Marine captain: ‘We don’t know how to supervise anymore’

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(Marine Corps photo)

It has been a rough few months in the public relations department for the Marine Corps.

In separate incidents, the Corps has taken hits in the last few months for the hazing-related death of Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, the revelation that Marines in Afghanistan urinated on the corpses of dead Taliban last year and the scout sniper community’s use of the stylized “lighting bolt” SS logo popularized by the notorious Nazi SS organization.

Time Magazine’s military blog, Battleland, ties those themes together in a blog post today provocatively titled, “What’s wrong with the Marines?” Some readers will be quick to point out the mainstream media’s alleged hatred for the military, but it’s worth considering where Battleland got its fodder: an active-duty officer.

Capt. Brett Friedman argues on the Marine Corps Gazette’s blog that while it’s possible rank-and-file sniper in the recent logo controversy didn’t know the symbol’s significance, it’s not possible that all staff noncommissioned officers and officers in charge of scout sniper units across the Corps didn’t.

“No way,” he writes. “They just refused to do anything about it.”

Friedman then broadens his argument to make a broader point: “We don’t know how to supervise anymore.” A segment of his piece:

Our culture has brought us to the point where we all bear responsibility for these events. Every one of us. Every NCO who is more concerned with knocking out a checklist than mentoring his young Marines. Every SNCO who spends time searching out uniform regulation infractions. Every officer more concerned with paperwork and formats than setting an example. Every Marine, of any rank, who has told a subordinate to “shut up and color” when he or she pointed out that something was wrong. Our acquiescence to a culture of corrosive leadership has created this problem. We allowed leadership to be conflated with the creation and rote memorization of irrelevant regulations. We stopped mentoring and started poor parenting. We allowed bureaucratization to drown professionalism. We fostered a belief that we are special snowflakes who need rules, but not morality. We hazed Lance Corporal Lew. We desecrated human bodies. We posed in front of Nazi symbology. It’s our fault that the Commandant has had to publicly apologize for a problem that our poor leadership caused.

Friedman isn’t pulling punches, and he isn’t some outsider looking in. One wonders: What kind of attention will his writing receive?

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About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

29 Comments

  1. “It’s our fault that the Commandant has had to publicly apologize for a problem that our poor leadership caused.”

    BS. It’s the sad reality that the public has an insight to military life now more than ever with the advent of social media and instant access to information.

    Scout Snipers have been using the SS logo for many years, and do you want to know why? Because it looks cool. That’s it. It has nothing to do with associating or identifying with the 3rd Reich. It has everything to do with looking edgy and dangerous.

    Hazing has taken on a new meaning since the adoption of hazing rules under Gen. Krulak’s time as the commandant. Kicking a Marine in the ass to get him or her to do their job is not hazing. In most cases it’s a matter of lifesaving.

  2. To be an Officer in my Marine Corps is the ability to lead,,If this captain or any other Officer cannot lead or does not know how to lead, than he obviously has not had the proper training to be in the position of leadership. I was always taught ,,,that Leadership comes from the example of its Officers and staff NCO’s.

    A Marine Officer has to lead, otherwise chaos will be rampant. Take charge of your Marines.

  3. The good Captain is correct. Unless we recognize a problem we cannot defeat it. I would add this type of erosion in leadership is not uncommon, especially seen in-light of our ten years in GWOT. To meet the needs of that mission our Corps has been expanded from 180, 000 Marines to 211,000. The law of “un-intended consequences” is a rapidly expanded officer and SNCO corps making the members of those ranks relatively junior and in-experienced. In example, it is my personal observation that the time and experience needed to become a Gunnery Sergeant seems rather short. It is not uncommon in this war-time Marine Corps to have Gunnery Sergeants who have been in the Corps for less than ten years, and are still in their 20’s… unheard of/very rare in the pre-9/11 Marine Corps! Until end strength numbers begin to coalesce and stabilize, our expectations of our junior leaders will continue to be unmet.

  4. As an Army spouse to a Command Sergeant Major, I speak from a perch atop a fenceline between military and civilian life.

    Leadership is indeed LACKING.

    It is lacking in the military as well as in our government, as it fades from the very core values our nation was founded upon. It is lacking in our communities, too.

