Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Tag


Writing professional articles has a long history in all the U.S. military services. American naval publications date as far back as the 1830s. While military personnel are commonly lauded for their willingness to take physical risks in defense of the nation, sometimes we are less open to taking the intellectual risks involved in the betterment of our profession. In #RTSW 2 we discussed the fear some writers have that they might embarrass themselves through a small mistake or problem in a professional article. Taking an intellectual or academic risk is far different than strapping into an aircraft, rigging to dive the boat, or free-falling out of a perfectly good airplane.

The reality is there are a number of things military authors do which are sort of embarrassing from an editor’s perspective. Military personnel hold themselves up as professionals, but occasionally behave like inexperienced freshman undergraduates when it comes time to submit an article for publication. Most of the issues can be addressed by acting like the professional we all claim to be. These are not actually hard things to do, but generally fall into the GI Joe category of knowledge.

Article Length

Follow the contributors guidelines. Seriously. If the journal or publication says they take feature articles with a maximum word count of 3000 words, do not send them 4500 words. Some will give you some latitude, maybe 10% overage, but not always. It is not the editor’s job to turn your over-length piece into something appropriate. You are telling them either you could not be bothered to check the guidelines, you have never read their publication, you just don’t care, or you think you are so brilliant the rules don’t apply to your ideas. None of these interpretations will help you impress anyone.

From my experience as an editor this is an across the board issue. Frankly, most junior personnel tend to follow the rules, but sometimes they don’t understand the difference between “departments” at some journals. Some mid-grade officers, senior officers, and Flags, however, have issues understanding the rules apply to them. One would hope the professors from our PME institutions who encourage officers to use their school papers for articles would help them understand how it works. Yet, I have also seen PME professors who submit articles which are thousands of words over maximum, so sometimes they are part of the problem.

PME/Academic Papers

Papers and assignments written in the professional military education system, or from academic work, are a great source of material for articles. I have used the work I wrote for class in a number of articles I have published. But, a school paper and an article are not the same thing. We’ve already covered the length issue, but this is a common problem with academic papers. There are also differences in style and tone, occasionally in formatting, and in the types of arguments that will fit at certain publications. Do not simply send your PME paper to an editor. Always rewrite and reformat the paper to ensure it fits the publication you are sending it to. The editors will still help you make it better, but it is on the author to make the first effort of getting it right for the publication in question. It should not require mentioning, but the editor is also not interested with the grade you got on the paper. No need to share, the work should stand on its own.

Individualized Submissions

Ensure you are sending the right submission to the right publication. If a certain publication has a name for a “department,” or type of article, don’t use that same name at a different publication. For example, Proceedings has opinion pieces called “Nobody Asked Me But…” An author who sends a commentary submission to War on the Rocks or The Bridge “for your Nobody Asked Me But section” is immediately off on the wrong foot.

Manuscript Format

Simple freelance manuscript format is the best way to approach an editor. Do not try and impress with multiple fonts, complicated formatting, etc. Depending on what software they are working with, your fancy format may get thrown off anyway. You aren’t applying for a job in desktop publishing, the words in the article are what matter and speak for themselves. Name, contact info, word count, title, one font, double spaced, simple paragraph format. Use bold, underline, or italics to set things off, but only sparingly. It is designed for fiction authors, but William Shunn’s website gives a good image of how to set things up. Avoid pdf’s to the best of your ability, because the editor will probably want to digitally mark up the piece.


The concept of authorship is directly tied to the question of personal integrity in the academic world. Almost every university or institution of higher learning has an authorship policy statement (read Yale’s here). Fundamentally “authorship” is the question: who belongs on the byline of an article? Who should get credit? This is a question every senior officer looking to publish an article must ask themselves when they think about the staff process which might have helped them produce the article. Senior officers and civilian leaders sometimes have speechwriters who help them. At what point, and in what venues, should they get mentioned for written work? Is a shared byline proper? Or is a mention in the author bio at the end of the article the right place? “LCDR Jones contributed to the writing of this article.” Perhaps a junior officer on the staff amassed the research and wrote the first draft of sections of the piece. Do they deserve some credit? These questions don’t always apply, but in colleges and universities this is a key ethical question. If we are going to pursue professional integrity in the military services, and consider it intellectually, it makes sense for us to examine authorship as well.

