It’s been a while since I really had to write an essay. Our new (new) commanding officer, as a part of taking over, tasked all of his Lance Corporals and below with writing a 4-8 page (double spaced) essay on “what is expected of you.” I am currently TAD (temporary additional duty) to the rifle range, but indulged in writing this essay anyway. Below is what I will be submitting. It probably isn’t very interesting to those who don’t care about the military or the Marine Corps, but meh.
7 August 2009
Expectations – A Holistic Perspective
Answering the question “what is expected of you” could be tackled in many ways. Given the personal nature of the interrogative, I feel that a more personal tone is appropriate for this essay – speaking in the first person rather than attempting a more removed and academic tone. There are many expectations of me. There are certain expectations that exist because I am a United States Marine, because I am a Lance Corporal, because I am a Marine on Okinawa, because I am a part of 3rd Marine Logistics Group, because I am a part of Combat Logistics Regiment 35, because I am a part of 3rd Maintenance Battalion, because I am a part of Electronics Maintenance Company, and because I am a part of Calibrations Platoon. There are expectations that arise because of a combination of any or all of the aforementioned stratifications. There are expectations that exist because of explicit orders and directives, and there are expectations that arise from interpretations of those orders and directives. More loosely, at times, there may be expectations of me based upon my gender or age or even marital status, however, such expectations generally lie beyond the intended scope of the question. I will attempt to address all of these expectations to the best of my ability in the page limit allowed.
As a United States Marine, many expectations exist for me. This paper could focus entirely on that subject and exceed the established length limit, so I will be brief. I am expected to be technically and tactically proficient, loyal to my nation and Corps, striving always to be the best in everything that I do and constantly seeking self-improvement. I am expected to be a leader, no matter what station I find myself in (as there exists opportunity for leadership at all levels). As a Lance Corporal, personnel of lesser grade are to render obedience to appropriate orders from me, and I am in turn to observe and follow such orders and directions as may be given from time to time by superiors acting according to the rules and articles governing the discipline of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. According to Marine Corps order, I am expected to maintain a passing physical fitness test score (135 points, with no less than 3 pull ups, 44 crunches, and running 3 miles no slower than 28 minutes) and remain in the prescribed body weight and body fat composition standards for my height. I am expected to complete annual training such as the rifle range and gas chamber as well as continually pursue a higher degree of belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
As a Marine forward deployed on Okinawa, I am expected to behave as an ambassador for the United States of America. Extra scrutiny will be applied to my conduct at all times, especially on liberty status, as I will directly reflect not only on the Marine Corps to our host nation, but also the United States Government and the United States of America itself. The specifics of my conduct and the rules and regulations governing what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior are further elucidated by orders that get filtered down through my various parent commands – beginning with the Commandant, then going through Group, then Regiment, then Battalion, then Company, and then sometimes Platoon. I am expected to know the text of all of these directives and may be questioned by senior personnel regarding them – I will be honest and state that I do not know the text of all of these various orders. I contend that I know the vital information – things like the liberty order and orders regarding civilian attire – and I also know who to go to or where to go to look up information should I have a question.
As a Marine assigned to 3rd Maintenance Battalion, I am expected to conduct myself in accordance with the Commander’s Intent. Thankfully, the Commanding Officer has distilled his intent down to three basic words – fight, fix, and serve. I am to remember that I am involved in a war effort on (currently) two fronts and train as if I am going to be in the fight: that is the first part of his intent. I am to continue to fix the gear that comes into my shop, providing the maintenance function that the battalion exists for while striving continuously to improve my proficiency in my MOS: that is the second part of his intent. I am to remember always my oath of service and remind myself why it is I signed up what it means to serve the United States of America: that is the third part of his intent.
As a Marine assigned to Electronics Maintenance Company, I am expected to be among the best Marines the battalion has to offer. At ELMACO, we have some of the highest ERO counts in the battalion and some of the fastest turn around times – I am expected to continue that trend. Furthermore, as a calibrator, I am expected to be among the best Marines that the company has to offer. I am expected to cross-train in all of the various calibration disciplines, to include mechanical, electrical, repair and organics. I am expected to not only be an expert on the calibration and maintenance of the gear that I work on, but also to be an expert in that gear’s operation and use in the Fleet Marine Force, so that should an operator have any questions pertaining to that gear, they can come to me for the answers.