    My CSM is a rare breed – a frustrated, crusty infantry grunt whose leadership is solid and frequently met with senior apathy all around. This career soldier who somehow finds his leadership hailed as an achievement, when rather it should be expected. Not nearly enough of our military members are being mentored by strong, steady and dutiful leaders who not only set the example but back it up with history and reverence.

    The very same can be said for our leaders in government who spend more time quieting and coddling the masses instead of rolling up their sleeves and taking action.

    Our proud Marines are better than a few headlines and a lack of leadership. All of our military members are better than that. Within, and from outside, we owe them the continued expectation of leadership in action.

    Hooah.

  5. The hazing case has been heard and the Marine in question was found to be NOT GUILTY. I’m not sure why a Marine who has been found innocent requires an apology be made for him.

    The corpse incident was unfortunate. While I agree it needs to be addressed, if peeing on some dead terrorists is the worst we can do, I’d say we’re on a pretty freaking decent track. Marines see their brothers die or be left disfigured, or are themselves disfigured from the cowardly tactics those savages use. Then they come home and in many cases lose their families and any semblance of peace of mind in what should be the comfort of their own homes because of the memories and the sorrow they carry. They need an outlet. The last time we were at war for a decade, our troops came home addicted to heroin.

    And the Scout Sniper incident should never have been made an issue in the first place. It’s type font. That’s all. Anyone who believes that there’s a commanding officer anywhere in the Marine Corps who would not only tolerate, but embrace as his standard Nazi propoganda clearly knows nothing about the Marine Corps and isn’t owed an explanation.

    Shame on you, Captain Brett Friedman. And shame on General James Amos for turning his back on his Marines to grovel at the feet of Liberal America!

  6. I am a combat Marine with experience and leadership. 12 years in, 5 deployments, up for Meritorious Gunny, 30 years old and absolutely love being a Marine. But I am getting out. Everything I love about the Corps is slowly dying. It seems to be all about image image image now. As a leader I find myself no longer asking “What have I learned today and how can I pass it on to a junior Marine?” It’s more along the lines of “What have I done today to make the Marine Corps look better to protect it’s sensitive feeling?” Or “What other ridiculous extra collateral duty will I be tasked with today to provide a check in the box to cover my CO’s beind?” If you have not served specifically in the Marines then I don’t expect you to understand. Our mindset is drastically different from any other organization I can think of. We have a deep and embedded love for the Corps. What hurts me more than ever is to see the Corps (or leadership..however you want to say it) start to treat Marines like they are advertisements for its insecure self image. You can respond back and say how I need to get out, suck it up Marine, You’re the reason why yada yada yada, but I say FU! It’s my opinion. I have served my country and have learned an immense amount of information. I am thankful for what the Marine Corps has done for me. But now I must pass the torch to some motivated Devil Dog who will be up to tackling the demanding leadership issues that the Corps is undoubtedly setting itself up for.

  7. “As an Army spouse to a Command Sergeant Major…”

    ::SKIP::

    Thanks for putting that out there first, I know right away I need to read no further.

  8. Joe Marine,

    You complain that ” all about image image image now” but the first thing you did is tell us how cool you are with your five deployments and that your up for meritorious Gunny (Isn’t every SSgt up for meritorious Gunny?).

    You won’t get out though, people like you are too scared to face reality.

    ‘I don’t like it anymore, I’m going home:(‘. –Joe Marine

    Bye.

  9. I’m a corpsman in the united states navy and while i’ve never been deployed or have seen combat, I have seen what happens when good leadership and mentoring of not just junior sailors but junior corpsman is traded for self image and ” BLUE-side” politics.

    I went from seeing about 10 patients a day for acute care purpose’s for a year straight and having a wonderful department head who would take time out of his day to get to know us and mentor us on life and medicine { by the way, he is a “mustang” }

    to having a brand new LT nurse pull me out of patient care to scream at me about supplies.

    It’s highly frustrating and it makes me question everyday why leadership is allowed to exist.

    If navy medicine is becoming more about how we look than furthering our advances into providing the best medical care possible to our fellow marine’s and sailor’s abroad…

    With all due respect: That is dishonorable, illogical, and i will not break my backbone for such a thing.

  10. Sarah —

    For the record, three Marines were charged in connection with the hazing of Lance Cpl. Lew. Sgt. Johns was found not guilty, but another Marine will spend time in the brig and a third has yet to be tried.

