Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category
In our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Steve Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LT Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.
Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.
With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work. What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).
In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.
Coursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.
iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas. Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website. In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.
While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.
edX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.
Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.
Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service
Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.
While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.
If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.
This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
In Helene Cooper’s New York Times piece published this Wednesday, “Nuclear Corps, Sidelined in Terror Fight, Produces a Culture of Cheating,” several former “missileers” offered justification for a recent spate of somewhat unsavory behavior among their ranks, to include a General’s drunken antics while on official visit in Moscow, violation of key security procedures, and a newly unearthed culture of cheating. The excuse? Excessively high standards maintained in a post 9/11 era which did not prominently feature a likely role for the American nuclear arsenal. Most tellingly, Mr. Brian Weeden, a former Air Force launch officer from Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, was quoted as saying, “The mantra had always been that the nuclear deterrent would keep America safe. But it didn’t. So I felt, not only did we fail to deter those attacks, but we couldn’t do anything about it after.”
As a Marine officer, my branch of the service never has nor will have any part in the “nuclear triad” comprising our nation’s nuclear defense from the air, land, and sea. The closest link I can claim to our nation’s nuclear defense is an undergraduate course in nuclear thermodynamics and a few classmates who serve as junior officers in our submarine fleet; I definitely do not know the first thing about serving in a missile silo. I do know, however, that regardless of mission pertinence – something Mr. Weeden hugely (and incorrectly) undervalues about his own community – elite standards are an asset for leaders to ensure mission readiness, not an obstacle to be circumvented for appearance’s sake. As such, unethical compromise of standards is not a failure of mission applicability, but a failure of leadership.
As it stands, though, the claim that the nuclear deterrent failed to keep America safe from September 11th (and using it to justify slacking standards in the wake of declining morale) is akin to saying that mouse traps failed to rid a house of pests because a fly came in through the window. While the “classic” Soviet challenge has been removed, threat of nuclear war still hangs as a mushroom shaped cloud over the international arena. There exists an entire legitimate body of scholarship debating the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence (with Thomas Schelling as its father), but to dismiss even minimally deterrent nuclear arms as failing to deter a terrorist attack misses their point completely. Our nuclear stockpiles are primarily designed to deter other states – not individual actors – from attacking the United States (in a nuclear capacity or otherwise). Regardless of individual terrorist attacks, other nuclear states – not all friendly – still exist in the world. As such, the mission of our nuclear triad remains necessary.
Independent of the relevance of the nuclear corps’ mission, however, to blame excessively high standards, backed by “few carrots for rewards and far more sticks for retribution,” for a culture of cheating is sorely misguided. The stakes in a hypothetical nuclear exchange are undoubtedly higher than perhaps any other military mission, but soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines all train to missions of substantial gravitas, where expectations should be – and usually are – high. In these cases, no matter how many “sticks” are doled out for failure, it is incumbent upon the leadership in a given unit to enforce those high expectations. Not meeting such standards is one issue; deceitfully circumventing them is entirely another. To dishonestly sidestep those standards, at best, keeps a leader wilfully ignorant of his unit’s shortcomings, and, at worst, leaves our nation woefully underprepared.
Sunlight has obviously proven the best disinfectant for our missileers; individuals are being held accountable, and appropriate action being taken. More troubling is the emerging justification of mission inapplicability (no matter how misguided) for such behavior. Immediate threats to national security will constantly be in flux; leaders’ obligation to remain prepared while serving as moral and ethical reference points for their subordinates can never be.
Colonel Robert Boyles’ article, “Air-Sea Battle Disclaimers And ‘Kill Chains,’” is thoughtfully crafted and facilitates exactly the type of Air-Sea Battle Concept discussion that should be occurring in PROCEEDINGS. The Air-Sea Battle Office welcomes this kind of assessment as it improves our end product.
