Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category
It seems that USNS Rappahannock has fired on a small craft that ignored warnings and closed with her in the Persian Gulf. From the NBC News article:
The crew aboard the Navy ship sent out repeated warnings, including radio calls, flashing lights, lasers and ultimately warning shots from a 50-caliber machine gun. When the boat failed to heed the warnings, the crew was ordered to open fire with the 50-caliber gun.
It will be critically important that US civilian and military leadership emphasizes the above, and plasters images and accounts of USS Cole all over the news immediately and persistently for the next several weeks. We should be very proactive in letting the world know that there is a terror threat to US warships and auxiliaries posed by small craft, and any such vessel that ignores the warnings as were summarized above will be fired upon and destroyed.
We mustn’t begin the oh-so familiar course of meekly apologizing for having to kill those who threaten us. If we do, we will see many more actions such as this, likely designed to cause us to fit ourselves for ever-tighter handcuffs and more restrictive rules of engagement in combat on land and sea, which the enemy will use to increasing advantage to exploit his strengths and our weaknesses. On the contrary, we must be firm and aggressive with our reaction to the incident. Actions without strong narrative are subject to interpretation.
If the United States, and in particular the United States Navy, has any sense of true ‘strategic messaging”, we will let the rest of the world know that, should another small craft ignore similar warnings, it, too, will be fired upon. And any death or injury that results from such incidents is the responsibility of those who willfully ignore the warnings, and on those who likely have sent them.
The week after my squadron returned from what was my first deployment, we held an officers’ meeting in the Ready Room. At the meeting’s close, our XO stood up and asked the younger pilots to stay behind. The Ready Room emptied out and eventually only a dozen of us first lieutenants and captains were left. The XO shut the door, then saw me and kicked me out too. He needed to speak to us because the squadron had to supply a pilot to be a Forward Air Controller for an infantry battalion, but he didn’t want me there because I wasn’t allowed to be a FAC with an infantry unit.
No one really wanted the FAC tour just yet, since we’d just finished our first deployment as new pilots and had been busting our butts learning how to fly and fight our aircraft. The war in Afghanistan was new, we were young and unscathed, and we were chomping at the bit to do our jobs. But we needed to send a pilot to the battalion, and as a woman, I was unqualified.
After nearly a year in the squadron, I was just another pilot among many. But suddenly I became a female pilot, and was set apart. And regardless of personal qualifications, my presence immediately limited the command’s options.*
Why keep a capable, qualified pilot from serving as a FAC with an infantry unit? Why restrict any qualified individual based on assumptions about his or her gender? This debate has been going for years, and the same arguments against lifting the restriction on women in combat keep echoing, but after a decade of war, those arguments sound empty given the reality on the ground and in the air.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, women have repeatedly proven that they can handle the physical and mental stresses of combat in many different forms. Nearly 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a range of jobs unmatched in recent history. They have participated in combat operations at historical rates. Women can do the job, and women are doing the job, right alongside men who have long since stopped seeing them as women, and instead simply see them as fellow Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors. My own experiences overseas and those of many of my generation—male and female—have rendered the combat restriction obsolete, reinforcing that gender does not matter if one can do the job…it’s about ability.
Debates about the legal restriction on women in combat units are usually accompanied by arguments about physical strength and biological differences, the nature of combat versus the nature of men and women, and the effect women will have on men and, therefore, on unit cohesion and effectiveness. But the past decade has offered up years that counter these assumptions, showing that we have systematically underestimated our Marines and Sailors and their abilities.
Women are already carrying the same loads that men are, in training and in theater (has anyone seen the pictures accompanying General Amos’ road show brief?). From The Basic School to Iraq and Afghanistan, we all carry and wear lots of gear. But to erase lingering doubts about capabilities, set one physical standard for combat units and stick to it. Maybe only a few women will make the cut, but we may see less 130-lb, video-game-playing 19-year-old men, too. If someone is physically qualified, they should not be restricted based on gender. Period.
