II MEF Commanding General Reflects on Time at Camp Lejeune

CAMP LEJEUNE -- The expression "Earned, Never Given" is one of the first U.S. Marine Corps mottos encountered by new recruits and potential officer candidates heading to basic training at places like Parris Island, Quantico or San Diego, but afterwards, can what is earned by these professional war fighters through blood, sweat, and tears be taken away? The outgoing Marine General says absolutely.

Today, as II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) changes commanding generals from Maj. Gen William D. Beydler to incoming Maj. Gen. Walter L. Miller, there is a sense that perhaps Beydler's greatest accomplishment at Camp Lejeune and in the Jacksonville community has absolutely nothing to do with preparing for war.

In fact, despite being nominated for lieutenant general and transitioning down to serve as the commanding general for U.S. Marine Corps Central Command in Tampa, Florida, for Beydler, his highest triumph for Marines and Sailors of II MEF might have everything to do with sparking an inner pride to protect what they have worked so painstakingly hard to earn.

The "Protect What You've Earned" campaign is a new initiative launched just months ago and aims to generate a conversation between service members and their families, senior military leadership and the Jacksonville community in order to promote the awareness that continual proactive steps should be taken to safeguard a individual's career, military rank, and honor as U.S. Marines and Sailors, not to be lost as a consequence for an alcohol related event.

"This was something I had been thinking about for some time," Beydler told The Daily News, "When I was slated to come here, I started seeing reports of things (alcohol related mishaps) that would go on in Jacksonville and the surrounding environs and I would go, 'I think we can do better than that, I think we can do better in the community.'"

So, in February 2015, II MEF started conducting multiple focus groups with Marines and Sailors from varied populations and backgrounds on responsible alcohol use.

Through in-depth conversations that centered on the residual affects of alcohol and how reckless drinking can affect behavior and cognitive thinking, coupled with analytical data from their internal Marine Corps Behavioral Health Program and scientific studies published by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research and analysis institute focused on improving policy and decision-making, II MEF started to gain new insight on how to stem the flow of alcohol related incidents both in and beyond the walls of Camp Lejeune.

The research found that when compared to the other armed services, Marines have the highest rate of excessive alcohol use at almost 49 percent; with approximately 57 percent consistently binge drinking. Furthermore, the data showed 30 percent of spousal abuse involved the use of alcohol, with over 52 percent of victims and offenders of sexual assault cases having an alcohol association, according to the Marine Corps Behavioral Health Program.

- Moreover, data also indicated that 41 percent of Marines that attempted suicide this year had evidence of alcohol use at the time of the attempt, with 31 percent of suicidal deaths having a history of substance abuse in 2014. According to the RAND Corporation, 80 percent of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury met the criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence.

"Alcohol can make good decision makers make very poor decisions," Beydler said, "And it can make poor decision makers, make grotesque decisions."

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"Nothing pains me or the sergeant major more than reading about a tragedy on a Saturday or Sunday morning of some really bad choices that were made that cost people dearly and sometimes their lives," Beydler told The Daily News, "And I think to myself, 'boy if I could only have been there and taken the keys away or said, 'Hey that's not a good idea.'"

Conversely, researchers also found that six out of seven Marines and Sailors or what equates to 85 percent of the force drink responsibly, leaving only 15 percent or one in seven at risk for having an alcohol related incident.

Still, despite the low number of service members in conceivable jeopardy, for Beydler and newly appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, there needed to be a shift in ideology and strategy.

II MEF had to depart from traditional advertisements if they wanted to reach their targeted audience. The "Don't be that Guy" billboards and intimidating posters that depicted a Marine or Sailor in a non-judicial punishment or courts marshal being reduced in rank for alcohol misuse had to end, as the advertisement with overt threat was sent to both the responsible service member and the reckless abuser, therefore creating a disconnect between the Marine and the intended message.

"A number of campaigns and thematic approaches had not worked and they haven't worked probably because they haven't focused on the right people in the right way," Beydler said, "The campaigns bombed because Marines and Sailors saw right through them, they knew it was only to protect the Marine Corps' image and the senior leadership...so we spent a lot of time thinking about this, I wanted to get it right the first time."

For the change in strategy, the "Protect What You've Earned" campaign focused on two foundational principles: The campaign is about what is best for the individual, not the Marine Corps, and the advertisements should not disseminate the message and blanket label that all Marines have a drinking problem.

While Beydler admits he does not know the full affect the campaign has had on II MEF's alcohol issues, he says that the campaign has "not been out right dismissed" by Marines and Sailors.

- "It's been accepted at a level that I haven't seen anything else come close to, and I can sense that in young Marines and Sailors I come in contact with, I get continual feedback from them," Beydler said.

Moreover, Beydler held a meeting with Jacksonville Mayor Sammy Phillips, to include, Chief Michael Yaniero of the Jacksonville Police Department and Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller to discuss the campaign and inspire community involvement in the program.

"You know, I told them I would not mind if a patrolman pulls over a Marine going 10mph over the speed limit and says something like 'Hey, what are you doing? You're risking it, you've got to protect all that you've earned at Camp Lejeune,' it's important we continue this message off base, it has to spill over," Beydler.

Around Jacksonville, "Protect what You've Earned" billboards are already on Interstate highways I-40 and I-95, to include, U.S. 70, U.S. 17 and Sneads Ferry Road, N.C. 24 and Emerald Road.

Two more permanent billboards will be added to Lejeune Blvd. and Western Blvd., in addition, to various bumper stickers and posters being displayed around base, targeting the Marines and Sailors that are doing the right thing.

"Look, Marines don't come into the Marine Corps not to be successful," Beydler said, "They don't set out to leave with a dishonorable discharge or the respect of their peers and the admiration of their families, so the approach is protect what you have already accomplished."

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