Leading Marines.com

General Mattis at the 2014 Semper Fidelis Award Dinner

"Now from a distance I look back on what the Corps taught me:
To think like men of action,
And to act like men of thought!
To live life with intensity,
And a passion for excellence..."

Gen Mattis Speech

Long time since we served together in Brigade, cruised the West Pac
Or since I drank one of your Cokes on the March up to Baghdad.
General Gray, General Conway, General Pace, General Amos, General Paxton –
Marines whose very goodness put ambition out of context.
Sergeant Major Barrett – a Marine’s Marine. Colonel Harvey Barnum who for so many
years – your valor inspired us all to be better men.
Ladies – The wonderful ladies who exemplify grace & courage
Who represent our better angels and what we fight for.
Thank all of you for coming out tonight – A night that celebrates our Corps’ values, its legacy
and its mission.
A special note of appreciation for President of the Marine Corps University Foundation
Gen Tom Draude
Valiant combat leader who brought a Vietnam Vet’s reassurance to us as we filed into
our Desert Storm attack positions
And earned our everlasting respect & affection
We have Ambassadors present,
Whom Marines have stood beside in foreign lands
And members of Congress and staffers,
To whom we owe our survival when short –sighted bureaucratic efforts challenged our existence,
combined, they remind us our Corps carries more than our own hopes forward.
General Conway & General Amos spoke about this Foundation – I’ll add a few words.
Between Commandant’s Reading List and the Marine Corps University Foundation’s enriching
the education of our warrior leaders – I have never been bewildered for long in any fight with our
enemies – I was Armed with Insight. In the worst of surprises we found our training and
education had prepared us well.
I am a very average Marine- at this podium tonight because I repeatedly was at the right place, at
the right time to gain warfighting positions. I recall a Fleet Commander asking if I could bring
Marines from the Mediterranean together with a West Coast Marine Expeditionary Unit and
strike 350 Nautical Miles into Afghanistan. I could, thanks to the Marines who went before me
My immediate response was, “Yes”!
Thanks to our Corps’ legacy of audacity
Thanks to our Marines in 1950 who brought in KC 130 aircraft.
Thanks to our Amphibs, which our Navy-Marine-Corps Team funded.
Thanks to our Marines of the 1960 -1970s who put air refueling probes on Heavy Lift
Thanks to our Marines who brought in Light Armored Vehicles in 1980.
Thanks to our Recruiters who brought in High –Quality Marines.
Thanks to our Commandant who extended boot camp and toughened it.
None of this started with me – most of the thinking was done in Quantico. And for me – so often
in the right place at the right time I have an enormous sense of gratitude for a Corps that gave me
such capability when destiny called on our Corps to fight.
Images flash through my mind– and I speak from my heart: of an Eighth & “I” parade in honor
of John Glenn who remarked that night:
He had been a Marine for 23 years…but not long enough.
That was from a man fought in WWII & Korea and was the first American to orbit the
His wingman in Korea, baseball legend Ted Williams, put it well when asked which was best
team he ever played on. Without hesitation he said, “The U.S. Marine Corps.”
On evenings like this most of us will remember the tragedy of losing comrades
Beautiful Marines whose rambunctious spirits gave us what F. Scott Fitzgerald called
“Riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”
And we remember them, everyone, who gave their lives so our experiment called America, could
And for us who live today…
We do so with a sense that each day is a bonus and a blessing.
To the Veterans who brought up the current generation of Marines who imbued in us the spirit
“such as Regiments hand down,”
Thank you!
You raised us well for our grim tasks!
During our apprenticeship you coached us and honed our skills with a sense of humor in
a tough school.
And when the time came for us to stand and deliver, we never feared the enemy. We only feared
we might somehow disappoint you.
But with good NCO’s the outcome was never in doubt,
And the NCO’s were superb, Sergeant Major Barrett
And all Marines, regardless of rank,
Stood shoulder –to-shoulder
Stood co-equal in our commitment to mission
Co-equal, from boot private to General
Smiling to one another, even as we entered Fallujah
Knowing the enemy could not stand against the Corps you Veterans honed.
Because every Marine, if he was in a tough spot – whether a bar fight, or tonight in Helmand
River Valley,
our fellow Marines would get to us, or die trying.
So long as our Corps fields such Marines, America has nothing to fear from tyrants, be they
Fascists, Communists or Tyrants with Medieval Ideology. For we serve in a Corps with no
institutional confusion about our purpose:
To fight!
To fight well!
As we say out West where I grew up, “We ride for the brand”, and hold the line until our
country can again feel its unity.
From our first days at San Diego, Parris Island or Quantico, NCO’s bluntly explained to us that
the Corps would be:
Entirely satisfied if we gave 100%
And entirely dissatisfied if we gave 99%
And those NCOs taught us the great pleasure of doing what others thought impossible.
As General Amos summed it up so well in his Marine Birthday message: “The iron discipline &
combat excellence” of our Marines:
Marines who never let each other down, never let the Corps down, never let our country
Those are the Marines who define our Corps.
A Corps whose old-fashioned values protect a progressive country.
Marines who can do the necessary “rough work”, but without becoming evil by doing so, despite
an enemy who has opened apocalyptically the aperture for who they target, to include even
women and children.
It’s all the more important today that we hold to our precious legacy of ferocious, ethical combat
For in a world awash in change, Americans need to have confidence in the everlasting character
of our Marines
And to those Maniacs, the ones who thought that by hurting us on 9-11 that they could scare us,
we have proven that the descendants of Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Hue City &
We don’t scare
And we proved it in Fallujah & Ramadi and in the Helmand,
Where foes who had never reasoned their way into their medieval views and could not be
reasoned out – found that American Marines could fight like the dickens,
And for the enemy it proved to be their longest and worst day against us.
Now from a distance I look back on what the Corps taught me:
To think like men of action,
And to act like men of thought!
To live life with intensity,
And a passion for excellence,
Without losing compassion for mistakes made,
by hi-spirited young patriots who looked past hot political rhetoric and joined the Corps – which
taught me to be a “coach” in General LeJeune’s style,
Summoning the best from our troops
The Father to Son, Teacher to Scholar bond bringing out the vicious harmony when
together, we closed on the enemy.
We were taught that the strongest motivation we all have,
Whether an FA-18 pilot or a Huey door gunner
Whether a “cannon cocker” firing a mission or logistics Marine hurrying supplies
The motivation that binds us is our respect for and commitment to a 19 year old Lance Corporal
infantryman upon whose young shoulders our experiment called America ultimately rests….
Now this award can never be mine –
And because we are members of the same tribe,
every one of you knows what I will say next….
For I am grateful & humbled to be singled out with you tonight:
An average Marine who always had good fortune to repeatedly be in the right place at the right
A “limited duty officer” as Commandant of the Marine Corps Jim Jones put it – who only knew
what to do with me when there was a fight.
But this award is truly not made to a man, to an individual,
it is made through me
For my work with those who shouldered Rucksacks,
Work that was carried forward by our Grunts,
And I will hold it in trust for those lads whose unfailing loyalty we celebrate tonight, who chose
to live life fully – more than they wanted longevity. Even when I made mistakes they saved the
And I made plenty –
Like the time I got my Battalion surrounded in open dessert, with
My mortar Platoon spilling out and
Setting up 4 tubes pointing north, and 4 tubes pointing south and, they restored the
Yes, even in a jam of my own making –
The lads’ spirit, skill and good humor carried us through when danger loomed.
So on behalf of such lads
I hold this award in trust –
For the lads who prove Hemingway was right when he said, “There was no one better to have
beside you when the chips were down than a U.S. Marine.”
For to Marines, love of liberty is not an empty phrase… Rather it’s displayed by blood, sweat
and tears for the fallen. I was humbled that our Corps allowed me to serve over four decades,
Yet as Colonel John Glenn – a fighter pilot, astronaut and Senator put it –
It wasn’t long enough –

Semper Fidelis and May God hold our lads close.

Captain John James McGinty III USMC - Medal of Honor

Captain John McGinty was born on January 21, 1940 in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on February 19, 1957.

Between 1957 and 1965 he served in a numerous billets including: Rifleman, USMCR 7th Infantry Company, Louisville, Kentucky; Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station, Kodiak Alaska;  Rifleman and Squad Leader,  Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines; Drill Instructor, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina; and Assistant Brig Warden, Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Base, Norfolk, VA.