The nature of combat vs. the nature of gender:
Passive women, aggressive men, nurturing mothers, protective fathers…these are stereotypes that do not cover all—or arguably even many—people. Most people, male or female, are not suited for the violence of combat (or for any military service, for that matter). But some are. There are female Marines I’d follow anywhere and male Marines I wouldn’t. We all know those who don’t fit the gender “mold.” Let ability be the deciding factor.
Showers and toilets:
Everybody stinks after awhile. Water bottles, solar showers, wet wipe baths. Not pretty, but I did it. Everyone does it. As for privacy and bathrooms, we all adapt and figure out how to make things work. If you have enough gear on, nobody can see anything, anyway. One of our bathrooms in Iraq was the rusted hulk in the picture at the top. Worked like a champ if timed right. If you want more details, I’m happy to provide. Bottom line, women make do, just like men do.
The effect of women on men and the breakdown of unit cohesion:
Claiming that men are “hard-wired” to compete for women insults men and women alike. It insults our integrity, intelligence, dedication and professionalism, and places the responsibility for handling this “natural” occurrence squarely on the shoulders of women. The usual argument is that men can’t handle themselves around women, so women should not be allowed. Whatever happened to leadership, professionalism, and taking responsibility for one’s actions? And as women and men train together, gender can disappear, and then we are all simply what we wanted to be to begin with: Marines. Not male Marines, not female Marines, but Marines. If you see someone every day and you know that person can do the job, there’s no distraction.
Our Marines and Sailors are not so poorly trained or simplistic that the presence of someone who looks different will destroy a unit from the inside. Women—just like men—have heart, soul, and incredible motivation, and join the Marines to be a Marine: to be challenged, to serve with the best, and to be part of something great. Claiming that the presence of women will destroy a unit underestimates the intelligence, dedication and professionalism of our military, and—above all else—shows ignorance of what our military does on a daily basis.
Look at our forces today. Women have been serving and fighting alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan all along, and the sky hasn’t fallen. The fears have not materialized. Unit cohesion has not collapsed, the mission is being accomplished, and men and women are serving and sacrificing side-by-side. As Marines. Ask all four Wings or the Marine Logistics Groups. The Divisions are no different: find an infantry battalion without women “attached” in theater. By all measurable standards of readiness, we have co-ed units deployed today capable of successfully performing the most complex missions. If the presence of women will break down cohesion, causing readiness to plummet and units to fail, where are these failing units? Where is the mission failure?
Keeping the legal restriction in place reinforces and perpetuates the assumption that women cannot fight as well as men and cannot protect themselves. It draws lines between Marines that don’t need to be there. In deployed units, this can have highly negative consequences and can poison units from within, something I have experienced firsthand.
This restriction keeps women from serving in all capacities based on what is assumed about the abilities and natures of all women and all men. Ostensibly, these regulations protect vulnerable women from the dangers of combat while keeping men from being distracted—or endangered—in combat by a woman (whether protecting her or picking up her slack). This generalizes all women and their capabilities while denying women the opportunity to fully answer the call to serve. Just like men, women are capable of great ambition and of yearning to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to serve and sacrifice. Isn’t that why we all—no matter the gender—sign up?
It’s time to finish this debate and do what’s right. Putting up barriers between men and women based on generalized assumptions distracts those serving and wastes time and energy. We should let the best person have the job, regardless of what’s between their legs. To many of those fighting the war today, it’s a non-issue. They are already serving together, and have been for years.
General Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, recently sent a letter to the senior leadership, addressing the ongoing discussion on women in combat. He described the research that the Marine Corps is conducting on the topic and closed the discussion with, “Our end state is a thorough, credible, and defensible Service position that responds to our civilian leadership while keeping faith with our Marines, in garrison and in combat.” Let’s keep faith with all Marines. Open up all MOSs to everyone, keep the standards high, and do not raise invisible barriers. Let Marines be Marines, and the rest can follow.
