said...

1. Just found your site. Have enjoyed and agreed w/ your comments on other sites.
2. Disappointed to hear that Marines are still having drug problems -suspect the little honeys are leading them astray.
3. As an aside, I was in the vicinity when the emperor discovered the state of his clothes on that one:
Seventh Marines, earliest eighties, the Commandant was having a meeting with company commanders and various staff types. One of the staff officers gave a estimated figure of something like 10 or 15 percent using drugs. A company commander in my battalion stood up and said the figure was more like 85 to 90 percent. GEN Barrow was incensed, but every other company commander in the room backed him up.
Within a month we had authority to start outprocessing troops w/ 3 Article 15's.
I was a company XO and wound up doing the paperwork for about 20 discharges. As I recall, the record was 8 Article 15's.
Yet another aside: this month's Gazette announced this officer was selected for BG. Must have broken time -he's got to be winking at 30 years service.
Looking forward to part 2.

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