View Full Version : Admitting Failure - TAC

06-13-2008, 05:57 AM
Sgt. Thomas X. Hammes knew that, unlike some bad Hollywood movie, the band of thieves, social misfits, even murderers under his leadership would not transform into perfect Marines through some magic formula of tough love and fatherly motivation. Half the men in his platoon needed a swift kick out of the service, not more time in it.

“We kind of got the worst of the guys at the time,” said Hammes. “Probably the worst in the history of the Marine Corps.”

The year was 1976. Young T.X. Hammes was a platoon leader at one of the most inglorious times in the Corps’ proud tradition. The Vietnam War had just decimated the nation’s Armed Forces, the draft was gone, and the fabled Third Battalion, 3rd Marines was being infused with new recruits brought in under dramatically reduced standards.

“All the other units dumped their problems on us,” Hammes said, recalling the junkies and drunkards, the frequent attacks on officers, even riots. “All that came together primarily because we went to low-quality recruiting. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear now matter how hard you try.”

For Hammes, now a retired colonel, and others with long memories, today’s military looks a lot like that of 1976. Even more alarming, contrary to predictions that the Army is breaking under the strain of protracted war, most experts say it can continue operating as is—though it will resemble no military we might recognize or be proud of.

Didn't know T.X. Hammes was a mustang...


06-13-2008, 12:52 PM
I enjoyed that article.

William F. Owen
06-13-2008, 05:54 PM
TX has some real horror stories of this period. I just sat with my mouth open when he told me some of the really shocking ones, and I'd really like to know what turned things around in the Corps over the next 20 years.

The British Army has real problems with delinquency but nothing on the scale that TX told me about.

Tom Odom
06-13-2008, 05:58 PM
the Army was in the same shape.

the answers: enforced standards by a resurrected NCO Corps

plus a shift in public view of the military and a White House (Reagan) committed to defense

Bill Moore
06-14-2008, 02:40 PM
When you're in the ranks as a junior Soldier you don't necessarily see all the changes taking place around you on a day to day basis, but after a few years it was very clear that the quality of the Army improved significantly by the mid to late 80s, discipline, training, equipment, morale, etc. I agree that leadership was the major factor, both at the Officer and NCO level, but there had to be numerous other factors that contributed to it.

If there was a multidisciplinary study (economic, political, social, anthropology, military, technology, history, etc.) comparing the Army that went into Vietnam and the Army that came out of Vietnam to the Army that went into the fight after 9/11 to where we're at now would we see any parallels? Two different fights, many differences in the level of support for the troops at home, etc. From my readings, we sent a darn good Army into Vietnam in the early to mid 60s, but we brought home a demoralized Army at the end of the war complete with serious discipline problems that extended into the early 80s. One must be careful with over generalizations, because the Army back then also had great officers, NCOs, and junior enlisted, but their image was tarred by the undisciplined elements in their ranks.

We realized we still had problems from the strategic to tactical level after Urgent Fury, but sent and returned a good Army in tact from Just Cause and Desert Storm. We started the fight with a great Army after 9/11. Where are we now? In almost all aspects I think we're better, except for recruiting, which over time will undermine all the other aspects that we have improved, training, discipline, morale, transformation (equipment and task organization), or ability to fight at the tactical level. One would an expect an Army to get better at the fight they're in over time as more and more lessons get incorporated into our training.

While I don't see the Army Hammes is referring to on a day to day basis, I have to assume that there are serious problems brewing in the ranks based on discussions I have friends in the conventional army. More and more time spent on UCMJ, and stories that I won't repeat here. Yet when I run into a conventional patrol somewhere in OIF, or see conventional Soldiers training back home, I see professionals, so there is disconnect between Hamme's comments and what I personally see on a day to day basis.

The important questions are how did we get there (I think we all have very strong hunches), and how do we fix it? What officer lowered the standards? What office has the authority to raise them again?

Ken White
06-14-2008, 04:44 PM
The pre-Viet Nam Army (and Marines) had far lower 'standards' in prior history, education tattoos, and test scores than did the Army or Marines of June, 2008. Officers and NCOs had to wrestle with cases of "indiscipline" on a frequent basis. Some could be handled simply without even an Article 15, others took that, a few took more and an occasional person had to be Chaptered out, that was difficult and hard to do. What wasn't that hard was doing ones job overall, you just had to watch and take care of people. It was notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than did others.

The Marines and Army that went to Viet Nam were competent -- not great but competent -- standards had been raised a bit and the Marines and Army had only slightly more disciplinary problems there (combat does that...) than did units in the states. It was notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than did others.

As Viet Nam rolled along, the Army (cannot speak to the Marines there) and some really flawed personnel and unit rotation problems destroyed any semblance of unit cohesion; most units had a turnover of over 30% a month. Recruiting standards went still lower (wars tend to do that). There was a notable decline in combat capability and a massive increase in disciplinary problems. Still, it was notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than did others.