Be Cordial

Professional articles on military subjects are not the place for personal attacks or for antagonism. Even if the spark which got you writing was disagreement with someone else’s idea, take a step back and make sure you are writing about ideas and content and you are not being antagonistic. Sometimes this is unintentional, and requires you to look at your own work closely. Also, some publications do not publish this kind of tit-for-tat writing, so expect rejections if you are writing something focused on being critical. You should be focused on new ideas and solutions. It is ok to be constructively critical of another writer, thinker, or publication, but avoid personal or professional antagonism: try and follow Dennett’s rules. Aim at the ideas, not the people, and give credit where credit is due.

Cite Your Work

Footnotes, endnotes, hyperlinks…they matter. They help prove you have done the research and reading discussed earlier in this series. More importantly, perhaps, they acknowledge the hard work of others who have tackled the same or similar subjects and on whose shoulders your work stands. They offer the editor and the reader a chance to check up on you. None of us form our ideas or opinions in a vacuum. Even senior officers haven’t come to all their knowledge through experience or epiphany. We should acknowledge that through good use of notes and links. This does not mean every article must be peppered with quotes from Clausewitz or Mahan. You do not have to tackle the great masters. Sometimes it makes you look silly. I know from experience.

So What?

Say something in your article. Identifying a problem is certainly a contribution, but often times it is not enough. It only becomes a good article when you also suggest a solution or a path to a solution. You have to argue for something, not just report on a situation. In the first post in this series we talked about John Adams’ call to “dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Professional articles are at their best when they remember that first word. Writers must dare.

Take It or Leave It

This series of three posts has tried to offer a starting point for military professionals and members of the national security community who want to take up the call to contribute to our profession, all call which was recently echoed by the CNO and Lt O’Keefe. The observations offered are intended as a little bit of what naval folks call gouge to get started. Like all gouge, the advice offered is worth exactly what you have paid to read it. These are simple observations from my past several years both writing and editing on military and naval subjects. Individual experience will vary. As we say in the navy, if you live by the gouge you’ll likely die by the gouge. But it least it gives us somewhere to start.


This post is the third in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.


Chief of Naval Operations Richardson has put out a call for more naval professionals to contribute to their profession through writing. Other Flag Officers have followed his lead and there is a rising movement across the joint force. The first post in this series examined how someone can develop an idea into a professional article. The next two posts will look to offer a clearer picture of what a writer should expect once their article is written: from submission to when it is out in print or online.

The advice in this series is based on professional writing for a print or online magazine/journal. People interested in blogging can certainly also learn from these ideas. But blogging has a slightly different place in our digital society, and frequently has different (sometimes looser) standards. As seen from the fact this series is published on a pair of blogs (USNI and the Military Writer’s Guild), I see a lot of value in both approaches.

One of the most intimidating things about publishing a professional contribution is fear the author will get something wrong, or embarrass themselves through small mistakes. The reality is a typo, an improperly used italics formatting, or a misspelled name is not something most editors care about. If the problems are repeated and glaring, that is different, but a couple of small mistakes are not very important.

Personally, this is why I like working with journals and magazines more than unedited blogs, or blogs run from personal websites. My work always benefits from the critical eye of a dedicated editor, whether a paid employee of a publication or sometimes a volunteer. That kind of sanity check has kept me from embarrassing myself when the editor asks “hey, are you sure that is right?” or “what is your citation or link for this fact?” From fixing typos, to helping improve the writing in terms of style or house format, and challenging flawed logic or argument, editors have always made my work better. Once the article or essay has made it through them, or their editorial board, there’s a much smaller chance I am embarrassing myself.

Finding a Publication

With a completed draft on the computer screen, it is time to decide where to submit the article. There are many, many options. For naval writers there are the big time naval professional journals like Proceedings and Naval War College Review, to the magazines published by community organizations like Tailhook and the Naval Helicopter Association. The other services have similar venues like Military Review, The Gazette, or branch publications like Armor. There are also the online publications about defense and national security issues. Authors must realize each and every publication has its own niche and its own style. Your manuscript should aim to fit their unique niche and style.

There are two good rules of thumb for selecting where to send the article. First, make sure you’ve read articles from the publication you want to target and ensure your article is the kind of thing they publish. Second, find the publication’s “contributor guidelines.” They all have them, and the editors actually put hard work into getting them just right. Here is the link to Proceedings, and here is War on the Rocks, to give you an idea of what they include. Frequently, these pages are also a wealth of advice on good writing. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. (Yes, I just stomped my foot and yelled at you.) Do not let the word “guidelines” fool you, these are the rules for the publication. The quickest way to get rejected by an editor is to send them something clearly violating the rules they have put out in the open. And don’t blast the article out to multiple publications at the same time. Pick one, submit, and be patient. Give the editors a couple days to acknowledge your submission, and even more time before you demand an answer. Some have review processes which take months. Even if the article is rejected, you frequently will get constructive feedback that will help you make it better before sending it to the next publication.