Colonel Boyles’ article was good food for thought in the Air-Sea Battle forum, and as Director of the Air-Sea Battle Senior Steering Group, I directed our team to take aboard his comments, concerns and recommendations (The chair of the Senior Steering Group rotates among the Services. The next chair is BGen George W. Smith, Jr., USMC starting 1 February 2014). We evaluated Colonel Boyles’ recommendations, and I might add that his article was extremely timely as this week the Air-Sea Battle Office is hosting a working group in Washington of subject matter experts from all Service Echelon II commands to develop our Implementation Master Plan for Fiscal Years 2015-2017.
In our analysis of Colonel Boyles’ commentary, we find several points worthy of deeper analysis. He is absolutely correct that Air-Sea Battle uses the analysis of effects chains to determine the needed characteristics of the desired future joint force. He opines that kill chains are ASB’s “approach to war” and an attempt to “create strategic context” by defining “war on its own technical or tactical-level terms.” We agree to disagree on this. The truth is that most military weapons systems are developed to contribute to or accomplish an effects chain or break a known adversary’s effects chain. Understanding how a potential adversary will use his weapons systems and developing capabilities that can defeat or negate these weapons is a worthy pursuit and capability development often uses effects chain analysis to establish requirements and acquisition needs. It would be incorrect to conclude that because ASB uses effects chain analysis, that ASB is only about effects chains and ignores other aspects of warfighting, force development, and operational art. Effects chains are the “coin of the realm” in building the right force design and buying the right fleet architecture (platforms and payloads) for the future joint force. Effects chains tie programs to operational effects and are understood by senior leaders, acquisition professionals, budgeteers, and appropriators in Congress.
The author goes on to list historical strategic failures which he believes were caused by flawed operational concepts – concepts which failed (in his analysis) because they did not consider all operational variables (emphasis added). He provides many historical examples for examination. Let’s begin with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. In each of these cases, freedom of action was not the problem – the U.S. or Israel already had access, or the fight to gain access was over quickly. ASB’s conceptual design would not apply to a great degree in these cases. With air and maritime superiority in hand, the flaws in these operations came in the application and expectations of the power projection or follow-on operations – not in the operations required to gain and maintain freedom of action. This is why the concept is not just “about China.” As weapons systems proliferate it is important to keep the concept in context. ASB is not about any one particular challenger; rather, it addresses any adversary bold enough to field an anti-access/area denial strategy that might restrict our Joint Force access in the Global Commons. ASB is not limited to a particular anti-access/area denial challenge nor does it attempt to describe or conceptualize what follow-on operations will be. As a limited concept, ASB tries to set the conditions for follow-on operations – whatever is needed and appropriate. It should be noted that the problem ASB is trying to resolve is not a small one. The assertion that the “little c” concept of ASB is overshadowing more important ideas simply ignores the problem of access and freedom of action, now and in the future, and assumes the joint force will always be able to achieve freedom of action without purposeful force development activities and the development of specific capabilities. Operational access and freedom of maneuver under an adversary’s A2/AD umbrella is not a trivial problem.
Later in the piece, the author discusses Syria. All the missions laid out as important for an operation in Syria (which looks a lot like the missions required if the U.S. were to invade and occupy) require access and freedom of action. Syria may not be able to sustain a prolonged and robust “A2/AD” resistance to U.S. forces, but that does not mean Syria in 2013 is representative of the security environment in 2025 and beyond. Building a force to fight today’s war amidst a rapidly changing security environment is the quickest path to an obsolete force, optimized for missions no longer the most strategically relevant.
Next, the author critiques the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) Concept in terms of what he calls “unbounded language,” which seems to contradict his assertion that strategic failures occur when concepts do not consider all operations variables. Regardless, his extensive list of references does not include the unclassified version of the Concept published in May 2013. The following quote from the unclassified Concept describes its “bounds” and the work of the ASB Office:
“ASB is a limited objective concept that describes what is necessary for the joint force to sufficiently shape A2/AD environments to enable concurrent or follow-on power projection operations. The ASB Concept seeks to ensure freedom of action in the global commons and is intended to assure allies and deter potential adversaries. ASB is a supporting concept to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), and provides a detailed view of specific technological and operational aspects of the overall A2/AD challenge in the global commons.”
