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    singlwj@gmail.com
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    First, I don’t know when and where it was stated that 8999s had a monoply on leadership. And, while some of Master Gunnery Sergeant Aiken’s comments in his July Gazette edition article could be misconstrued as First Sergeant/Sergeant Major bashing, those can be overlooked for the sake of honest discourse and it assumed that his arguments are based upon a genuine examination of the situation and in doing so, not just simply the result of his own personal interactions and experiences with the 8999 community which would be much too small a sample to base such an article on. It must be said that he does make some very good and valid points, albeit while tying them to incorrect and one-sided conclusions. I will attempt in turn to address the errors in the main points of his article.

    1. MGySgt is absolutely correct about rank nor billet having anything to do with whether a person is a leader or not. A rank or billet merely denotes is who is in charge of who and/or what they are responsible for. But this is true for all ranks, billets and MOSs. And while there are small number of members of the 8999 community who foolishly believe their leadership authority comes from the aforementioned things, this foolish belief is certainly not constrained to or even largely made up of members of the 8999 community.

    MGySgt is also correct in that some people think that they need to obtain a certain rank, billet, etc. before they are or can become a leader. However, this is no fault of the 8999 community. I can’t think of any instance where I’ve ever heard or heard tell of an 8999 telling anyone that they couldn’t lead or be a leader because they were not at 8999. I can only hope and imagine that people, particularly young Marines, see and admire the leadership that majority of 8999s provide and in so doing possibly come to the misguided belief that it is somehow tied to the ranks/MOS. This is no hit against the 8999 community rather it is a testament to the example setting done by most of its members.

    Finally, if there is fault to be had in any propagation of the aforementioned misconception, then as MGySgt himself points out, some of it would have to be attributed to our MGySgt/MSgt brethren. Hopefully not generalizing my own personal experiences, as I would caution the MGySgt Aiken against, I’ve all too often heard on matters of leadership (i.e., those matters concerning mission accomplishment and troop welfare) the words “Well that’s the First Sergeant’s [Sergeant Major’s] job [concern]”; with those words having been spoken by a MGySgt/MSgt.

    2. The next flaw in the MGySgt’s argument is that while he identifies 8999 as a MOS, the rest of his statements don’t seem to truly recognize it as being an MOS at all. I’m still amazed to this very day how many Marines, young and old alike, and even those who use the term 8999, don’t know that it in actuality denotes a MOS. Yeah a real one; written in the MOS manual with associated duties, responsibilities, pre-requisites, etc. If the MGySgt stopped to recognize and carefully considered what an 8999’s duties/responsibilities are, in my opinion, it would answer his question on why the organization pulls the best and brightest out of their initial MOSs to become 8999s. To clarify the matter, 8999s have arguably the most difficult and highly skilled MOS of any MOS. 8999s are required to be skilled and proficient in dealing with people, including superiors, peers, juniors and civilians alike; and both internal and external to the organization. In other words, 8999s are first and foremost, people specialist. This is the most difficult job there is in any organization. That’s why the organization pulls the best and brightest to do it. “The Marine Corps is the Marines”. It doesn’t matter what job/skill/task you teach Marines in order to have them fulfill a role in the organization’s combat power, the point is you need men and women to execute those things. When comparing the effort required in the development of an 8999 to be competent and proficient in dealing with a multitude of peoples’ personalities, motivations, life experiences and problems, meshing them all together in a cohesive manner, and focusing them all in one coherent direction to accomplish an organization’s mission; teaching someone even the most highly technical MOS skill is child’s play. To take the MGySgt’s point to the extreme, if technical proficiency was the end all to be all or even the main effort in leading people, then there would be no reason to have OCS or TBS. We could just take the best and brightest civilians who already possess the technical knowledge and skills required of an MOS, teach them how to march and wear the uniform correctly and then put them in charge of Marines to lead. Now if we proposed that concept as a way to generate Marine officers I’m sure MGySgt and everybody else would think us asinine. Why? Because there is so much more involved in leadership than technical knowledge.

    MGySgt uses our divergence from commercial industry companies such as IBM, Apple and GE as comparison in a flawed argument. He states that Marines are promoted to First Sergeant based upon how proficient they are in their previous MOS. This is untrue. Marines are promoted to First Sergeant based upon the promotion board’s review of the entire Marine. The Performance Evaluation System Manual even states that, “The RS must comment in section I, recommending what grade the gunnery sergeant is best qualified to fill. This comment is the RS’s observation and is not required to agree with the MRO’s preference in this block”. If it was just a matter of MOS proficiency and what a Gunnery Sergeant wishes were, why would the PES require the RS to specifically comment on their evaluation of which career track the Marine would be best suited for? The answer is that MOS competency/proficiency can pretty much be assumed by the time a Marine reaches the E7 rate, the ability to be competent/proficient as an 8999 cannot. The purpose of the RS’ observation statement, along with the totality of a Marines record (not just MOS info) is to give the board an idea of whether that Marine has the intangibles necessary to be an 8999.