*as for the FAC tour, a friend took it, and I never felt right about it.
Some years ago, I was engaging in a conversation with my niece, a lovely and talented high school junior at the time (now about to be a college senior), who informed me that her English teacher had made the rather unequivocal statement that with perhaps the exception of Melville, no American authors had produced much of any real value. My dismay at hearing this was tempered by the opportunity to disabuse my niece of such a rather uninformed and narrow notion. I told her that, among the most powerful and beautiful words ever uttered or written by mankind was the greatest of all political treatises. And it was a mere two sentences long.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Those 182 words, spoken plainly and firmly, eclipse the thousands of pages Hobbes, and Locke, and of Rousseau and Montesquieu. And the nascent works of Chinese and Greco-Roman antiquity. Our politicians of every ilk, present and future, would do well to understand those words at the levels of both the intellect and the soul.
(The paragraph here was in error, and has been removed. Pointed out by a reader.)
Today as we celebrate our independence, let us remember to give thanks to the courage, character, wisdom, and brilliant foresight of our Founding Fathers, and for the good providence of God for having shed His grace on us. And to all those who have stood and suffered that we may still count ourselves among the world’s free peoples.
Almost a year ago, I posted a guest blog here in response to a blog post by “Steeljaw Scribe” about an article on Professional Military Education (PME) I had written for AOL.Defense. Since then, I’ve written an article for Orbis and a book on PME, (forthcoming in October 2012), in which I’ve continued to advocate open discussion as a necessary step toward improving one of America’s most valuable assets: Professional Military Education. A year later the good news is that discussion has flourished; the bad news is that for the most part it’s business as usual in PME.
The initial response from many readers and commenters to even mild suggestions that the academic rigor and practices in PME could be improved was to dismiss them as the ramblings of one or two disgruntled or failed academics, or those who just “didn’t get” that PME “is different.” There was a time when those caustic responses might have shut down the debate, but in the era of new media, many individuals– even if under a pen name or after they leave PME — nonetheless continued to express their views. The ongoing discussion confirms that there are widespread issues common to PME in general that are not limited to one or two institutions, or a few grumpy faculty.
During my busy day I had a little time to think about the ruling that was just handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court citing that the Stolen Valor Act shall be struck down as being unconstitutional. In the end I came to the determination that the decision, made by our highest court- though sound, is wrong.
The basis of the 6-3 judgment is a sound one based on the oldest laws of the land; the first amendment may indeed have been violated. However, the spirit of the violation is really what was at stake here. As a blogger I am, by default, for our first amendment rights of free speech. On the same note I’m also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and a former member of the U.S. Army- two of our five military branches; this is where I begin to cringe.
The First Amendment, as read in the Bill of Rights, and interpreted by Cornell Law states (as it pertains to free speech):
The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech.
If need-be, reread that and pay attention to the second sentence in particular. The words “substantial justification” can be clearly articulated in nearly all the cases involved with bringing charges against individuals under the Stolen Valor Act. I’m kind of confused on how bringing charges against someone isn’t justified if that someone lies about their military services and/or decorations, and there is substantial proof via an individuals military record, or lack thereof?
I’ve heard people tout that people pretending to be military heroes is akin to those who dress up in those costumes at Disneyland; after all it’s just pretend right?
Impersonating a hero of war, or any current or former military member in general, is of the utmost disrespect to the service members of this nation. Those who’ve sacrificed their daily freedom to be part of a military force, and those who’ve died as part of the same forces have an extreme level of pride in what they do (or did) as the case may be. They’ve worked hard to obtain their position, from E-1 to O-10, they’ve all had to work to get to that place in their lives. For someone to simply walk into their local Ranger Joes or Army/Navy store and buy their way into the service is as low as one can be. If you want a Purple Heart join the military, go to war and get one (that’s from my 9 year-old daughter).
