Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoughts On Sexual Assault Prevention (in the military)

 A little while back I attended a leadership seminar here at NSA Bahrain dedicated to sexual assault and suicide prevention. One of the speakers was Dr. Alan Berkowitz. He caught my attention with some interesting things he had to say about bystander behaviors and mentioned sexual assault prevention in the military would require cultural change. At the end of his talk he invited everyone to e-mail him with any thoughts they had and seemed very approachable. So I took him up on his offer and sent him the e-mail below.

Dr. Berkowitz,
I recently attended a talk you gave on sexual assault prevention at NSA Bahrain. You brought up some points I thought were pretty interesting and would liked to have spoken to you more but did not have the opportunity. I took a few notes and had some thoughts I wanted to share on the subject. Keep in mind these are coming from a career Marine and a 1stSgt in an infantry outfit.

You mentioned prevention required a cultural change. While I agree this statement is true I don't believe it is military culture which requires change. As a matter of fact, everything you mentioned about intervention, prevention, enabling behaviors, and the like, can all be covered through the proper application of the 14 Leadership Traits and 11 Leadership Principles which I have attached. It should also be pointed out the two primary goals of leadership are mission accomplishment and troop welfare. Both of these goals cover the range of force preservation issues including sexual assault prevention and don't seem to need any cultural change in that aspect.

As I have noted throughout my career, three months of boot camp does not undo a lifetime of bad habits and poor decision making. Nor will it repair any fundamental character flaws possessed by young troops who join our ranks. I was mortified when you related a young woman raised her hand in one of your classes and asked: "You mean it's sexual assault if a guy puts his hand down my pants?" What kind of world did she grow up in where behavior like that is acceptable or the norm? The other statement which struck me was: "I don't want to walk around base alone at night." I cannot conceive of a universe where U.S. Marines are nearby and Americans remain in fear for themselves. These things have never been acceptable according to our core values. The cultural change needed isn't within the military. Convincing troops to adopt our value system as their own is a function of leadership and something we encourage within Marines throughout their enlistment.

Conduct is the number one thing I talk to Marines about. Whether it is a liberty brief or part of a professional military education class, I always remind my Marines that Americans expect and deserve a certain standard of personal behavior out of us. When people hear the word Marine there is anticipation of a particular product. It is our job to deliver that product. How do we ensure we are delivering said merchandise? Professional development is defined as the process by which leaders cultivate those qualities which will characterize their troops as Marines. Ensuring my troops understand how to comport themselves as Marines is the surest way I know how to deliver.

Culturally, Marines are action oriented. It is often said when the shooting starts you will find Marines running toward the sound of the guns. The idea that the same Marines who would advance unflinchingly into enemy fire would fail to intervene when confronted with sexual assault disturbs me. The bystander as you described in your class is the antithesis of Marine Corps ideals like decisive, sound decision making and initiative.

There was a comment about an individual who conducted himself professionally in the execution of his daily tasks and duties but had some "...stuff on the side..." which turned out to be abhorrent. In the Marine Corps we do not have "stuff on the side." There is only our conduct as Marines whether on or off duty. We maintain we are still Marines and act accordingly on leave and liberty as well as during "working hours." Debate often rages between the idea of a "garrison" Marine vs. a "field" Marine.
Institutionally, the Marine Corps does not distinguish between the two and ideally a good Marine is one who performs well in both environments.

At the end of the day it is my job to demand the same valor off the battlefield as I do on it. The Marine Corps motives for doing what we do have not changed. Our values are not new to us institutionally but may have never been articulated in the minds of our troops. We who are in the position to make a daily impact on those in our charge are duty bound to train them in comportment. I want to influence Marines to consciously desire to make sound and timely decisions and treat others with dignity. In that instance of conscious choice the cultural change will take place and the self oriented individual will become the other oriented member of a unit.

Thanks for your time.

Semper Fidelis,

America's 1stSgt
(okay, so I didn't actually sign off as America's 1stSgt)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The kind you find in a second hand store...

The Army beret is out!

Maybe now the Rangers will get their black berets back! Hooray!

Well, sadly no. As it turns out the beret will remain a standard part of the service uniform and optional in ACUs at the commander's discretion. Seems Soldiers are happy with the decision and we won't hold it against them.

I remember all the old beret drama back in the early 21st Century. At the time I was stationed at Camp Schwab, Okinawa with 3d Recon Battalion. We watched the beret saga unfold with some interest. Institutionally, Marines are very aware of their history, customs, and traditions. We found if offensive the Rangers were to give up their traditional black berets to the regular Army. As I understand it, Rangers were given the tan beret in reference to the coonskin caps worn by their Colonial predecessors. If I were a Ranger I imagine having a rather derisive opinion of this. I'm not so I'll let it go.

A number of Marines from the battalion had graduated from Ranger School, including the grizzled Master Gunnery Sergeant whom I worked for in the Operations and Training Section (S-3). He was particularly vocal on the matter as he, like others, had earned his black beret through three grueling months of soul grinding deprivation and training. The Master Guns kept his beret on a shelf behind his desk along with a photo of his graduating class.

