Watch the Reawakening video.
I was annoyed.
I had to cut my workout short to beat traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Dec. 11. On top of that, I was to make the hour-long drive to Joint Base Fort Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., to hear Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett tell us noncommissioned officers how badly we were doing.
This talk was to be about “The Reawakening,” an Oct. 16 letter from Gen. Amos and Sgt. Maj. Barrett calling on NCOs to be the oarsmen in a sea change of morals.
The letter’s title had me on the defensive. Reawaken? I am not asleep. I care every day and take pride in my performance as a leader and a mentor. Has my service been a four-and-a-half-year sleepwalk?
Seven weeks after the letter, as I sat waiting in the Joe Rosenthal Theater, waiting for the talk, still seething a small bit over my preconception, I thought about how my time could be better spent with my Marines, how I could be completing the Corps’ important business of the day, etc.
“Attention on deck!”
We stood. An all-too-familiar voice followed. “Please be seated,” the commandant said.
Here we go.
Gen. Amos began by talking about troop reductions and how they affect forces. I knew this to be a real issue. I opened my ears.
The general used a historical anecdote to explain drawdowns. The Marine Corps after World War II was trimmed from 450,000 Marines to a lean 74,000 — the same small Corps that would fight in Korea five years later. It was the seasoned noncommissioned officers of that postwar era who ensured their juniors — many of whom did not even go through recruit training — made it through the fire and ice of the Korean War. Amos expected the same insurance from today’s noncommissioned officers.
I agreed. For the first time, I thought about the true impact I have on the Marine Corps. I am molding our future every day when I mentor and lead those in my charge and when I advise and follow my superiors.
I am a gatekeeper of knowledge, and if I don’t teach my juniors to be better than me, I’m failing them and the Corps. I’m not perfect, but I care about my Marines and the institution for which I serve.
Before Gen. Amos had spoken, I had a notebook full of questions and a head full of doubt regarding the reawakening. My burning question: How do we quantify having become worse or better? The answer was woven in a pattern best untwined by someone with experience.
Throughout 43 years of service, Gen. Amos has seen multiple surges and reductions in the force. And he’s seen the side effects. He gave another anecdote from another era: At the tail end of the Vietnam War, Gen. Amos, then a lieutenant, and his corporal of the guard loaded their pistols and patrolled different sides of the barracks until they met in the middle. During this period, drugs and racism plagued garrison life. I could not fathom roving bands of segregated Marines clashing and duking it out in the streets after dark.
“We are a better Corps now,” Gen. Amos said.
Gen. Amos and Sgt. Maj. Barrett spoke about the difficulties of our time, among them drug use, sexual assaults and a failure to meet other standards. Sgt. Maj. Barrett suggested that these problems should be approached with the same resolve we take to our enemies. We must care about each other as much as we strive to be tough and ready to win battles.
Marines are Marines. In that is an obligation, like “a promise is a promise” or “a deal’s a deal.” Our nation expects certain things from us, and we must deliver with sober conviction. There will be missteps, but we all must take responsibility and be there for each other to correct the course.
Before listening to Gen. Amos and Sgt. Maj. Barrett speak, I thought having 100 percent of the Marines on the straight and narrow was a pipe dream. But what if? If 98 percent of us are doing the right thing, why can’t we figure out how to be just a little better?
Our legacy should not be one marred by scandal and failures to protect our brothers and sisters from harm both foreign and domestic. It is our legacy and our Corps, not just the commandant’s and the sergeant major’s.
We are all going to be remembered as Marines. I don’t want to be part of something that allows sexual assault and mistreatment of our own. It is wrong and it is sad. I’m tired of reading our name in headlines from one scandal or another. Let’s stop paying lip service to a set of ideals. Let’s sincerely be what we say we are.
Gen. Amos stressed that the reawakening is not an annual training topic. The reawakening is a sign steering us away from a negative outcome, a sign from the experience of the Corps’ top leaders. They want their noncommissioned officers to be empowered and on the same page.
The truth is we all know what we need to do to maintain a better Marine Corps. It’s nothing new: Be on time. Do what we have to do in a timely manner. Strive for excellence. Never accept the status quo. Be involved in the lives of those in our charge. Lead by example. We need to care about each other, and not rely on fear or other weak leadership to get the job done.
To my fellow noncommissioned officers still seething or simply not getting on board — this is our Corps. We should make it an organization in which people are proud to serve — an institution that is firm but fair, built on caring about one’s brothers and sisters in arms — doing these things not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
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