MajGen John A. Lejeune stands prominently at the main gate to the United States Naval Academy (USNA), but it might be fitting to put his bronze likeness in a more central location. A graduate of the USNA and also a Commandant of the Marine Corps, he was not so much a gatekeeper as he was a bridge builder. His example demonstrates the benefits to both institutions of their unique partnership. Most prominently, the amphibious doctrine that the general shepherded depended fundamentally on ideas and relationships formed at the USNA. He built lasting bridges between the Marine Corps and the Navy. More recently, Col John Ripley, USMC(Ret) crossed those bridges before he met another bridge and showed famous tenacity at Dong Ha, Vietnam. Today, Gen Lejeune’s bridges get heavy traffic from an unprecedented number of USNA graduates marching to the Marine Corps.
That traffic invites us to update the conversation about the relationship between the Marine Corps and the USNA that has found its way into these pages in recent years. In particular, I seek to build on the ideas presented by LtCol David A. Anderson (“Is the Marine Corps Willing to Further Staff the Naval Academy to Acquire More of Its Graduates?,” MCG, May03) and by Capts Robert S. Burrell and Ted Veggeberg (“Finding the Best Relationship With the U.S. Naval Academy,” MCG, Apr04). Anderson advocated an increase in the number of Marines sent to Annapolis. Burrell and Veggeberg put into historical context the implications of an increase in Marine commissions for USNA graduates. Today, we can survey the geography that those authors anticipated. Since 2004 the Navy and Marine Corps have agreed to discard a longstanding quota that no more than 162/3 percent of any class be Marines. As a consequence, the number of graduates who proceed to The Basic School (TBS) has grown substantially in the past 5 years, and it continues to rise.
Beyond this increase, the tone is changed also. Specifically, there are new initiatives in language instruction, study abroad, and a more globalized core curriculum. Such programs should produce graduates better prepared for service as Marines. With changes in how graduates learn added to changes in how many graduates travel to Quantico, the net result for Marines will be more USNA graduates in the ranks and also the potential for greater skills in language and cultural knowledge. This article explores these prospects by addressing continuity and change in the relationship between the Marines and the USNA.
The Standard Model
Before exploring the current changes, it is worthwhile to outline the basic model that has been in place for decades. Each Marine assigned to the USNA fulfills a primary duty—as a company officer, a senior enlisted adviser, or an academic instructor. In addition, as a collateral duty, Marines serve as officer recruiters. Most Marines serve as Marine company mentors to one of the 30 companies in the Brigade of Midshipmen, serving to recruit and vet midshipmen for the Marine Corps. Marines also work in high numbers as officer representatives for sports teams and extracurricular activities, ranging from wrestling and rugby to gospel choir and the fall musical. Greatly outnumbered by fellow Navy officers and chief petty officers, Marines can seem more numerous by their pattern of heavy engagement in the lives of the midshipmen.
In the summertime this engagement includes several Marine-specific training events. Between the second and third year, midshipmen participate in 1 week of Marine training, typically at Camp Lejeune, within a larger training package. Between their third and fourth years, aspiring Marines may participate either in a program at Quantico called Leatherneck or in an embedding program called MAGTF (Marine air-ground task force). Leatherneck consists of work in small unit skills to train, evaluate, and motivate aspiring Marines, while the MAGTF program offers exposure to the Operating Forces. These programs expose midshipmen to Marines, and allow Marines to recruit midshipmen.
At the start of the final academic year, Service assignment commences in earnest. Each aspiring Marine faces a selection process. A panel of Marines convenes to consider every application. In turn, each Marine company mentor prepares a brief for those candidates in his company. The board considers past performance and future potential. In operation, the panel resembles a promotion board. It considers the pool of aspirants and translates its preferences into a roster of midshipmen selected to become Marines. Selectees then conduct a 2-hour per week professional development course in the spring. Shortly after graduation in May, the newly commissioned Marine officers report to TBS.
A Change in Quantity
The USNA cohort in Quantico has grown sharply since 2004. Since the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps agreed to suspend the traditional quota of 162/3 percent, there has been a 33 percent increase in second lieutenants commissioned from the USNA. Those discussions at the highest level have produced an agreement that the USNA will commission 270 Marine officers each year for the next 4 years. Will this high number force Marines to accept less qualified candidates? The answer seems to be no, if you measure qualifications by class rank. Overall order of merit (OOM) is used to rank a given class from first to last, measuring academics, athletics, military performance, and conduct. Although this yardstick measures the quality of a midshipman, rather than the potential of a Marine, it is useful as an objective assessment of performance over 4 years. As Figure 1 depicts, as the number of commissions has increased, the average OOM has improved. The overall quality of Marines being commissioned from the USNA has remained high. There is something unexpected here. A wider door has admitted not only more candidates, but maybe even better candidates.
What explains the pattern? The global war on terror has served to elevate the Marine Corps in the minds of midshipmen. Moreover, Marines assigned to the USNA have been assiduous in efforts to recruit the very best candidates.