This language establishes the bounds of ASB in order to establish freedom of action in the global commons that enables follow-on operations. Freedom of action in the global commons is needed for a whole host of possible military operations. In many cases, U.S. forces already have it and it is not likely to be challenged. ASB is focused on those cases where freedom of action is or can be challenged by adversaries with particular capabilities. So, even in this context, ASB is quite bounded by the problem it is trying to address.
Finally, we would also challenge the author’s assertions regarding Title 10 and the Joint Staff. After the closure of Joint Forces Command, DoD defined the Title 10 role of force development as almost exclusively belonging to the Services. DoD invests the Services with the responsibilities to “develop concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures, and organize, train, equip, and provide…forces.” It also directs the Joint Staff to “provide guidance on joint concept development and experimentation to the Combatant Commands and Services.” In other words, the Joint Staff oversees the Services for force development. The reality is the Joint Staff J7 is an ex-officio member of the Air-Sea Battle Office governing boards and the Air-Sea Battle Implementation Master Plan feeds directly into the Joint Staff’s implementation efforts for Joint Operational Access. In fact, the close alignment between the two concepts on anti-access/area denial and Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) position on the so-called controversial idea of “deep” strike will undoubtedly surprise many readers.
I return to where I started. This week, we assemble the Air-Sea Battle Working Groups at the Washington Navy Yard to work on developing the Implementation Master Plan for Fiscal Years 2015-2017. We laud Colonel Robert Boyles for his analysis and I personally invited him to join us in this important Working Group discussion. Colonel Boyles showed up for the event today and I commended his research, his perspective and his article to everyone in the room. As he did for us, I encouraged all participants in the Working Group to challenge the assumptions. Colonel Boyles concluded the meeting with the quote, “I may be critical of the Concept, but I am a believer in Air Sea Battle!”
That is exactly the kind of approach to doing business that we need. I hope others out there will take advantage of the forum of PROCEEDINGS and the U. S. Naval Institute to influence critical thinking of our warfighters of the future.
Well, we had a little trouble with the technical side of live podcasting last week (and, as my old Macintosh computer used to say, “It’s not my fault”) but CDR Salamander and I are, if nothing else, persistent.
So please join us on Sunday, as we fight with electrons and, uh, other things in our presentation of Midrats Episode 210: “John Kuehn & Joint Operations from Cape Fear to the South China Sea”
Though nations for thousands of years have been wrestling with the challenge of Joint operations, as an island nation with significant global interests ashore, the USA has a rich history of doing Joint right, and blind parochialism. (Note by E1: Sal wrote this and your guess is as good as mine in what he meant in that last part there. Or, just maybe the electrons have struck again – Red Lectroids?)
Using this as a starting point, this Sunday for the full hour we will have returning guest, John Kuehn.
Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.
We will also discuss his latest book, just released by Praeger, A military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century.
Please join us live at 5pm Eastern U.S. on 12 January 2014 or pick the show up later by clicking here.
Every listen is a strike against the Lectroids!
By Chap Godbey
This photo sort of looks like a ship, right? It is, but then again it’s also something else.
For this example, the vessel–an Iraqi patrol craft made by an American company and part of a U.S. foreign military sales contract–is not just one of the assets Iraq’s military needs to protect a very crowded and consequential waterspace. It’s also a multi-decade relationship, where both countries get to know each other on an operator-to-operator level as well as on other levels. That relationship can have strategic effects as the lieutenants become admirals, and the relationship builds trust, access, and communications paths outside the formal diplomatic process and regionally as well as bilaterally.
One of the patrol spaces this ship protects drives the entire country’s economy–the oil platforms and pipeline infrastructure–and its shipping. This is recognizable to a military planner, though the economic part takes a bit of wider thinking to understand how U.S. security cooperation fits into it with training and equipment. But let’s add something important on here: U.S. policy is to support Iraq’s reintegration into the region, and it’s a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. with regard to Iraq. The military sphere tends to be a bit easier in reconnection than some other spheres; navies, since they’re mobile sovereign territory in international waters, can be the fastest of those–especially when the U.S. is acting as an honest broker. To pull off that kind of multinational reintegration is not solely a military function, but can utterly depend on the military aspect. If the U.S. really wants a whole-of-Executive-Branch (much less whole-of-government) approach to a policy problem, DoD’s mass has to be subordinated to the overall effort, even when it might not necessarily make short term military sense.
