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CEOs visit Pentagon; learn about “the Few, the Proud”

By Gunnery Sgt. Jim Goodwin | | May 16, 2008

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Corporate America could learn a thing or two from the Marine Corps—preparedness, discipline, initiative—according to one senior-level business executive.

Brad Bulkley, president of a Dallas-based financial advisory and banking firm, was one of 15 civilian business leaders who spent a day with Washington, D.C.-based Marine leaders May 16 as part of the Marine Corps’ Business Executive Forum program. He described the Marines’ work ethos as “key elements of successful leaders,” the same elements he looks for in his employees.

“If only as CEOs of our respective companies in corporate America we could replicate these same qualities (of the Marines) in our employees,” said Bulkley. “Just think what would be possible.”

The one-day forum, hosted by Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, is a semi-annual event designed to introduce civilian business leaders to the Marine Corps’ mission, current operations, and interests, as well as provide a forum for discussion between the executives and senior Marine leaders. 

Following a Marine-led tour of the Pentagon, the executives received a detailed briefing of the Corps’ current global operations. The executives also received details on issues considered at the top of the Marine Corps’ priorities: winning the “Long War” beyond Iraq and Afghanistan; increasing the time between deployments for Marine units; and the Corps’ success in “growing the force” from 180,000 to 202,000 to meet the demands of global contingencies, among other topics.

Currently, the Corps has more than 30-percent of its operational forces deployed throughout the globe, explained Lt. Col. Lawrence Oliver, a Pentagon-based operations officer who briefed the group of Chicago, Dallas and Lancaster, Pa.-based business leaders. Nearly 28,000 Marines are currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Oliver also highlighted the Corps’ efforts in Iraq, citing the increase of security and decrease of violence in the once-volatile region of Iraq’s Anbar Province as a “good news story.” 

Still, the dual operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (an entire California-based Marine battalion is currently deployed to Afghanistan) are merely “battles” in the Global War on Terrorism, according to Marine leaders. Long-time victory in the “Long War”—the term the Marines coined to describe current and future operations to ultimately defeat global terrorism—will require patience and long-term strategic planning, similar to how America won the Cold War 20 years ago, according to Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead, Jr. 

“It took us 50 years to defeat the (communist) ‘Russian Bear,’ and we did it economically,” explained Milstead, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, to the executives. 

“The media never frames the ‘Long War' as a comprehensive strategy of our enemies attempting to destroy or damage American interests,” said James M. Deitch, chairman and CEO of American Home Bank. “The Pentagon briefing was outstanding in helping me understand the threat.”

But the group didn’t spend all their time listening to briefs at the Pentagon. They also received a martial arts demonstration and shared a lunch of “MRE’s”—Meals, Ready-to-Eat, the pre-packaged, military field food Marines eat in training and in combat—with several Marines at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., a 45-minute drive south of the Pentagon.

Following “chow,” it was off to Quantico’s live fire range, where the executives spent several hours firing shotguns, rifles and machineguns with Marines

Marine marksmanship instructors, many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, provided hands-on instruction to their civilian guests, who traded business suits for rolled-up sleeves and jeans for the event. 

Earplugs firmly in place and Marines standing over their shoulders, each executive squeezed off bursts of 9mm and 5.56mm ammo at paper targets. Amid the plumes of smoke, hundreds of spent shell casings and nonstop, deafening “thumps” of weapon being fired, some managed to put rounds on target. Others weren’t so lucky.  

Regardless, the entire experience made an impression:

“When one of the young Marines…looked up at me and asked, with a glean in his eye, if I would like to see how fast he could completely tear down and put back together the machine gun we had just fired, I saw someone who took true pride in his work and accomplishments,” said Bulkley.  

“I would assess these young Marines as being significantly more mature, capable and focused than the mid-twenties men and women I've encountered in the private sector,” said Deitch. 

Across from the sprawling Marine base at Quantico is the two-year-old National Museum of the Marine Corps, where the group heard stories and viewed displays of the Marines’ campaigns throughout history:  the Corps’ creation at a tavern in 1775 Philadelphia, heroic charges up mountain tops and through jungles in World War II, and tales of exceptional commitment and humanitarian efforts in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and other present day conflicts.  

The Marines attribute their successes, past and present, to the quality of people recruited into the Corps, an effort that’s more than just an attempt to put people into uniform, according to Maj. Gen. Andrew B. Davis, commanding general of the Corps’ Mobilization Command. 

“There’s an impression that any young man or woman…can enlist in the Marine Corps or the Army,” Davis told guests at an end-of-day reception inside the museum.  “That just isn’t true.”

More than 96-percent of those who enlist in the Corps are high school graduates, while the Department of Defense requires only 90-percent be high school graduates. Plus, enlistees must be “morally, physically, and mentally” qualified to meet the rigors and standards to become Marines, according to Marine Corps Recruiting Command officials. 

“All the services offer money for college and job skills, but the Marine Corps goes beyond that to offer men and women the challenge to become Marines,” said Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin, Marine Corps recruiting spokeswoman.  “Becoming a Marine is earned through hard work and dedication.”

While the Corps’ enlistment standards have not lowered to meet recruiting goals, the Marines are exceeding their enlistment goals. In April, the Marines exceeded their monthly recruiting goal by 42-percent, enlisting 2,233 with a goal of 1,577, according to several Department of Defense press releases.

In fact, the Corps has exceeded its recruiting goals substantially since the beginning of the Fiscal Year averaging 121-percent of its set monthly goals since October 2007. 

But Davis didn’t have to convince Deitch that only top-notch individuals are accepted for entrance into the Marine Corps during wartime or peacetime. By day’s end, he formed his own opinion of the Corps:  “The media leads one to believe that the quality of our volunteer armed services is of lesser capability than the 'average American’,” wrote Deitch following the visit.  “Quite the opposite is true.”

The experience left another businessman, Joseph Heidler, with a “greater appreciation” for the Marines.

“I…have a much better feeling about the youth of today and the good that is being done around the world by our Armed Forces,” said Heidler, CEO and president of J.V. Heidler Company, Inc.—a Lancaster, Pa.-based commercial and industrial roofing company.

“Every Marine I met each had their own individual responsibilities and missions, but every one of them shared a common culture of commitment,” added Bulkley.  “That is a pretty special formula that in corporate America we need to figure out.” 

The Marines have hosted three Business Executive Forums since the program’s inception last year, and have hosted corporate groups from Chicago, Dallas, Lancaster, and New York City.

For additional information on the Marine Corps’ Business Executive Forum program, contact either Maj. David Romley (email: david.romley@usmc.mil) or Gunnery Sgt. Jim Goodwin (email: james.goodwin@usmc.mil).  Both are with the Marine Corps’ Community Relations Branch, Division of Public Affairs, and can be reached at (703) 614-1034.


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