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From Heart & Soul: The Caliber of an Idea
Good ideas should not have rank, they should have influence. While championing the concept of the strategic corporal, the hierarchical culture of the Marine Corps simultaneously stifles forward thinking junior leaders whose amount of responsibility they are expected to shoulder on small unit levels does not parallel the influence their ideas may have. In an environment contradicting to the proclaimed relevance of the strategic corporal, the intellectually curious junior enlisted leader is encouraged to “stay in his lane” rather than expand on his ability to positively impact this organization as it moves rapidly forward into fourth generation warfare.
The caliber of a bullet and the damage it does to the enemy is not dependent on the rank of the Marine pulling the trigger. Likewise, in this warfighting organization, the caliber of an idea and the potential impact it can have on battlefield success should not be dependent on the rank of the mind which conceived it. In the opinion of this lance corporal and fire team leader, the Marine Corps is unnecessarily losing talent and intellectual diversity by virtue of its self-imposed low expectations of its junior leaders; and thereby forfeiting access to the full fruit of their thought. It is encouraging however that top Marine Corps leaders seem to be in tune to this dilemma. General Neller himself has said,
“The Marines that we want to re-enlist don't want to stay because they get tired of being around stupid people. They do. They get frustrated, they get tired of beating their head against the wall. [They say] ‘You guys won’t listen to me, I'm outta here. I'm going to go to college and make a million bucks.’ And they do.”
The good news is that in order for the Marine Corps to truly embrace the idea of the strategic corporal, it need only become more Marine. By this it is meant that we should truly embrace Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ mantra of “engage your brain before you engage your weapon.” The current atmosphere which enlisted Marines are molded in however, does not allow for the development of the critical thinking skills necessary to embrace this concept. Discouraged upon realizing their potential will never be utilized and that their ideas are only seen for their rank, such Marines leave the service and pursue success elsewhere.
While small unit leaders must be tactically and technically proficient, that is no longer in and of itself enough for success. The strategic corporal is more than that; he is the master not only of his weapons system and the tactical employment of his Marines, but also of his environment. His enemies fear not only his killing prowess on the battlefield, but the prowess of his mind and his ability to think-decide-act in a way that will place them in a no-win situation. But this is not the small unit leader we are currently producing.
Why should we bind ourselves with the chains of convention? In order to produce the critical thinking warriors necessary for current and future conflicts, the Marine Corps must be willing to undergo a cultural transition out of its current state of intellectual hierarchal fixation into an organization whose members think as boldly as they fight. Such positive change however may only result from a double sided approach. While top brass in the Marine Corps must take a hard look at the institutionalized problems facing the organization, responsibility also rests upon the shoulders of junior enlisted leaders. Such leaders must challenge both themselves and their Marines to change the cultural status quo that exists.
The enlisted small unit leader currently being produced and the day to day environment in which he exists, is not one who is being encouraged to rise to this challenge. Those who wear black chevrons on their collars and carry a rifle in their hands want and deserve to be trained and held to a higher standard. Their success is the nation’s success. Let’s just hope that they are not afraid to “break out of their lanes.”