I recently attended a talk you gave on sexual assault prevention at NSA Bahrain. You brought up some points I thought were pretty interesting and would liked to have spoken to you more but did not have the opportunity. I took a few notes and had some thoughts I wanted to share on the subject. Keep in mind these are coming from a career Marine and a 1stSgt in an infantry outfit.
You mentioned prevention required a cultural change. While I agree this statement is true I don’t believe it is military culture which requires change. As a matter of fact, everything you mentioned about intervention, prevention, enabling behaviors, and the like, can all be covered through the proper application of the 14 Leadership Traits and 11 Leadership Principles which I have attached. It should also be pointed out the two primary goals of leadership are mission accomplishment and troop welfare. Both of these goals cover the range of force preservation issues including sexual assault prevention and don’t seem to need any cultural change in that aspect.
As I have noted throughout my career, three months of boot camp does not undo a lifetime of bad habits and poor decision making. Nor will it repair any fundamental character flaws possessed by young troops who join our ranks. I was mortified when you related a young woman raised her hand in one of your classes and asked: “You mean it’s sexual assault if a guy puts his hand down my pants?” What kind of world did she grow up in where behavior like that is acceptable or the norm? The other statement which struck me was: “I don’t want to walk around base alone at night.” I cannot conceive of a universe where U.S. Marines are nearby and Americans remain in fear for themselves. These things have never been acceptable according to our core values. The cultural change needed isn’t within the military. Convincing troops to adopt our value system as their own is a function of leadership and something we encourage within Marines throughout their enlistment.
Conduct is the number one thing I talk to Marines about. Whether it is a liberty brief or part of a professional military education class, I always remind my Marines that Americans expect and deserve a certain standard of personal behavior out of us. When people hear the word Marine there is anticipation of a particular product. It is our job to deliver that product. How do we ensure we are delivering said merchandise? Professional development is defined as the process by which leaders cultivate those qualities which will characterize their troops as Marines. Ensuring my troops understand how to comport themselves as Marines is the surest way I know how to deliver.
Culturally, Marines are action oriented. It is often said when the shooting starts you will find Marines running toward the sound of the guns. The idea that the same Marines who would advance unflinchingly into enemy fire would fail to intervene when confronted with sexual assault disturbs me. The bystander as you described in your class is the antithesis of Marine Corps ideals like decisive, sound decision making and initiative.
There was a comment about an individual who conducted himself professionally in the execution of his daily tasks and duties but had some “…stuff on the side…” which turned out to be abhorrent. In the Marine Corps we do not have “stuff on the side.” There is only our conduct as Marines whether on or off duty. We maintain we are still Marines and act accordingly on leave and liberty as well as during “working hours.” Debate often rages between the idea of a “garrison” Marine vs. a “field” Marine.
Institutionally, the Marine Corps does not distinguish between the two and ideally a good Marine is one who performs well in both environments.
At the end of the day it is my job to demand the same valor off the battlefield as I do on it. The Marine Corps motives for doing what we do have not changed. Our values are not new to us institutionally but may have never been articulated in the minds of our troops. We who are in the position to make a daily impact on those in our charge are duty bound to train them in comportment. I want to influence Marines to consciously desire to make sound and timely decisions and treat others with dignity. In that instance of conscious choice the cultural change will take place and the self oriented individual will become the other oriented member of a unit.
Thanks for your time.
(okay, so I didn’t actually sign off as America’s 1stSgt)