You may decide you are interested in a less formal arrangement, and go with a blog such as USNI Blog or work with junior folks like at CIMSEC. But deciding where to send your article should be a conscious choice based on knowledge of what they publish and how you fit into their corner of national security or professional discussion. You do not need a personal introduction to an editor. Find the email address for submissions, write a brief introductory email (include who you are, title of the article, length, and where you see it fitting into the publication), attach the article (or just make a pitch if that is what the guidelines say), and hit send.

Working with Editors

Editors are here to make our work better. Sometimes, we don’t like to hear their criticism, but it is really crucial we listen and consider it. You can push back against an editor’s changes or suggestions, but you should be able to explain why. Also, you can ask an editor to explain the reasons they have made or suggested a certain change. The writer-editor relationship should have plenty of back and forth, with give and take from both sides.

A professional editor will also never talk about the details of the work they do with you. For example, the Editorial Board at the Naval Institute has very strict privilege rules covering what is discussed in the boardroom. Some new writers fear editors will bad mouth them to other publications or with other writers, but that has never been my experience. In fact, I’ve had many editors try and help me by suggesting other publications which might be a “better fit” if they have rejected my work. Editors have also offered to make introductions to other publications for me. While talking with an editor isn’t quite like talking with a Chaplain, respected outlets are run by respectable people. Publishers always want you to come back with good material, because it is how they keep their journal up and running.

Incoming Fire

The vast majority of material published today ends up online. Even print journals like Proceedings place their articles on their website. Along with this comes the dreaded “comments section.” Realize there is no obligation for you to read the comments section. Frankly, most of the time I try and ignore it. For each ego stroking reassurance you have offered a brilliant analysis, there’s a troll looking for a fight or a pedantic fact checker ignoring the actual point. Sometimes, a genuine expert in your subject might respond with good insight. When I am tempted to look, and I discover someone like that, I have been known to contact them directly to learn more, but not engage in the furball of likes and unlikes and replies. Most publications want their authors to engage, on more than one occasion staff at USNI have suggested I dive in. However, the key for any author is to realize engaging with commenters is entirely a personal choice. There is no requirement to do it, and there is no requirement you ignore it.

Pen Names

A number of professional naval journals have had a history of allowing the use of pen names. Many excellent digital commentators, like our friend Cdr Salamander, use them with skill and for excellent reasons. The first thing to realize is most publications have a specific policy on the use of pseudonyms. They probably are not going to break their own rules for you, and you better know what they are before you try and submit as “W.T. Door” or “Sailor Timmy.” Many blogs also have a policy on it as well. If you decide you need to use a pen name to protect yourself, you may be limiting how seriously your work will be taken and limiting the kinds of publications you can approach.

Personally, I have also found my writing is far better when I do it under my own name. There is less of a temptation to resort to snark and sarcasm and greater incentive to make sure the research is fully and rigorously sourced. Since we have been talking about writing for professional journals and magazines, it is uncommon for them to resort to pen names. If you are publishing in a respected journal or online publication the odds are you want some credit for your ideas, and for having the guts to get them out there, anyway.

This post is the second in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.



The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.

There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?

Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.


The mission of USNI is to:

Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]

The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.


In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)

It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”


Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.

Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.


Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.

Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.


Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.

Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.

The RTSW Loop

The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.

Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.


The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.

This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.

cartoonAs a parent, I worry about the world my kids are growing up in. While this is common to every generation, something about the nonstop, 24-hours-a-day, multi-dimensional, fast-paced, saved-forever-on-the-internet environment today is unnerving. I’m not talking about Elvis shaking his hips, Madonna singing about virgins (or not), or bra burning. I am talking about the nonstop barrage of the online world, the increased dependence on electronics and social media, identity theft, privacy, and the fact that any mistakes my kids make along the way will be saved…forever.

Well, to combat these fears (no pun intended), over the winter, my husband and I started talking about all of the things we want our kids to learn that can’t be taught at school. How to navigate off of a map and terrain, for example. How public transportation works and how to use it wisely. How to be found if you’re lost or concealed if you don’t want to be found. How to survive the Zombie apocalypse. How to function without—heaven forbid—American Girl dolls or a water source. How to push yourself physically and how to push through your fears. How to lead and work well with others. How to have the confidence to stare down a problem and tackle it. While some of these items can be taught in the ins and outs of a daily suburban life, others are not easily woven into the schedule of school, soccer, work, dog walking, piano lessons, and Scouts. And given the challenges facing our country today, these lessons are certainly needed. So how to teach them?