Discussing this distasteful change in Army uniform regs caused the large scar running down the side of his face to undulate fiercely. It was commonly believed this was a souvenir earned in a biker bar one hot night someplace in North Carolina. A lean and wiry veteran, he stood at his desk and reverently placed the black beret on his head in solidarity with his Ranger brethren.

Unable to tame my wise mouth I immediately remarked: "Yeah, now you look just like everyone else in the Army."

I only recall a flash of naked steel swiftly followed by my headlong flight from the building. Although I cannot verify it, I am told the Master Guns dove immediately into the ocean to fight a giant squid to the death. Sometimes a man just has to work things out on his own.

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt

Friday, June 10, 2011

Standing ready to do violence on other's behalf...

Not the greatest of pics but here is our Company Commander accepting a Meritorious Group Service Award from the State Department recently at American Embassy Manama Bahrain.  As many of you may have surmised 2011 has been a busy year for FAST Company. Usually I am not at liberty to relate any of our current operations but we've had a few red hot irons stoking in the fiery furnace of the Middle East. While some of you may recall we had sent a platoon to Cairo during the unrest in Egypt what you didn't know is we also provided security to American Embassy Manama during the same period. It's been a very dramatic spring for us. Your Marines have more than met the challenge as you will see below.

The citation reads as follows:

For meritorious service while providing reinforcement to U.S. Embassy Manama, Bahrain from 15 March to 5 April 2011. Fourth Platoon, Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) Company Central Command ensured Embassy Manama was secure during a period of unprecedented violence and political unrest. The platoon's dedication, professionalism, and expert knowledge of security operations brought great credit upon themselves, Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company Central Command, Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, and the United States Marine Corps.

The award also lists the names of each member of the platoon. I also managed to get my hands on the endorsement nominating Fourth Platoon:

On 14 March 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council sent troops of the Peninsula Shield Force to protect key facilities at the request of the Bahraini Government. The Bahraini Protest of 2011 had already been raging for over a month and the stability of the island nation was in question. Just days prior, elements of Bahrain's Ministry of the Interior had lost control of the streets and violence was spreading throughout the island. As a result, over one thousand armed troops from Saudi Arabia and five hundred police from UAE with some 150 armored and 50 light vehicles deployed across the Bahraini-Saudi causeway. Not knowing what the intention of this force was, Regional Security Office Manama saw this deployment as an escalation of force that required the embassy to react.

A platoon of Marines from Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company Central Command was dispatched on 15 March 2011 to reinforce the embassy. Fourth Platoon (A4) set up perimeter security, rooftop surveillance and a 24 hour Combat Operations Center (COC). Quickly establishing communication with its higher headquarters, A4 began day to day operations and successfully integrated into the existing perimeter defenses at the embassy.

Consisting of multiple post rotations each day, various physical security positions and over watch designated marksman positions, the platoon maintained a reactionary force capable of responding to any incident within the embassy compound within one minute. Further, the platoon went on to establish a secondary reactionary force capable of reaching the embassy from Naval Support Activity Bahrain within twenty minutes
[this would be the reactionary force consisting of America's 1stSgt and a horde of brutes with hatchets]. This vigil was maintained on a 24 hour basis for over three weeks. As a result, Embassy Manama could continue its vital diplomatic mission without fear, knowing that a platoon of United States Marines was within its perimeter. Whether it was the conduct of random anti-terrorism measures including numerous drills or providing timely reporting to the Regional Security Officer, Fourth Platoon was literally a life saver.

The platoon continued to conduct these operations until 05 April 2011, when upon order of the Chief of Mission, they redeployed to Naval Support Activity Bahrain and subsequently returned to the United States. Embassy Manama owes the Marines of Fourth Platoon, FAST Company a debt of gratitude that cannot be easily repaid. They are truly deserving of this award and it is with great hope that it will one day adorn the walls of Marine Corps Security Force Regiment in recognition of a job well done.

Not a bad day's work if you ask me. Feel free to enjoy your weekend. U.S. Marines are manning the gates.  

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

America's 1stSgt as seen through the eyes of troops:

    An artist's rendition recently showed itself in the company area. 
I am told this is a "character study." Hmmm...
One often wonders the kind of impression he makes on those around him.

It seems I cut myself shaving more often than I thought.

At my expense, a number of friends have already interpreted what this picture actually depicts, including a juice box malfunction due to operator error.


America's 1stSgt

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Heard in the clear...

Again, some notable quotes overheard within my sight and hearing.

"Selfish, stupid, and bad luck tend to go together."
Of course, those afflicted with this tend to be blind to the fact. It's usually someone else's fault.

"The world just needs a good apocalypse; preferably something I could survive."
There are always conditions aren't there?

"Politicians don't care about honor or integrity except roll playing them during elections. That kid in high school who joined every dorky club, ran for student council, and sucked up to every teacher, yet treated unpopular kids like they were invisible, didn't just die like we all hoped. They naturally slithered into a profession built on rewarding the ego: politics."
Overheard during the recent political posturing over the budget crisis.

"I pretty much hate them for their indifference to weight standards, customs and courtesies, and general ambivalence towards concepts like discipline."
I have no idea what this is about.

"You can't get into Valhalla with a vasectomy."
Part of a conversation between a Marine I know and his wife. They have five kids. I didn't stick around for the conclusion.

Semper Fi!

America's 1stSgt