Moral Compass and the Space Between

Our former Regimental Commander, Colonel Barton S. Sloat, was the guest of honor for the FASTCENT Marine Corps Ball this year.  I thought I’d share a portion of his speech with you.
“ I need to share an important teaching from the great psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, as contained in his influential book Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’
Let me give you an example of that moral compass found in today’s Marines – I would share with you a story that took place back in the spring of 2008 in Iraq which identifies that ‘space between’ where we choose our response. On the morning of 22 April, outside an entry control point in the city of Ramadi, there were two young Marines standing post. One was from 1st Battalion 9th Marines, the other from 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. Two different battalions because there was a turnover taking place, one battalion to the other. Inside this compound with the Iraqis were about 40 Marines, some of whom were sleeping because they’d had a night patrol the night before. Some were going about their daily routine.
At about 9:30 that morning a 20-foot tanker truck busted through the outer cordon of Iraqis and headed towards an old flimsy metal gate (the stimulus). At 500 yards, the Marines on sentry post at the entry control point realized what was taking place and started putting well aimed rifle fire on the cab of the truck (the response). There is an escalation process that takes place but, in fact, they didn’t go through that process because they recognized immediately what was occurring.
At about 25 yards, the machine gun opened up and the truck then came to a halt about 10 yards from the post. The truck exploded, we think there was probably a dead-man switch on the driver. They had 2,000 pounds of explosive which was ignited. Young Corporal Yale from Burkeville, Virginia, and Lance Corporal Haerter from Sag Harbor, New York, really never had a chance with the explosives that close.
The Iraqis who had been manning the gate when the Marines opened fire ran. An hour or two later when General Kelly, the senior Marine Commander, and the Iraqi commander came to view this hole that was seven feet deep and 20 feet across, the Iraqi commander said to General Kelly: ‘Why didn’t they run? My men ran and they lived.’ (their response). General Kelly said: ‘They couldn’t run. I hope some day you will understand that, but they couldn’t run because there were 40 Marines on the inside of that gate depending on them.’
That is the moral compass. That is the moral discipline. That is the physical discipline. That is sacrifice, the supreme sacrifice that man may give to his brother. I’ll tell you folks, if our country continues to provide us with great young Marines like that, we can go anywhere and do anything this nation asks.
May we always listen to our moral compass during that space between stimulus and response – and choose the better path.
As Winston Churchill reminded us: ‘We have not journeyed all this way…because we are made of sugar candy.’ May we as a nation and as U.S. Marines foster the moral discipline needed to face the challenges of tomorrow, recognize that ‘space between’ and choose to act rather than be acted upon. Act rather than react and choose the better part.”
I think it’s no coincidence the Marine Corps Birthday, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving all fall in the same month. As we prepare ourselves for the heady holiday season, take a moment to give thanks for those few who made the decision to stand in the gap, strive to negotiate the thin treacherous space between stimulus and response, and do the right thing. When the time comes, pray each of us can do the same.
Semper Fidelis!
America’s 1stsgt
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  1. 5th General Order.

    Not just for sentry duty, but a solid foundation upon which USMC discipline is built.

    Semper Fidelis and The 5th General Order are inseparable.


  2. Top,
    Some people will never understand that. I’ve been lucky in both jobs to (usually) have good cops or soldiers to back me up…and not run when things got bad.
    In a few cases, I expected my men to run…and they didn’t. Which was really a good thing or I would have been hosed.

    99% of the cops I’ve worked with wouldn’t run away, but ran towards the problem… The few that did run or not show up, I have no use for.

    For those Marines who died doing their job that day- They set an example for others in the future.

    When those do the right thing when it’s not easy and nobody else is watching…they are the best.

  3. CI Roller, here is something even sadder to contemplate: Dakota Meyer faced over 50 enemy scum bags while rescuing a number of his comrades. Mike McQueary failed to save a 10 year old boy from a single old man.

  4. A1S:

    Dakota Meyer also knew he had nothing much to look forward to, if he survived, other than a courts martial for disobeying a direct order, too.

    Can’t get more Semper Fi than that.

  5. A1S:

    Oops. That last Anon was me. This site gives me grief when I try to log in all legit and stuff, so I’m cheating my way in like a good Marine.


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