More Discipline, Less Bleeding: General Defends Controversial New Policy

U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, pick up trash during the monthly Single Marine Program base cleanup on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 28, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Samuel Lyden)
U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, pick up trash during the monthly Single Marine Program base cleanup on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 28, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Samuel Lyden)

On Maj. Gen. David Furness' last combat deployment to Afghanistan as commander of the Marines' Regimental Combat Team 1 in 2010, the unit sustained 31 casualties. Nineteen of those, he says, were "the fault of the Marine either doing something he was told not to do and trained not to do or not doing something he was trained to do."

Now the commander of 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Furness appeared as a guest on the internet-based All-Marine Radio Friday to discuss a controversial new policy letter he wrote in an effort to curtail a trend he observed of sloppy, undisciplined Marines in the division.

The letter, published Wednesday, instituted a "basic daily routine" requiring all Marines to begin their days with reveille at 5:30 a.m., and observe two daily formations and regimented cleaning and hygiene times. For those who wouldn't comply, Furness' message was clear: shape up or ship out.

"There are weeds growing around our buildings and work spaces and trash everywhere but the dumpsters where it belongs," he wrote. "These are just a few examples of the lack of discipline seen across the board that will not be tolerated in this Division any longer."

During his radio interview Friday, Furness added more detail to the new policy. Marines in his division, he said, would observe an upcoming "leadership and discipline stand-down" June 3-7 in which he'd address all sergeants, senior noncommissioned officers and lieutenants directly. The stand-down, he said, would also include a division-wide "field day," or cleaning period, and a quarters inspection by leadership.

"It's not chicken-s--t. It's all about combat performance," he said. "You can keep yourself and your teammate and your unit alive. We will do this, you will clean your room, we will have people walk through your room to make sure you've done it right."

And for those who can't do it, he added, "I'll get you orders somewhere else."

Furness said his policy letter hadn't been created in a vacuum; rather, he said, he had created a "council of sergeants" featuring outstanding young enlisted leaders from around the division shortly after taking command in 2018. They were the ones, he said, who came up with the daily routine published in his policy letter, and each of them said they agreed with Furness' plan to institute it.

In his combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, Furness said he had repeatedly observed that the most disciplined units were the ones who fared best in combat.

"I was presented right up front with, the more disciplined a unit is, going into a fight, the less it bleeds," he said.

With regard to the 19 Marine Corps casualties he said could have been avoided, he still thinks about small adjustment that might have been made, such as the reminder that could have been given to a vehicle's driver to fasten his seatbelt before he hit an improvised explosive device in the road.

"These basic breaches of attention to detail are a direct result of not habituating yourself to the small details we learn to do in garrison activities," he said.

Furness' letter hit the internet almost immediately after circulating around the division. While some have spoken supportively of his policies, many in the military community have criticized the measures as unnecessary or expressed and borne of a tendency to create busywork for a force no longer deploying at a high tempo.

The general said the corrections he expects leaders to make of Marines who are not squared away don't have to be harsh and dramatic -- they can be as simple as asking a service member if his or her behavior adheres to the given standard.

However, he added, he really doesn't care what the internet has to say about his decision.

"They can pillory me to their hearts' content on Terminal Lance or any social media platform they have," he said, naming a popular Marine Corps web comic. "But we're going to do the right thing for the right reason."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Story Continues