At the tail end of Viet Nam and due to cessation of the draft, recruiting standards were dropped to the point there might as well have been none. The dregs of society came in and created major disciplinary problems through out the Army. It was notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than did others.

I retired in '77 beacuse the Army was starting to pull out of its malaise, things were looking up and standards were way up, higher than they'd ever been. I then worked as a civilian in or near the Army until '95. Had three sons in during most of that time, two for one hitch, the middle one stayed in. Based on what I saw as Shy Meyer moved the Recruiting station out to the suburbs and college towns in the late 70s, rate of indiscipline went way down. Kid was a problem, you just ran him out of the Army, it was quick and easy. Article 15s and / or Courts Martial would get you tossed (and I sure am glad with my couple of each I predated that idea... :p). Yet it was notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than did others.

So here we are today and from what I hear, the kids are doing great, most behave and a few get in trouble as 19 year olds can often do -- in uniform or out. From all I can discern, it's notable that good units with competent leaders and commanders had fewer problems than do others.

So things go in cycles -- but some basics don't change.

06-15-2008, 02:37 AM
Without linking my thoughts directly to the Colonel's article and his thoughts on standards, I will say that I am not impressed by some of the crap that Marines have gotten into over the past, say, six years.

The drugs alone leave me bewildered that some of these shenanigans are even being entertained with possibilities of retention. I see that vice (whether it was one time or not) as a zero-defect realm, but that is not the practice.

It's downright shamefull when the "legal beagle" platoon is just that, a full platoon's-worth of bums waiting to be separated from the Corps because they could not hold up their part of the bargain. I for one don't believe they can all be boiled down to simple leadership failures. I never have, ever since I was a young lieutenant and the SgtMaj had the nerve to stand up in the Regimental classroom and tell the assembled audience of officers (don't recall SNCOs being there) and say that the 28 recent crystal meth drug pops (isolated into one coy BTW) were a leadership failure.

That came from a bum himself who was never seen in the coy areas without the Bn Cmdr around. It got so bad that we nicknamed them Yogi and Boo-Boo. The BC kicked ass, but his senior enlisted adviser was worthless. Never talked to Marines outside of NJP, promotion, or an award ceremony, and sat in his office all day, smoking cigarettes and playing DOS-based video games (remember those days :D). I can't sit back and say his failings were the true leadership problems that caused the issues, but the term gets thrown around by too many without a reasonable understanding of what the real issues are...Sometimes a Marine just makes the conscious choice to be a bag, and they just need to be held accountable and helped out. Sometimes he needs real help.

I don't know sometimes, but I would say that we (the ones where the rubber hits the pavement) need to develop some sort of campaign for dealing with the issues that we are seeing increase with alarming frequency.

Ken White
06-15-2008, 03:39 AM
Sergeant Majors around but there are probably a few good ones. Some of every rank are better than others.

The word 'leadership' means different things to different people. Don't know what the deal was in the incident you cite but in my experience, if you had 28 problems in one company, I'm not sure that anyone can fairly say that company didn't have a problem of some sort...

Nor do I know what your unit did. What too many do is punish the innocent and let the guilty skate out (I am NOT saying y'all did that, just that I've seen it happen a lot). Druggies just need to be run out and as quick as you can do it because they aren't gonna stop but they need to get out through jail to a discharge, hopefully.

No matter, really, 19 year olds gave always managed to get into trouble and taking in those who have already gotten into it outside means they're likely to do so in the machine. Good news is they're willing to take chances and if you can settle 'em down, they generally become good troops, better than most. Goes with the job. Some day, remind me to tell you about J.C and his bicycle chains and loan collection business... ;)

Rob Thornton
06-16-2008, 11:41 PM
Like many other ranks, I think our future CSMs and 1SGs are going to be among the best we've ever seen. As a CO CDR I was lucky - I had energetic 1SGs and BN CSMs who were already placing themselves where they could be of most use both in garrison and in the field.

From what I've seen in Iraq on a MiTT, that has become the rule. Our partner unit BN CSM came out to our COP quite often to get the laydown, was a friend, role model and mentor to both the Iraqi SNCOs, and showed the Iraqi BN CDR what a BN CSM could provide a BN. He also took an interest in our team' enlisted members. When I did not see him, I heard him on the TF net. There was so much ground to cover, and so much responsibility, he and the BN CDR often went out separately and at all hours. It was a good INF BN. It was not limited to the Combat Arms either, I saw many a senior SNCO from the BCT's support BN out on the LOGPACs.

I think war has shown our NCO corps that their duties are as diverse as any, and we all benefit from their forward presence. I hope this gets captured in our doctrine.

Best, Rob