Marine Commander Threatens Entire Division

Maybe there was a better way to get his point across?

BrigGen Dave Furness montage via AllMarineRadio.com

This week, the Commanding General of Camp Lejeune’s storied Second Marine Division issued a “policy letter” to the Marines and sailors of the division.  Actually, “rant” is a more accurate term.  There must have been a better way to focus his unit on adhering to standards than this.

Major General Dave Furness bemoaned the “significant decline in the basic discipline” of Marines and sailors of the Division, evidenced by their “long hair, nonexistent or poor shaves, unserviceable boots and utilities and improper civilian attire” as well as “weeds growing around [2nd MarDiv] buildings and work spaces and trash everywhere but the dumpsters where it belongs.”  He sees these anecdotal observations as evidence of a general cataclysmic breakdown in discipline and purports to remedy it by prescribing a standard “Basic Daily Routine” for all 2nd MarDiv units, prescribing actions to be taken all the way down to the platoon and company formation — 3-4 levels of command beneath his own.  He challenges “dissenters” to “answer to [the Division Commander], the Division SgtMaj, or the [Command Master Chief, a Navy senior enlisted member who is the SgtMaj’s Navy counterpart for Corpsmen and other assigned enlisted Navy personnel]. 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a commander challenging his unit to raise their standards and to live up to traditional metrics of professionalism and performance.  But I wonder if this policy letter, with its bullying tone and micromanaging prescriptions, is the right way to go about this business.  First, the letter practically screams his predecessor was incompetent, because discipline definitely got bad on his watch.  Now LtGen John Love, the US Military Representative to NATO, in Brussels, his predecessor in command, may be surprised to have woken up Thursday morning finding himself thrown under the 2nd MarDiv bus.  Second, traditionally, Marine standards are enforced through personal example and holding junior commanders accountable.  When I was a new 2ndLt at 2nd MarDiv in 1993, legendary LtGen Paul Van Riper was the Division CG.  He had a similarly exacting standard for garrison discipline, but he didn’t enforce it through blustery policy letters — he enforced it by calling his regimental and battalion commanders on the carpet for allowing low standards in their units when he spotted problems, like improperly maintained vehicles and equipment, patterns of misconduct in units and unit areas, and messy or disheveled unit areas.

Finally, 2nd MarDiv has been ridden hard and put away wet since 2003, when it mounted out for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Its battalions and regiments have been constantly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as shipboard, Special MAGTFs, and about 1000 other taskings, ever since.  No 2nd MarDiv unit has failed in combat operations, and the Marine Corps’ civilian and military leadership have said over and over the Marines of OIF and OEF have met and exceeded the standards of their predecessors from prior conflicts. 

Interestingly, another friend, whose name will not be attributed here, told me today he was an underclassman at VMI when Furness assumed Regimental Command of cadets in about 1986.  Furness’ first act was to issue an edict that the recently graduated seniors had set terrible standards for the VMI Corps of Cadets, and that he was there to fix it, as only he could.  It seems Furness has only one leadership tool in his toolbox, and he recycled his tactless 1986 approach 33 years later.  I shall hereafter call it the “Furness Indispensable Man Technique.”

I am not suggesting garrison standards are not important — in fact, they are the foundation of military discipline that manifests in combat effectiveness, and there is nothing wrong with enforcing standards.  But a policy letter browbeating your unit, setting platoon routines and tactitly besmirching the reputation of your predecessor is probably not the best way to get there.  It will be interesting to see how the Commandant and the three stars handle this issue — do they treat it as well-meaning intemperance and an opportunity to mature as a leader, or do they punish MajGen Furness for breaking the unwritten code of omerta of Marine general officers by making his last promotion his last promotion?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.

Comments

  1. BNut says:

    What an idiot. You know what gets 4 and dones? BS barracks stuff like this. We still got messed with on occasion about a cut (don’t mess with my salty twice deployed corporal low reg) or other such nonsense IN THEATER and they NEEDED the manpower in the early 2000’s. Go F off with a system wide public memo. Standards are one thing, putting people on blast like this is unbecoming.

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  2. legion says:

    He had a similarly exacting standard for garrison discipline, but he didn’t enforce it through blustery policy letters — he enforced it by calling his regimental and battalion commanders on the carpet for allowing low standards in their units when he spotted problems

    This is a key point, I feel. The fact that Furness is chewing _everyone_ in the division out, and prescribing what can only be described as punitive corrections all the way down to the platoon level, means that Furness explicitly has no faith in _any_ of his commanders, all the way down to platoon level. Which means his field-grader officers now have no faith in their own CG, because they know full well they’re nothing more than grist for Furness’ third star…

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  3. Butchbracknell says:

    Here’s a guy who hasn’t learned the power of the lance corporal underground and that as a commander he is graded by the 3 and 4 star Mafia in part on reenlistment rates.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/USMC/comments/bee5ua/this_isnt_mine_but_it_needs_to_be_shared/

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  4. Butchbracknell says:

    @legion: And say, hypothetically, he has a moment of clarity in a week and realizes this letter was suboptimal and counterproductive. How do you get out of this bad idea cul de sac?

