Hmmm. This article at OAFNation is drawing a lot of attention this week. It has a number of interesting points, and here are a couple of them:
Unfortunately the healthy, expected, productive growing pains experienced by MARSOC are accompanied by a multitude of other significant, more toxic institutional failures, ones that compromise the very livelihood of the unit and its future success. Problems that, if left unchecked, will present a stifling obstacle to the evolution of the organization, and ultimately threaten to deteriorate the progress already made. The majority of these issues can be generally attributed to major systemic failures in staffing and leadership at the regimental level and above. To thoroughly understand the context of this problem and what caused it, we must observe the organizational culture of the Marine Corps as whole, and comprehend how it applies to the existing structure of MARSOC. I’ll expand:
That’s part of the extended introduction; here’s a little bit of the meat:
In the case of MARSOC, this has unfortunately led to a systemic plague of the organization, its highest echelons having been infected by senior enlisted leadership with zero operational experience, credibility, or comprehension of SOF and its mission, its capabilities, and its role within DoD. The current regimental sergeant major of MARSOC, for example, is a 27-year motor transport Marine, whose previous assignment was – you guessed it – battalion sergeant major of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, MCRD San Diego. I’ll say that again; the regimental sergeant major of MARSOC holds the MOS of Motor Transport Mechanic. This is the guy sitting on the selection board at the end of A&S deciding who’s fit to become an operator. This is the guy attending joint staff briefings, senior SOF leadership symposiums, liaising with key personnel within SOCCENT, JSOC, etc, sitting across the table from Army E-9s with decades of ODA time, NSW master chiefs, etc. Making policy. Influencing critical decisions. Representing MARSOC. It sounds ridiculous as I sit here writing it, yet it’s a very sad and sobering truth. The operator base is 95 percent enlisted men, and this is our senior enlisted representative. Just to construct a frame of reference for the uninformed, and in the interest of beating a horse well beyond death, a command master chief with NSW – anywhere within the command – is a SEAL. A command sergeant major of an Army special forces group – hell, the command sergeant major of USASOC – is a Green Beret. But the glorious USMC, in its infinite wisdom, perpetuates this ridiculous mantra of “A Marine’s a Marine’s a Marine! We’re all the same, you’re not special, hell, we’re all special because we’re Marines!”, effectively sabotaging the very fundamentals of SOF and its institutional imperatives. The detrimental effects of this dynamic will become increasingly evident as MARSOC’s mission continues to evolve in conjunction with the transition away from GWOT; for example, consider the limitations it presents for the component’s ability to fill key roles and command positions in joint SOF task units or centralized commands without homegrown higher echelon leadership.
This doesn’t even dive into the manner in which field grade officers are arbitrarily thrown into critical positions of authority at the regimental level and above at MARSOC. To even begin to explain the incongruity with which this process occurs would take another post by itself, one that I think I’d rather suck-start a .45 than write. For every halfway competent career officer at MSOR there are a dozen who can’t find their way to the chowhall. You can’t swing a dead cat inside component headquarters without hitting six lieutenant colonels, and most of them act like they’re in some kind of purgatory while awaiting orders to their battalion commander billet (which to be honest, many of them are). The whirlwind of helter-skelter whipping through the halls of the death star is enough to make your head spin.
The Motor Transport Mechanic dude is a particularly disliked figure among the men of MARSOC, but he’s characteristic of a problem all the services have with promoting men of marginal intelligence, experience and general utility into important positions based on their ability to amass ticket punches on schedule.
There is much more meat at the article, so if you’re interested in this sort of thing, please Read The Whole Thing™. (In fact, it would entertain and inform you to read the whole site).
We would encourage the author and other young MARSOC Marines to resist throwing in the sponge, yet. From where they sit it looks like SF is going swimmingly and has never been beset with dud sergeants major or careerist, backstabbing officers. Au contraire! At times, over the 62 year history of the SF Regiment, the actual operational dudes have been bitterly at odds with their imported leadership. It took the establishment of SF as an actual Branch coequal with the old-line Infantry and Armor and what have you to enable the retention of quality officers, and to eliminate some of the problem of dilettante ticket-punchers.
In the 1980s, in one of the periodic “housecleanings” of SF ordered by conventional officers, a number of officers who either never did qualify, or had done so in their youth as dilettante ticket punchers. LeRoy Suddath is in one of these categories, we believe the former; he was brought in to “get the snake-eaters under control.” As he took over he sent minions out, yes-men colonels with a conventional infantry mindset to turn the Groups into conventional units and their ODAs into long-range Rangers; suck-up-and-stomp-down sergeants major who were at their intellectual maximum trying to measure uniform appurtenances, referee (mandatory!) wives’-club meetings, or apportion police-call areas.