  11. When I exited the Marine Corps my Bn XO asked me several questions to determine my motive. One of my replies refered to the erosion of leadership, both proffesional and moral, that I witnessed at the staff and command level. His reply was to admit this failure, excuse it as normal, and compare it with examples of poor civilian leadership. When I explained to the man that poor leadership could be expected in the civilian workplace but was not unacceptable in the United States Marine Corps he did not reply, perhaps he did not know how too. It is not often that a Major does not reply…I supose the truth can hurt sometimes.

  12. The Bottom Line is “Lack of Discipline” and it starts with the recruiter all the way to the Commandant. James Amos is a joke. This shit wouldn’t be happening in a General Al Gray or Carl Mundy Marine Corps no way in hell. The discipline is gone as well as the luster and heritage/traditions. Because now we have to be politically correct, everyone is trieng to protect there next promotion. You can’t even look at another Marine cross without being brought up on charges. Face it the technological era and the media has damaged this one proud faternity and Marines like James Amos who lack a spine and sucks politician ass sit back and let it happen. It is all about image now my god backpacks in garrison, sleeves down, bracelets, swearing, a little bit of hazing, pretty soon the stress cards will come back etc etc. what a Goddamm joke. My kid is a Marine and I am a Marine veteran the shit that comes out of his mouth is astonishing he had more discipline before he went to bootcamp than he does now after bootcamp. What a shame you fucking suck Amos you POG fucking Airwinger clown.

  13. I really don’t know why anyone should expect anything different. It is all about culture anyways. Just look at the TV show on MTV like “Jack Ass”. If we did half of those things on TV to anyone else it would be just as bad. It is a leadership failure yes, but not directly. Ethics and morals have eroded in our country to the extent that we cann’t even recognize right from wrong until after it is too late. What is worst is that no one is taking responsibilty. They are blaming Marines and starting “investigations” but this does not fix the problem. It only fixes the symptoms. The sniper “SS” thing has been going on since at least 1998. Thats when I joined the Marine Corps. No one thought it was a problem until after it was made public. If it was not wrong for the last 14 years why is it wrong now? What changed? Why have there not been any “generals” taking responsibilty until now. Why are we changing the name of a FOB in Afghan when it was used to honor a local tribe. For those who don’t know “Aryans” are a tribe of people from that part of the world. To deny that is to deny Afghan’s culture and history. Now the trend seems to be to jump on the band wagon and blame everyone else for everything to make ourselves look good. So my next question would be for the Capt. What now Sir? What are you doing to fix it?

  14. No Captain Friedman it’s the Commandants fault and your fault for not instilling the discipline that once was, that made the Marine Corps great, that made us stand out above the other branches. Now your dictated by a bunch of political idiots and the Commandant and guys like you won’t stand up to people like that, your to scared “DICKHEAD”!!!!!!

  15. Dan,

    Thank you for pointing that out. You’re right.

    I still maintain that no apology regarding that incident was necessary though. An innocent man has nothing to be sorry for. A man in the brig doesn’t have to be sorry either. He’s being punished, and that’s that. Apologizing for a man who hasn’t been tried is implying he’s guilty before he’s even had a chance to have his case heard.

    Captain Friedman and General Amos are apologetic weaklings. Grow some spines, men!

  16. Joe,

    He never said how “cool” he was. That was your own interpretation of what he put as basic background information. And what exactly is reality? Not being in the military is reality? Your moot comment and justification are null and void.

  17. I would like to use the swastika as a symbol for my unit. Since it has been ok for the ss to be used, I should be good right? I’m not being racist, I’m Mexican if your wondering

  18. If there are a group of people that can face the “real world” its the military. They are the ones that must be constantly aware of what is going on in the WORLD because they may be sent there at a moments notice. When they are over there it’s life or death. That seems pretty “real world” to me. Joe I think you idea of the real world may fall into the category of being an American not in the military. Well if you think that being completely oblivious to what is going on outside of our Nation, worrying about the latest iPhone that is coming out, debating about Madonna’s Super Bowl performance, and not even realizing there is still a war going on, then who is really living in a fantasy world? The average American is that’s who. I find your comment about Military members ignorant and shows your terminal lance true colors.

