I will readily admit that, after more than a quarter century of service in the United States Marine Corps, there are times when the quality of the Corps’ Officers and Marines still leaves me awestruck. This is true even after seeing it firsthand in an eight-month combat tour in Iraq. Now is one of those times. Danger Room has an article about the recent and very successful deployment of Third Battalion, Fifth Marines to the Sangin District of Helmand Province. Two paragraphs in particular leapt from the page.
To maintain morale, officers and NCOs kept their Marines focused on the need to defeat the enemy and avenge the fallen, and kept them active so that they did not have time to mope. “You really can’t prepare a Marine to lose his good buddy or see another one of his buddies with both his legs blown off,” said Captain Chris Esrey, commander of India company. “The best way to overcome that is to get right back out on a patrol the next day because it doesn’t happen every time you go out.”
The insurgents were similarly surprised by the behavior of their new enemies. In the face of numerous and often gruesome casualties, Marine officers refused to reduce the frequency of patrols into dangerous areas or decrease the fraction of patrols conducted on foot, which remained constant at ninety-five percent to the end of the year. When confronted by insurgent fighters, the Marines did not fire warning shots or back away in order to avoid harming civilians or insurgents, but instead kept fighting until the enemy was destroyed or driven off.
Read those words, and read them again. The quality of Officer, SNCO, and NCO leadership required to do such things cannot be overstated. Nor can the courage and professionalism of the junior Marines, who left the wire daily with the near-certainty of contact with a dangerous and deadly enemy.
In today’s military filled with risk-aversion, promotion and emphasis of goals and missions of little or no relevance to combat readiness or efficiency, process over product, and this or that management fad that costs millions to tell us things we already know, EVERYONE who wears Officers’ insignia should ask themselves whether they could step into the boots of LtCol Morris, or his company and platoon commanders, and have the courage to make the decisions, have the strength of character to lead, as those men did.
Because of the high rate at which 3/5 was suffering casualties, higher headquarters encouraged General Mills to withdraw the battalion from Sangin for a period of physical and psychological recuperation. Mills and Morris both rejected the proposal. The Marines of 3/5 said that they wanted to finish what they had started, and Mills and Morris thought that pulling them out in the middle of the struggle would be the most demoralizing action possible.
For those wearing stars, or about to wear stars, ask yourselves those same questions regarding Lieutenant General (sel) Richard Mills. These are your measuring sticks.
Because what the Officers and Marines of 3/5 did is what being in the profession of arms is, in the end, all about.
Everything else is window dressing.
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- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC