By Lt. Gen. Bernard
Trainor (USMC, ret.)
Best Defense voice of
Of course any hierarchical and conservative institution
can be resistant
to change and unwelcoming of out-of-lane independent
thought. But I believe the Marine Corps has a pretty good record
of being an exception, i.e. many officers in the chain encourage that sort of
thinking and help get a subordinate's message a hearing at a higher level.
I was the recipient of such support from the time I was a
new lieutenant and over the years came to expect it. And I don't think I was an
exception. Let me cite some milestones in my career:
1952 -- Korea -- 2d Lt. Rifle Platoon Leader -- We were
taking unwarranted patrol casualties following prescribed techniques. I
proposed some changes to the Bn. CO during a visit to my platoon. He rejected
them out of hand, but the S-3, Maj. J.K. Hogan, accompanying him, saw merit in
my ideas and successfully went to bat for me and overcame the CO's resistance.
1953 -- 8th Marines -- 1st Lt. At an Officers Call I
argued that the USMC triangular organization was less effective than a square
formation in the embryonic days of helicopters. The Regt. CO Col. DeWolf
Schatzel (one of the notorious "Chowder Society" members in the Unification
fight) encouraged me to put my arguments in writing and submit it to the Marine Corps Gazette. It was
published as "The Triangle and the Square." It was a voice crying in the
wilderness, but I was encouraged, not discouraged by my seniors.
1960 -- 1st Recon Bn Capt. Company Commander -- Upon
returning from exchange duty with the Royal Marines, I argued for the adoption
of some of the deep penetration recon techniques the Brits were using
against the EOKA
insurgency in Cyprus as being ideal for Vietnam, which was looming on the
horizon. My proposals were opposed by some within the Recon community, but
supported by Lt. Col. Hank Woessner, Bn CO and subsequently by the CG, Maj.
Gen. Jim Masters. The techniques were expanded, improved, and served as the
precursor for the successful Sting Ray
operations in Vietnam.
1968 -- MC Command & Staff College -- Maj. Instructor
-- I recommended and sold a series of out-of- the-box "creative thinking"
initiatives as part of a curriculum change to the senior instructor, who
supported it and passed it to Maj. Mike Ryan, the director, who then carried the
ball and won over the director of the ED Center and the hated school solution
"Yellow" was minimized (I hope it has remained so).
1970 -- Vietnam -- Lt. Col. CO 1/5, Quick Reaction Force
-- Over the vehement opposition of the ADC, the CG, Maj. Gen. Chuck Widdecke (a
tough SOB if there ever was one) overruled him and supported a new attack
SOP/technique that I proposed to introduce.
Needless to say, the more senior I became, the easier it
became to have my voice heard. But the point is that throughout my career
senior Marine Corps leaders welcomed and were open to new ideas -- and along
the way, most of the officers between me and the decision-makers were a help,
not a hindrance.
To repeat, I think my experience is more representative than those
who have been frustrated by what they categorize as a closed-minded Marine
Gen. Bernard "Mick" Trainor (USMC, ret.) is a veteran of combat in Korea and
Vietnam, a former military correspondent for the New York Times, and co-author
of several books on the military, most recently Endgame.
DVIDS/Lance Cpl. Tyler Main