The example above isn’t perfect. Security assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan has been far from the standard situation seen by a security cooperation office, and special authorities in the law made security cooperation in these countries much different than in other countries. A more forceful example would be where the host nation is paying for every penny of the asset, since feelings about “what ‘we’ are giving ‘them'” emotionally colors the discussion, and it’s worthwhile to emphasize that foreign military sales is not necessarily coming from the U.S. taxpayer. On the other hand, the nonmilitary effects of this ship and crew, and the regional effects of what this ship does and the separate bilateral relationships that navy has with regional navies and the U.S., are pretty clear and useful to bring out the challenge of thinking about security cooperation as more than arms sales or exercises.
Many folks seem to miss the nonmilitary and regional effects of the military-to-military relationship built out of security cooperation, or even that the process is heavily structured in U.S. law. This post about security cooperation misses important considerations about what security cooperation is and what it’s supposed to do (this one by the same author is better, though of different focus). A comment of mine on that War On the Rocks post identifies structural problems in the argument, and there are other opportunities for quibbling, but that post proves that it’s worthwhile to outline some basics of SC with a view towards those regional and extramilitary effects.
Security cooperation (SC) is not very familiar to most operators in the Department of Defense. SC’s a difficult skill set. SC can pay off not only as a force multiplier, but also to provide diplomatic effects which can be game-changing. DoD personnel may only experience SC once, as an exercise or engagement event, or by doing a tour that includes a collateral duty associated with foreign military sales (FMS). More experience is in the foreign area officer (FAO) commmunity, whose officers can wind up doing SC from several angles over multiple tours, but there aren’t many FAOs around. Because the skills needed are relatively obscure inside DoD, understanding of what SC is becomes fragmentary and often misses the point. American SC can suffer from that bad understanding. (The way U.S. government agencies in the Executive Branch staff and train for SC missions doesn’t help the problem, either.)
DoD isn’t the agency where SC initially gets defined—because SC is not solely a DoD mission; it’s a State mission for which Defense is the executive agent.
Let’s define some terms here. SC includes
- security assistance (SA), which itself includes
- foreign military sales (FMS) weapons sales,
- International Military Education and Training (IMET),
- a multi-page list of other programs that somehow fit or get shoehorned into the process, and
- security cooperation (Sc), a confusingly named subset of the bigger SC which mainly deals with exercise events with host nation or meetings between military personnel.
The first one, SA, is covered under federal law. (Note: IANAL and doing this off the top of my head.) U.S. Code Title 22 is the main law that covers diplomatic and consular functions and is for the Department of State what Title 10 is for DoD. The second part of security cooperation, the non-FMS part also called security cooperation, has rules under Title 22 but is more under a section of Title 10. That part of title 10 used is different from what you might expect, and it’s administered by personnel working under a different rule set than those under the full operational command of a COCOM. DoD personnel in country doing SC serve under the direction and supervision of the Chief of the United States Diplomatic Mission to that country (usually the U.S. ambassador to that country). Security cooperation, including security assistance, is a diplomatic function, under the Ambassador’s control in country. FMS cases and IMET and exercises have significant State Department approval and coordination–and additional coordination and approval by other agencies, and in some cases White House/Congressional approval–even though DoD has the mass and the executive agent role. The effect can sometimes be that the poor bureaucrat in the other agency is either like Horatius at the bridge or Niedermeyer in the riot, trying to get the massive influx of DoD people to go a different direction. It also can become counterintuitive, since American businesses might be fighting for the contract, or if one player–even a host nation–decides it’s worth lobbying for their interests more effectively to Congress than another player.
