Tuesday, August 26, 2003


Via: Milinet
"Reprinted from Proceedings with Permission -
Copyright © 2003 U.S. Naval Institute."

August 2003


Where Are My Leaders?

Sgt. Dugald M. Tonn, USMC

This is a situation report from the most important part of the Marine
Corps-the "trenches," where the glamorous plans created at higher
headquarters are executed. Here, at the bottom, is reality.

Down here there is no time for politics. There is no brain-warping
terminology for every different mission undertaken, and every confrontation
is "high intensity," whether termed a low-intensity conflict or a military
operation other than war.

I know I need to be trained hard, realistically, and thoroughly to survive
and accomplish my mission. I must be led from the front by example-not by
intimidation or edict. My fellow noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and I have
to be trained and tempered to develop the leadership qualities needed on
lethal battlefields. Regrettably, this is not what we see down here.

Although it looked at first glance as if the Corps was shucking its
peacetime shackles and readjusting to the deadly business of war fighting in the
aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, there was insufficient combat
training. It was peacetime business as usual: for example, energetically
issued orders from higher headquarters that reflective belts be worn while
running during periods of reduced visibility, and mandated classes on drunk
driving and the effects of sexually transmitted disease. Before the dust
from the collapsed World Trade Center towers had settled, my unit-which has
no women assigned to it-had to complete Defense Advisory Committee on Women
in the Service questionnaires on equal opportunity. True resurgence of
preparation for combat never happened. Down here, we were stunned.

It seems the priorities and focus of most officers and staff NCOs have
changed. Could it be that leaders are so worried about how they look on
paper they have been overcome by risk aversion? Is a leader's tour of duty
successful if it is uneventful? From where I stand, risk aversion has become
the defacto benchmark for today's careerists. Training too often is watered
down to ensure nothing goes awry-not for troop safety, but for protecting
careers. Tough training for war often is overcome by administrative events.

Rather than empowering NCOs, the micromanagement of attrition warfare
remains the norm. The three-block war, where small-unit leaders are expected to make
judgment calls and decisions that would give pause to seasoned company-grade
officers, is not being practiced. Leaders fear NCOs will make mistakes that
cause the leaders to look bad. But NCOs cannot learn to make decisions by
reading books and listening to lectures. They need to soak up lessons
learned through trial and error, so that one day, in the heat of future
combat, they can make decisions that bring their Marines home victoriously
and safely.

Bureaucratic demands have produced mind-numbing rules and regulations that
make perfect paperwork more important than effective training. Formatted
briefs and planning guidelines are tools to use in building good habits and
ensuring nothing is omitted. They are not the main goal. Today's leaders,
however, train to craft perfect plans on paper and make the prettiest
presentations with all the computer support imaginable. Substance has been
superceded by form.

Careerism hazards the bond of trust between the leader and the led. A good
Marine will follow orders. Whether he follows willingly, however, depends on
that bond. If the leader shows he cares more about himself and his career
than his troops, there will be no bond-and, in my view, that bond is not
down here. Other than formal room inspections, I never have seen a staff NCO
or officer in any unit to which I have been assigned visit the barracks
after hours or on weekends to see how his Marines live, what they are doing, and what they are
thinking. Were such visits part of the "old Corps" that has gone by the wayside?

The fact we are warriors appears to have been forgotten. Regardless of
politically correct polishing of mission statements and warfighting
publications, the harsh nature and stark reality of war remains. My leaders
seem almost embarrassed by this, as if training to attack and kill the enemy
is somehow wrong. Sessions on consideration of others, equal opportunity,
and sexual harassment may be personnel management priorities in peace time,
but they must not become the Marine Corps' point of main effort. Management
should not supplant leadership.

Fancy technology, transformational equipment, and modernized weapons are
important. Leadership by example is vital-and down here, we will return 110%
on that investment.

Sergeant Tonn, a reconnaissance team leader in the 2d Reconnaissance
Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, recently returned from deployment
with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.