Marines are known to take to social media to make fun of some aspects of life in the Corps, but in one recent case, it's affecting change.
Virginia Jones, a former sergeant who served as a meteorological analyst forecaster, recently saw a screenshot of a question from the MarineNet Career Course staff sergeants. The course is required for promotion to gunnery sergeant.
Marines are presented with a scenario as part of the course's values-based leadership lesson -- and in this particular question, there was a lot happening. There were references to a marriage between a corporal and a sergeant major, a maintenance department preparing aircraft for a deployment, an awards ceremony, and a group of drunk sergeants being arrested by Japanese police.
At the end, Marines are asked whether the married corporal and sergeant major serving in different chains of command could affect good order, discipline, morale or authority. The photo accompanying the question is a picture of a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Jones tweeted the photo with the question, "who ... made ... this ... training ..."
"If I was taking the test, I would have no idea how to even answer the question because I don't know what it was actually asking," Jones said. "It was poorly constructed and littered with nonsensical points. The irrelevancy of the first sentence, the mental gymnastics throughout the rest of the paragraph, and the answer being a picture of a NAM was illogical."
She wasn't alone in feeling confused. One person described the scenario as "galaxy brain nonsense." Another said they read it three times and still didn't understand the point.
Now officials at Training and Education Command are changing the course.
"This course will be reviewed as a result of this deficiency being brought to our attention," 1st Lt. Sam Stephenson, a TECOM spokesman, said. "This scenario will be removed from the content by the end of November 2019 and all scenarios and content will be reviewed and updated in early 2020."
The point Marines were meant to take away is that even apparent preferential treatment resulting from a relationship between Marines of different paygrades can negatively affect good order and discipline, Stephenson added.
But the scenario needs to be revised for several reasons, he said.
"One: It can imply that the Marines were drinking because of apparent favoritism or worse that the apparent favoritism might excuse their actions. That was never the intent," Stephenson said. "There are several issues included within the scenario that could foster further discussion. Without an instructor present to facilitate discussion to ensure that the correct lessons are learned, Marines are left to draw their own -- and possibly incorrect -- conclusions."
Jones said she's thankful the Marine Corps is making the revision, but said the question never should've been included in a professional military education course at all.
"Everyone along the line is responsible, including everyone who saw this training slide and silently questioned it instead of bringing attention to it," she said. "Accountability is preached day in and day out in the military, yet none was held for this situation until now."
She also took issue with the way the female corporal was depicted. The scenario described her as squared away and performing her job well, but added that she didn't socialize with other noncommissioned officers. And her behavior and award appeared to influence the sergeants' bad behavior.
"How is the Marine Corps supposed to change their societal culture of toxicity against women if staff NCOs are being implicitly taught to harbor resentment against them for consensual relationships, not being chatty enough, or earning awards?" Jones said.
MarineNet courses for enlisted personnel are developed by officials with the Enlisted College Distance Education Program in Quantico, Virginia, Stephenson said. Subject matter experts are hired to develop content and assessments.
The goal is to assess the courses every two years, he said. The content in this particular course hadn't been reviewed in four years.
Jones said leaders need to be more mindful of the information presented to Marines.
"It fueled military biases. It did not actually educate anyone. It was poorly written, reviewed and distributed," she said. "If training is being handled in this manner at a high level, then how is it not expected to bleed to lower levels?"