We realized that we learned much of this at USNA, as junior Marines, and throughout our USMC careers. So after some thought, we decided to give our oldest child a Marine Corps Leadership 101 week. TBS-for-kids, perhaps, minus the warfighting aspect and heavy on the critical thinking
and leadership.

To make it memorable, we surveyed neighbors and friends and found a pool of kids and their parents happy to participate. Camp Haynie was born. Armed with eight girls and boys, some local contacts, maps, a rough plan, flexibility, and a strong sense of humor, we tried to teach the kids as much as we could in one week.

Day One was Urban Survival Day: among many events, we did Basic First Aid, map reading (something lost on kids who depend entirely on digital maps and GPS), held a ridiculously intense team competition, and oversaw a city-wide hunt using public transportation and their brains alone. No electronics. With an elaborate point system, brain power, and some fitness thrown in, Day One was a hit.

Days Two and Four were Woodland Survival I and II. We taught Orienteering, fed them MREs (huge hit), learned about water, fire, and shelter needs, threw in some leadership challenges, and they learned to camouflage. We finished with a scenario requiring them to apply First Aid principles, cobble together a recovery plan, and trek some distance through the woods as a group. Again, no electronics. The kids ate the scenario up—they loved it.

Day Three was a Ropes/Challenge Course. Think of a version of the Fire Team Reaction Course for 10-year-olds, complete with detailed scenarios, physical challenges, and the need for personalities to come out and work together. This was phenomenal, and I want to go back. This was also the day that the group fully gelled together, which Course administrators pointed out.

Day Five was a bonus day (keeping it secret for future camps).

So what did we learn? We learned that getting kids outside and letting them get dirty was—no surprise—a huge hit. We learned that they love MREs, no shock there either. But after watching families pour dollars and dollars into crazy camps that teach Minecraft, gymnastics, horseback riding, underwater basket-weaving, and so many odd subjects that I’ve lost count, we were unprepared for the kids’ reactions to our camp: they were crazy about it. They loved it. Each one of them told us that it was the best part of his or her summer, many sent thank-you notes after the fact, and we still get hugs and comments today from them all. The feedback was and still is overwhelming.

It took us time to figure out exactly what the kids liked most, besides the getting-dirty, MRE-eating nature of it all, but it turned out that the biggest hits were the challenges that we gave the group, instructing them to “just work together and figure it out.” The scenarios, the brainpower requirements, the physical obstacles, these were all favorites: they relished the chance to face a complex, multi-dimensional problem, wrap their brains around it, and work together to find an answer. While Boy Scouts (and to a lesser extent, Girl Scouts) do this in varied ways, this was 1) in a co-ed environment, and 2) incorporated aspects of survival not readily employed by the Scouts, in a very hands-on way. They had free rein to use their brains and make mistakes in challenging and foreign environments, something less available to many kids today. It was simple, basic, and involved high amounts of trust and confidence-building. They learned to trust themselves, trust each other, and—above all—to think critically in unfamiliar situations.

Best of all: we started the week with four boys and four girls, all at an age where boys and girls are very aware of social differences and the pressures from friends and society to act in certain ways. These eight were no different; they quickly tried to separate themselves into two separate groups. But by Tuesday afternoon, we had one large group of eight kids who worked together, laughed together, and were learning new things about each other. They each saw that similarities, intelligence, and strength are found in surprising places, a lesson that will pay off as they mature. Whether conscious of this lesson or not, it is a hopeful development.
Given the complexity of the challenges our country and our military will face in the future and the questions that exist about the next generation’s ability to handle it all, we need kids who learn to think critically and who are able to work together on a deeper level. This was just one week, but it was a step nonetheless, and the response gave us both hope for the future. Now, we have to decide where to take it next.


The Road You Take

September 2015


When you look in the mirror, are you satisfied with who you see? Are you one of those military officers who won’t speak out when you know something isn’t quite right because you don’t want to make waves? While these may seem like philosophical questions, no matter how junior you are or how long you have been in the military, if you don’t question your values and consider what you would be willing to sacrifice to take a stand, chances are you are going to miss the boat. The ultimate choice you will have to make in your tenure as a military officer is which fork of the road you will take- the road to rank and popularity or the road to the moral high ground.