Captain (then Sergeant) McGinty joined the 4th Marines in Vietnam during April of 1966. While in Vietnam he served as Platoon Sergeant, Platoon Commander in K Company, 3rd Bn 4th Marines as well as billets in H&S Company 3/4 and 4th Marine Regiment.  The actions for which he was later awarded the Medal of Honor occurred during Operations Hastings.

Upon returning to the U.S. he served as a Drill Instructor at Parris Island until his promotion to 2nd Lieutenant and then assumed duties immediately as a Series Officer. 

On 12 March, 1968 he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson with fellow Marine Captain Robert J. Modrzejewski at the White House.

Captain McGinty retired from the Marine Corps in October 1976 and passed away on 17 January, 2014 at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Medal of Honor citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Acting Platoon Leader, First Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division, in the Republic of Vietnam on 18 July 1966. Second Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant) McGinty's platoon, which was providing rear security to protect the withdrawal of the battalion from a position which had been under attack for three days, came under heavy small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire from an estimated enemy regiment. With each successive human wave which assaulted his thirty-two-man platoon during the four- hour battle, Second Lieutenant McGinty rallied his men to beat off the enemy. In one bitter assault, two of the squads became separated from the remainder of the platoon. With complete disregard for his safety, Second Lieutenant McGinty charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to their position. Finding twenty men wounded and the medical corpsmen killed, he quickly reloaded ammunition magazines and weapons for the wounded men and directed their fire upon the enemy. Although he was painfully wounded as he moved to care for the disabled men, he continued to shout encouragement to his troops and to direct their fire so effectively that the attacking hordes were beaten off. When the enemy tried to out flank his position, he killed five of them at point-blank range with his pistol. When they again seemed on the verge of overrunning the small force, he skillfully adjusted artillery and air strikes within fifty yards of his position. This destructive fire power routed the enemy, who left an estimated 500 bodies on the battlefield. Second Lieutenant McGinty's personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist the repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

General Stanley McChrystal - Leadership is a Choice

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"Leadership is not a talent or a gift. It's a choice. It's not complex, but it's very hard.", General Stanley McChrystal explains to a packed auditorium of 600 at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. McChrystal shares his perspective on leadership and influence discussing the importance of understanding culture, leading by example, building trust, and creating a common goal within a team.

General McChrystal is a four-star general and former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. He also served as the former leader of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Books by Stanley McChrystal

My Share of the Task: A Memoir

Counterinsurgency Challenge, The: A Parable of Leadership and Decision Making in Modern Conflict

Mental Toughness Traits

Coach Bobby Knight said
Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bobbyknigh378526.html#CG0dZ4l3yFV1zO28.99
Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bobbyknigh378526.html#CG0dZ4l3yFV1zO28.99
"Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one".  There is no doubt that this is true of all Marine Leaders as well. 
Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid by 
Cheryl Conner in Forbes highlights 13 common mental toughness traits for successful leaders.

It is hard to move forward if you are always stopping or looking in the rear view mirror.

2013 Marine Corps Birthday Message

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2013 Marine Corps Birthday Message: Enduring Fortitude,
Unfailing Valor

10 November 2013

     For 238 years, the United States Marine Corps has proudly served our great Nation with unfailing valor - bolstered by the enduring fortitude of our fellow Marines, our families, and our friends.  This is why each year on November 10th, Marines from all generations gather together, in groups large and small, to celebrate the birthday of our Corps and to reflect our proud legacy and warrior ethos we share.  This is what unites us as Marines. From our first battle at New Providence to today in Afghanistan, Marines have always shown that they were made of tougher stuff - that when the enemy's fire poured in from all angles, and the situation was grim, Marines unequivocally knew that their fellow Marines would stay behind their guns, fight courageously, and drive the enemy from the battlefield.  We have always known hardship, fatigue, and pain ... but we have never known what it is to lose a battle!
    Marines of generations past built our reputation as the most disciplined and honorable warriors to ever set foot on a battlefield, and we have triumphed in every battle because our Corps has always focused on iron discipline and combat excellence.  This is who we are...this is what we do!  It matters not whether you carried an M-1, an M-14, or M-16.  It matters not whether you fought on a lonely island in the Pacific, assaulted a citadel in the jungle, or marched up to Baghdad.  It matter no whether you are a grunt, a pilot or a loggie.  What matters is that, when the chips were down and things got tough, your fellow Marines could count on you to stand and fight ... and fight you did!
     This year, we celebrate the anniversary of several epic battles in our celebrated history:  70th anniversary of the 2nd Marine Division landing on Tarawa, the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Hue City, and the 10th anniversary of the "March Up" to Baghdad.  Marines who fought in these legendary battles each made their mark upon the history of our Corps.  They have passed a rich and illustrious legacy on to us - a much heralded reputation.  It is ours to jealously guard, and it up to us to make our own marks and thus proudly pass it on to the generations of marines who will follow.
Sergeant Major Michael Barrett joins me in congratulating each of you.  Because of you, your selfless service, and your many sacrifices, our Corps remains strong and ready to respond to any crisis.  Throughout history, Marines have faced tough times and there will be tough times ahead, but there is no challenge we cannot overcome if we remain honorable and always faithful to our Nation, our Constitution and each other.  Happy Birth Day, Marines!
Semper Fidelis,


General James Amos
James F. Amos
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

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Bombing Of The Marine Barracks Beirut - 30th Anniversary

October 23, 2013 marks the 30th Anniversary of the bombing of the Marine Headquarters in Beirut Lebanon.  241 American Marines, Sailors and  Soldiers lost their lives in the biggest terrorist attack against American's at the time. 

Although there had been terrorist attacks prior to the Beirut bombing, October 23rd, 1983 is the mark on the wall for many of us as the date the war on terrorism began.

Most American's can remember where they were on 9/11.  If you were serving at the time, most Marines can remember where they were when the Barracks was hit. The loss to the Marine Corps was the greatest single day death toll for the Marine Corps since the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.  The lasting impact was felt throughout the Marine Corps in both negative and positive ways.

The loss of so many good brothers on a noble mission weighed heavily on all Marines. Their memory was carried forward by all Marines and Marine leaders like General Al Gray who would change the focus of the Marine Corps back to warfighting. 

Beirut Bombing

Every Marine who has served since October 23rd, 1983 stands on the shoulders of these great American's who paid the ultimate price that day. 

The Beirut Veterans of America's motto is “The First Duty is to Remember.”  Marines - we will never forget.  Remember your brothers by making sure that you are well trained and always ready to carry on their legacy.

The Importance of "Brilliance in the Basics"

The leadership challenges Marines face are greater than ever before.  Do the phrases too much to do, too little time, and too many requirements sound familiar?  If it hasn't already hit you, get ready because you'll have greater challenges with fewer resources and fewer Marines in the future.

In 2004 LtCol. B.P. McCoy wrote a very good article in the Gazette called
Brilliance in the Basics.  McCoy does a great job talking addressing the operational impact of being well trained in the basics.   

The Marine Corps is entering a post war period very similar to the post Vietnam era.  The Marine Corps had left over vehicles, weapons and equipment from Vietnam and they were driven into the ground. 

Ask anyone we served in the 70s and early to mid 80s and they'll tell you about no money for fuel, ammo, radio batteries and the poor equipment.  

Being "poor" was never an excuse not to train.   In some ways training probably got better because it forced leaders to think of imaginative and creative ways to accomplish training.

The following are some thoughts on how being Brilliant in the Basics can set your unit up for success in the post war draw down period following OIF/OEF.

Remember, just because you don't have the resources doesn't mean you can't train. You must be creative and find ways to train!

You have an obligation to your Marines to make sure they are prepared.

As McCoy implies the basics are easy to say, never easy to do.  In the challenging times you better be good at the basics.  You may not have the resources to do anything else.

Brilliance in the Basics and Other Expectations of Combat Leaders by B.P. McCoy

Passion of Command by B.P. McCoy

Warfighting Cliff Notes (A Synopsis of MCDP 1 Warfighting)

Warfighting Cliff Notes

A Synopsis of MCDP 1 Warfighting

Published by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in 1998 these Warfighting Cliff Notes provide an outstanding overview and reference to one of the best and capstone documents ever written and published by the Marine Corps.  Call it FMFM1, MCDP 1, Warfighting or Maneuver Warfare.   Whatever Marines call it, Warfighting is the basis for every Marine on how they should think and fight.

