Gen. Robert Neller is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of Marine bases that began soon after he became the Corps’ 37th commandant Sept. 24, assuming the reins from Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Neller has a reputation for being tough-as-nails when it comes to combat readiness, and for an abiding concern when it comes to his Marines. Indeed, this tour was launched with the intent to hear what Marines have to say, and to ensure they know what’s on his mind. He has answered questions on everything from future operations to tattoo regulations.
Here’s what you need to know.
Focus areas. Neller has repeated his five focus areas from the swamps of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to the crowded confines of Okinawa, Japan. They are: people, readiness, training, naval integration, and modernization and technology.
“At the end of the day, we can have the greatest gear in the world and a lot of money, but if our Marines were not the quality people they are, we would never be able to do what we do,” Neller told Marines at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. “It all starts and ends with people.”
Lead by example. Neller has pushed leadership time and again. Though he is a former president of Marine Corps University, this effort is not relegated to PME courses and school seats. The commandant wants Marines to lead by example, and expect nothing less from him. Integrity is high on his list. Marines are expected to exercise initiative, and be accountable for their actions. And he wants more experienced personnel to take the time to know junior Marines and guide them through any concerns and issues they may have.
“Whenever you have a chance sit down with your Marines, get to know them, be a leader,” Neller told Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. “I believe in a firm, but fair leadership style and that Marines should always be treated with dignity and respect.”
“Be a fair leader, always be there for your Marines, and show them compassion,” he said at nearby Twentynine Palms. “That Marine came to you for a reason, so be there for them. If you are not, you will lose them.”
100 percent. Neller has an expectation that every Marine will give 100 percent, and give it 100 percent of the time. Nothing less will do. At Lejeune, he quoted Rudyard Kipling’s poem "The Law for the Wolves": "The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
Such unified effort is especially necessary in an era of diminishing dollars and drawdowns. He told Marines to “train hard and relentlessly.” Money is tight, so make it count. If you are not currently preparing to deploy, your time is coming.
“Would you be ready if I called you at 0400 and said we are leaving at 0700 for combat?” he asked Marines at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. “I’ve been asked how Marines can keep old vehicles ready without parts, but I need you guys to do what Marines do and step up and get it done."
Easy on the alcohol. As a three-star, Neller rolled out the “Keep what you've earned” a campaign across East Coast bases, aimed at getting Marines to rethink their relationship with alcohol. It is clear he intends to take this effort Corps-wide, as the topic has come up on numerous visits.
A 2014 Defense Department survey found that one-third of active-duty service members binge drink (five or more drinks within two hours) at least once per month. One in five binge drinks at least weekly. More than 56 percent of Marines reported binge drinking, compared to 42.5 percent of sailors, 38.4 percent of soldiers and 28.1 percent of airmen.
Way ahead. Dunford’s Commandant’s Planning Guidance will remain in effect, but Neller will add a fragmentation order early in 2016. The working title is “Innovate, Adapt and Win,” he told Quantico Marines.
During his tenure, expect an emphasis on a Corps that is technically and tactically proficient — yet versatile. More Marines will be at sea on non-traditional ships. Be ready to adapt, and willing to change.