leadership fail

Back on my last deployment, I had the… pleasure… of having to attend the Department Head’s meeting every night, which consisted of the aforementioned leaders/managers (depending on the person…) of the various departments of the ship (Deck, Operations, Engineering, etc.) getting together with the Executive Officer (the second-in-command for the ship, generally abbreviated to "XO") and talking about what they accomplished today, what was on the agenda for tomorrow, and discussing long-term goals. Once we embarked our Marine detachment, the commander of our particular MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) unit – a colonel in charge of a Force Reconnaissance element – also attended the meetings, mostly as an observer since the Marines were generally just marking time below decks (when they were not stabbing themselves in the legs… another story for another time).

But, as soon as our ship got northwest of 10N 68W, something about the Marine colonel changed – he started carrying a sidearm.

Now, for you civilian / non-squid types out there, I guess I should clarify – once a Navy ship is underway, pretty much no one carries firearms. If we were in a certain area (say, the Persian Gulf, for example), then some topside watches were diverted to manning a few of the fixed weapon emplacements on the ship (just .50 M2s, in our case), and if we were to go to General Quarters ("Red Alert", for you Star Trek aficionados), then the rest of the emplacements would be manned and a few other folks would be sent topside with firearms, but even then, 90% of the crew would remain unarmed. Even in-port, only the topside watches carry guns, and not many at that (and mostly in Condition 3, which is yet another post for another time).

So, yeah, a firearm on a person on an underway ship was something a bit out of the ordinary, especially since the firearm in question was a 1911 clone of some type, and not the military "standard" M9 (it was probably a MEU(SOC) M-45 upon which the Kimber Desert Warrior is loosely based). But the officer in question wore it damned near everywhere I saw him on the ship (I never saw him carrying it while on liberty (taking a break in friendly ports), but, obviously, that does not mean he was not), and no one really cared because he was a Marine, he was in a designated Combat Zone, and that is just what Marines do. I mean, seriously; I am not going to say all Marines are automatically above reproach, but you would have to be an idiot to ask a Marine to surrender his weapon in a combat zone.

Which, I guess, says a lot about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:

Around 200 troops who had gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck were told "something had come to light" and asked abruptly to file outside and lay down their automatic rifles and 9mm pistols.

"Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy – we just adjust," said the sergeant who was told to clear the hall of weapons.

Major General Mark Gurganus later said he gave the order because Afghan troops attending the talk were unarmed and he wanted the policy to be consistent for all.

"You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room," he told the New York Times, insisting that the decision was unrelated to Sunday’s killings. "This is not a big deal."

However, US troops often remain armed even when their Afghan colleagues have been asked to lay down their weapons and the incident is believed to be the first time they were stripped of guns during an address by their own secretary of defence.

Hell, we were on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, outside of even the most optimistic cruise missile ranges in the world, and our full-captain Captain trusted the Marines with their own weapons. SecDef Panetta, however, does not appear to trust the Marines.

And regardless of whether or not he actually does trust the Marines and regardless of whatever his motivations were for wanting the room cleared of weapons, that appearance is exactly what will be driven home to the troops – the second-highest individual in their chain of command does not trust trained and experienced Marine Corps veterans with their own firearms in a hot combat zone. As OldNFO (the person who brought this to my attention) said, "This crap is going entirely TOO far, if they don’t trust our own troops, the stay the F**k away from em…"


If there were a better way to destroy morale and the troops’ faith in their leadership, I will be damned if I know what it is.

Of course, the Secretary of Defense seems bound and determined to piss of the military, what with his blatantly unconstitutional belief that all he needs for military actions, up to and including war, is "international permission". Never mind that pesky "Constitution" thing, or that whole "Congress shall have the power… to declare war" bit.

"Who allowed the inmates to take control of the asylum?" is becoming an increasingly poignant question…

29 thoughts on “leadership fail”

  1. Stand by to repel borders…

    Yeah this little incident is one big gigantic bag of suck and fail. Annoyingly it seems most people don’t understand the significance of it.

    Personally if they asked me to surrender my arms in the middle of a war zone I’d say fuck off I’m not going. Then I’d have a new problem in that most of those men were probably also under orders to go hear the shitheel speak.

    See what that the fuckin check-valve did. He’s turned my sailor speak system back on just after I had finished turning it all back off again. My only comment to this dick can be described in the form of a Falcon Code (linked for you non-aviation related types), Sec-Def, Falcon 108.

    If you’ve never seen tube daze, I highly recommend it. I just noticed he’s finally got new stuff coming out!!!! YEA!

  2. In my humble opinion, if a leader is so paranoid that he believes his own troops might shoot him, well, he might actually be correct. It’s almost a self-fulfilling paranoia. We have the choice that Panetta actually is that frightened of his own military, or he is so stoopid that he has no ability to understand what he just told them. Let me emphasize that these are HIS Marines. Of course, there is a third choice — let’s see if we can actually disarm our own troops in an active war zone. If so, it won’t be so hard in other locations, now will it?

  3. I can remember the idiocy of condition 3, it always struck me as “the chain of command doesn’t trust you with a weapon that’s actually loaded”

  4. @ Erin Palette: It still freaks me out that you know that. Until I remember why :).

    @ Barron Barnett: Oddly, we never had that drill.