This publication describes the philosophy which distinguishes the U.S. Marine Corps. This publication provides the authoritative basis for how we fight and how we prepare to fight. While not a reference, this manual is meant to give broad guidance in the form of concepts and values.
This doctrine applies to all Marines. I expect all Marines to read this book, understand it, and act upon it. This publication describes a philosophy for action. The concepts in this book dictate our approach to duty, war, and peace.
Commandant of the Marine Corps

Chapter 1: The Nature of War
War Defined. War is a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force. These groups are not always nations, but can be political groups, terrorists, or guerrillas within nations.
The essence of war is a violent struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other.
The object in war is to impose our will on the enemy. We do this by threatening or using military force. War may range from battles between large military forces to smaller guerrilla clashes. Military force can be used to restore civil peace, or overturn the existing social order.
Friction. Countless factors make war difficult to conduct. When the simple is difficult, and the difficult is impossible, we have friction. Friction can be mental or physical. It can come from enemy actions, terrain and whether, or be self-imposed. War is a human endeavor. Friction has a psychological effect. The main weapon against friction is the human will. Training and experience will teach us how to fight in an environment of friction.
Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the “fog of war.” All decisions in war will be based on incomplete, inaccurate, or contradictory information. We cannot predict the enemy’s actions. Through training, we learn what our capabilities are. We must make sound decisions despite uncertainty. It is important to realize that even small actions in war can have great effects. Every decision counts.
War involves risk. Greater gains often involve greater risk. That does not mean that we should conduct ourselves with reckless abandon.
Chance plays a role in war. Neither we nor the enemy may be able to control events. We must be flexible enough to take advantage of the opportunities which chance gives us.
Fluidity. No one event in war can be isolated. It has been shaped by all of the previous events. Thus war providing fleeting opportunities and surprises. Flexibility is required to adapt to a constantly changing situation. We must also be proactive and shape events to our advantage.
War ebbs and flows like the tides. A high operational tempo cannot be supported forever. Formations will mass to attack the enemy, then disperse.
Disorder. In the “fog of war,” disorder rules the battlefield. Plans are overcome by events. Flexibility and opportunistic will is required. Complex plans rarely work after the first shots.
Complexity. War is not a conflict between two individuals, but between forces consisting of many individuals. War emerges from the collective behavior of the individual parts and players responding to local conditions. No one commander can control every aspect of war.
The Human Dimension. The human will is the central factor in war. War is shaped by human morals and emotions. It is an extreme test of physical strength, will, and stamina. Through proper leadership, the human will drives all actions in war.
Violence and Danger. Violence is an element of war. It produces the greatest horrors. Danger is ever present, along with fear. Fear weakens the will. Leaders study fear and learn to counteract it, building unit cohesion and self-confidence. Courage is strength to overcome fear.
Physical, Moral, and Mental Forces. The physical forces of war are easily recognized, such as men and material. The moral factors, such as a nation’s resolve, are hard to grasp. Mental factors affect our ability to outthink our enemy. Just because the moral and mental factors are hard to identify, does not mean that they can be neglected.
The Evolution of War. The nature of war is constant. Its methods are ever changing. A major cause of these changes is technology. We must be on the cutting edge of tactics and technology while not forgetting those fundamentals which is time tested and constant.
The Science, Art, and Dynamic of War. The science of war applies to those elements which can be measured by scientific methods. This includes ballistics or the effects of weapons.
The art of war requires an intuitive ability to assess a situation and decide upon a course of action. Tactics must fit a particular situation with the assets on hand. War is characterized by human competition. War is a social interaction affected by boldness, spirit, and will.
Conclusion. War is a complex endeavor. It is shaped by the human will. It is characterized by friction, uncertainty, fluidity, danger and disorder. While the nature of war is constant, it remains unpredictable, and is affected by a mix of physical, moral and mental factors. While war has the characteristics of both art and science, it is primarily shaped by human experience.

The Art of War
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

Chapter 2: The Theory of War
War As an Act of Policy.
War is an extension of both policy and politics with the addition of military force. Policy refers to the conscious objectives established in the political process. War must serve policy.
We must not establish goals outside of our capabilities. Many political problems cannot be solved by military means. As war tends to take its own course, the decision to enter into war must be carefully weighed.
War is not simply an extension of policy or politics. War involves cultural, psychological and social factors. These factors affect the course of war as well as war’s usefulness for solving particular problems.
The nature of war becomes more destructive as the policy goal of a war becomes more extreme. The destruction of a government yields more violence than a more limited policy objective. Political considerations may restrict the use of military force.
A strategy of annihilation seeks to destroy an enemy’s military power. We do not have to physically destroy an enemy’s forces, but can incapacitate them. We can reach policy goals by paralyzing the enemy.
A strategy of erosion seeks to erode the enemy’s will. We raise the price of resisting our will. We use this force to meet goals we believe the enemy will eventually give in to.
Means in War. At the highest level, war involves economic, diplomatic, and psychological forces as well as military force.
The Spectrum of Conflict. War ranges from total war to military operations other than war (MOOTW). MOOTW includes peacemaking operations and humanitarian relief. “Small” wars are more probable than a general war . The Marine Corps must be prepared to respond to any situation. “Low intensity” conflicts often have very “high intensity” firefights.
Levels of War. Actions in war take place on several related levels. The strategic level involves national strategy and military strategy. National strategy sets policy objectives and mobilizes the nation’s resources for attaining these goals. Military strategy focus on the military means for attaining policy goals. At the strategic level, forces are distributed and theaters of war are established.
The lowest level is the tactical level. Tactics refers to the techniques and methods for accomplishing a particular mission. Tactics focus on defeating the enemy at a particular place and time. Tactics are focused on winning battles.
The operational level of war links tactics and strategy. At the operational level, we decide where, when and under what conditions we will meet the enemy. The operational level is focused on winning campaigns.
The levels of war overlap and affect each other from the top down and from the bottom up.
Initiative and Response. All actions in war are based on either the initiative to act or a response to an action. Through initiative we seek to impose our will and bring the enemy to our terms. While the striking power of the offense is usually associated with initiative, a good defense also seizes the initiative. The defense can contain a clever way to paralyze the enemy.
We cannot maintain the offense indefinitely. When our ability to continue to attack is gone, we must switch to the defense. This is the culminating point. The offense is most vulnerable to counterattack at this point.
The offense and defense are not completely separate attitudes. Each contains the other. The defense uses patrols and spoiling attacks. The offense requires economy of force actions.
Initiative and response vary at different levels. A nation may be reacting at the strategic level while at a particular place its forces are imposing their will on the enemy.
Styles of Warfare. The styles of warfare exist on a spectrum between attrition and maneuver. Attrition seeks to wear down an enemy’s material resources.
Maneuver warfare seeks to circumvent problems and attack them from a position of advantage. Maneuver warfare seeks to paralyze the enemy system. In maneuver warfare, enemy strengths are avoided and weaknesses are exploited. Maneuver warfare requires speed and surprise, and involves greater risk. Firepower and attrition are necessary elements of maneuver warfare when our forces are focused upon particular elements of the enemy’s forces.
Combat Power. Combat power is the total destructive force we can bring upon the enemy at a given time or place. Combat power consists of material, men, weapons, terrain, leadership, tempo, surprise and many other factors.
Speed and Focus. Speed is rapidity of action. Speed over time is tempo. Speed and tempo are weapons. We cannot be fast at all times, so we develop a rhythm.
Focus is the convergence of combat power on the objective. We must focus our combat power at the right time and place. Focus requires cooperation toward a common goal. Speed and focus give our actions “shock effect.”
Surprise and Boldness. Surprise creates disorientation from an unexpected act which degrades the enemy’s will. Surprise is a weapon. Surprise does not have to be total. Surprise can lead to shock. Surprise allows small forces to defeat larger forces. Surprise is easily lost, and requires speed, stealth, ambiguity and deception to manipulate our enemy’s expectations.
Boldness is exploiting the disorderly nature of war unhesitatingly. It does not mean we always take aggressive immediate action. Boldness requires good situational awareness, strong nerves and craftiness. Boldness involves taking risks. When we decide upon a course of action, boldness demands that we execute it violently.
Centers of Gravity and Critical Vulnerabilities. Centers of gravity may not always be tangible. Morale, capabilities, positions, or the relationship between elements of the enemy forces may be the vital element to the enemy’s ability to fight. We want to eliminate the enemy’s vital components.
We do not want to attack into the enemy’s strengths. We seek to locate his critical vulnerabilities, where our actions will have the most destructive effects. We seek to attack centers of gravity by penetrating the enemy’s critical vulnerabilities.
Creating and Exploiting Opportunity. At times it may be difficult to identify the enemy’s critical vulnerabilities. We may attack each vulnerability until an opportunity arises. Decisive results come from ruthlessly exploiting these opportunities.
Conclusion. All acts of war are political acts. Thus, war must meet policy goals. War takes place on separate levels simultaneously. Each level of war requires speed, surprise, boldness and focus. Our success derives from our ability to exploit critical vulnerabilities and attack the enemy’s centers of gravity. If opportunities do not present themselves, we must create them.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
Strategy: Second Revised Edition
Infantry Attacks (Rommel)