By the time I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, I had been taught by my parents to stand up for what I believed in no matter what the cost. At that time, it would never have occurred to me that I would be relieved from command after 19 years of service for holding my Marines accountable and pointing out the existence of lowered expectations for females and gender bias on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. However, I quickly learned that for all of our talk of core values and ethics in the Marine Corps, many individuals I served with were more concerned with being liked than making difficult but necessary decisions. Some careerist commanders demonstrated that when assessing leadership, the words “negative command climate” carried far more weight than an officer’s actual ability to hold subordinates accountable for conduct and performance.

To that end, the greatest danger facing the military is not ISIS, but the failure of leaders to do the right thing even if it means being viewed as a problem by their superiors. As military officers, we must be willing to make difficult decisions, even when they are not popular. We must be able to look in the mirror and be satisfied with the person we see. We must also be willing to accept the consequences of decisions made on principle.

This does not mean these decisions will be easy to make. We talk a good game in the military about taking risks and living dangerously but the sad truth is that all too often we do nothing to fight bureaucracy and red tape even if we know that doing so would be in the best interests of our subordinates, our service, and the nation. History has shown time and again that when organizations stop evolving, they stagnate and go the way of the dodo bird. It takes individuals questioning the status quo to speak truth to power. Speaking up when something isn’t right can be uncomfortable and may cause others to view you as a problem. But it will allow you to know that you stood for something and that you set the example for your subordinates.

While there is a fine line between stating an opinion and disobeying an order, as military professionals, each of us owes it to our subordinates and the nation to question authority when we know what we are being told or what we see directly conflicts with our moral principles. We must consider whether we want to be likened to Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North or Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Lieutenant Colonel North is known for being a patsy who illegally sold weapons to the Contras, shredded classified documents to hide the paper trail, and lied to Congress during his testimony about the Iran-Contra Affair. Surely he knew each of these actions was morally and ethically wrong, yet he never spoke out or refused his orders.

Colonel Boyd, on the other hand, was known for being a candid strategic thinker and change agent who was willing to upset the apple cart if it meant saving lives and winning battles. In talking to his subordinates about the career fork in the road each of them would face, Boyd stated that they had two choices. “You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go [the other] way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself … If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself …”[i]

As military leaders, we must have the moral courage to make difficult decisions in the interest of our subordinates, our service, and our nation, no matter what the consequence. We must recognize that service is not about being popular and liked, but is about getting results. As Colonel Boyd said, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do?”[ii] Which road will you take?

[i] Brett and Kay McKay, “John Boyd’s Roll Call: Do You Want to Be Someone or Do Something?”,, (22 January 2014).
[ii] McKay. “John Boyd’s Roll Call”.

“The Few, The Proud, The Marines. Only a small percentage of the US population can become Marines and even fewer than that are women.”

Just seeing that recruiting slogan makes me beam. I am proud to be part of such an elite group. However, being a part of an elite group means that the circle is small. What they don’t tell you on the recruiting poster is that once you are part of the elite group, you will have a heck of a time trying to find a mentor.

The first person I met at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island was a petite woman with painted fingernails, a face full of make-up, and a funny looking hat who greeted us on the bus after arriving for boot camp. Her first words were, “Get off my bus!” She had a freakishly deep voice for a woman. Nonetheless, I was excited and ready to train.

The Marine Corps female Drill Instructor was like an urban legend. No one had eOCS Summer Charlie Cover seen one, but the Marine Corps claimed they existed. Suddenly there she was screaming for us to make our way onto the yellow footprints. Spit flying from her face and veins popping from her neck, she was a rare combination of ferocity, beauty, and grace. I was in awe. My Drill Instructors were my first mentors in the Marine Corps. There are no words to explain how these women emptied over two centuries and some decades worth of Marine blood, sweat, and tears into my soul.

My Drill Instructors not only molded me into a basically trained Marine, they demonstrated through their own example the epitome of a mentor. My Drill Instructors worked as a perfect unit in harmony. This group of women taught us to look out for one another. They were our first role models.

Connection and Camaraderie

The resources that young men and women have access to today should mean that all can succeed. Twenty years ago, when I left home (for the first time) I had to figure it out or find others that were willing to share information with me about how to get things done. As a new Marine, checking into a new duty station, you might be the only woman in a shop. There have been a few times in my career when I have checked into a new unit and I am one of a handful of female Marines, period.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Sandberg. I didn’t know I would be meeting her—and “training” her—for a leadership venture at Marine Officer Candidates School. I was shocked. I said to myself, “I get to yell at Sheryl Sandberg, the 8th most powerful woman in the world; what an honor!” [1]

After the event, she asked us questions about our experiences in the Marine Corps. It was clear that her message of empowering women to achieve their highest potential was not just a façade. Sheryl is successful and beautiful, but she isn’t only those things; more importantly, she is down-to-earth and approachable. The Lean In circles she has inspired vibrate at this same energy and frequency.

