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Commandant: Accountability does not mean 'zero-defects'

Jun. 3, 2013 - 08:39PM   |  
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Pressing questions

From the commandant’s briefing to command-slated colonels and lieutenant colonels:
■How do you want to be remembered after you give up command, by your Marines, your boss and your peers?
■What do you hope to accomplish during your time in command?

The Marine Corps' top general wants commanding officers to know they should not be fearful in the wake of several recent reliefs.

The Marine Corps' top general wants commanding officers to know they should not be fearful in the wake of several recent reliefs.

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The Marine Corps’ top general wants commanding officers to know they should not be fearful in the wake of several recent reliefs.

Gen. Jim Amos, the commandant, met with approximately 140 command-slated colonels and lieutenant colonels in May to discuss the leadership challenges that await them and his expectations for managing the responsibility. His talking points during the Commandant’s Commanders Program at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., focused heavily on the subjects of command climate, accountability and the attributes of effective leadership at the battalion and regimental levels, he said.

Amos’ address was closed to the media, but he discussed portions of it with Marine Corps Times during a recent interview at Marine Corps headquarters.

“There are going to be mistakes,” he said, reflecting on the patience others exhibited toward him when he was a captain and major. “I don’t think you can learn [otherwise]. ... There are just some mistakes that become unpardonable sins — and those are the ones that end up getting a commander in trouble. This happens to me with my generals. I’m sure I do it for the secretary of the Navy and he goes ‘God, I wish the commandant hadn’t done that or said that.’ ”

At least seven Marine officers have been removed from their jobs since late April, with Amos personally addressing the trend with Marine Corps Times to emphasize his belief that the Corps needs to “hit the refresh button on accountability.” Four of those are tied, at least in part, to highly publicized incidents — one, an apparent murder-suicide that left three Marines dead at Quantico in March, and the other a training accident just days later that killed seven in Hawthorne, Nev.

The Corps has not explained the others except to say they were due to a “loss of trust and confidence.” Amos did not discuss any one relief specifically with officers attending the commanders course, he said, but the commandant did address the lack of detail in some instances.

“I said ‘I’m not going to give you the specifics of these things.’ It would be inappropriate,” he said. “And it’s not that it’s none of their business. ... It’s a dignity thing. So I just asked them to trust me that if they had had the details, they would agree with me.”

He told them Marines deserve a positive work environment, and that it’s a commander’s responsibility to ensure good morale, combat readiness, equipment readiness and family readiness. Success, he said, depends on the “aggregate” of how well a unit balances the good and the bad — things like deaths due to drunken driving.

“There are some things you don’t want to see happen in your unit, and in some cases those were some of the things that happened in the recent reliefs,” Amos said. “But nobody should be running around wringing their hands and white-knuckled.”

The message is not “zero-defects,” he said. And commanders don’t go it alone. They can delegate authority and responsibility to their company commanders, platoon commanders and enlisted leaders, Amos said. They cannot, however, delegate accountability.

“It’s as simple as that.”

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