Some of Suddath’s men were such disasters it was comical, except for the poor wretches in their Groups. One fellow decided that his religion would be your religion and all the officers and men in his unit were subject to
inquisition inspection at no notice to ensure their issued New Testament was in their leg pocket. This was the conventional Army’s way of straightening out special operations.
At this same time certain other special operations units began to fill leadership slots more extensively from Ranger than SF backgrounds (some SF units are partly to blame for this, as they deterred their members from seeking to join these other elements). SF officers who served primarily in SF were sent to punitive assignments far from troop command. SF NCOs “who had been in SF too long” were sent to recruiting and drill sergeant duty. A number of them elected to try civilian life or other government agencies. Some stayed. Some of the ones who stayed, couldn’t tell you why they did. But they kept, if not the eternal flame of true SF brightly burning, at least the pilot light lit.
Around this time, we crossed over to the Reserve side. Over the years, we would find that any time the leadership got stupid in active-duty SF units, the Reserve (at least while they lasted) and Guard units benefited. Nobody was in the Reserve or Guard to advance his career, which eliminates one of the biggest drags on units: self-serving and -aggrandizing leaders.
But somehow the active guys muddled along. During Desert Storm, they did the long-range Ranger thing so well, that Norman Schwarzkopf (Suddath’s roommate in the Class of 56 at Hudson High, but miles ahead in class rank), a guy who started the war hating SF, came out of Desert Storm realizing that SF and other SOF hanging out in the enemy’s rear areas were his primary generators of reliable intelligence. From a detractor to a fan, in one short war. (Suddath never did get the message, but that was probably for the same reason Schwarzkopf’s high class standing never rubbed off on him, either). And by late 2001, SF, with joint service and interagency teammates, was in position to achieve US war aims in less than three months. (It’s unfortunate that the war aims then changed).
So what’s the point of all this digression, and how does it tie to the MARSOC situation? It doesn’t, directly. Right now, the USMC’s corporate immune system sees MARSOC as a foreign body — much as the Army long viewed SF — and it desires to eliminate the irritant. The way to stay in the game, the way to be known as a valuable team player and not an irritant, is to give a commander what it is he needs — even if he doesn’t know that’s what he needs yet.
The way to survive in the interim is to give commanders what they think they need. SF did that with the various Cold War strategic reconnaissance programs. Mr NATO Commander, you want us to tell you when the second strategic echelon goes through? Yep, we got it for action. And if the balloon had gone up, we’d have had teams sitting with eyes on mountain passes in Slovakia and intermodal freight yards in Poland, and Ivan wouldn’t have moved a battalion without it being toted up on that CO’s board. And he’d quickly realize what he got from friendly eyes on a target was orders of magnitude more reliable than the inferences the three-letter agencies draw from their technical means of collection.
And all the time, we were training UW and practicing FID through JCETs, and even MTTs to American units (which produced lots of friction with conventional leaders, oddly enough). Because you do what you have to do to keep the concept alive, even if it’s in suspended animation for a while. Kind of like travelers to Mars, you guys today are the keepers of the flame of MARSOC civilization while it’s passing through some light-years of bad officers and worse pinnacle NCOs.
To return to a metaphor from three paragraphs ago, Marine culture and the actions of individual Marines together will determine whether the virus that is MARSOC insinuates itself into the DNA of the Corps, or is treated as foreign matter and whacked during some round of budget cuts. Our guess is that Marine senior leadership will try to keep something called MARSOC, not because they give two farts about it, or even have a glimmer of a clue what it is and what it can do for the nation and the Corps. Nope, they’re going to want to keep it for the same reason they put the laughable SOC for Special Operations Capable in parentheses behind the nomenclature of Marine Expeditionary Battalions lo these 30 or whatever years ago — so the Marines’ lobbyists can try to get the Corps some of the money Congress thinks its appropriating for SOF.
Okay, suppose you’re a leader of a Marine SOC element and you don’t want to see your unit and capability back-burnered or worse? One thing you can do is conduct an annual or even semi-annual exercise to bond existing unit members and the new guy who just came in, whether he came in from training somewhere, has been parachuted in by the personnel wallahs from over in Motor Transport, or even is a ring-knocking major late of “supply, a much underappreciated field of endeavor.” The old ASA SODs used to do this in an exercise they unsubtly named Newby Prove, in part because they didn’t select their own personnel, always. They couldn’t always get rid of a guy right away after he choked during Newby Prove, but it didn’t matter: he had been seen to choke by all hands, and even with nothing said, he developed a burning interest in career paths that moved him quickly in a new direction. If he didn’t choke, chances were good that both he and the old-timers found something to appreciate in one another, and bonded usefully.
If the truck-jockey sergeant major and the warehouse-manager field grade don’t go right into offices, but have to demonstrate that they, too, can experience hardship, jump and fast rope, kick doors and elicit information by interviewing role-players, not to mention hump a real-world rucksack a dozen plus miles, they might just be on the team when they’re done.