Corps Values

Recent misdeeds by military personnel prompt question about rot in the ranks.

Charles Paige · Jul. 31, 2019

Last week, 18 Marines from one California-based battalion were arrested for human trafficking and drug offenses. Additionally, an entire SEAL platoon was booted out of Iraq amidst allegations of criminal activity by its senior enlisted sailor, along with violations of long-standing orders. These unfortunate events follow several other high-profile incidents involving military misconduct and highlight a troubling trend of disciplinary issues in our Armed Forces.

Although the numbers represent a tiny fraction of our overall military population and don’t reflect the honorable service of the vast majority of today’s Patriots in uniform, they are significant enough and the incidents frequent enough to raise concern about how deep the rot goes and whether it’s a leading or lagging indicator for our broader society. Fortunately, military leadership, like the Marine Corps’ new Commandant, General David Berger, are emphasizing tighter standards and accountability in their formations.

The military has long been seen as a sort of kiln for American society — a place where individuals were tested, hardened, and provided with the skills and experience to serve in leadership roles in the private sector and government. The Marine Corps in particular has traditionally seen its role in transforming ordinary young men and women into contributing citizens as one of its primary tasks.

Legendary Lieutenant General Victor “Brute” Krulak put it this way: “The third thing they believe about the Marines is that our Corps is downright good for … our country; that the Marines are masters of a form of unfailing alchemy which converts un-oriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens — citizens into whose hands the nation’s affairs may safely be entrusted.”

His son, General Charles Krulak, the 31st Commandant, echoed this sentiment nearly four decades later, stating, “For over 221 years our Corps has done two things for this great Nation. We make Marines, and we win battles.”

Last week’s headlines suggest that Marine leaders have their work cut out for them if they aspire to maintain those ideals. General Berger’s Commandant’s Planning Guidance, which was released earlier this month, addresses it head on: “Demanding superior performance and enforcing high standards should not be viewed as draconian, but rather, should be expected by professionals. We will not accept mediocrity within the force and, above all, must seek to remove those from within our ranks who are adversely impacting the overall readiness of our force.”

The Camp Pendleton Marines were arrested in conjunction with a battalion formation, where the alleged offenders were called up front by their sergeant major and hauled off by NCIS — a move that undoubtedly had visibility well up the chain of command and that sends a clear signal that commanders are ready and willing to put Berger’s guidance into action.

That guidance is in sharp contrast to commentators, both military and civilian, who reflexively defend or discount the disciplinary and moral failures by service members and label any effort to hold perpetrators accountable as political correctness or careerism. While the military has its share of self-interested individuals and the military justice system occasionally gets things wrong (much like its civilian counterpart), those instances are the exception rather than the norm. Those commentators make their own contribution to the decline in good order and discipline and do a disservice to those who serve honorably when they make excuses for actions like those we have seen recently.

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