Note here that the Security Assistance Management Manual, the reference used in the War On The Rocks post, isn’t the controlling document. The law both trumps one agency’s manual and also highlights the diplomatic and interagency nature of SC. It also implies that the SC function is something we do as an ongoing and sustaining function of a country team, rather than something switched on once a COCOM has commenced large scale operations.
Since SC is a diplomatic function, one has to consider SC less like a military operation and more like a diplomatic operation. Results will be diffuse. They will have “one step forward two steps back” aspects. Results will be hard to measure in many respects. The effort will be like a coalition effort, with occasionally immense frustration on the ground and in the staff paying off strategically, but in different spheres than expected, or with effects long after the staffer is gone. For a planner looking for consistent positive results with a focused engineering-style goal oriented mindset this is anathema. A DoD planner or operator wants to get from point A to point B in a direct and uncluttered manner. Diplomacy, especially the work performed by Department of State colleagues on the country team on ground in country, is more chaotic and messy. If done right, SC advances the national interest of the United States; builds networks, access and relationships beneficial to the U.S.; eases stresses among and between partners; provides a common operating framework in the field; and provides a useful diplomatic tool as part of an embassy country team.
(Oh, by the way: There’s no Title 10 “command” in security cooperation organizations. There is no sheriff’s badge, no salad fork, no “forces”, even though the responsibility can weigh heavily, and DoD personnel could be in remote and dangerous locations. You’re a part of the embassy country team. There’s not even an organic Article 15 or medal-awarding authority, unless you’re a general for whom a COCOM has specifically delegated it in writing.)
For representatives of either agency to best advance U.S. national interest in the long term, both Defense and State have to be able to restrain some of their agency-level cultural impulses to achieve SC most effectively. Training, both in State’s A100 class for their newly commissioned officers, and at the Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management or similar venues for DoD personnel interacting with a country team, helps introduce the cultural difference to each agency. Other agencies with a hand in SC, such as the Departments of Commerce or Treasury, have a much smaller presence and make do with corporate knowledge and help from the larger groups interacting around them. (Homeland Security mainly interacts through Coast Guard personnel, who are more acquainted with DoD’s foibles and when in theater interact often with country teams with and outside the security cooperation office in the embassy.) Some aspects can cause real friction without planners realizing its source, such as when a J5 officer assumes there’s a J5 in State, or that a Post’s plan is written with the same process as DoD’s, or that the plan is followed as closely as a DoD plan would be. On the ground, people on the country team have to make it work through force of effort and personality.
The benefits of SC have national influence, not just military, from public affairs/public diplomacy to changing policies in a country. SC also has a regional influence: in the ability to use the U.S. effort as a go-between between two partners unhappy with each other, in the ability to build regional ties with the U.S. invited to play, and in the ability to influence regional decisions based on a calculation from a nation that has to deal with what the U.S. has done in the neighborhood. It could well be that host nation has no culture of maintenance and the equipment they paid for is failing. It could be that the country’s using the military to dispense largesse domestically, and the U.S. interest in improving capacity isn’t perfectly aligned with that national desire. It could be that there’s a Red Queen effect, where the security cooperation guys are running as hard as they can to stay in place capacity-wise. It could also be that those frustrating efforts pay off in unusual ways. The military planner will do well to reach out to those other American agencies, to actually listen and adjust planning based on that reaching out, to see the role of SC as more than military capacity building, and to plan for a long and difficult but rewarding SC effort.
A few weeks ago, I started writing a post that discussed a particularly relevant and compelling thesis written by a student at the Marine Corps’ Command and Staff College. The thesis in question was written by a fellow Marine, Major Misty Posey, and is creatively titled “Duped by the ‘Frailty Myth:’ USMC Gender Based Physical Fitness Standards.” Great title, although it is so descriptive that it might lead some to believe that they can dismiss it without reading it. Don’t be fooled; it’s worth every paragraph. Mid-way through my work on the post (I write slowly), it became even more relevant, because the Marine Corps announced that it was going to postpone the requirement for women to perform pull-ups instead of the flexed arm hang as part of the Physical Fitness Test (PFT).