The Supreme Court has taken the side of the people, as they are supposed to. But in doing so they’ve alienated those who protect the freedoms of the United States. They’ve allowed the liars, heart-breakers, thieves, and con-artists of the U.S. win. While they win the service men and women of the United States have seen their sacrifices being lessened. If anyone can claim to have a Medal of Honor what’s the point of even being presented with one (No, I don’t really belive this but I’m trying to make a point). I’m grateful for people like those who run This Ain’t Hell for watching out for the rest of us.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog piece that asserted that the naval conversation has lost a vital piece, tactics. We as a naval service have focused the professional dialog on the strategic level while the tactical level has largely been neglected. I got a good response to the piece but one frequent criticism that I received was that many believe the discussion of tactics belongs in the classroom and wardroom, but not the open forum. I disagree. The navy has many schools that focus on sharpening tactical skills. These schools, in combination with vibrant discussions in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet can effectively cover the tactical baseline for each community; however, the connective tissue, that forms the bridge between communities, known as Fleet Tactics, is left completely void.
“Trackin Devil Dog, Good to go, Err, Hoorah.”
The Marine Corps perhaps is the best example of a cohesive fighting force. Because every Marine is a rifleman and all the officers went through TBS, they are able to speak the same language and anticipate the actions of their fellow Marines, whether they are in the air or on the ground. This is a trait that distinguishes them and makes them a much more deadly force than they would be as individual units. By contrast, we as a naval force speak different languages and have no common experience or training to connect us. Each community studies its own tactics, some more than others, but none fully understand what to expect from our brethren in the other communities.
As a SWO I would love to say that every Naval Officer should be a ship driver but that is impossible for many reasons, least of which that we do not have enough ships to facilitate it. However, there does need to be some common thread, some common tactical language that can be fused together so that the Navy, if required, could move forward as one Fleet and know exactly what to expect from the other units in the force, without having to have them explicitly stated in a 300 page OPORD.
It starts with a Conversation
I believe that void, that deficiency in training, can and should be filled in part by a robust professional tactical discussion that could occur fleet wide. Not only can we as a naval service step up and have a more robust conversation that brings in junior and senior officers alike, but can come together as one so that aviators understand and predict what the SWOs are going to do in a tactical engagement, and SWOs understand what the Submariners are going to do etc.
This dialog does not have to be in Proceedings or on a blog. I would argue that at one point in naval history this void might have been filled by discussions that happened around a pint in the officer’s club. Whether this dynamic discussion happens in print, in symposiums, around the wardroom, or in a new school, the crossing of those barriers is vitally important and is something to be aspired to. Now that the money is drying up, we have to be more effective with what we have, and the best way for us to be more tactically effective is to be a more cohesive fighting force. That means that we need to double down on Fleet Tactics.
LT Robert McFall is a Surface Warfare Officer that did two tours on USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Editorial Board of the United States Naval Institute and on the Board of Directors of the Surface Navy Association.
The news today carried the notice of the passing of actor Frank Cady, aged 96. Frank Cady was best known for playing shopkeep Sam Drucker on the 1960s sitcom “Green Acres”. Mr. Cady looked old then, which was more than 40 years ago. What strikes one who reads the cast list for “Green Acres” is the fact that actors who played three major characters, as well as the composer of the “Green Acres” theme song, were all veterans of World War II. (Warning: clicking on the link will cause that song to run through your head during important meetings and possibly religious services, so do so at your own risk. )
That composer was the late Vic Muzzy, who served in the United States Navy. Actor Alvy Moore, who played Hank Kimball, was a US Marine combat veteran in the South Pacific. And most notably, star Eddie Albert was a Navy salvage officer who experienced the terrible carnage on the beaches of Tarawa. He talked of his experiences in the 1993 History Channel documentary Death Tide at Tarawa. Moore passed away in 1997, Eddie Albert in 2005, and Muzzy in 2009. Frank Cady was the oldest and the longest-lived of them.
These stars are all gone now, as are most of the Hollywood veterans who put their careers on hold to serve our nation. Gone with them is their collective consciousness of service in wartime that made them so very different from those who act and produce what Hollywood makes and sells today. Not every change is for the better.