    Another way the MGySgt’s comparison is wrong is that if you look at the very same successful companies he mentions or any large organization, do we really believe that the people in the managerial or supervisory positions are necessarily the most technically competent at the thing that there are managing or supervising? Anyone who has a good sample of experience knows that this is laughable. If technical proficiency equated to leadership then the MGySgt is right, there would be little need for 8999. But it does not and that is why every unit rates an 8999, even if the 8999 is not native to that unit’s primary MOS. From the President of the United States to the CEO of a major corporation, a leader does not have to be the smartest person in the room they just have to be smart enough to get the smartest people together in the room and make maximum use of their abilities. The MGySgt’s thinking is seriously flawed if he thinks our organization’s success is built on proficiency and productivity strictly as a result of technical competency. We have won against superior forces and odds because of the character of our people and the quality of leadership they have received, period.

    3. Another folly in the points that the MGySgt makes is that being a MOS expert makes you the best leader of people in that MOS. This is absolutely not true. And in all too many instances this is a detriment to the actual leading of people. Why is this so? Because people tend to naturally focus on what they are best at and shy away from the unfamiliar. There are an untold number of instances where people who grow up in a MOS community naturally adopt that community’s thoughts and ways of operating whether they are wrong or right. Or worse yet, ignore them when they know they are wrong. Often times it takes an outsider to notice and/or to have the courage to point out these things. I can relate many stories of joining units as an 8999 and getting the old “well we’ve always done that” or “that is the way we’ve always done it that way” and having to strenuously point out that by current Marine Corps standards what they were doing was wrong. I can also relate many stories of asking simple questions about MOS and other operations that were being executed at those units that just appeared to be wrong from a layman’s perspective. Almost always I was initially poo-pooed, only to find out after gathering all the intelligence, that yeah they were doing something wrong. The point of those statements is it took someone with a critical and unbiased eye to 1. recognized that something was off; and to 2. stop and question it.

    4. The MGySgt talks about minimum training of 8999s. If 8999 was strictly a technical MOS he would be absolutely right, but since 8999 is a social, psychological, and physiological as well as technical MOS, Marines who are selected for it should have had more training and preparation for it than any of the technical MOS. By the time a person becomes eligible to be at 8999 they have been in the Marine Corps at least a minimum of 16 years. Even not counting their years being alive, the Marine Corps hopefully puts young Marines in leadership positions as early as boot camp. So by the time they’ve become eligible to become an 8999 a Marine should a have at least 15+ years of experience dealing with and hopefully learning to lead people. So the MGySgt is absolutely right, if the Corps has selected a Marine to be promoted to 8999 and they are being expected to learn their job in two weeks then the system has certainly failed somewhere. But by his own admission the selection to First Sergeant and subsequently Sergeant Major is highly competitive so we can summarily dismiss the idea as ridiculous that these people who are being vetted for these highly competitive positions are just learning to be competent in the thing that they are being vetted for.

    5. Finally, the MGySgt major points seem to resolve wholly around MOS competency and make no mistake about it MOS competency is a very important thing. But, there are hundreds of MOS is in the Marine Corps and in the military at large. Every unit, even the smallest of ones, usually rate several MOSs and several people in each one of those MOSs. Those same units only rate one 8999. Why is this? Well when it comes down to it, MOSs, no matter how important one thinks their MOS community and job is, are merely micro cogs in the big machine of the Marine Corps. And if a Marine’s job is to be a leader of just one type of cog in the machine and they were put in a leadership position of those types of cogs because they have excelled at being that type of cog themselves, then they should absolutely be highly proficient in the MOS that those cogs perform. But an 8999 has responsibility for leadership and development of the most important resource, tool and piece of equipment that the organization has; its people; all its people. An 8999 has leadership responsibility of all the unit’s different types of cogs; from the 01 through the XX. That’s why it is a highly competitive position. As highly competitive as being selected for command.

    6. The MGySgt seems to brush aside some counterpoints but they are very valid ones. Yes, it is harder to go places where you’re not the SME and lead people of different MOSs and be able to connect with them and get them to accomplish the mission of the organization. Yes, it is harder to master and be successful at a multitude of different tasks rather than simply the one you’ve been trained for and practiced for several years throughout your career. Once again, that is why the best and brightest are needed to fill the ranks of the 8999.

    The MyGySgt argues that everything a Marine does should be within his or her MOS community, while at the same time he argues for a return to Marine Corps’ basics, which goes directly against that. This is because Marines becoming focused on their MOS community, their little piece and only their little piece of the world, is the beginning of a segregated organization and the end of our brotherhood; and as such the death knell to our institution. Simply framed, it’s about bumper stickers. If you look at the majority of bumper stickers for all the other services they denote the service and along with it some particular MOS (i.e., Army Infantry, Navy Seabees, etc.). If you look at Marine Corps stickers they simply say Marines. Marines have been successful because we identify with being a Marine and the Marine Corps as a whole, first, foremost, and always. The unifying force of that and every Marine being a rifleman is what makes us special; whatever job you were taught to do has always been far and away irrelevant in our history and traditions. The day we lose that we will weaken our institution and its people; not strengthening them or make them better.

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