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Commandant calls for new crackdown on barracks life, Marine behavior

Sep. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
'We have a behavioral problem within the Corps. A small, but not insignificant, number of our Marines are not living up to our ethos and core values,' Commandant Gen. Jim Amos told senior officers Sept. 23 during the General Officer Symposium at Quantico, Va. (Getty Images)
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The Marine Corps commandant wants tough new measures put in place in barracks across the service to “reawaken” it morally and crack down on bad behavior, Marine Corps Times has learned.

Gen. Jim Amos delivered his plan Sept. 23 to his senior officers during the General Officer Symposium at Quantico, Va. It calls for a variety of new initiatives, including the installation of security cameras in each barracks, the incorporation of more staff noncommissioned officers and officers on duty, and the arming of all officers on duty and staff NCOs on duty at all times, according to briefing slides from the commandant’s address.

Amos’ presentation to general officers came six months after Officer Candidates School at Quantico was put on lockdown late March 21 following an apparent murder-suicide. Marine officials said Sgt. Eusebio Lopez, 25, shot and killed Cpl. Jacob Wooley, 23, and Lance Cpl. Sara Castro Mata, 19, before turning his gun on himself. All three Marines were staff members at the school, considered a revered proving ground for prospective Marine officers.

The plan stretches well beyond improving safety, however. Amos’ briefing slides say that while the Corps has been successful fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we are now seeing signs that are our institutional fabric is fraying.” He cites sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization and failure to maintain personal appearance standards among the issues he wants addressed.

In a statement provided to Marine Corps Times on Sept. 26, the commandant expanded on his concerns.

“It is impossible to overstate my pride in the brilliant performance of our Marines through 12 years of sustained combat,” his statement said. “As the Corps resets itself for the conflicts and crises to come, the magnificence of the many has thrown into sharp relief the failure of the few to live up to our high standards. Rather than wait for a creeping complacency to set in, I’m turning to my leaders at all levels to refocus Marines on what we do and who we are.”

The commandant’s briefing slides were more blunt.

“We have a behavioral problem within the Corps — a small, but not insignificant, number of our Marines are not living up to our ethos and core values,” one of Amos’ slides says. “They are hurting themselves, their fellow Marines, civilians, and damaging our reputation.”

The commandant’s plan calls for a number of “immediate” changes, some of which are unlikely to be popular with Marines. They include:

■ Sergeants and corporals will return to the barracks, as basic allowance for housing is no longer allowed for single NCOs. This policy change was made in 2011, with the commandant saying it was necessary to save money and put the Corps’ new, impressive bachelor enlisted quarters to full use.

■ Senior officers, staff NCOs and NCOs will be in and out of the barracks regularly, especially between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

■ Company-grade officers will be assigned as officers on duty, and staff NCOs will be assigned as staff officers on duty. All Marines on duty will be required to wear service uniforms, either “Bravos” or “Charlies,” depending on which uniform is in season.

■ Two NCOs will be on duty per barracks, and a firewatch will be conducted on each floor of each building.

■ Television and video games will not be allowed in the watchstander’s place of duty. They must be out and about, and not behind a desk.

■ Commanders leading Marine expeditionary forces, major subordinate commands and installations must develop plans to “fight and win” in the barracks with their sergeants major.

■ Every Marine above the rank of lance corporal must read “Leading Marines” and “Sustaining the Transformation” by Nov. 10, the Marine Corps’ 238th birthday. Both are official publications for the service, and focus on leadership.

■ Marines will no longer be promoted to corporal or sergeant in groups. “Each promotion to these ranks will be personal and meaningful,” one of Amos’ briefing slides says.

■ The Corps will “refocus on the ‘basic daily routine’ business” of running a battalion or squadron. Officers and staff NCOs will be present in the morning as their Marines get ready for their day, conduct organized physical training and eat breakfast.

The commandant also called for a number of cultural changes. Among them, he said the service must “do a better a job of explaining the ‘why’ behind institutional decisions,” one of his briefing slides says. He also called for renewed emphasis on established standards, including behavior, physical conditioning, personal appearance, weight and body fat.

“We will stop accepting bad behavior or substandard performance as a natural consequence of being a ‘combat hardened’ Marine Corps,” one of the commandant’s slides says.

Every Marine checking into a new unit also will be contacted before he or she arrives by an assigned sponsor, and his or her NCO, staff NCO and company-grade officer will meet and greet them, Amos said, according to his brief.

Other “near-term” changes are called for in his brief, including the installation of security cameras in every barracks. The last slide in the commandant’s presentation calls for the general officers at the symposium this week to discuss the initiatives he outlined.

“I intend to adjust our GOS schedule later this week to have some time to hear your thoughts and recommendations,” it says. “This list is far from exhaustive ... your fingerprints are required!”

Maj. Dave Nevers, a spokesman for the commandant, had no immediate comment Sept. 25 on the presentation. Gunnery Sgt. Chanin Nuntavong, a spokesman for Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett, could not be reached for comment.

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