    Sadly, us surface targets did not have any parallels to the Dolphin/Falcon Codes… but, given the communities, that is not too terribly surprising.

    In any case, yes, it would be a lawful order to go hear the SECDEF speak, and, yes, so far as I can tell, it would be a lawful order to disarm once you were there. Certainly does not make it right, and it certainly is not going to make him any friends in the USMC or the rest of the military.

    @ Brick: Pretty much.

    @ Grey Havens Nightwatch: Personally, I would go with A and B – there was just an (miserably failed) attempt on his life a few hours previous, and Panetta is probably stupid enough to think that disarming his Marines after something like “makes sense”, without comprehending, or even stopping to think about, the rammifications of that decision beyond his own personal safety and comfort.

    And that just makes me all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside knowing this man is in charge of our military…

    @ SGB: I am not sure if their morale will be significantly impacted by this particular incident, but their respect for their chain of command will, and specifically for Panetta himself. And obstructionist Marines… are not good things.

    @ Chad: Speaking as a former quarterdeck watchstander, that is exactly how I felt. Oh, and, of course, the commands never bothered to train us with the whole “draw -> rack -> aim concept”, only tell us that was what we were going to have to do. *sigh*

  5. Claification on condition 3? Sorry, went Army. If I can’t see to the bottom, then I’m not interested in being in the water. 😀 I’m guessing walking around topside with an empty mag in the rifle, to “deter” threats. Should whatever threat actually occur, you just get to be the first to die. Yay!

    I’ve done the same thing in Korea when the college kids were getting tired of us being there(they’re far better behaved than the OWS douches, BTW. Show up, say their piece, wave some signs, roll out).

    I’m always thrilled with the idea that if the poo smack the vents, I’ve got a choice of (a)stand there and try and wack the zombies with a clumsy club, and get eaten, or (b)try to run in the stupid armor that they always make us wear, and get eaten.

    With events like these that keep occuring, I think I’ve had enough Army at the end of this contract. Dunno, maybe something magic’ll happen. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. Also, I love the Falcon codes, dunno how those, or a horrid bastard version of them haven’t made it over to Army aviation. 😀

  7. Ted,

    Condition 3 is loaded magazine in the gun, empty chamber. If memory serves, Uncle Sam’s Floating Circus insisted on 5 rounds in the magazine, rather than the full 7. As Linoge was kind enough to point out, it’s been some time ago.

  8. @ Chad: Just pointin’ it out ;).

    @ Ted N: Chad nailed it, but I was carring an M9 at the time, with two full-up mags on my belt. As for the “why”, it basically boiled down to a lack of trust on the part of our commanding officer, but, like I said, that is another post for another time.

    And, yeah, I left the military almost four years ago now, and I cannot say as though I regret that decision yet.

  9. @ ted n:

    Five is easier to count out and in than seven at watch change, particularly out of a box of fifty if you have to issue multiple loaded magazines.

    My P-3 Sonarman buddy at this point would note that it is also the number of fingers on the average Marine’s hand, so one doesn’t technically have to “count” at all, just look at the table and make sure there are (hold up hand) “this many.”

    I seem to recall getting ten (for the same reason) in the M9 I was issued when I had Armory watch a couple times at CAX’s and Annual Training.

  10. We were disarmed for a Rumsfeld visit in 2003 and there were no local nationals at the event. With all the things the administration has done or is about, this is comparatively a minor gripe and not without precedent.

  11. @ Linoge:
    True that does not make the move less stupid, but in a rant against Panetta in particular and the current administration in general it does provide perspective, especially because we were riding high when Rummy came and there were no non-coalition troops in the audience…that seems much dumber than the case cited here.

  12. Not to be snarky, but who was ranting against the “current administration”?

    And, again, repeating a stupid decision does not make it any less stupid. For that matter, the lack of coalition forces previously only demonstrates the rank stupidity of that excuse in the current context.

  13. @ Linoge:
    That quoted below is from where I took the current administration bit, it is clearly referencing Panetta and reflects on the administration since Panetta is not the head inmate who is running the asylum as the posting puts it.

    From the original posting:
    “Of course, the Secretary of Defense seems bound and determined to piss of the military, what with his blatantly unconstitutional belief that all he needs for military actions, up to and including war, is “international permission”. Never mind that pesky “Constitution” thing, or that whole “Congress shall have the power… to declare war” bit.

    “Who allowed the inmates to take control of the asylum?” is becoming an increasingly poignant question… ”

    I dont disagree with the stupidity of it. I also mostly agree with the sentiment expressed.
    I like the blog by the way, just ended up here due to a recommendation from a podcast.

  14. If the takeaway from the post was to focus on a throwaway line, either I failed in writing or you rather missed the point.

    In either case, comparing against past administrations is rather pointless – it is akin to a “tu quoque” fallacy, and only shows that multiple administrations have been stupid in recent history.

    That is hardly news to folks ;).

    Dare I ask which podcast?

  15. I heard about you first from Eric Shelton’s Handgun podcast (now no longer being produced)though I didnt really look around much, and more recently the Empty Mags Podcast.

  16. Ah, yeah, I (and probably a lot of other people) wish Eric would/could get back into the podcasting scene… his was about the only one I could force myself to sit through.

Comments are closed.