A New Approach

By Maj Scott A. Humr

Marines, now more than ever, are launching fusillades of candid feedback toward our  Service’s leadership.  Assisted by the ease and reach of social media, expressing one’s vexations in realtime has become the choice de jour.  However, can exasperated declarations delivered in clever sound bites, emojis, or catchy memes effectively change the course of our Service, let alone its culture?  If such discontent is pervasive and true, how can Marines truly affect meaningful change within their organization(s)?  One story from the post-Vietnam era demonstrates how one particular officer helped force the Corps to change.

Struggling to redefine itself after Vietnam, the Marine Corps assigned Marine Maj Mike Wyly, one of the Corps’ brightest officers, to revamp its outdated doctrine.  Based on his experiences from the Vietnam War and his insightful assessment of its aftermath, Wyly assembled a group of like-minded individuals that set-in motion a reform movement from a grass-roots level. This reform would eventually enshrine maneuver warfare in Marine Corps doctrine.  To achieve this, Wyly gathered well-known retired fighter pilot, Col John Boyd, and military writer William S. Lind to give presentations to Marines of all ranks.  Marine officers met regularly to discuss and write about maneuver warfare, while surviving the contemptuous rhetoric of many senior Marines.   Yet, they were able to gradually change attitudes about maneuver warfare.  Wyly’s “maneuverists” would eventually garner the support of the future Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Alfred Gray.  While eventually promoted to colonel, Wyly’s perseverance and steadfast belief in developing maneuver doctrine, the foundation for MCDP 1, resulted in his censure by senior officers, a forced retirement, and barely a  “thank you” before departing the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico.  Nevertheless, Col Wyly’s unwavering courage and dogged determination provides an inspiration and encouragement to all who seek fundamental reforms in a calcified military apparatus bereft of new ideas and crowded with obstinate leadership. 

Marines emboldened by Col Wyly’s stout-hearted example should prepare themselves to embrace similar challenges if they desire to venture down this path; it will not be for the faint of heart.  While social media and blogs may help highlight issues, it cannot stop there.  We need to help provide new ideas and solutions.  We need to come off the sidelines and jump into the fray.  We must be:

  • Resolved to continue our education. 
  • Resolved to be voracious readers of a wide variety of content.
  • Resolved to network with likeminded people outside of our own circles.
  • Resolved to research and write regularly. 
  • Resolved to propose innovative solutions.
  • Resolved to not be discouraged, but to gird ourselves with tenaciousness.

If we do not, we run the risk of falling behind even further in an environment that is increasingly characterized by rapid change.  Falling behind in our profession is not an option.  Hark! Take courage!  There are no medals for this fight.  You likely will not come away unscathed.  Just ask Col Wyly.