These programs are insulting because they demonstrate a lack of trust among seniors in subordinates’ ability to lead while not actually helping them do so. And leaders at all levels fall into the trap of believing the mere existence of these programs will result in the elimination of the associated problems. Some even believe the programs relieve them of personal accountability.
But what came first? Did leaders relinquish their authority, thereby making these programs necessary, or do the programs themselves remove leaders’ authority and perceived responsibility? Whichever the case, the continuing shift away from leadership basics and personal accountability is the root of our problems.
The result of these overbearing and unnecessary programs, combined with distrust from above, is an ever-increasing inclination to create more programs and a continuing dearth of leadership and accountability.
Important issues do need to be addressed. These include improving a broken weapon-system design and acquisition process; modernizing the outdated enlisted advancement system; balancing unequal educational benefits; slowing an overly generous awards system; shifting focus back to leadership over management; and maintaining combat superiority in a time of declining budgets.
A high-profile program isn’t needed to address the areas targeted by 21CSM. Simple ideas will suffice:
Readiness —Give leaders the equipment and funds needed to make their units battle-ready. Ensure sailors and Marines receive the right training for the fight. Test readiness (including command climate) and hold leaders accountable when it falls below acceptable levels.
Safety —Teach and test safety, and hold accountable those found violating accepted practices. Remove sexual assault from the safety definition; treat it for what it is (a serious crime); and punish offenders harshly and consistently.
Physical fitness —Include command-wide physical readiness in commanding-officer fitness reports. When they are held accountable in writing, you’ll start to see group physical training on the command calendar.
Inclusion —Treat everyone fairly and equally. Stop defining people by factors that don’t matter. Stop creating favorite groups. Mean it when you use the definition “diversity of ideas, experiences, areas of expertise, and backgrounds.”
Continuum of service —It’s insulting to talk about “retain[ing] Sailors for life” when sailors and Marines face increasing roadblocks to reenlistment, reserve opportunities are declining, and our civilian personnel system is the last bastion of good ol’ boys.
The creation of 21CSM and similar programs makes one ask how the Navy-Marine Corps team emerged victorious from the seemingly impossible tasks of World War II without similar initiatives.
That question is not rhetorical. The answer is vital, yet simple. We won by concentrating on what’s important—combat effectiveness, technical expertise, and tough-as-nails leadership. Future challenges may prove no less daunting, and a concentration on these military essentials will win the day in the future as they have in the past.
Staying mindful of 21st Century Sailor and Marine priorities is good, but overemphasis dilutes our focus on what will win, or lose, future wars. We must return our focus to those areas before it’s too late.