Chapter 3: Preparing for War

Force Planning. Force planning is planning associated with the creation and maintenance of military capabilities. The objective of force planning is a required state of readiness.
Marine Corps force planning is derived from the concepts which describe how Marine Corps forces operate. These concepts describe the types of missions the Marine Corps will undertake and the methods for executing them. These concepts identify what capabilities will be required and coordinate doctrine, training, and equipment purchases.
Organization. Operating forces must be organized to provide forward deployed or rapidly deployable forces capable of conducting expeditionary operations. For operations and training the forces will be organized into Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). Consisting of ground, air and support elements, MAGTFs are task organized to fit specific situations.
Doctrine. Doctrine consists of the central beliefs the Marine Corps has on the subject of war. Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about warfare. Doctrine sets forth broad guidance for the conduct of war.
Professionalism. Marine leaders must be true experts in the conduct of war. They must be individuals of action — confident and resolute. Warfare is a thinking profession. It requires a strong intellect as well as careful study.
Marine leaders must realize their responsibility towards the Marines they will lead in combat. Their resources are human lives.
The Marine Corps’ style of maneuver warfare demands leaders who are intelligent as well as bold. Marine leaders do not act recklessly, however. Mistakes are to be expected, but must not go uncorrected. Timidity is the worst trait a Marine leader can have.
Trust is an essential element in leadership. Trust is earned through mutual respect based on competence. Shared experience builds confidence within a unit.
Relationships between leaders must be based on honesty and frankness. Subordinates must provide professional opinions until a commander has reached a decision. When a decision has been made, all leaders must back up the commander.
Training. The purpose of training is to create forces which can win in combat. Training continues during war so we can learn from the lessons of combat.
All Marines share a bond, heritage, and set of values. Marines’ skills are the foundation of combat effectiveness and must receive emphasis. Strong individual skills lead to strong unit skills and teamwork. Commanders must allow subordinate leaders sufficient time and freedom to train their Marines. Training should be decentralized in order to develop junior leaders.
Training should be relevant, realistic and challenging. Programs should be progressive, building on prior training. Train on all levels simultaneously. Exercises should introduce the “fog of war,” stress, and opposing wills. The art of war can only be practiced if there are opposing wills.
Critiques of training are important for improving our combat effectiveness. Critiques should allow subordinates to frankly state their opinions of an exercise.
Professional Military Education. Professional military education is designed to develop creative, thinking leaders. Marine leaders must be prepared to take on greater and greater responsibilities. Often they will have to fill in for their superiors in combat.
The early part of a Marine’s career is spent learning a particular part of warfare and how his part plays in the total scheme of war. As a leader’s career progresses, his knowledge should become broader, involving combined arms, amphibious, and expeditionary operations. At senior levels, a Marine leader should understand MAGTF capabilities and how war is conducted on all levels.
Professional military education is the responsibility of the Marine Corps, unit commanders and individual Marines. All education should focus on developing talent and judgment.
Commanders should develop their subordinates as a direct reflection on themselves.
Personnel Management. Leading personnel is important to success. Marines should work where they will be most effective. The personnel management system should foster stability and cohesion. Promotion should reward those who seek responsibility and exercise initiative.
Equipping. Equipment should be easy to operate and maintain, reliable, and interoperable with other equipment. Furthermore, equipment should be consistent with Marine Corps doctrine and missions. Marine equipment must operate in areas with little infrastructure for support.
To reduce research and development costs, the Marine Corps employs “off the shelf” systems. All equipment must increase our combat effectiveness. The enhancement in capabilities must outweigh the support structure necessary for maintaining a given piece of equipment.
There must be a balance between specialized equipment and equipment which can be used in many applications. Specialized equipment is easily countered. A broad range of equipment is required in order to allow different courses of action.
As equipment is developed, methods of employment must be devised so that the equipment is immediately useful. Operator training must take place during the development stage.
We must not rely on technology. Technology only enhances our capabilities. Equipment development must be balanced with the development of tactics. By training in basic skills, we will be able to operate even if our equipment fails.
Conclusion. There are two military functions: waging war and preparing for war. Conduct and preparation are intimately related: failure in preparation leads to failure on the battlefield.

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

Leadership And Training For The Fight: A Few Thoughts On Leadership And Training From A Former Special Operations Soldier

Steel My Soldiers' Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam

Chapter 4: The Conduct of War

The Challenge. The challenge for the Marine Corps is to develop a style of warfighting which takes into account the chaotic and fluid nature of the modern battlefield. The challenge is to develop a concept which allows us to use tempo as a weapon. The philosophy must fit the broad spectrum of conflict the Marine Corps is likely to face. We must consider the physical, moral and mental factors of war. The style of warfare must fit our expeditionary nature, where support will be scarce and we will often be outnumbered.
Maneuver Warfare. The Marine Corps style of warfare is based upon rapid, flexible and opportunistic maneuver. Maneuver takes place in both space and time. We can also maneuver into the intangible realms of psychology and technology.
Maneuver warfare seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through rapid, focused and unexpected actions which create a chaotic situation with which the enemy cannot cope.
We seek to bypass enemy defenses and penetrate his system and tear it apart. We make him incapable of resisting. Individual units may fight on, but their actions will not be coordinated.
Firepower is central to maneuver warfare. We will focus our combat power on decisive points when it fits our aims. When we engage the enemy, we violently destroy his forces, aiming to destroy his system.
In order to paralyze the enemy, we must place him in a dilemma from which he has no escape. His situation seems hopeless, causing panic and paralysis.
Speed is necessary to keep the enemy off balance. Besides the ability to move forces in terms of distance and time, we must be able to think, plan and carry out support functions faster than the enemy. Focus maximizes the effects of our combat power. Violence of action causes a shock effect which concentrates on the disruption of the enemy’s ability to react. We strike critical vulnerabilities, and ruthlessly exploit opportunities, searching for the decisive opportunity to inflict final defeat upon the enemy.
Surprise is an essential element of maneuver warfare. We study the enemy to learn about his perceptions and expectations. We exploit these expectations and strike from unexpected avenues. Our axes of attack should allow to strike in many directions in order to keep our intentions ambiguous.
Maneuver warfare demands individuals to be bold, creative and able to cope with uncertainty and chaos. Individuals must have the moral courage to act responsibly. Leaders must think one level above their own in order to keep there unit focused on the mission of higher headquarters.
Orienting on the Enemy. Maneuver warfare focuses on destroying the enemy system. We must understand how the system works so we can penetrate it and rip it apart. We find critical vulnerabilities by looking at the enemy’s unique characteristics.
Penetrating the system means getting into the enemy’s thought process. We must see the enemy as he sees himself, and use his own fears and weaknesses against him. We must realize that our enemy may not fight as we do.
Philosophy of Command. In order to support the fluid and chaotic nature of the battlefield, command must be decentralized. Subordinate leaders must use their own initiative to accomplish tasks which support their senior's intent.
Our philosophy of command must be based upon human relationships and the human factors in war. Our leadership styles must bring out boldness, the force of will, imagination and initiative.
Decentralized command relies upon implicit communication and mutual understanding. This understanding allows us to anticipate each others actions and decisions without communication, increasing tempo. This requires seniors and subordinates to work closely together and build strong relationships. Leaders should always talk to each other directly.
Commanders should command from where they can best shape the action, usually well forward. This allows commanders to influence critical points on the battlefield and makes decisionmaking faster. It also allows for leadership through example.
Leadership by example does not equate to micro-managing. Leaders must also be able to maintain their objectivity and cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.
We must learn to fight effectively in an atmosphere of chaos. Thus, we avoid formulas and procedures. A good plan executed violently now is better than a perfect plan executed later.
This philosophy of command must be practiced during peacetime if it is to be effective during combat. This will develop subordinate leaders.
Competent leaders are required at all levels. Leaders must be bold, and possess sound judgment and initiative. Confidence and trust must exist throughout the chain of command. Shared experience will build trust and cohesion.
Shaping the Action. Through our initiative, we seek to shape the course of events in a conflict. We do not merely take things as they come, but create opportunities by striking the enemy’s critical vulnerabilities. By looking through the enemy’s eyes, we identify our own weaknesses and protect them. We must impose our will forward in time through planning. We seek to cause general effects in order to shape the character of war.
By bending the situation to our demands, we maintain momentum and freedom of movement. The further ahead in time we seek to impose our will, the less precision we will be able to achieve. The higher the level of command, the further ahead in time we must think. We must picture a desired result and shape the battle to meet these desires.
Decisionmaking. All actions in war are the results of decisions or nondecisions. Nondecisions surrender initiative to the enemy. Any decision is preferable to no decision.
When making a decision, we must remain focused on the enemy, his expectations, and his possible reactions.
Time is a critical factor in decisionmaking.
Making decisions and executing tasks faster than the enemy gives us a great advantage. We should recognize times when we must make decisions rapidly and when we have the time to carefully think things through.
Decisionmaking requires situational awareness. Creative solutions, based on intelligence, knowledge and experience, are required.
Moral courage is required to make difficult decisions in the face of uncertainty. Marine leaders must be willing to take on the awesome responsibilities of their positions.
Mission Tactics. Mission tactics support decentralized command. Subordinates are told what to do, but not how to do it. This allows higher level commanders to focus on tactical concerns rather than the details of execution.
Mission tactics are a contract between senior and subordinate. The senior gives the order and provides the tools for the mission. The subordinate executes the mission in accordance with the larger tactical picture.
Commander’s Intent. Commander’s intent allows subordinates to use initiative and judgment. Subordinates can depart from the original plan when the situation demands it. All actions must be consistent with the intent.
There are two parts to any mission: the task and its purpose. Of the two, the purpose, or intent, is more important. The intent is assigned by the commander. This unifies the chain of command’s actions and decisions. The commander’s intent can be a simple “in order to” statement.
Main Effort. The Main Effort is our bid for victory. The unit assigned as the main effort is reinforced with additional combat power in order to achieve success at a given point. Supporting units must think of how their actions will help the main effort.
The main effort must be aimed at an objective that has great effect. Committing the main effort involves risk by concentrating our combat power, and relying on economy of force actions.
In the course of an operation, a commander may shift the main effort in order to exploit an opportunity, hoping to achieve greater success.
Surfaces and Gaps. Surfaces are enemy strengths. Gaps are his weaknesses. We seek to avoid surfaces and penetrate gaps. Surfaces and gaps do not refer to physical forces alone, but to mental and moral factors also. Gaps may also exist in time, such as a period when the enemy can take no action.
Surfaces and gaps are unique to each situation and are constantly changing. Gaps represent opportunities, and when found, must be exploited. When we locate a gap, we seek to “pull” our combat power through it. If no gaps exist, we must create them.
Combined Arms. Combined arms is the full integration of arms so that the enemy is placed in a dilemma. In order to counter one arm, he becomes vulnerable to another. We give the enemy a no-win situation.
Combined arms is accomplished through tactics at lower levels and through task organization at higher levels. Each weapon is used so that it complements another. Through this method we exploit the strengths of each individual weapon. Mobility and maneuver are key weapons in combined arms.
Conclusion. Maneuver warfare exists in the mind of the Marine. It applies to both the battalion commander and the fireteam leader. Maneuver warfare can be used in any situation. It is a basic way of thinking about warfare, and should shape our every action. Maneuver seeks to generate the most decisive effect upon the enemy at the least possible cost to ourselves. It is “fighting smarter.” 