There’s a generation gap in our military today. It happens every 20 years or so, of course, as members of younger generations enter the military in greater numbers and older generations retire. Signs include dissonance between the norms and priorities of older, senior leaders and those of younger, junior servicemembers. Today, for example, senior leaders wonder why junior servicemembers are selfish and act entitled, while younger men and women ask why those in leadership positions have lost perspective and don’t understand problems facing younger generations.
Current events and comments support this growing disconnect, as Baby Boomers fill senior leadership positions and retire while Millennials (those born after approximately 1979-1980) flood the lower and middle ranks.
A November 2010 Boston Globe article addressed the generation gap exhibited in both the implementation of DADT and its much-later repeal (1 Nov 2010, “A Generation Gap on ‘Don’t Ask’ Policy,” AP). It’s a quick read, stating what many people currently serving know: to the majority of Generation X and Millennial servicemembers, the sexual preferences of those we serve with just aren’t that big of a deal. And most believed it wouldn’t affect morale or unit readiness negatively. Older servicemembers, however, had/have a harder time with the idea of homosexuals serving in the military. The survey results are posted here.
I saw the generation gap both on active duty and as a reservist. When flying with older pilots, both as a student and later as an instructor, I consistently heard, “Well, I’ve never flown with a woman before.” It happened so often that we would joke about it in the squadron, and I came up with a set of one-liner responses (“Huh, is that right, sir?” gets old). But I never heard it from those my age or younger. Not once. To younger Marines, it didn’t matter. Who cared? They’d worked with women before, and it just wasn’t important. Later, while pregnant for my oldest, I flew regularly, and peers and younger pilots thought that flying with a pregnant pilot was either interesting or a non-event, usually seeing it as a chance to get three people in a Cobra at once and make jokes on flight grading sheets like “both of you are now DACM qualified.” But I never heard it called wrong, disgusting, or unsuitable for military service until I wrote about flying while pregnant on this forum.
Which brings up my next point: the Naval Institute’s efforts to engage and attract junior members. Two weeks ago, USNI sent a letter to members stating that the #1 job this year is to “engage young professionals and groom them to pick up the baton for the next generation.” On the USNI website, under “Where We’re Headed,” Objective #3 states that USNI must “increase, broaden, and engage our membership.” It specifically cites a need to “bring more active duty personnel…into the fold” and that “we must pass down USNI’s historical treasures to the next generation. They must be present for that to happen.” They are spot on, and meeting this objective is key to keeping communication lines open between generations so that we can continue to learn and improve the force. Asking around at work and among Navy/Marine Corps friends, I found that while some were familiar with USNI and its work, the majority were not. Of those that were, they generally considered it either out of touch with current servicemembers or an organization catering to retired personnel.
My point? There is a growing generation gap in the military (and the larger American culture), and we need to address it. It happens about every 20 years and it can be transformative. Baby Boomers caused major changes to how America views its wars, wartime leaders, and politicians, and, with Vietnam burned upon the collective consciousness, they brought about broad policy changes to ensure (as much as possible) that we do not find ourselves committed to another war that we either can’t or won’t win. Two decades later, Generation X began entering the military after being raised by single parents and in dual-income households at a higher rate than previous generations. Having grown up with the Feminist Movement, Generation X women were among the first to serve on combat ships and aircraft, and young men and women of this generation joined a military that largely allowed them to serve together.
Millennials are establishing themselves as the most tolerant generation on record. They are about 50% larger than Generation X, nearly as numerous as Baby Boomers. As a result of the cultural swings of the 80s and 90s, Millennials have different priorities, norms, and work/life expectations than Baby Boomers or even Generation X. Generation X and Millennials grew up in an America where women could fly and serve on nearly any aircraft or ship; where homosexuality was not something to hide or punish; where women began to graduate from college at higher rates than men; where their parents both worked full-time; and where (I’m going to use the “D” word here) diversity among Americans reached new heights.