A Change in Atmosphere
There has been a change in atmosphere as well, arising from curriculum adjustments and the arrival of Marine veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The changes ought to make officers entering the Marine Corps from the USNA more adroit in matters of language and culture, and also more mature in their understanding of leadership.
Curriculum changes come from the Services themselves and from outside forces. The 9/11 Commission Report of 2004 and the new maritime strategy of 2007, as well as the Navy’s more recent language skills, regional expertise, and cultural awareness initiative of 2008, emphasize the need for U.S. institutions to learn meaningfully about foreign cultures. At the USNA there are now a number of specific initiatives to remedy this shortfall. Since 2006 incoming students have had the option to select Chinese and Arabic languages as a major. In the same year, the USNA established an International Programs Office (IPO) to coordinate and organize opportunities for overseas scholarship. Since its establishment the IPO has sent more than 100 students each year to professional international exchange programs and faculty-led cultural immersion programs to such places as Jordan, Vietnam, and Turkey. The USNA also established a Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies (CMEIS) that brings together scholars in history, language, and politics of that region in particular. The changes are significant but limited. Although roughly two-thirds of students select technical majors with no language study requirement, midshipmen inclined to pursue opportunities in foreign language and culture can now find greater scope to do so.
Another significant change is the fact that of the 48 officers and 7 staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs) on staff and 78 prior-Service Marines in the student body, many have had extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has manifested itself in panel discussions and addresses from veterans. In addition, the Semper Fidelis Society, which organizes field exercises and training events, has seen a burst in energy and expertise in its training cadre. As the number of midshipmen going to the Marine Corps has grown, the interest has risen to meet the demand. The injection of combat veterans to the USNA influences this trend.
Even with combat veterans within the midshipmen ranks, some may still be concerned that these new officers will not have the benefit of training at Officer Candidates School (OCS). Marines at the USNA will say that the division persists for a number of reasons. The summer training schedule for midshipmen will not allow OCS training, logistical hurdles loom at OCS itself and, most centrally, the OCS mission to attrit and screen candidates doesn’t match the USNA recruiting mission. At the USNA, high midshipmen interest at the time of selection allows Marines to select the very best candidates. Regardless of the rationale for not having USNA midshipmen attend OCS, the increasing number of incoming officers who fall into this exceptional category may incite greater irritation.
Beyond maintenance of the status quo there are a few creative steps that we might take to dull this irritation. One solution might be to focus on the selection process rather than summer training. If midshipmen select service in the Marine Corps earlier at the USNA, there will be greater opportunity to conduct Marine Corps training. Such a model might enable USNA staff to bring Leatherneck itself closer toward the ground at OCS.
Consider also that the Marine Corps has a method now in place to train and indoctrinate its new officers from all sources. All go to TBS. The record of USNA graduates there is very good. (The Burrell and Veggeberg article provides outstanding data to this effect.) The USNA graduates are not screened in the course of summer training but are rigorously screened through a selection board process; they depart Annapolis prepared for TBS and service with Marines.
Making a Good Thing Better
The current changes are welcome, and I offer the following recommendations to foster further positive change.
First, expand integration between the USNA and Operating Forces units. This requires Operating Forces support. Such support includes ensuring that midshipmen attached to Operating Forces units are exposed to both quality training and excellent company grade officers. Each summer, support for midshipmen training puts additional strain on busy units and Marines at TBS, I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), and II MEF. There is a reward in this. Time and energy spent on midshipmen is an investment in the quality of the officer corps in the years to come.
Second, we recommend that the Operating Forces strongly encourage the best young enlisted Marines to apply to the USNA. The admissions department is eager to bring driven and bright Marines to the USNA. The traditional path from the Operating Forces includes a 1-year college preparatory course at the Naval Academy Preparatory School that helps these Marines transition to the work and atmosphere of the USNA. If the past is a guide, the experience and maturity that these Marines exemplify will make their classmates better.
Third, the Marine Corps needs to send outstanding SNCOs and officers to the USNA. The Marine Corps has a stake in what takes place within the walls of the USNA. Assignments to serve there should be competitive and viewed similarly to assignments as officer selection officers or instructors at TBS.
Finally, I recommend that the Marine Corps send a small number of senior officers to the USNA as permanent military professors (PMPs). The Navy currently has 34 officers in this program that sends senior officers to obtain Ph.D.s from civilian institutions with the expectation that they will go on to teach midshipmen at the USNA until statutory retirement. PMPs have the advantage of understanding the institution and midshipmen at a level that most officers never reach in a 2- or 3-year assignment. Marine PMPs could serve as the continuity for Marine education and training at the USNA, and they would likely be the most effective recruiters as well.
As the Marine Corps has focused on fighting two wars over the past 5 years, a new phase in its century-long relationship with the USNA has quietly emerged. Although MajGen Lejeune might not have anticipated that over 20 percent of a USNA class would serve in the Corps, he certainly would approve. Acting wisely and decisively, Marines can benefit from this moment of transition. The Marine Corps should take deliberate steps to ensure that the current quantity and quality of Marines commissioned from the USNA continues for years to come. Gen Lejeune would be