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Patton on Leadership


Some Thoughts on Combat

Cpl Kowshon Ye

LCpl Kody King engages enemy positions with an M2HB .50-caliber machine gun during Operation Bullseye in Kajaki in Afghanistan's Helmand province, Feb. 27, 2013.

A Marine general with experience in three wars shares some of his insights about combat and the things inevitably encountered by those who go to war.

Originally published: January 1993

A Marine general with experience in three wars shares some of his insights about combat and the things inevitably encountered by those who go to war.

As a second lieutenant in The Basic School before World War II, I wondered what war was really like and whether I would stand up to the challenges of combat. Looking back, I believe that I was not alone. It is a fundamental question, one that each Marine must answer for himself.

I believe that experience in a variety of commands in three wars taught me some things that may be valuable to those who follow me in the Corps. I commanded an armored amphibian battalion in the battles for the Marshall Islands, Guam, and Okinawa; I was the chief of staff of the Third Fleet Landing Force, which was the first unit ashore for the surrender of Japan; I served as assistant operations officer and later operations officer of a Marine division in North China; in Korea, arriving just as the fighting was ending, I was the executive officer of several regiments and commanded two infantry battalions; and finally, in Vietnam, I commanded the brigade that provided the landing force for three amphibious operations, and was the assistant division commander, and, for a short-time, division commander on the Demilitarized Zone, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place. In short, my career provided ample opportunity to observe war at close hand.

Americans in Combat

Let’s be honest—whatever national pride and folklore may imply, Americans are not born soldiers. We live too well, are too comfortable, are too democratic and independent-minded. We are primarily an urban population that has all but forgotten how to live in the desert, mountain, or jungle environment where wars are fought. The physically hardened peasant soldier with little or no education or imagination and who is accustomed to the hardships of living “in the field” can be more quickly integrated into a fighting unit.

Our advantages are that with proper training and leadership—and with the most important ingredient, a belief in what we are fighting for—we can develop into deadly fighters. Our troops can handle the most sophisticated equipment, and our men have initiative. The final charge, the last ditch defense, or the unorthodox tactic that succeeds are frequently led or inspired by a private or private first class. In any American unit we have men who can perform an endless variety of tasks. I have seen Marines take over the complicated winches on commercial ships, put plumbing in a camp, and repair sophisticated equipment, totally unrelated to their military occupational specialty. They have ingenuity. There is literally nothing they cannot do.


As for courage and sheer guts, Americans are second to none. It isn’t always the largest, loudest, or self-proclaimed toughest Marine who performs best in combat. Frequently the small, quiet, determined Marine is the one you can count on. I will never forget a Marine named Morton who was in my platoon in the 2d Marines, just before World War II. Although he was a small man, he was the Browning automatic rifleman (BAR-man). The BAR was the largest and heaviest man-carried weapon. On one occasion, the regiment conducted a particularly brutal training march in the extreme heat. We had insufficient water, and the Marines of the unit were collapsing along the side of the road. Not Morton. Head down and covered with sweat, he kept putting one foot in front of the other and never slackened his pace. He never quit, and I knew that I could depend upon him. Courage comes in all sizes and colors. On the other end of the spectrum was one of the largest and loudest members of my class at The Basic School who was evacuated from Guadalcanal with “combat fatigue.”

The question that might be asked is: Are brave men brave and less than brave men that way all the time? From my observations, the answer is: no. One night on Guam after several days and nights under mortar and artillery fire, one of our corpsmen moved from foxhole to foxhole treating the wounded. Let me assure you that the standard practice was that once you were in a foxhole, you remained there for the night, no matter what. Anyone moving about was very likely to be shot. The corpsman was a genuine hero that night; the rest of the operation he was less. It is my belief he used everything he had that night. One could not fault his performance for the remainder of the operation, but the heroics were never repeated.

It is easier for officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to be what passes for brave. With the eyes of the Marines you are leading on you, there is a real incentive to be a leader, and your responsibilities keep your mind engaged. On D-day for Okinawa, I looked from the LST on which we were embarked and saw the terrain we were going to assault. As this was my third amphibious operation, I wondered if I had used up my luck. To put it simply, I would rather have been someplace else. As I got into my command vehicle, I saw the faces of the vehicle commanders and gunners looking at me. There was no choice—I lighted up a cigar (although smoking was strictly prohibited on the tank deck), waved at them, and we launched into the sea to carry out the landing. I suppose the troops thought that if the “Old Man” (age 27) was not worried, there was no reason for them to be concerned. Just as in athletic events, once you have made the first contact, you are ready to go.

Gung Ho

Marines are trained to be aggressive. We believe in ourselves and in our units. Sometimes this can have a high price. Too many times I have seen dead and wounded Marines in front of enemy automatic weapon positions. Instead of calling for artillery or tanks, the Marines tried to take out the positions themselves, at a high cost. I do not have a solution—we all know it is important to be aggressive. Our training should continue to emphasize that, but we must also train to fight smart.