Lean In provides a place where women can find and be a mentor. It helps develop a sense of connection and camaraderie in a service where women are still few and far between. And, since there are now women in many new leadership positions, Lean In circles allow insight into information Marines might not typically have known on their own. And finally, as I’ll discuss next, it kills off the “queen bee” syndrome, one circle at a time, through introducing “modeling behaviors.”

Killing Off The Queen Bee

Recent studies at Columbia Business School ruled that the “queen bee syndrome” is a myth.[2] However, I have seen it and experienced it personally. The military, just like the civilian sector, has its fair share of “queen bees.” When I checked into my first duty station, the majority of the female Marines were just as junior as I was (and struggling to survive), with a few female Sergeants who were ‘queen bees’. They would belittle you in a heartbeat in front of God, Corps, Country, and Chesty Puller and not think twice about it. If you told them something personal, they would run off and gossip to the entire shop. What you thought was a mentoring session was actually solicitation for personal information they could use to humiliate you in front of others. It was horrible.

The good, the bad, and the ugly were rolled up into one scoop and served on the chow line…cold! To top it off, there weren’t any women (like my Drill Instructors) that I could go to for advice. It wasn’t until my next duty station, in Okinawa, Japan, that I finally received some mentorship. It happened to be from a female Staff Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO). Female SNCOs at that time were rare; the last time I had seen one was in boot camp. I was intimidated, but she turned out to be my very first mentor in the operating forces.

When I arrived, she made it a point to talk to me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be “blasted” for something that I didn’t even know I had done. Instead, she asked me questions like: Are you settled into the barracks? Have there been any creepy male Marines that have tried to befriend you? Have you contacted your family to let them know that you arrived in Japan? I was in shock. She was firm and professional, yet she had a nurturing side. She reminded me of my Senior Drill Instructor.

Years later I realized that I might have turned into a ‘queen bee’ had it not been for my experience in Okinawa. Because someone cared enough to take me under her wings (and they weren’t bee-wings!) it changed my life. I still made mistakes, but they could have probably been worse had it not been for her guidance and watchful eye. Her example helped shape me into the leader I am today and gave me the confidence to reach out to other women as a mentor. I see Lean In as an organization that delivers these same results.
Women mentoring other women will not only foster stronger relationships, but a more successful fighting force. Lean In promotes unity, purpose and action. Through their continued efforts, they are showing women how to support each other’s endeavors and that it’s ok to cheer each other on without appearing too “girly.” They are making a difference, one circle at a time, because there’s room for all of us to Lean In and sit at the table.


[1] Forbes. “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Accessed on August 31, 2015.
[2] The Guardian. “’Queen bee syndrome’ among women at work is a myth, study finds.” Accessed on August 31, 2015.


If you look up the word “equalist” in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, you will not find it. As I write this article, the word is underlined in red squiggles which, interestingly, not only highlights its grammatical inaccuracy, but also its significance on the page. Urban Dictionary defines the word as “one who defends the rights of all, without discriminating against the opposition’s rights.” I look at myself and see an equalist. I also see a First Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, a leader in my local community, a lover of people, and a woman.

I do not need to ask my fellow women military personnel—of any rank—if they too describe themselves as equalists. I know the answer. These women desire one thing in their personal and professional lives: equal opportunity to show their talents and pursue their goals. While these goals and talents are as diverse as those of the male military personnel, they also represent the beautiful individuality of the women who make up less than 15% of the armed forces. We do not want to be given a “hand;” we do not want to meet anything less than the standard; and, we do not want to discriminate against anyone else in the pursuit of our own success and happiness. We just want the same chance.stokes usni2

In our effort to succeed in our military work life, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has become one of our great guidebooks. Without a hint of feminist rant or cliché, Ms. Sandberg nails it. With intuitive understanding of the way women see themselves generally, she identifies what has held us back from becoming the fine leaders we can be, and then provides a nice roadmap for demolishing our own “glass ceilings” and getting there – even in that tritely termed “man’s world.”

The phenomenal success of the Lean In philosophy has been subsequently embodied in the “Lean In Circle,” developed in recognition of the reality that life’s challenges are more eagerly and effectively faced when we have support, rather than “going it alone.”

