An assortment of the Marine Corps’ top enlisted conferred in Washington for the 2009 Sergeants Major Symposium July 27-30, to discuss the current issues and agenda facing the Corps.
The week-long forum yielded discussion on an array of topics ranging from suicide prevention to the Wounded Warrior Regiment, but kept to one central theme – the future of the Marine Corps.
The sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, was pleased to say that the senior staff noncommissioned officers “came with a focus and the focus was on the future of the Marine Corps, taking care of Marines, sailors and their families.”
He said the key was to talk about the issues facing the Corps and issues they can fix, not just for the present but for the future Marines.
One of those key issues was suicide.
According to the suicide presentation given at the symposium, the Marine Corps had 42 suicides in 2008, which put the Corps on par with civilian suicide numbers.
“We evaluate our problem with suicide by looking at a 100,000 Marine population which is in line with how the civilian community looks at suicides,” explained Sgt. Maj. Michael Timmerman, personnel and family readiness sergeant major.
Recent numbers have shown that roughly 19 percent of a 100,000 civilian survey size commits suicide. Timmerman said this is a mark the Corps has come unfortunately close to and that suicide is a human problem.
“Suicide is a problem that all cultures experience and the Marine Corps is no different than that,” he said.
The response to the growing problem, however, is unique to the Marine Corps. A new suicide prevention program will put experienced noncommissioned officer at the fore front of the fight.
“This is a problem that, knowing it is a human problem, can be controlled at the peer group level,” Timmerman said.
Kent explained that the corporals and sergeants are critical in engaging suicide because “The NCO is the one closest to the Marines and that’s why we’re educating them and giving them the tools to understand the issue and to know where they can send a Marine to get help.”
The forum also opened up the discussion on family readiness issues.
The role of a sergeant major in dealing with family readiness “is to assist the family readiness officer and the commander with addressing the issues for the families so that when the [Marine] is deployed, the family knows the resources that are available to them,” said Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald, the sergeant major of Marine Forces South.
Fitzgerald said the symposium allowed sergeants major to “cross pollinate” their ideas and concerns and offers a unique line of communication between the individual Marine and Corps leadership.
“It gives a Marine the opportunities to address issues up his chain of command,” Fitzgerald said of the symposium. “Then we bring it here and vent these issues amongst our peers.”
Training and education command sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Dave Howell, explained though more discussion was given to some agenda items it is hard to pin point what may be considered the most pressing.
“They’re all a priority. There’s no one particular thing that overrides another,” said Howell. “It’s all about readiness. It’s all about good order and discipline. It’s all about developing and taking care of your Marines and leaders as well.”
According to Howell and other sergeants major, the next step is to implement some of the agenda topics because “the bottom line is if something is on the commandant’s radar screen then it’s a priority.”
The sergeant major of the Marine Corps said the recommendations he will make to the commandant will be based on what agenda items aren’t working well.
“We had numerous agenda items come up and we didn’t put any of them on the back burner,” Kent explained. “The ones we forward to the commandant are the ones that aren’t working right now and the ones we felt we’re important to the future of the Marine Corps.”