  19. WOW!!! All I can say is this shit started back in the early 2000’s!!! We put to much trust in the E1 – E3 community!!! They run the Marine Corps!! What they say goes!!! Hell do what I did get out and make some real money!!! Fuck that bullshit the Corp is selling!! You only going to get fucked in the end!! But if you must stay in don’t do to much and don’t do to less. Hell don’t even try to be number one the fall is to hard to handle!!! Just stay low and your rank will come on time and your life will be fine!!! Only get involved if order to do so!! Other than that laugh at everything and leave work at work !!! Next thing you know your twenty is over!!! You get a nice retirement check every month!!! You get a good government job paying in the six figures!!! Your health is good and you still look like you are in your twenties!!! Than you read articles like this and smile to yourself thinking dam they still don’t know how to play the game!!!! Semper Fi Marines hell it could be worst!!! Lets get ready for the black top in the morning!!! Good night ladies!!!

  20. A few points of order from a veteran.

    1- Marines are not special- they bleed just like soldiers, sailors and airmen. They are told by other Marines that they are special. Get over it.

    2- The troops can be nothing other than representative of the society and culture they come from. Maybe the Marines should choose recruits and officer candidates more carefully.

    3- Hazing and harassment went out a very long time ago and should not be tolerated. Show me a troop bullied until they commit suicide and I will show you a Chain of Command that is not doing it’s job.

    4- Leadership starts at the team/squad level. Military units live and die by the NCO. Who gets chosen to be Team Leader/Squad Leader is going to have a great deal to do with the quality of the unit. Bad Corporals and Sergeants make for bad squads.

  21. Friedman is part of what is WRONG with the Marine Corps. That he continues to insist that the SS symbol for the Scout Snipers has something to do with Nazi’s alone says he is one of those POGs that is clueless of what the Marines do. That he suggests that the event on hazing was really hazing also shows that he is one of the ones that wants to panzy down the Marines – which will cost them their LIVES some day. That he draws into the line of fire the video as something of moral decay – thhhppptttt – most of us Moms cheer OOOhhh Rah for these boys finally speaking OUR voice on a few of the taliban since the weak command won’t let our boys shoot them in the first place until they are being fired on! The only valid point is that the up-line command have spent so much time on paperwork and stupidity that they have forgotten what the Marines are all about. Much of that is because we have no real Generals anymore, only barbie dolls like Amos, who have nothing better to do than bend over like the commander in chief and let sh*t roll downhill on the enlisted. And staff POGs who think nothing of writing up cr&p like this, medals for themselves (for doing nothing), and stupid regs that have squat to do with winning a war. And staff POGS who think nothing of sitting in a comfy chair and writing stupid stuff like this guy’s junk saying the SS logo is a nazi symbol to the snipers, etc. Chesty has to be rolling over in his grave.

    Well – it is no wonder that the snipers are quitting as fast as their time will allow.

  22. An Officer who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Please, Do time in a grunt unit – 4 to 8 years preferably.

    I’m sure the past vet from WW2, Vietnam, and Desert Storm are laughing/rolling their ass.

  23. Part of our downfall stems from the way we do fitness reports. Generally a 2nd or 1st Lieutenant writes the fitrep of a Sgt or above. They have no idea what his job is but they are charged with evaluating.

    Then you have promotion boards. They look at these fitness reports. Okay, he looks good, he doesn’t..he does, he doesn’t. Okay, what have they done outside their MOS. B billet, BTT team, etc….

    Third, SNCO’s are supposed to train junior Officers. But someone forgot to tell them that. So they continue to get promoted as well. And we, the SNCO, have no input on their evaluation. So tell me, why are we training them again? Did anyone know I’ve had to request mast to get a Major to do his pro’s and con’s because two Master Gunnery Sergeants and a Sergeant Major didn’t have enough influence on the COC to get him to sit down and make his recommendations? (which was as simple as saying concur on all 400 or so Marines) I mean, seriously did they think they were gonna make E10 or were they so worried about pissing off someone that high ranking that they forgot it’s their job (number 2 mission in the Corps) to take care of Marines. I may not make Gunny but by God I can sleep at night.

    Did I mention we are promoting Marines that can’t spell MOS? Oh but they have a black belt, they must be good.

    Look, we (air wing and grunts, Corps as a whole) need to rewind about 15 years and start over.

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