Marines don't care about their pay. And receiving less will make them better.
That's what the Marine Corps' top enlisted official, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett told Congress April 9 -- just one in a series of comments that have really rattled some cages in the military community.
According to the Marine Corps Times, Barrett was the only official on a panel of his colleagues speaking before congress who felt that way. The rest of the officials "conceded to senators that lower pay raises, scaled-back commissary offerings and smaller housing stipends would be problematic for many service members."
But not Barrett.
“I truly believe it will raise discipline,” Military.com quotes him as saying. “You’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful.”
That comment, while an honest reflection of what will likely happen should Marines and their families be faced with a lower income (because they adapt and overcome), shows, I believe, a disconnect between our top enlisted Marine and the rest of the Marine Corps.
Sergeant Major Barrett does make a few valid points. As a former Marine myself and the spouse of a currently serving infantry Marine assigned to Texas A&M pursuing a degree in leadership (what else would a Marine be interested in?), I can say with total honesty that when Sgt. Maj. Barrett says that “Marines don’t run around asking about compensation ... they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next” he is being completely truthful and honest.
The overwhelming population of Marines don’t give a flying rat’s arse about politics and random commissions and Senate hearings. They really do want to know who’s face is getting knife handed next.
Do you know why?
It’s not their job. It’s the Sgt. Maj.'s job to care about that stuff. It’s his job to make sure his Marines are taken care of. It’s his job to tick off the politicians and tell them that his Marines deserve the tiny pay raises and the customer service at Tricare and the $2 savings on diapers at the commissary. It's his job to say they get the stuff they currently call their “entitlements” because they don’t ask for much in return for being the very talented killers we need them to be on the battlefield.
As the nation's smallest military service by far, the Corps receives the smallest amount of annual funding. Do you know why they work so well with so little, why they can accomplish so much with so few people, very little warning and practically antiquated gear?
Because they are a well-oiled, well maintained, lean green killing machine. They have become this way, in part, because of dedicated leaders like Barrett.
They are not benefits hungry. They are dogs of war. But if you take away their food, will they become more fierce, as Barrett predicts?
Sure. They’ll be more fierce and more rabid ... until they starve to death.
Barrett told Congress that the Corps has "never had it so good." That's largely in part due to the sacrifices and commitment of military personnel and brass who came before him and the perspective he's gained during his 33-years in.
But it's also because someone before him had it really bad. Despite his multiple deployment as an infantry Marine during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, most of his career has been served in a time of peace. But these last 11 years of war have been spent as a Sgt. Maj., with the pay of a Sgt. Maj. He hasn’t been through the constant separations, the constant trainings and work-ups on the pay of Lance Cpl.
Has he had the pay of a Lance? Sure… in the very early 80s in Twentynine Palms.
As anyone who has ever been to Twentynine Palms knowns, everything is better than that. Compared to the desert of California, no -- he's personally never had it so good.
I have no doubt that he cares deeply for his Marines. I have no doubt that he is a dedicated and trusted leader. But is it possible that he isn't really able to understand what it is like to be a young Marine during the current military climate?
Because here's the thing. Does he honestly think that his Marines are going to say anything to him other than “Let’s go rip off some faces?" His Marines respect him far too much as the proven leader and rough old leatherneck that he is.
Our war fighters might not be running around trying to figure out their pay and compensation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count every penny that leaves their account. They might be telling the Sgt. Maj. that they just want to put a boot in someone’s neck, as he suggested to Congress, but that might have more to do with the fact that their Sgt. Maj. is a war dog.
No one wants to sit down with a war dog and discuss policy. They want to growl and bark and get back to what they do best -- knife handing terrorists in the throat.
Barrett made these comments because he's out of touch with the men and women on the front lines. There are an awful lot of politicians leading from the rear, with an awful lot of military personnel in positions of authority who have permission to speak freely misspeaking for those who are forbidden from speaking freely.
There is a serious issue of disconnect here. Yes, Marines will make the absolute best of the situation with what very little they have to work with, but that doesn’t mean that they want less to work with.
Sir, it’s not exactly a great time to tell your Marines to work with less because it will “raise discipline." It’s a time to remember the respectable position you rightly hold and stand up for them.
Kathleen Foley is an independent author, a Marine wife, a mother of three and the 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Marine Corps Undesignated Base Spouse of the Year. Her biggest accomplishments include waking up in the morning and not dying when she runs. Follow her on Twitter at @Kate_Foley_