Danger and Security

I believe the most dangerous days in combat are the first and the last. The initial entry to combat exposes you to new terrain, new climate, and to new or unknown enemy tactics and equipment. There is also the fact that you and your unit are untried. Once you get “the lay of the land,” you are prepared to use the training, equipment, and tactics you have been provided. As combat continues and you take personnel and equipment losses, the unit efficiency decreases. Fatigue takes its toll, and more casualties are likely to be taken. Without exception, your “foxhole strength” drops with each passing day, even with replacements being phased in. The replacements are of unknown quality and must be worked into the unit, and must gain the confidence of the “old timers.” Toward the end of combat, or as the date for personal or unit rotation approaches, there is a tendency to become too careful. The philosophy, “I have lived this long, I do not want to buy the farm now,” takes over.

As the days in combat mount up, there is a tendency to get careless. It is impossible to keep an individual or unit at peak performance day after day. The Marines get “salty.” I believe that many Marines who were overseas for more than three years during World War II got to the point that they did not care whether they lived or died; a wound might get them home, so they became careless.

No one can stay 100 percent alert day after day. After a demanding day of patrolling or moving—laden with weapons, packs, equipment, ammunition, and water—even the most physically fit are tired. Bivouac is made, security established, and weapons for defense are sighted. The real security of the unit, however, depends on exhausted men staying alert. That may work for a few nights, then the level of security drops rapidly—sometimes at a terrible cost. The only solution is to provide rest for the men going on watch and to constantly supervise them.

On one occasion, a reinforced rifle company holding an isolated position north of the Cua Viet River in Vietnam provided a classic example of lack of security. This was real “Indian country,” an area of heavy enemy presence. As I walked the perimeter, I could find no one watching, no security. The commander, when questioned, informed me that everyone was watching; no designated security was required. Spurred on by some well-chosen words, detailed security was immediately established. On another occasion, I landed on a mountain top where a radio relay station was positioned overlooking Khe Sanh. Security was minimal, as the NCO in charge believed the forbidding terrain was protection enough. A new NCO was placed in command, claymore mines were installed, and defenses improved. Two days later, when the enemy attacked, the position held just long enough for reinforcements to be flown in. It is my belief that carelessness all too often causes unnecessary losses.

A strange phenomenon was observed in both Korea and Vietnam. Isolated positions, generally on very high ground, became almost a fixation to the men who manned them. Once adjusted to the isolation, they were reluctant to leave their positions. Perhaps they felt safe there, but I believe that it was more complex than that. The Marines developed a strong feeling for and took excessive pride in their area, even though it took a major effort to bring in supplies and water, and the area provide no recreation or amenities.

Observing and Reporting

In combat, almost anything can, and does, happen. Take hundreds or thousands of men, heavily armed and engaged in killing each other; add in the air and sea dimensions, complicated and sophisticated weaponry, forbidding terrain, and weather, factor in the uncertainties of human nature and fate; and the possibilities are close to unlimited. It is possible for one human to see and understand only one narrow spectrum of what is going on, and the probabilities for misunderstanding or error are limitless. An example: The well-known and respected military writer, S.L.A. Marshall, spent a few weeks in Korea and returned home to write that a large percentage of American troops did not fire on the enemy. The implication was that they did not do so out of fear of revealing their positions and thus drawing enemy fire. Balderdash! This opinion drew undue publicity even within the military. The more frequent problem, as I have observed in three wars, was the proclivity of green troops to shoot too much and too soon. I’ll wager that any salty gunnery sergeant will agree with me. Thus the fables of war are created and grow.


In order to survive both physically and mentally, one has to have the emotional release of laughter. Granted, most humor by combat troops takes on a “gallows humor” cast, and much of the rest isn’t fit to print. If one did not have this escape from the deadly reality of combat, it probably could not be borne. The Marine who posted a sign on the edge of his water-filled foxhole that read, “The rain in Laos falls mainly in the house” was dealing with the awful reality of being and staying drenched. The SEALs who published a list of quips before the Panama operation were dealing with the reality of fear. Two of my favorites are “Remember your weapon was made by the lowest bidder,” and “Never get in a foxhole with a man braver than you.” Perhaps the best was “Friendly fire, isn’t.”

Friendly Fire

Much has been made of the casualties caused by friendly fire in DESERT STORM. One can deeply sympathize with families mourning their dead killed by accident rather than enemy action. I believe a large percentage of our casualties have been caused by errors or mistakes in all of our wars. The artilleryman, staggering from fatigue, who sets the wrong data on his sights; the forward observer who calls in the wrong adjustment; the pilot who, in the fog of war, screams down on a friendly target; the antiradar missile that homes in on a friendly radar site; the machinegunner who squeezes off a burst at a returning patrol; and the infantryman who lifts up his head to just look around and catches a bullet between the eyes are all casualties of the confusion, fatigue, and heavy firepower of the battlefield. To these one must add the fleet commander who launches his aircraft too soon; the division commander who reinforces the wrong attack or defends the wrong terrain; and innumerable leaders who made classic mistakes. Are any of the above guilty of anything more than errors in judgment? Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg; Napoleon at Waterloo; Halsey exposing “jeep” carriers and destroyers while he chased enemy carriers in the Battle of the Philippine Sea; and MacArthur allowing the Japanese to destroy his aircraft on the ground a day after the Pearl Harbor attack are all classic examples of senior commanders making errors that resulted in friendly casualties. How has history judged them?

And what if we did not employ the heavy firepower we use in battle to protect our troops and to offset numerically superior enemy forces? Would the casualties be less or greater? War is a brutal and dangerous endeavor in which men—and now women—are exposed to death and horrible wounds. Every leader worthy of the name keeps his casualties to the irreducible minimum, but the simple fact is that war is death and destruction. Lest I be judged too harshly for these observations, let me assure the reader that one of the high points of my life was during one of my World War II battalion’s reunions, when several wives thanked me for bringing their husbands safely home.


War has been accurately described as “periods of great boredom, interspersed with periods of intense fright.” As a corollary, we are faced with the “hurry up and wait” syndrome. The logistics and time lag of moving large bodies of troops and their supplies and equipment, even in this age of monumental air lifts, causes long periods of waiting. DESERT STORM proved the wisdom and efficiency of Marine Corps prepositioned supplies and equipment, yet there were considerable delays while the coalition formed to mass its full combat power in the theater of operations. For those who are moved by sea, the time lag can be even greater. I still remember with horror being at sea in a World War II LST, overloaded with twice the rated troop lift capacity, for over 3 months. And at the end of World War II, coming home from China on a converted liner with 7,700 other returning veterans—certainly a joyous occasion in one sense, but still an interminable trip.

Then there are the buildup and rehabilitation phases. Even with a demanding training schedule, there are still long periods of time that just hang there, boring in the extreme. The lack of mail, special services, fresh food, and the comforts of civilization that we are accustomed to soon grind you down. It is hard to be joyous thousands of miles from home, separated from those you love, lacking the standard of living to which you are accustomed, and being concerned that your next operation or battle will cause grievous harm to your body. To that, add the long patrols that discover nothing, the manning of defensive positions with no action, the endless waiting that is war. All the above can be shattered instantly by an explosion of enemy activity. War is truly periods of great boredom interspersed with periods of intense fright. What makes it bearable is pride and camaraderie.


Wars are fought in the least hospitable parts of the world, or in terrain that soon is turned inhospitable by the actions of the combatants. A Marine once said that Vietnam was the only place on earth where you could stand in mud up to your knees and have dust blow in your face—an accurate description, given the churning the earth took and the crushing or removal of surface vegetation. Add to that the lack of protection from the elements, the cold of Korea, or the heat of the desert. Few combatants remember their battlefields with affection.

With all the humanity that is crowded onto the field of battle, it is a surprisingly lonely place. Well-trained Marines disperse and take cover, or are urged to do so by their officers and NCOs, in order to reduce casualties from incoming mortar or artillery rounds. They are also urged in sometimes ungrammatical, but convincing, language not to get on the skyline where they can be seen and picked off by the enemy.

Although most animals will soon depart the battlefield, insects flourish; flies are everywhere, as are mosquitos and all the little “beasties” that can cause illness and death. Scrub typhus, malaria, denge fever, and dysentery are all well known. To these add sunstroke, frostbite, heat exhaustion, and the danger from heavy and complex equipment needed to fight a modern war. One can only conclude that even without enemy effort, the battlefield is not a healthy place.

In any battle the individual can only observe fragments of the action in which he is partaking. He can only observe those closest to him, whether they are moving forward or to the rear, whether killing or being killed. The total action is as foreign to him as if it were occurring on another planet. Battle is a blur of scenes or impressions—some remembered for a lifetime, others forgotten.