The Lean In Circle is becoming an increasingly valuable mentoring program for the military because of the well-known challenges that have faced women in this choice of career. These groups offer young women – and men as well – an opportunity to get together and talk. In these forums, the new generation of women military personnel meet with more senior women that have experienced the same doubts and obstacles. Insecurities can be discussed without fear of judgment, and strategies developed for personal success.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Lean In Circles are popping up on military bases around the world, both in garrison and deployed. Even the academies are getting in on a good thing. My alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, now has eight Lean In Circles, and circles are in place at the US Air Force Academy, and the US Military Academy.

One of the most notable side effects of leaning in is the way military women are more likely to actively seek and absorb inspiration in our daily lives, even beyond the circle. For example, I recently attended a conference to recognize the “Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California,” published by Mount Saint Mary’s University. The acclaimed actress, Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, said something I now try to live by as I lean in: “If you can see it, you can be it.” Applying this model to the military, I believe that if you can meet it, you can believe it!

While I know it will not happen overnight, in the short 20-year span that I have experienced the military, first from the perspective of the daughter of a Marine Captain and sister of a Marine mortar man, to my own first-hand experiences as a Marine Officer, I have seen the Marine Corps – and other services as well – make strides toward eliminating gender bias and promoting a more equal playing field. For example, the Marine Corps has indicated its policy commitment to better representation of women among its top leadership – the current number of women Lieutenant Colonels and above is not nearly acceptable, and I am confident that this will one day change.

Thus, it appears to me that, while women in the military are leaning in toward a better future for themselves and their families, the military is making an effort to lean in as well, and needs to continue on this path. If we are going to work toward an environment free of gender bias – where Marines are Marines and not labeled as female or male first – then we junior women must take responsibility to seek mentorship from our leaders. This includes not only our “older and wiser” female leaders, but also our male leaders, whose unique perspective can be most valuable. And, those leaders must feel charged to share their own experiences and advice with the goal of success for all.

We know that formal policy changes and implementation of mentoring programs will not alone solve the issue of gender inequality within the armed forces. But, they are a great start. These efforts, coupled with the passionate support of top commanders, down to most junior enlisted, will eventually result in a military culture that recognizes the unique value women bring to the force. Women will then embrace the opportunities they feel they lack now, and women representation in the armed forces will rise.

Imagine what the US military will look like when we all lean in together.

This speech was sent to us from Kuwait by Lieutenant Colonel Jess Mullen, USMC. While the video quality may be poor, the message is strong (but you have to turn your volume up!).

LtCol Mullen graduated from Vanderbilt University and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1998. A Logistics Officer, she served in a variety of active duty billets until she transitioned to the reserves in 2008. She is currently deployed as the Sustainment Liaison Officer for MCE-K (MARCENT Coordination Element – Kuwait).

“There is an obstacle placed in my path…I want to jump on it, I want to attack it, I want to make it my own, and I want to pound it into powder.”

“Honestly, as a female Marine, any time I’ve heard the words ‘female’ and ‘Marine’ next to the other, it’s either been a door slamming in my face, or some unwanted attention. It has very rarely been a good thing.”

“‘What is your mission? Why are you here? Where are you going?'”

“This is not cute – this is truth. This is the next generation, who may be sitting in these same seats 20 or 30 years from now.”

“We’re not just women of America; we’re women of the world.”

“Use your vote, and use it wisely. People have worked hard for that stuff – you should exercise it!”

“My husband and I are both United States Marines. When people tell us we can’t do something…we just go ahead and do it anyway!”

Today marks the 239th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. In remembering the day when Captain Samuel Nicholas walked into a Philadelphia bar, looking for the “bravest men” of that city, Marines all over the world will hear the Birthday Message first circulated by Major General John Lejeune in 1921. Lejeune’s name is far more than just the name of another military base; he and his career are legend in the Marine Corps. He rose through the ranks, serving all over the world. When he reached Europe at the United States entry into The Great War, Black Jack Pershing recognized his leadership and gave the “Marines’ Marine” command of the whole of the 2nd Army Division. He became the 13th Commandant of the Corps after the war and to this day is known as the “the greatest of all Leathernecks.”

Yet it almost never happened. Today a discussion of military talent management has come to life, something that happens on a fairly regular cycle in American military history. Almost 125 years ago, the future of a young Midshipman Lejeune was at the whim of a bureaucracy that cared very little for his personal interests or where he and his peers thought his talents might lay.

