Commandant visits Europe and Marine Forces Europe Marines

20 Jun 2007 | Lt. Col. Annita M. Best

The Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps took a couple
of hours during their visit to Europe June 20 to speak with Marines about various topics and to answer some tough questions as well.

While in Europe for the Paris Air Show and other events, Gen. James T. Conway and Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, visited Marine Forces Europe. The commandant was back for his second visit in five months, and the sergeant major had served as sergeant major of MFE from 2001-2004, but was here for the first time in his new official capacity.

They spent a little over an hour speaking with approximately 125 Marines at a town hall meeting at the Patch Barracks theatre. Most of the discussion involved the war in Iraq and the Marine Corps responsibilities in general.

“I don’t for see any reduction of forces anytime soon. The plus up in the Al Anbar province is showing success. But our rotation will be pretty much what it’s been,” Conway said.

“We want to get every Marine into the fight. If you joined after 9/11 then you joined to fight for our country. We want everyone to have that opportunity. We want to respond to ‘How do we get them there?’ instead of ‘What are the reasons they can’t go?’”

“We plan to add 27,000 Marines to our force at about 5,000 a year. Our recruiters are saying it can be done, and we will not lower our standards to do it,” he said.“We are going to keep our 95 percent high school graduate requirement. Our strength is that we are a quality force and that’s an important message we’re sending out.”

Kent added, “Our recruiters are doing a good job and making mission, but they can’t do it by themselves. Every Marine is a recruiter.”

The commandant and the SMMC both weighed in on the issue of tattoos as well.

“When I was a young corporal, a wise gunny said, ‘Cpl. Kent, if you get a tattoo just get it so it doesn’t show in Charlies or PT gear’. I know the general has gotten a lot of attention for supposedly being against tattoos, but I know he isn’t against them because I have four of them. Mine are just not visible.”

Conway said, “The excessive tattoos will keep you from a lot of assignments. We have grandfathered many of those who already had them, but we hope to get you past the early urges and that will benefit you in the long run too.”

The two leaders also discussed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Our leadership has to tell the Marines it’s okay to have PTSD. We’re seeing more senior Marines willing to admit they have it,” Kent said.

“We are really short on sites and doctors who treat PTSD. That’s something we’re working on. And we need to get the families involved and educated. They play a very important role,” he added.

Conway said a thing that troubles him is the number of issues like Haditha that are coming out in the news media these days.

“The fact we have three or four issues like that troubles me,” he said. “Our public has us up on a pedestal that you probably can’t believe. Every time one of these incidents happens we get a chip out of our pedestal.”

Both leaders added that they want to get the corporals and sergeants more involved and make them more aware of how important their experiences in battle are to the extent that they can influence even the officers.

“Corporals, we need to hear from you guys. The corporal or sergeant is the informal leader of that outfit in many cases. We call them ‘Strategic Corporals’ but we’re not telling them just how important they are in the units,” Conway said.

Another topic of discussion was the implementation of the MV-22 Osprey, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle.

“The Osprey is going to war in September. I’ve been on one three different times and it’s amazing how quiet it is and how slowly and smoothly the propellers turn. It has tremendous flight characteristics that will revolutionalize things.

“There are skeptics who say we’ll coddle it and protect it because it is so expensive, but that’s not going to happen. We bought it to fight it,” the commandant said.

He also mentioned that the MRAP vehicle would replace the Humvee, and that it provides significantly more protection against improvised explosive devices.

“We are working hard to do what we can for the Marines at the pointy end of the sword. The MRAP has a V-shaped bottom. A Marine or sailor is 400 percent more likely to survive the same blast in a MRAP than in a Humvee,” Conway said.

“The problem is they are twice as expensive as the Humvee, but we still expect to get several thousand of them in there by the end of the year.”

Regarding the EFV, Conway said there are some issues in getting support for it but he’s not giving up. “It can close the beach at 30 knots and carries a 30 mm cannon. It is really pushing the envelope as well as physics. It lost some support because of reliability problems, but we need it now.”

Both the commandant and the sergeant major said they appreciate the work being done by the Marines in Europe.

"We know you do the work of a headquarters of 500 Devil Dogs,” Kent said.

The MFE consists of about 140 Marines of which about half are reservists.

While he and the commandant were talking with the Marines, their wives were discussing various topics with the spouses at the MFE headquarters building.

“A couple of the key issues they talked about were the exceptional family member program and childbirth here,” said Jaqui Preston, one of the Key Wives in attendance. “There are programs in Landstuhl, but nothing here locally, and they acknowledged that that’s a problem,” she added.

Following their trip to MFE, the commandant and the sergeant major plan to visit Poland, the Marshall Center in Garmish, Germany and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Headquarters Marine Corps