One of the strangest aspects of war is that each develops its own fads. Yes, fads. Which weapons are preferred, how equipment is slung, and how units are identified all vary from war to war. In World War II, the shoulder holster for the pistol was in great demand, but seldom was worn as a shoulder holster. The strap was rigged so that the holster was worn around the waist. At one time, shotguns (issued in limited supply) were all the rage, even though they were only efficient as weapons at very short range. During the Korean War, the .30 caliber carbine was removed from the hands of troops bringing loud cries of protest. Insignia of rank was either worn or not worn, depending on unit and location; unit insignia or identification marks were stenciled on the backs of uniforms. Aviators demanded their own pistol—the pistol issued to ground troops was unsuitable. So it goes from war to war.


Intelligence is never as accurate or complete as one would like, and sometimes is actually wrong. Generating timely and useful intelligence is a constant struggle—both for the intelligence officer and for the forward forces, who are the eyes of the system and the ultimate users. Some examples. Although Guam was a U.S. possession for many years, complete with a Marine barracks, our intelligence of the offshore reefs was completely wrong, and this had an adverse effect on our landing plan. Our intelligence for the attack on Okinawa came from the highest headquarters in the Pacific area. It appeared to concentrate on the habu, a deadly snake. As a result, the troops were more concerned about the snakes than the Japanese defenders. We envisioned platoons of habus lined up on the beach. During the 83day battle, I saw one small habu, and in 21/2 years on the island in subsequent tours, I saw none. In Vietnam we received intelligence that artillery was located at certain grid coordinates. When plotted, it turned out to be our own artillery. Although I wasn’t there, it appears that the enemy forces in DESERT STORM were greatly over estimated. It has been my experience that intelligence rarely reaches the user on a timely and usable basis.

The Unexpected

It is important to prepare yourself for the unexpected. If one is not psychologically prepared, the reaction to unexpected situations can be bizarre. Some examples: When the Japanese sank the British ships Repulse and The Prince of Wales off Singapore early in World War II, it was reported that before abandoning ship and jumping overboard, each crew member took off his shoes and neatly lined them up along the deck. To my chagrin, on one occasion I sought shelter behind a tent wall against incoming Japanese artillery shells. I have seen well-trained machinegunners stand and watch incoming Japanese planes without firing a shot. It is hard to anticipate human reaction to stress.


My thoughts on combat have covered a wide spectrum of situations. Hopefully, they will in total provide some overview of what war is like. As stated above, it is impossible for any one person to cover every aspect of war or battle. Like the blind man and the elephant, each sees even the same situation from a different angle. It is hoped that some of these observations are helpful to those now on active duty. Finally, the experience of being a leader of brave men in combat is one that should be sought. Being a Marine is something special. Seeing our magnificent Corps in action is an experience that will remain with you all of your life.

Women in the Infantry/Ground Combat Arms

Much being written and said about topic these days. 

Let us Fight for you - The moral imperative of a masculine infantry

Photo by Sgt Christopher Zahn

Equality is not the issue.

George Orwell wrote, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” We do not pretend to be particularly smarter than our peers, albeit we are admittedly less tactful. Since the inception of the U.S. military, service in combat arms has been the rightful duty and sole responsibility of the men of our society, as well it should be. However, women are now also poised to satisfy this critical requirement.

>1stLts Brewster and Wallace, both infantry officers, have completed several combat deployments and have personal experience serving with women integrated at the tactical level. Both are married and each has three young sons.

“. . . exposure to danger is not combat. Combat is a lot more than that, it’s a lot more than getting shot at or even getting killed by being shot at. Combat is finding and closing with and killing or capturing the enemy if you’re down in the ground combat scheme of things. It’s killing.”

—Gen Robert H. Barrow, 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee, June 1991

George Orwell wrote, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” We do not pretend to be particularly smarter than our peers, albeit we are admittedly less tactful. Since the inception of the U.S. military, service in combat arms has been the rightful duty and sole responsibility of the men of our society, as well it should be. However, women are now also poised to satisfy this critical requirement.

Men and women are different. This is an axiom of our existence as human beings on planet earth. As men, we feel inept trying to articulate this truth because the tools to do so have been intellectually banned in our society, labeled as “chauvinism.” Even the ways in which the discussion is framed pits the legacy of many despicable social institutions—slavery, exclusive suffrage, segregation—against those advocating an all-male combat arms. The truth remains that warfare is the contest of two opposing wills, the zweikampf in which these wills employ their militaries as fists in an ultimate struggle in which human beings maim and brutally kill one another. Ladies, as infantry officers, we do not wish to limit or control women, but we do want to fight for you. We want to endure hardship and suffering. We want to be miserable and filthy. We want to offer our lives so that yours might be spared. We want to fight for you. To do less is masculine cowardice and abdicating our societal role, ordained or evolved.

No matter one’s worldview, the assertion that women belong in the infantry is illogical. From an evolutionary perspective, it means pitting a generally smaller/gentler/more compassionate demographic against a generally larger/stronger/more violent demographic in a “survival of the fittest” contest that ultimately determines the fates of societies. Simplistic animal survival is the driving factor here. From a biblical perspective, God made the genders specifically and intentionally different for many purposes. Men are to shoulder the responsibility of fighting to preserve the life and dignity of women, as well as to protect the next generation. This willing sacrifice and service is for the sake of women, not to control or demean them. Throughout the history of the western world, this has been the basis for the sacred masculine charge of chivalry: to serve all and protect the weak from the strong. Phrased this way, our statements may be unsavory; but, ask yourself, are they true? One can only appreciate these realities in much the same way as a marriage, the love of one’s children, and dare we say, albeit not from personal experience, childbirth. You must experience it to appreciate the nuance.

False Need/Crisis

After more than a decade of war, we now see another expansion of women’s roles in ground combat. This time it has been predicated in part by fixating on the notion that there are “too few” female general officers because the military selects a higher rate of combat arms officers to be generals.1 Thus, the argument goes, women are being unfairly barred from advancement because they are not allowed in the ground combat arms. It is a complete fallacy to assert the notion of there being too few female generals, and an even greater illogical leap to say that the way to fix this problem is to alter the force structure for the entire Service in the hopes of generating a select few at the 30-year service mark. This exposes an underlying feminist agenda that does not purport any desire to create a more capable, lethal military.

Where is the critical need? Does our Corps need additional volunteers to fill our infantry battalions? Additionally, it is supremely insulting to assert that somehow military leaders have been missing the key solution to a more effective ground combat element for the last decade, let alone in the history of the world. If women in the ranks would have made the infantry more effective, certainly commanders would have made it happen. Remember: The Lioness Program and female engagement teams were created to fill a critical need identified by combatant commanders, not to justify a belief or create “equality.”

The Myth of the Decade

In this vein, the favorite slogans of “no frontlines” and “women have been in combat alongside their male counterparts” are fodder for the first paragraphs of many pieces demanding the equal opportunity for young ladies to be miserable, filthy, and scared. Proximity to danger does not equate to combat proficiency. To strike an improvised explosive device, to be shot at, or to have indirect fire impact near one’s position requires only presence in the battlespace; it is passive. These traumatic events are mere byproducts of existing in a hostile environment. True combat, the kind for which the infantry exists, actively “seeks, closes with, and destroys the enemy through . . .,” well, you know the rest. The point is, the infantry slogs in the filth and mire of foreign lands, conducts grueling movements under heavy load, and must be able to win by cunning, endurance, and brute force—always.

Indulge us for a moment as you consider the contrast in combat experiences among these comparisons: a MEF headquarters and a platoon combat outpost; the role of a wing service support battalion and that of an infantry battalion; a mounted resupply convoy and a dismounted movement to contact; a local security patrol and a meeting engagement or night ambush. Furthermore, there is little comparison between Camp Bastion and Now Zad (2008) or Al Asad and Ramadi (2005–06). Thus, the argument of “no frontlines” holds little sway in the minds of those who have fought through “Pak Alley” or had to conduct every patrol to the “government building” at the double time. The last decade has produced countless instances of close combat for some, just as it has branded the image of the MRAP’s (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle’s) invincibility and the supremacy of unmanned aircraft systems in the public conscience. For a moment though, think beyond the outpost wars we have come to believe as our only future form of warfare.

An Emotional Issue

The issue of women in combat arms is a highly emotional one, and it should be, as with any moral quandary in life. The implied statement that accompanies this discussion is that somehow men have too much “emotional energy” to be able to frame this topic rationally. The hypocrisy of this argument hardly needs explanation. The inertia for this discussion is generated by those advocates with an emotional belief that men are maliciously discriminating against them by excluding them from the combat arms, and that true equality of the sexes means complete disregard for natural capabilities. Ought we seek the equality of paternity and maternity leave, fitness standards, or grooming and appearance regulations? This is intellectual nonsense and its practical application is utter foolishness. As easily as one would dismiss a husband’s claim to be able to experience the sorrow of a miscarriage in the same way as his wife, so too we assert that there is no true argument, only illogical postulations based on a highly emotional false belief that women should be able to be men.