The System

In 1890 Midshipman John Lejeune, known among his friends by his nickname “Gabe,” and his Naval Academy roommate Ed Beach returned to Annapolis after spending two years at sea. In those days Midshipmen completed the course of instruction at the Academy but then had to serve in the Fleet for two years before they were commissioned. At sea they learned the basics of life and leadership aboard ship and began earning their qualifications and standing the bridge watches that would serve as the foundations of their careers.

The two young men also returned to the banks of the Severn River unsure that they would even receive a commission. There were a finite number of officer billets in the Navy and Marine Corps. Because promotion was seniority based, not every Midshipman could receive a commission unless there were enough officers who retired. If enough officers left the service everyone would move up the seniority lists and spots would open up at the bottom for the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants.

Lejeune had wanted to be a United States Marine since he entered prep school at LSU. He finished at Annapolis in the top of his class and assumed that his standing would give him the ability to select the service of his choice. Returning to Annapolis Lejeune discovered that he had made the cut to receive a commission. But he also learned that the Academic Board, which was responsible for making service assignment recommendations, had assigned him to become an engineer in the Navy. His grades in the engineering courses were the best in his class.

Begging the Bureau

Lejeune decided to go to Washington to make his case to the Bureau of Navigation. His roommate Ed Beach agreed to go along with him to provide moral support and later related the story in his memoir. They were able to get a meeting scheduled with Commodore F.M. Ramsey, who led the Bureau and knew of the two young men because his previous position was Superintendent at the Academy.

The two Midshipmen arrived in Washington and Lejeune overcame an attack of nerves and went to the meeting with Beach at his side. He explained to the head of the Bureau that he had always wanted to be a Marine, and that because of how hard he worked and his class standing his preferences should count for something. Ramsey was the final decision maker and would approve the recommendations of the Academic Board. He was the only man who could change Lejeune’s fate. He refused. The Navy needed good engineers and he agreed with the Academy’s recommendation. The only way he would even consider changing his mind was if the Commandant of the Marine Corps requested Lejeune by name.

There was a glimmer of hope, but Lejeune didn’t put much stock in it. He led Beach toward the Commandant’s office in order to try to see him. They actually found Commandant McCawley (improperly called Remy by Beach in his recounting of the story) at a quiet moment in the office and were able to see him. However, he refused Lejeune’s entreaty to make a “by name request” for him to commission as a Second Lieutenant. The Commandant told him that the Corps would take whomever they were assigned and make no special deals.

A Desperate Ploy

Gabe had one last idea. He dragged Beach back toward Ramsey’s office at the Bureau. They were able to maneuver themselves into another audience, but Ramsey again refused to change his mind. Likely frustrated, he repeated that if the Commandant personally asked for Lejeune, then he could become a Marine. In the last moment of the brief meeting Lejeune asked his former Superintendent why? Why wouldn’t he allow him to become a Marine?

“Because, Mr. Lejeune, I am well aware of your splendid and promising mentality. Frankly, you have altogether too much brains to be lost in the Marine Corps!”

With that, Lejeune rushed out the office and headed back for the Commandant’s spaces at a run. Beach struggled to keep up, wondering what the hell was going on. But Lejeune had a new confidence about him. The two Midshipmen burst back into the Commandant’s office and interrupted a meeting with a group of officers on the headquarters staff. Before they could be reprimanded and removed from the room Lejeune shouted out:

“Commodore Ramsey says that the reason he will not recommend me to be a second lieutenant is that I have altogether too much brains for the Marine Corps!”

Ed Beach wrote “Lejeune won, then and there. The Marine Corps went into action,” and the request for Gabe to become a Marine was cut and sent to the Bureau of Navigation. The history books show there was still more maneuvering to be done, including meetings with Senator Russell Gibson and the intervention of the Secretary of the Navy. John Lejeune was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant instead of an Ensign. The rest, as they say, is history.

Another Year, Facing the Future

For more than two centuries the Marine Corps, and the rest of our armed forces, have been facing the challenges of talent management and administrative efficiency right alongside the combat stories that we read about in most of our history books. The so-called “needs of the service,” bureaucratic infighting, and service rivalry have a long tradition in how our military service members are selected, promoted, and mentored. But the story of Gabe Lejeune’s quest to become a United States Marine reminds us that sometimes the service is wrong, and sometimes we have to figure out our own “innovative” ways to work the system.

So Happy Birthday Marines. And to all the men and women in uniform who want to follow in Gabe Lejeune’s footsteps, by working both inside and outside the lifelines, to take their career into their own hands: Hoorah. Keep up the good fight.


The Frailty Myth

January 2014


Pull-ups?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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