My first reaction to this news was to slap my forehead again. My second was to work harder at carving out the time to write this post in light of the news. Grad school and the holidays intervened, life happened, and I woke up this week to find two separate newspaper articles (Washington Post and San Diego Union-Tribune) beating me to the punch.
I wrote about pull-ups last summer, when I first heard that the requirement might be delayed. My opinion has not changed. But Major Posey’s thesis says it bigger and better; she describes the Marine Corps as “institutionally constipated,” a phrase I can only hope to use myself in my writing one day. I sincerely hope some of our leaders read her work.
She explains in great detail how men and women develop physical expectations and how this affects actual capabilities, and it rings true. I wrote earlier that while many male friends had to do pull-ups in high school PE, I was only required to run/walk one mile after a year of “training.” I had to learn line dancing in PE another year. And a third year involved a semester of “Jake on the Beach” aerobics tapes—the low-impact version so as to not hurt us girls. That’s a far cry from doing pull-ups. And the gap between what we expect our men to do and what we expect our women to do only continues to grow and become entrenched after high school. Remember the President’s Physical Fitness Test? No wonder women show up at 18-22 years old and can’t do pull-ups. I couldn’t either. It no surprise that it’s taking some time for women to develop the upper body strength and mental confidence needed to do pull-ups.
The pull-up requirement delay is causing mass hysteria among those who think such an event signifies the end of the world is approaching, or at the least that dogs and cats are starting to live together. I beg our leaders to take a step back and focus on a few brief points: 1) these are just pull-ups. And women are often starting from a lower level of strength. Of course they will get there, it will just take time. It has only been a year, for crying out loud. 2) These are Marines we are talking about. Again, they will get there. Just takes time. 3) Keep it at a delay and no more. Don’t throw out the requirement.
We really should make this whole discussion a discussion about the PFT itself, while we’re at it. It is meant to measure individual fitness, thus the gender-normed and age-normed standards (any takers on the age-normed standards? I don’t hear much about them). Yet it fails at that task, and is systematically used and interpreted in a very different way anyway. What are we really trying to do here, measure overall fitness or ensure we are aware of strengths and weaknesses in our units? What would benefit leaders more?
Truth is, women can get plenty strong, strong enough for all the pull-ups we need. I’m not in love with pull-ups; make the test pushups instead. Or handstands. Bear crawls. Whatever. But we should set one standard for all Marines and stick with it, and make it high. Separate standards hurt women far more than they could possibly help them, and they hurt the Marine Corps. Delaying the change is not necessarily bad…as long as the change happens.
Here’s the thing: the flexed-arm-hang requirement, the postponement of the pull-up requirement, lower physical standards…these things simply limit Marines. They limit personal expectations, they limit expectations of others. They effectively pat our Marines on the head and say, “nice try, honey, but we don’t think you should bother with this.” Why do that? Why shoot ourselves in the foot and limit our future leaders and the future of the Marine Corps?
Who determines any individual’s physical baseline? Who sets those limits? By delaying the pull-ups and questioning women’s abilities to perform to that standard, we are imposing external limits. We’re saying that women should not be expected to have great strength, that pulling our own weight up to a bar 20 times, or even 3 times, is too much to ask. And that, right there, is what makes me worry. I believed it for years, and I was wrong. And now I’m older—I could have been doing these for years! Instead of limiting our Marines, we should ask more of them: set the bar high, and encourage them to fly right past it. We’re not doing that right now.
(Fun Facts from the Marine Corps Times: the first female PFT, in 1969, required women to perform a 120’ shuttle run, vertical jump, knee pushups, situps, and a 600-yard run/walk. The PFT has only been altered two more times for women: in 1975, it changed to a 1.5 mile run, situps, and the dreaded flexed-arm hang, and in 1996 the 1.5 miles changed to 3 miles. Maybe it’s time for a reassessment?)
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Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) speaks at Defense Forum Washington about the defense budget and the future of the sea services.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) addresses the attendees of Defense Forum Washington.
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