In November 2016, I checked in to my command and within a week signed my administrative page 13 agreeing officially to begin the process to become an enlisted Fleet Marine Force warfare specialist. I had been staring at and aspiring to earn the “FMF” device since Hospital Corpsman “A” School and Field Medical Service School.
When I arrived at my first command, a clinic in Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, I immediately saw the difference between the “FMF” and the “not-FMF.” Those without were my seniors; those with were my mentors. HM1(FMF) Skipworth displayed the qualities I hoped to have as a senior corpsman in the future; HM2(FMF) Jensen taught me the importance of attention to detail and gave me career advice leading up to my selection of orders; HM2(FMF) Pimentel helped me understand what life would be like as a husband and father and also a corpsman who would someday deploy. This is not to say those with other qualifications (or lack thereof) didn’t deserve my respect or that they couldn’t or wouldn’t offer advice and guidance had I asked. It was simply the view of a young sailor who wanted someday to get his own FMF pin.
Not everyone carries the same pride in these qualifications. With enlisted warfare qualifications being mandatory, some sailors may feel it’s just something they’re forced to do.
The intent of mandatory qualifications likely is to increase the lethality of our forces by raising the bar and helping sailors find where and in what community the warrior within them lies. An unfortunate side effect, however, is the expectation among senior leaders that their units will be fully qualified.
Let’s face it, if not everyone is on board and invested in earning their pin, you are bound to have some people who don’t make an effort to complete their quals. We can coerce them, with early or more relaxed liberty or by picking those without pins first for working parties or field day. But how does coercion build pride?
Warfare qualifications likely will remain mandatory, but even if that were to change, the lack of pride in qualifications would be a problem. It is a cultural problem, and one that cannot be fixed overnight. It starts with who we are recruiting into the Navy.
Recruits who join with a full understanding of what they are getting into are more likely to adapt and embrace this huge change in their lives. How many recruits do we send into a rate they know nothing about? They go through a training pipeline, arrive at their commands, and start doing jobs they didn’t realize they signed up for. Then along comes a lead petty officer or a chief who shows them more things they have to do to demonstrate they are good at their jobs.
We need to worry less about the percentage of our sailors who are qualified and more about inspiring them to be warfighters.
Junior sailors should approach their quals with the understanding that the program is intended to make them better warfighters. While it may never translate to what they do outside the Navy later in life, the discipline it instills in them will carry weight. The qualification should represent a community spirit, and we must revitalize what it is meant to be. It’s our responsibility to make sure our warfare-qualified sailors are subject-matter experts and warriors of their platforms.