So far, all of the expectations I have mentioned are, generally, stated explicitly within orders or policy statements, and sound fairly reasonable on paper. However, there exist also certain implied or unstated expectations that also dictate my conduct, morale, and proficiency.
As regards physical fitness, though orders and directives state that I am expected only to maintain the minimums, operational policy is to expect the maximums out of every Marine. This means that a 135 PFT is no where near good enough – in fact, in most cases, anything less than a 225 (defined by official Marine Corps policy as a “1st class” PFT) is unacceptable and potentially a cause for remedial physical training programs. So far, in my nearly two year career, I have seen little leniency as regards this aggressive pursuit of physical perfection. I enlisted as what my recruiter termed a ‘triple threat’ – a failure at all three events of the IST – as it was my intent to improve my physical fitness. It has taken a long time to achieve a 224 (yes, one point shy of a 225 – which is yet another source of ridicule: “Couldn’t run just ten seconds faster or do one more pull up?” Actually, no, I could not) PFT, and I often feel as though it is in spite of being in the Marine Corps. I have been injured numerous times and have had stress fractures serious enough to warrant my being on light duty for four months during my MOS school. This was a result of running for 8 to 13 miles every other weekday with little or no training on proper running form, or proper selection of footgear. I was likewise subjected to remedial physical training programs that required even more running – despite the fact that my 3 mile run was around 22 minutes at the time. (I was on the remedial program because of my overall PFT score, which was a 2nd class around 185, due in large part to hovering around the minimum requirement for pull ups.) Despite demoralizing and physically hazardous mandatory physical training that can, at times, exceed two hours per day, I am expected to pursue physical training on my own time as well. This is despite the best advice from experts in the fields of health and physical fitness, who all suggest a maximum of 30-45 minutes of strenuous activity per day if a 5 day a week program is to be pursued. By Marine Corps order, I am expected to be at unit PT five times a week for at least thirty minutes; operationally, I have observed that most units PT for longer than the maximum, and my unit in particular seems to PT for an hour every day. (For Marines on remedial programs that have to PT for as much as an hour during chow, this totals to two hours per day they might have to PT – and there always exists days where unit PT can be as long as two hours, also.)
To be proficient at my job, it is expected, above all else, that I be physically fit. As the honor graduate of my MOS school with a 189 PFT, having received the highest academic grades the school had seen all year (or so I was told), I received a 4.6 proficiency mark and a 4.3 conduct mark. The 4.6 was tied directly to my grade, I was told, and the 4.3 was assigned because of my “low” PFT. Having never been involved in administrative troubles (no NJPs, no Page 11’s, etc), I was remiss to see Marines who had been involved in such trouble receive higher conduct marks than myself, the honor graduate. Furthermore, I had been involved in diffusing incidents before they became problems – breaking up an underage drinking incident and allowing my command to deal with it before it went to a higher authority – and yet still I received “average” conduct marks, marks below even Marines who had had administrative trouble while at the school. This trend has continued into the fleet, where my proficiency mark suffers because my PFT is “low” (despite having risen over 30 points since arriving on island, being one point shy of a 1st class), even while my SNCOIC tells me that I am basically performing the job of a Staff Sergeant while at work. This is illustrative of a preference for pull ups when it comes to physical fitness – I have low pull ups but perform very well in the two other events. In the last PFT I conducted for score, I had seven pull ups, 100 crunches, and a 19:45 three mile run. Marines who have 20 pull ups, 100 crunches, and run the three mile at 26-28 minutes receive preferential treatment. When questioned as to the caliber of new Marines being sent to the Okinawa Calibration lab, one Marine at the school house responded “oh yeah, those Marines are locked on. They get 20 pull ups.” Pull ups have become synonymous with a Marine’s ability to perform at seemingly all levels of command, irregardless of whether or not that Marine is actually proficient at performing the duties required by their MOS.
I am expected to know the exact text of all orders and directives that pertain to me, at any given moment in time. Any officer or SNCO may, at any point, inquire as to an obscure order or regulation, and I am expected to know the exact answer on the spot. However, sometimes even if I do know the exact answer as the order reads, that answer may not be good enough. A great example of this would be regarding the order that authorizes sandals as civilian foot wear. Even though I may be wearing sandals that the order defines as authorized with my civilian attire, should a Sergeant Major tell me that my footwear is not authorized, I must agree with him and remove my footwear. There was once an incident where a SNCO told me that the measurement of the space between the top edge of my pocket and the bottom edge of my ribbon on my service uniform was incorrect – though this SNCO did not have a ruler. I stated respectfully that I had measured the gap and was confident that it was correct. The SNCO continued to reprimand me for being out of regulation – later, during an inspection, my measurement was found to be correct. The implicit expectation here is to simply agree with whatever I am told, irregardless of what may or may not be correct.
