In other situations, morale can become a monumental problem for all leaders—especially the ones closest to the people doing the job. When the operational tempo is dictated not by the leader but by external influences, the equation starts to break down. The external stimuli are either not enough to maintain the balance, or the stimuli are so great that individual Marines become overwhelmed and unable to perform optimally.
The external stimuli and the internal ability to deal with them lie on a continuum. On one end is the slow pace of peacetime training, with reduced budgets and poor training schedules. On the other end is the chaotic environment of combat, where the pace is lightning quick, and an ever-present enemy attempts to create havoc and do unto you before you do unto him. In order to keep morale at its peak, leaders must look at this continuum and find ways of keeping morale high, no matter what the situation or environment.
In the middle is a comfort zone. The line is held here through proactive training and foresight. Additionally, leaders must know their Marines' strengths and weaknesses and their tolerance for different levels of stimuli. Of course, they cannot cater to every individual, but a common middle ground must be found. For those who need that extra bit of excitement, there will always be plenty to do. As a unit moves away from middle ground, however, the challenges may become too difficult. Leaders must recognize what is causing the problem, then take appropriate action to bring their unit back to that happy medium.
For example, in peacetime operations, training budgets are tight and live exercises are at a premium. Leaders must devise ways of creating a drive in their Marines to keep morale high, while still operating within a limited budget. Live fire may be out of the question, but an innovative leader can work on other aspects of combat, including hand-to-hand combat, infiltration, and reconnaissance. An active training program that stresses small-unit leadership in uncommon situations can keep morale high as healthy competition is fostered.
On the other side, a fast-paced combat scenario pushes people—including the leader, who is not exempt from the fog of war—to their limits. The best leaders recognize the detrimental effects this has, and will use uncommon methods to bring stimulation back to middle ground. If this fails, morale will plummet, and command and control will dip to dangerously low levels. Many casualties will result-many from fatigue and stress. Some effective ways of dealing with overstimulation include having regimented meal times and breaks to give a semblance of normal life—something the Marines can count on.
Leaders must take steps before these limits are reached. If not, casualties will result. In peacetime, family violence, unauthorized absence, and drug and alcohol abuse rise. In combat, fatigue, deadly mistakes, and inattention become loss of life and other combat casualties.
Strong leaders with conviction will bring their men home with success. The true backbone of the Marine Corps is the special group of leaders who know how to keep their Marines' morale high.
Master Sergeant Rohrer is a combat engineer with more than 18 years of service. He has a B.A. in psychology and is currently assigned as equal opportunity adviser at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.