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  5. Tyrell says:

    This is interesting, but based on some of the terminology used, I am on the outside looking in. But that’s okay. I do understand enough of this to see similar leadership situations in business, education, and sports. One can look at leaders such as Coach John Wooden of UCLA: high standards that were taught, not hammered on someone.

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  6. Tyler says:

    @Tyrell: If you are on the outside looking in stay there and do NOT compare anything with the USMC to outside collegiate sports or business drama

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  7. @Tyler: 1. I think it’s a fair comparison and 2. Gen Furness works for the taxpayers, and the taxpayers have the unequivocal right to critique the performance of senior leaders. “Inside” or “Outside” is irrelevant.

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  8. Mark Butler says:

    There is a basic failure in leadership here as legion already put forth. Everything now becomes “the general said” because the general did say it and it takes leadership away from everyone right down to the lowest level. Those lower level leaders need to own their own leadership position and this general has pulled this away from them and once lost, is difficult to get back. The damage this general has done to the future of the Corps is beyond measure. He needs to go. High standards are essential and high standards in leadership are even more so.

  9. UptheDownStaircase says:

    Where are the NCO’s who should have been enforcing the regulations, uniform standards, etc? Are they too scared of being accused of hazing to enforce discipline?

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  10. Andrew Straw says:

    I’m glad the lack of discipline was exposed publicly. It’s precisely this type of low discipline that allowed the base to become an EPA Superfund site, Poisoning the people who lived there or served there or came on the base in any fashion. I was born there and my mother was poisoned and died from a Camp LeJeune Cancer.

    I want to see more discipline.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    It kinda feels like a sign of the times to me, in that it seems like the sort of thing Trump might do. I don’t for a hot second think Trump is capable of becoming a 2-star general, but the public bullying and disdain of subordinates and “indispensible man” routine are pages from his playbook.

  12. Rob Timmerman says:

    Time for gunny out of Heartbreak Ridge…or don’t they exist anymore. Discipline is the basic structure in any man’s army or Marine Corps. If his criticisms are well founded then it needs to be tackled from the top down and bottom up by reinstatement of unit pride. Inter-company ”Pride” competition reward programs and mixing with the troops works best.

  13. ButchBracknell says:

    @Andrew Straw: I take it this is a tongue-in-cheek shot at the senior leaders who let the water contamination happen and were slow to take accountability? If so, touché.

  14. Robert says:

    I read the article and the memorandum. I didn’t see a problem with the “tone” of memorandum, but did notice a lack of objectiveness by author. I didn’t see where Gen. Furness besmirched his predecessor. Yes, taxpayers get a vote on some aspects of military life and conduct, but this article was a huge reach in my opinion.

  15. Sam D says:

    Remember those “salty” P. O. S. LCs that would spend 30 days in PT gear in the rear because they’d done one freaking WestPac? You take away uniforms thar need creases and boots that need shining, the style of discipline is going to change. If the goal was to put more attention in combat readiness than personal appearance, the measurement then needs to be combat readiness not appearance.

    Won’t lie, the Corps isn’t the same as when I enlisted in 2000 but knowing a few young infantry Marines and friends gearing up for retirement… The eagle is still flying, the globe is still spinning and the anchor hasn’t sunk.

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  16. Dave says:

    @Tyler @Tyrell….. John Wooden’s book was actually one of the readings for USMC Infantry Officer’s Course so the idea of not being in the “inside” and not being relevant is pretty outrageous.

  17. Sorry guys, but this was the nuke Navy every day and in every way. So you got a one-pager from a could-have-been Rickover. In our force, you find a cigarette butt in the bilge, the entire ship is field-daying until their eyeballs are hanging from optic nerves. Roger, copy you’re a warfighting combat force, but there ain’t no combat in North Carolina and if you’re going to hang out at the barracks, they’d better be standing tall. You’re Marines, not Sea Cadets. The whimpering and general butt-hurt surprises me. You’re the toughest combat force ON THE PLANET. Quit bitching about an ass-chewing from the boss and make his next letter about how amazed he is at the improvement. – Your pal, Mikey

  18. @Robert: Alright, I’ll bite: what’s my bias? I have no axe to grind with Dave Furness. You may not agree with my interpretation but lack of objectivity is a serious accusation. Say more.