Poor Arguments Abound

We acknowledge that poor arguments against women abound and serve as redoubts for insecure men. These are attempts to justify something they believe, but cannot or will not identify truthfully. We have all read those angry snippets to editors about “when women compete against men in the Olympics . . .” or “when prize fights are coed. . . .” We assert that the physical discussion is a shallow argument, although it is easily won by history, physiology, and the insecure men promoting them. To borrow the tired, though inexact, analogy, there are no women in the National Football League for a reason. The physical is important, but not everything. The true arguments are ones of morality, unit cohesion, sexual distraction, and a degraded perspective.

True Arguments

Morally wrong. “Women and children first” has been a tenet of all emergency rescue efforts for time immemorial, yet we are evidently now prepared to dismantle this fundamental principle of western society for the sake of equality. It is an abdication of natural masculine responsibility to forfeit our role—even in small part—as protectors and defenders. Should we expect our teenage daughter to go down with the ship so a man might live in the name of equality? No matter how much she begs for the “opportunity,” would you let her?

Sexual attraction. There is no tasteful way to address this topic. The natural attraction between college-aged people results in jackassery.2 Ask any commander of a mixed-gender unit, or hearken back to your college days. The contradiction in terms is that mature men and women in the latter half of their careers expect young enlisted singles to conduct themselves with the maturity of 40-somethings in a sterile office environment. No matter how disciplined the man, sexual attraction—or at least distraction—is as involuntary as a woman’s natural response to a baby’s cry.

At this point the reader may be tempted to roll his eyes in exasperation as the thought “men are selfish pigs” darts through his head. Yet one would not be so critical if the human desire in question was food, water, warmth, or conversation. While the former three are actual requirements for human life, and sexual fulfillment is not, we leave you to consider the significance of the latter in the well-being of the individual as a sufficient parallel to convey the irrefutable significance of physical attraction in our lives. No matter how disciplined the men, sexual attraction will corrode the very fabric of a unit, destroying that precious esprit de corps that allows one group of men to triumph over another in a death struggle. When the possibility of sexual attraction is removed from group dynamics, so too is all pretense, thus allowing for true sacrificial relationships.

Weighed down. Personal anecdotes abound, but one need only observe any formation run or conditioning hike and note the demographics of those who lag far behind the formation.3 Undoubtedly, a few ladies remain with the pack, outpacing many males even, but this is not the norm. The dangerous and unspoken dynamic at work in a unit’s psyche is that a man who falls back “just needs to be conditioned more,” whereas a woman is immediately the object of scorn because the unit knows that—in general—she isn’t capable of keeping up. This only serves as the impetus for counseling in units where physical training is simply about meeting height and weight requirements. In the infantry, however, repeated physical failure spawns contempt of the individual and undermines the common trust in the belief that every man can keep up on patrol, buddy rushing, or carrying a litter.

This issue is not just about the physical viability of the unit; it is about their mental fortitude too. Women inserted in small numbers in infantry units will not completely dismantle their effectiveness. It will, however, place an unnecessary doubt in the unit’s collective confidence. Men who cannot perform in combat units are usually singled out, sent to the company office or armory, and otherwise marginalized. This would hardly do for political appearances if women in the infantry were similarly treated.

Degraded perspective. The unique advantage of the integration argument is that negative data against the argument can neither be truly presented nor will it be accepted. This is much like the body armor argument where data can always support the value of increasingly heavy vests and plates in terms of rounds stopped and lives saved. Yet, for those outside the infantry, there is little interest in capturing the results of unnecessarily cumbersome equipment and its direct relationship to increased heat injuries, immobility, and unit ineffectiveness. As the last decade has provided ample vignettes of womanly courage, frontline service, and exposure to violence, there has been little desire to evaluate the actual effects on these women or the units in which they operated. From the male perspective, it is quite clear that any comments we might have as the duty experts on ground combat are unwanted and thought to be shamefully prejudicial.

The dignity of women. Consider that photos with captions highlighting women on patrol present a false understanding of the dynamic at work amongst that infantry squad. The reality confined within that frame is that she is not “on patrol,” she is “along for” the patrol. The female engagement team is not an addition to the lethality of that squad; they are an escorted entity, much the same as reporters or visiting dignitaries. The dangerous dynamic at work is that this reoccurring imagery will slowly convince us, much like magazine covers and centerfolds, that these women represent reality. There is no airbrushing in combat.

Winning at war. The true tragedy of this initiative is that we will become a less effective ground combat force, riddled with a plague of time-consuming misconduct issues and lower expectations regarding proficiency and conduct. We will put men and women in a position to fail, discipline them when they do, and tell commanders the old adage, “this is a leadership issue.” There will be no regard for the fact that we will have created a reality based on a belief of how some wish things to be, rather than the reality of natural capabilities and design.

As a brief aside, those who have not served in the infantry or in close combat would not dream of telling us they understand our jobs or experiences with regard to tactics or combat stress, yet they feel complete authority to do so under the label of “women’s rights.” Who has conferred our individual human rights upon us? Our society, our government, the mythical “nature,” or someone greater? Who has preserved those rights? Has it been the demonstrator, the advocate, the legislator? These three categories are the wonderful luxuries of civilized society, but the accomplishments of the western world were made possible through shrewd diplomacy coupled with force, and a healthy understanding of truth. The ability for us to have this conversation is a result of the prosperity and complete security purchased for this Nation through the violence of men. The sterile planning environments and crisp political chambers are the rear area of any conflict, and exist only because filthy, sweaty, scared young men stand ready to kill or die. This is reality. Do you believe it?

A Man’s Place

The question looming, hidden and afraid in masculine hearts, as this discussion rages, is nearly impossible to ask: Where now does a man go to prove his manhood in society? This is dismissed in our postmodern culture, but in the history of the world, the individual man has always had opportunities to prove his strength, valor, and skill as part of a grand adventure or the challenge of apprenticeship. If you do not accept the need for men to know intrinsically that they have proven themselves as men (protectors, providers, leaders) in a way only they can, consider the devastation of a woman unable to conceive.

Not Equality

Our culture is seeking a false equality. The presence of women in the military does not justify their inclusion into all areas of the Service, especially the infantry. As an organization, the Service is aptly defined because it is not an institution meant to serve the individuals who comprise it; the mission of fighting and winning is its sole purpose, and all involved are in the “service” of that end. Our enemies do not recognize gender rights, and it has only been our realistic understanding of the nature of war that has preserved our society’s ability to create the opportunities currently enjoyed by women.


We are the men who want to fight for you. The enemy we have fought will not discuss, cite studies, or entertain debate. He will just rape or kill you.

As junior officers, our perspective is limited, but its relevance is confirmed by our recent experiences in close combat and the long legacy of warriors preceding us. Our responsibility remains to influence and lead at the tactical level, but our hope is that our unabashed assertions will be acknowledged as attempts to state truth in the timeless reality of the struggle of opposing wills. LtGen Victor “Brute” Krulak’s wise understanding that our Corps is not needed, but wanted by the American people cannot hobble us with an insecurity that prevents us from being something a portion of our society may dislike. The truth remains that we have no obligation to be what society wants us to be, only to fight and win to preserve that society—and truth.


1. Burrelli, David F., “Women in Combat: Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 13 December 2012, cites recommendations 9, 18, and 20 of “From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership and the 21st-Century Military” by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 13 December 2012, pp. 127, 129, and 130.

2. Marine Corps term for immaturity and rowdiness resulting in misconduct; similar to “tomfoolery.”

3. Results of the 2012 Ground Combat Physical Performance Standards test show less than 10 percent of females outperformed the male average in 5 physical categories. Most telling are the average times for the 25-meter casualty drag where female officers doubled, and enlisted women tripled the average male time. As presented at Marine Corps Combat Development Command’s Officer Professional Military Education Brief, Quantico, 12 October 2012. See also “Female Physiology & Performance, Injuries at Entry Level Training,” USMC Women in the Service Report, Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service Brief, 22 September 2011. Stephanie Gutmann’s The Kinder, Gentler Military (Encounter Book, San Francisco, 2001) is a decade-old treasure trove of data and anecdotes on this topic.

Gazette June 2013 Issue