We all have done something of which we are not proud, an act that had or could have had repercussions for our careers. A second chance to prove that a bad act is not who you are and that you’ve learned from the mistake is almost always warranted, but in today’s Marine Corps this does not happen often enough. Years ago, the Marine Corps had a program that focused on reinstalling good order and discipline in Marines who committed minor infractions during their initial enlistment—the Correctional Custody Unit (CCU). Disbanded since 2006, a new version of the CCU program (CCU 2.0) was reinstated in Okinawa, Japan in 2018. However, this is an initiative by the III Marine Expeditionary Force commander and the Marine Corps currently has no plan to reinstitute CCUs elsewhere. This is a mistake—CCU 2.0 should be implemented worldwide as soon as possible.
The CCU was a 30-day program designed to give first-term Marines with minor offenses a second chance. Many Marines returned from CCU with enhanced small-unit leadership skills and the willingness to more quickly recognize and correct the conduct deficiencies of their fellow Marines. In this way, the Marine Corps allowed them to make up for mistakes while making them better Marines for their respective units and better individuals for society.
After several years of personnel reductions, the Marine Corps is beginning to grow again. Thus, there is a greater need to retain first-term Marines who have a blemish on their records. Reinstating the CCU will align with this manpower goal, providing a means to rehabilitate Marines with conduct problems who still show potential. In addition, the 30-day CCU program is not pleasant, so at the least it motivates Marines to stay out of trouble for the rest of their enlistment lest they be sent back—or worse.
As a young Marine stationed at Camp Hansen, Okinawa in 2004, I would see Marines assigned to CCU completing various tasks around base. At first, I assumed these were just working parties. I had no idea what the purpose of CCU was. I distinctly remember my non-commissioned officers using CCU as a scare tactic, often recommending juniors Marines to go if they were not meeting standards of good order and discipline. At the time, a Marine in my work section had some prior minor offenses that had grown into bigger issues. He wanted to make the Marine Corps a career, but his on-duty behavior and previous off-duty incidents would prohibit him from being retained. He was the first Marine I had known personally to go to the CCU, and upon his arrival back you could immediately notice the changes in his behavior. He was motivated and anxious to be a part of all daily operations with no complaints. His uniform appearance improved significantly—close attention to detail with chevron placement, clean boots, and utilities so neat you would have thought they were altered and pressed. He was in better shape and stood at parade rest for every Marine in the shop senior to him, even if they were the same grade. I remember some Marines making fun of him, hoping to expose his newfound motivation as insincere. But he truly had changed, and over time his improved behavior and attitude rubbed off on Marines around him. It was inspiring to witness such a profound transformation.
To be sure, the CCU program can’t reform every Marine with a discipline problem. However, the taxpayer foots a large bill to train a new Marine, and a program to give Marines at least one extra chance to get their acts together is fiscally justifiable. Many conduct offenses are too serious to warrant CCU action, but for the ones that are not, commanders should have this tool, among others, to help to save a Marine’s career.
The manpower necessary to run CCUs is a concern, but given the benefits, it is a modest and feasible investment. In the past, CCUs were run by correctional specialists (military occupational specialty [MOS] 5811), and reestablishing CCUs would require expanding this specialty. This could be mitigated partially by properly screening more Marines outside the 5811 MOS for brig training to help staff CCUs. Marines selected could work with the CCU staff on temporary additional duty orders for a minimum of six months with a chance to extend an additional six months with parent command approval.
The CCU program is a great tool for Marines who need a second chance—a reawakening to the special opportunity of being a U.S. Marine. It also gives commanders another disciplinary action tool to reduce behavioral problems within their units. Marines are well-trained and held to a high standard, but they are also are human and make mistakes. The CCU program would save many Marine Corps careers, sending reformed Marines back to their units better than ever. Just ask countless senior Marines who themselves got that second chance years ago.