With a looming budget crisis and after over a decade of conflict, we as a military must not alienate quality members of younger generations. Career paths, retention policies, and combat restrictions that worked 20 years ago may not work well now to attract and keep the best and brightest of younger generations. What constitutes combat has changed, our enemies have changed, and the servicemen and -women who fight our wars have changed. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the changing demographics of the family, especially the military family. The generation gap has forever altered the idea of what a family is and how it works. Considering that family reasons are the top ones given by those leaving the Navy and Marine Corps, it’s something we must pay attention to.
Some last thoughts on the generation gap and our need to ensure the services attract the best women and men 10, 20, 30 years from now:
–We need to keep an open mind when hearing complaints from other generations. It takes courage to speak up, and those doing so often don’t unless they feel it is worth the risk.
–We need to look closely at the demographics and what they tell us. Women comprise more than half of all college graduates. In stark contrast with the white-male majority in the military, the majority of all births in America are now minorities. The family consisting of a male breadwinner with a supportive wife and kids at home is a small and shrinking minority among families, most of which are headed by dual-income couples. Millennials and Generation Xers believe family is more important than work. These trends are also continuing to grow; this isn’t a blip on the social radar.
–As college degrees become more common and earning one means less competitively, more people seek graduate degrees to stand out. The average military career path makes it hard to fit a college or graduate degree in, and while some manage to do it, we need to look at ways to allow continuing education—which should be a priority—for more servicemembers.
–We must continue to monitor the retention numbers and pay close attention to the reasons given by those leaving at the 6-10 year marks; family time and the inability to achieve a balance between a military career and the demands of a family top the list of reasons why people leave the service.
–None of us are unbiased. I am a product of my experiences, as is every one of us, and those experiences are valid and deserve respect. Dismissing ideas from junior servicemembers because they are different is going to hurt us more in the long run. A decade, two decades from now, this military will be led by those midgrade and junior officers and enlisted members, and we need to do the best we can to set them up for success in every form.
Either way, one day the younger generation will have the reins, and we owe it to ourselves and them to get more creative now.
The lead ship of the magnificent Iowa-class battleships, the fastest and most advanced gun ships every to put to sea, has arrived at her new home, Berth 87 in San Pedro, opposite the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, itself newly renovated.
Iowa (BB-61) was saved from her Suisun Bay purgatory, and the cutting torch, and will be open for visitors on 7 July. The veteran of World War II and Korea was recommissioned in 1984, and suffered the tragic explosion in Turret 2 in 1989, which killed 47 sailors.
She now is the last of the four of her namesake class to be preserved, with New Jersey (BB-62) in Camden NJ, Wisconsin (BB-64 and Scott’s beloved Big Badger Boat!) in Norfolk, VA, and Missouri (BB-63) at Pearl Harbor, near Arizona (BB-39), forever in her watery depths at Berth F-7.
As a museum battleship, Iowa joins her sisters, and USS Massachusetts (BB-59) at Fall River MA, and USS Alabama (BB-60) in Mobile Bay, the two surviving South Dakotas, and the Grand Dame of US battlewagons, the venerable USS Texas (BB-35) at Galveston, TX. (Texas is the lone second-generation Dreadnought still extant, and saw service in both World Wars following her commissioning in 1914.)
Iowa began her journey from the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay in October 2011, to Richmond CA to repair and restore, scrape and paint, and replace rotted teak decks that are the inevitable result of twenty years’ time at the mercy of the elements. She also received the sprucing befitting a lady whom will be in the public eye. From there, she passed under the Golden Gate one last time late in May, and arrived off Los Angeles on Friday.
Many thanks to all those folks whose pictures I used in this post.
As Mr. Robert Evans points out, I am guilty of a most egregious omission. USS North Carolina (BB-55) is preserved beautifully in Wilmington NC. Shame on me for missing the “Showboat”. Especially since it was a favorite destination during my two tours at Lejeune!!!