Here's Why Gen. Neller Wants Every Leatherneck Singing the 'Marines Hymn'

Members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit sing the “Marines’ Hymn” during a Corporal’s Leadership Course graduation aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) on April 4, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols)
Members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit sing the “Marines’ Hymn” during a Corporal’s Leadership Course graduation aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) on April 4, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols)

Marines tell the American people they're the few and the proud who uphold honor, courage and commitment -- and leathernecks need to start meeting that expectation, their top officer said this week.

Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marines at a California air station Wednesday that he wants them to sing the "Marines Hymn" every time they hear it, to remind them of the title they've earned.

"The reason I want us to sing it when you're not standing in formation is [to] think about the words that are in that, the lyrics," Neller said during a town hall event at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. "'First to fight,' 'keep our honor clean,' 'proud to claim the title.'

"The title," he added. "It's not a name -- we have a title. You are a Marine."

Neller compared earning the title "Marine" with "Game of Thrones" characters, such as Ser Brienne of Tarth, being knighted. Ser Brienne, the realm's only female knight, earned that title in the show's final season.

"There's virtue and there's honor in [being a Marine]," he said. "And you can't change that."

Neller's push to have all Marines sing their hymn was slated to be included in a slew of updates expected to hit the service's drill manual last month. Instead of simply standing at attention, the commandant wants Marines to belt out the lyrics, so long as they're not in formation or participating in a ceremony, parade or review.

Marine officials did not immediately respond to questions about whether those changes have been officially made to the drill manual.

For the rest of their lives, people will associate Marines with the Corps, Neller said, even years after they leave the service. Anything that's ever written about them is likely to include the reference to their time in the Marine Corps.

"[It's] going to start out with your name, probably where you're from, and then it's going to say 'former Marine,'" he said. "They're going to write something, and you own that space. … So what's it going to say?"

The public will always expect Marines to uphold their core values, Neller added.

"And you need to respect that, because I got some equity in that," he told Marines.

Though the majority Marines who leave the Corps go on to lead honorable lives, headlines have tied a small number of veterans to white supremacy, mass shootings and the illicit sharing of nude photos of active-duty service members.

In his four years as commandant, Neller has pressed Marines to protect the title they've earned.

The Marine Corps has struggled to bring down its rates of sexual assault and suicides on the active-duty side. The commandant told Marines earlier this month that the sexual-assault statistics are unacceptable.

"Alcohol abuse is a contributing factor to a significant number of these incidents and other aberrant behaviors," Neller said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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