Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, is calling on the service to renew its focus on discipline and standards. (Marine Corps)
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WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps’ top officer is calling on the service to renew its focus on discipline and standards amid early signs that 12 years of combat have caused some “fraying” of the service’s values.
“My greatest focus will be kind of getting us back to the fundamental business of a disciplined Marine Corps,” Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview this week.
Amos has issued letters to the corps’ top leadership and noncommissioned officers calling on them to not relax standards as Marines return to the barracks after years of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most U.S. forces will have left Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Amos’ call for a “reawakening” of the service’s core values goes to the heart of the Marine Corps, which perhaps more than any other service is defined by intangibles such as discipline and fighting spirit.
Amos said discipline problems are not widespread, but they pointed to a “fraying” around the edges that needed to be addressed quickly. “This is a problem with a very small percentage of Marines who aren’t living up to standards,” Amos said.
He also said the effort is not a crackdown, but instead a quest to “reawaken the soul of our corps,” as he described it in a letter to Marine generals.
He cited incidents involving sexual assault, hazing and the failure to maintain physical appearance and fitness standards as among the issues that have raised concerns about discipline.
“This insurgency of wrong doing is invading our homes and destroying our credibility,” Amos said in a letter to corporals and sergeants.
Amos said the Marine Corps has correctly focused on fighting and winning wars over the past decade, but that has sometimes meant putting aside some basic standards, including physical fitness tests, when back in the United States.
Much of Amos’ plan will rely on Marine leaders to place a renewed emphasis on discipline and standards. “We will not invent new programs or write new Marine Corps Orders,” Amos said.
In combat, small unit leaders exercise close supervision over the Marines in their charge, alert to changes in behavior, exhaustion and family problems, Amos said. “We’re taught from Day One to be leaders,” Amos said.
But when units return to the United States leaders often become distracted and lessen the level of supervision over young Marines.
“What concerns me is we come home and we’ve said, ‘Okay, I’m not a Marine leader 24/7,’” Amos said. “You would never even think that in combat.”
“We don’t stop being Marine leaders when we come home,” he said.
Amos has called for the elimination of some administrative requirements that tie commanders to their computers and keep them from walking through the barracks and talking to Marines.
The Marines will also remove televisions from the room where duty officers spend the night so they won’t be tempted to stay in the room instead of roaming the barracks and other areas. The Marines will also return to having lieutenants fill the job of duty officer. Over recent years that job had fallen to staff sergeants. Duty officers stand in for commanders during after hours.
Perhaps more than any other service the Marines are defined by intangibles, such as discipline and warrior spirit. “Marine Corps boot camp and officer candidate school has a powerful socializing effect,” said John Guilmartin, a history professor at Ohio State University who served two tours in Vietnam as an Air Force helicopter pilot. The Marine Corps is built around the infantry, where discipline, endurance and conditioning are paramount.
Commanders say the new emphasis is not an effort to instill mindless regulations on a peacetime military, anticipating concerns from the rank and file that there is a distinction between combat proficiency and barracks discipline.
There is a direct connection between discipline in peacetime and the performance in combat, commanders say.
“Discipline is not something you turn off or on with a switch,” said Jon Hoffman, a retired Marine colonel in the reserves and a historian. “All that is a part of readiness.”
“Well disciplined units are always a terror to the enemy while sloppy units tarnish our reputation,” Amos said in his letter to generals.