I am expected to maintain proficiency as regards techniques in the MCMAP program, though I am rarely afforded the opportunity to train under a MCMAP instructor. When the opportunity is provided, precious little time is actually spent on perfecting the techniques, and far more time is spent doing “death runs” or combat PT (usually in excess of an hour). I am told the reason for this is so that I am tired and less likely to perform techniques at full force, injuring myself or my sparring partner. However, a counter argument could be posited that states I am more likely to incorrectly apply or perform the technique, unnecessarily exposing myself or my partner to risk of injury. Regardless, there is very little opportunity for sustainment, unless the expectation exists that I practice MCMAP in or at the barracks with my roommate in an unsupervised manner and without protective gear or medical personnel readily available. Being a man with moderate amounts of common sense, I do not think this expectation actually exists – but how else am I to maintain proficiency if I am not otherwise afforded the opportunity in an organized environment?
Along the lines of the expectation to constantly improve myself, it is expected that I complete MCIs or perhaps even enroll in off duty education courses. One MCI, which can be completed in less than an hour, currently provides a Marine with a 15 point advantage to their composite score (up to 100) points. A three semester hour course at a college also provides a 15 point advantage, but exist in the same category as MCIs and can’t add additional points. Therefore, for the economical Marine looking to maximize their time, only MCIs should be pursued, as they are easy and provide the most amount of points for the least amount of effort. Those 15 points are awarded even for MCIs that have nothing to do with a Marine’s MOS – such as warehouse operations for a calibrator – and the more MCIs done (even past the 7 that would maximize a Marine’s composite score), supposedly the better. I currently have 18 MCIs and 10 semester hours of college completed for my grade (all done since arriving on Okinawa in January), but, getting back to my point about pull ups, this does not overshadow or make up for my perceived deficiency as regards my physical fitness. Therefore, the expectation to improve myself via education does not seem to be as important to the Marine Corps as other expectations.
Even though the expectation to pursue off duty education exists, there seems to be little support for it at times. I have been late to many classes and missed many review sessions simply because I was not allowed to leave early to catch the Green Line to get to my class on time. Catching the Green Line wouldn’t be a problem if I were allowed to drive to my class; however, POV packages are nearly impossible to obtain unless you are married or have (I am told) a letter of appreciation from volunteer work. I have no problem being late to a class because I had sufficient cause to stay at work, but more often than not, the extra hour I spent at work was passed cleaning up the shop or waiting for a liberty brief to commence – the same liberty brief we receive every week, informing us (as Lance Corporals and below) that we are stupid and that we have to be back in by midnight and that we can’t leave base without a buddy and that we shouldn’t get too drunk or cause too many problems.
At times, it seems that the Marine Corps expects me to be married. A Corporal I once had put it best: “So, you’re telling me that because I was not responsible enough to get married before I was 20, I am less important?” Marines who are married receive preferential treatment on Okinawa – they receive gold cards and POVs almost immediately upon arrival in an automatic fashion. Dependents – spouses and children – are often talked about in terms that make it seem like they are making a larger sacrifice than the service members themselves. This is especially true of the service members who don’t have dependents – the ones who are thousands of miles away from family and loved ones back in the states – it seems our sacrifices are overlooked.
Little legitimate concern is demonstrated for single Marines with complex familial relationships – commanders try to demonstrate empathy by saying things like “I want you to call your family once a week!” but also demonstrate a lack of concern when they almost try to force this upon you, despite having no knowledge of what one’s familial relations are. To be specific (and if you’ll allow me to be a little personal), I suffered severe emotional abuse for 17 years at the hands of my mother, and have had no part in her life for the better part of 3 years – and intend to keep it that way. Recently, the family readiness officer has tried to get every Marine to sign up for the mass communication tool (or whatever it is called), and I was told I could not leave mine blank – that I had to put someone down on it. Rather than offer help or even provide guidance on a productive way to deal with my situation (which, I already know of productive ways to deal with it – the chaplain, counseling, etc) I was instead coerced into including my mother on that tool. Rather than display genuine concern for my complex family situation, I was treated in an impersonal and unfeeling manner by the sole entity at my command that was supposed to deal with “family readiness” for all Marines equally – regardless of marital status.
