The Marine Corps wants smarter Marines who can intellectually outmaneuver the enemy, according to the commanding general of the Training and Education Command.
That’s why the Marine Corps unveiled the Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 7 in February as the service aims to promote education, training, and continued learning among Marines so they become students of their profession.
“I’ll finish on average about four books a week,” Maj. Gen. William Mullen told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t say that to brag, I say that because I’m that concerned I’m going to run into something I don’t understand in the operating environment.”
MCDP 7 — the first doctrinal publication the service has issued since 2001 — is designed to motivate Marines to personally assess where they can improve and understand the “why” behind the significance of learning.
“You can try and make people learn or read more, get better at studying their profession,” Mullen said. “But that generally doesn’t work all that well. What works much better is personal inspiration, the understanding the why, and getting after it as a personal mission to get better and get smarter.”
Mullen said that he’s heard Marines say they joined the service to escape an academic education. But the Corps wants its personnel to understand that the two complement one another and that education prepares Marines to think quickly when faced with challenges.
“You need both training and education. Training prepares you for things you know you’re going to have to do, especially in combat,” Mullen said. “It’s an instinctive reaction to immediately do something to help alleviate the situation. But the education piece comes in when the unknown starts to happen, which it always does. What do you do now?”
Specifically, Mullen pointed to the current operation environment Marines face today — and how those challenges are only growing more and more complex. Given the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said adversaries have had years to examine the strengths of the U.S. military.
“They’re not going to counter us in ways that we’re good at. They’re going to find ways that we’re not good at,” Mullen said. “And we have to be able to deal with that, and we have to be able to see what’s going on, and adjust properly instead of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole.”
As a result, Mullen said that the U.S. can’t solely depend on a technological edge over adversaries, and referenced work from Australian Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan who heads Australian Defence College about also maintaining an intellectual advantage to “outpace anybody we come across.”
The new personnel doctrine comes at a time when Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger is working to remake the Corps to better compete with potential high-end adversaries like Russia and China. Berger wants a leaner force to conduct sea denial operations, survive in a contested maritime environment and serve as a larger Naval expeditionary force.
“What we have to do now is transition to a lighter footprint, more expeditionary, more in support of a littoral environment,” Berger told reporters in April.
The service is still navigating exactly how Marines will be evaluated on their growth and development, but some policy changes are already in the works. For example, Mullen said that the Marines are now issuing academic reports detailing how an officer or enlisted personnel performed in a certain course, rather than simply using a pass/fail metric.
The Navy announced earlier this month that it was modifying fitness reports to reflect an individual’s educational and training accomplishments, including military education courses, professional and academic certifications, among other things.
The Marine Corps is eyeing a similar approach, but Mullen acknowledged the administrative hurdles in the way.
“There’s the discussion about changing the fitness report,” Mullen said. “Whether we do that or not, I don’t know. Personally, I think we ought to. But that’s an enormous administrative burden to try and do that.”
The challenge for the Marine Corps will be how to evaluate and judge Marines based on MCDP 7 and offer incentives, Mullen said.
The doctrinal publication has been in the works since summer 2018, after Mullen became the TECOM commander. Mullen was first inspired to tackle the project at his last duty station at Twentynine Palms after witnessing a force-on-force exercise where Marines were dealing with a “complex environment” and executing decisions with limited information.
Some Marines were managing during the exercise, but many struggled, prompting Mullen to refer back to Ryan’s assessment regarding an intellectual edge and craft a new doctrine for the service.
But Marine Corps culture isn’t going to change overnight. Mullen predicted it will take a while before the entire service gets on board with the new initiative and that the Marines start seeing a difference.
“I would say years. It’s not something that’s going to happen in the next several months, that’s for sure,” Mullen said. “The first thing we have to do is get people to read or take on board MCDP 7 — read or listen to it, or use the interactive workbook — to understand what’s in there.”
For those ready to start turning pages, Mullen provided a reading list in an article published in April 2019 for the Marine Corps Gazette. Included on his list are “Rifleman Dodd” by C.S. Forester, “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley, “The Churchill Factor” by Boris Johnson, and “Courage Under Fire” by retired Vice Adm. James Stockdale.