As regards my living space, I am expected to keep it “field day” clean. The problem with “field day” clean is that there is no objective order on just how clean a barracks room should be, so the level of cleanliness necessary each week is dependent entirely upon the moods and opinions of whoever is inspecting the room. Often times, field day is used as an implement of mass punishment, a reaction to an individual brazenly disrespecting the guidelines for general cleanliness during a random weekday inspection or perhaps as a retaliation for other indiscretions. There was one week since I’ve been at this company where we had field day every night until 2300 – this was due later, I was told, to the fact that a particular SNCO had told all the NCOs that the NCOs had lost control of the company and that they needed to take action to get control back. (Nevermind the fact that punitive field day tends to undermine genuine respect and loyalty – Marines will follow orders from superiors, period, as that is the law, but leadership through charisma, respect, and persuasion is almost always more powerful than leadership through authority alone.) These field day expectations go hand in hand with the expectation that I should be married, because if I were married, I would not be expected to field day whatsoever. I would also be exempt from other idiosyncrasies involved with living in the barracks – I wouldn’t be expected to: shower, change over, eat breakfast and be at work in under an hour while competing with two other roommates for facilities, be pulled by the barracks duty at any time for any various task (mostly police calls), stand at formation in the middle of the night because an individual on another deck thought it would be funny to pull a fire alarm, and so on. (There are other examples, but I mean only to illuminate the gist.)
Above all else, I am expected to, in the vernacular of our time, “suck it up.” All of the perceived complaints or grievances I have made in this essay are generally answered by that phrase – “suck it up.” In fact, as a rule, I generally believe that I do suck it up. If you were to ask my direct superiors if I had a poor attitude or complained often, I am confident that you would not find that to be the case. I understand that the military is hard and I understand that service is not necessarily supposed to coddle or be enjoyable. However, it seems that there are certain things that happen that contradict what is supposed to be happening, based on my best interpretation of the orders and directives that I have read.
I would like to state that I do reflect often on why I enlisted and what it means to serve my nation – especially when my morale is low or I feel demotivated. I still believe I enlisted for all of the correct reasons (to serve my nation, to have a higher purpose in my life other than wealth or other popular notions of ‘success’) and I still want to serve my nation. When I enlisted, it was my dream to serve for twenty years or more in the Marine Corps – pursuing my education during my first enlistment with the intention of becoming a commissioned officer later in my career. However, of late, I have become disillusioned with that goal. To be honest, at times, I wish my EAS date were closer so that I could pursue other goals – getting a masters and Ph.D in philosophy and becoming a university professor, for instance. (Perhaps then, it is a good thing my EAS date is still a ways away – I might still find it a sound decision to stay in the Corps.) Far too often, it seems like the Marine Corps misuses its human resources, assigning important tasks to (and promoting) individuals who have an extremely high PFT, but not to individuals who might otherwise be best suited for the task. I can think of very few tasks indeed that would rely solely on one’s physical fitness, and can think of none in my present command and station (ELMACO calibration platoon). Furthermore, constructive criticism is often viewed as dissent and insubordination, and summarily punished and stifled. Criticism is one of the best tools for growth – even the framers of our Constitution recognized this when they allowed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Criticism requires one to better oneself and to be able to defend oneself from attack – it is not necessarily meant as dissent or insubordination.
This essay was not intended to be disrespectful, nor is it indicative of a desire to be insubordinate. It was not written to appease my peers or appease my superiors – as I’m sure some essays will be written in those ways. It was written to answer the question that I had been asked in a manner as honest and straightforward as I could manage. I will continue to follow the orders and directives of superiors appointed over me, whatever those orders and directives may be. Writing this essay was one such order, and it was written while I am preparing to go on the rifle range. It could be argued that I liberally applied my first amendment right – the right to freedom of speech, particularly – from the Constitution I took an oath to protect and defend. When my opinion is asked of me, I will give it – but my opinion has no bearing on how I will discharge the duties appointed to me. That, I believe, is the very essence of service in the first place. My modest hope is that my service will be useful and valuable, but it is not my place to dictate how I am to serve my nation.
Lastly, I would like to thank you sir, for taking the time to solicit and digest feedback from your lower ranks. Even if nothing comes of it, it is nice to be asked what I think from time to time.