by BGen William J Bowers

On behalf of Marine Corps University, I want to compliment the Marine Corps Gazette’s editorial staff on the outstanding articles they’ve published recently The Gazette is being true to the spirit in which Gen John A. Lejeune created it: to serve as a forum for new ideas intended to improve our Corps. Several of these recent articles have focused on improving the Marine Corps’ professional military education (PME) system. Our PME system is in a constant state of review and refinement, and we need recommendations from the force to help us develop and deliver the most professional, current, relevant, and challenging curriculum possible in order to prevent stagnancy. The purpose of this letter is twofold: 1) to inform the Gazette’s readers on what we’re doing about many of the excellent ideas raised, and 2) to encourage Marines to keep reading, thinking, writing, and publishing their ideas because, as you’ll see below, they do make a difference.

First, it’s important to note a powerful movement that’s quietly occurring across our Corps that will significantly impact the future of PME: enlisted Marines are demanding, receiving, and exercising a greater role in how our Corps educates Marines. For example, SNCOs authored three of the four articles devoted to improving PME in the March 2018 Gazette. Enlisted Marines submitted more than half of the 41 essays we received for the just-concluded Belleau Wood Centennial Essay Contest and penned two of four winning articles. The days in which SNCOs and NCOs feel “‘intellectually under-nourished” by our Corps’ PME system (as a Staff Sergeant Career Course student told me in fall 2017) are gone. At the start of this academic year, the Commandant challenged us to tap into the intellectual potential of our enlisted Marines-what he called “the unexplored gold mine of our PME system”-and in the spirit of MCU’s founder, Gen Alfred M. Gray, we’re moving out. The College of Enlisted Military Education (CEME) staff will cover these reforms in a separate article, but they’re coming-and fast.

Second, SSgt Matthew P. Petitgout’s March 2018 article, “The Reading List and Quarterly PME,” suggests revamping both the Commandant’s Reading List and Quarterly PME programs to achieve greater educational benefit for Marines. For the Commandant’s Reading List, he suggests “some sort of short answer questions to not only inquire about the information gleaned from the book but to stoke the fire of creative thinking much the way guided discussion does.” This is an excellent idea. MCU can (and shall) create a “lesson card” for each of the six books the Commandant personally selects annually to be read by Marines, and these cards will be used as a vehicle to generate discussions and/or used by unit leaders for writing assignments. For the Quarterly PME program, while we would not advocate making this “mandated training for all units,” we do believe that by creating relevant, valuable, and useful tools, MCU can enhance a unit’s PME program by enabling and empowering leaders to run their own PMEs. Our goal for next year is to publish one case study per trimester (see LLI’s (Lejeune Leadership Institute’s) website at www. for what we’ve done so far) to emphasize a theme important for our Corps.* Case study leader discussion guides will further enable a small unit leader to guide the conversation so that it contextualizes the lessons in ways important for his unit.

Third, GySgt Jay C. Barnard’s “Educational Value” asks our Corps’ leaders, ” [I] s PME really challenging our [enlisted] members as much as it should?,” lamenting a “[PME] check in the box’ mentality” in which “commanders are not willing to send Marines to receive an irrelevant education.” GySgt Barnard specifically challenges MCU to “consider revising the program of instruction provided to our enlisted Marines” by including such subjects as sociology, psychology, and ethics and studying the dynamics of human behavior. The Commandant and Sergeant Major agree with GySgt Barnard. As he suggests, we will add more “relevant, difficult coursework to the [enlisted] curriculum[s],” but as we desire for all Marines to succeed, we will also provide more resources, such as: 1) communications instructors, 2) expanded opportunities for seminar programs, and 3) improved network access. As noted above, these reforms will be covered in detail elsewhere by the CEME staff but they are coming-fast.

Fourth, SSgt Thomas Maddoxs “The Future of Education is Now” rebuts an article written by an academic questioning the value of online writing classes. SSgt Maddox concludes that “online or distance education works,” and that while professors might not “see” the cross-talk and discussions that occur in a physical classroom, learning takes place virtually via email and chat rooms “in a manner that may be transparent to the professor.” He calls on professors to be “flexible enough in their thinking to adapt to new ideas, methods of teaching, and ways of learning.” Another winning idea. We have actually been talking about some of our distinguished MCU professors offering courses online to Marines across the Corps-why should this expertise stay bottled up aboard the MCU campus? SSgt Maddox’s article tells us it’s tíme to stop talking about it and execute, so that’s what we’re going to do. Next fiscal year, we will begin to offer online courses to Marines across the Corps, and credits will be coming shortly after we complete phase I of elective development. More details will be forthcoming on this initiative.

Fifth, Maj Breck L. Perry s “Reinvigorating Maneuver Warfare Through PME” provides “a model that attempts to reinvigorate maneuver warfare at the battalion level” with a “formalized PME plan.” Maj Perry proposes five lines of effort; an approach, method, and end state to execute the plan; and roles and responsibilities within the battalion to ensure it gets done correctly. He even includes an example six-month PME plan, so he has clearly seen what right looks like. So how can MCU support such a unit PME plan as Maj Perry proposes? By creating and making tools available for Commanders and SNCOs to execute-that’s how.

We’ve covered above how we will create lesson cards for the Commandant’s annual book selections, produce case studies available on the LLI website, and expand opportunities for online learning. We can also help with staff rides by either: 1) making an expert available to travel and conduct the staff ride, or (even better) 2) publishing guidance and expertise on how small unit leaders can do this on their own. We have expertise here, and we will take this task on and post the product on the LLI website.

Sixth, the Marine Special Operations Command Commander and Staff published an article in the January 2018 Gazette calling for measuring Marines’ “ability to think, adapt, and collaborate with allies and partners” by leveraging “time spent in the existing Marine Corps education continuum.” The authors correctly point out that “Marines use many of these skills in educational venues as they interact with classmate peers.” These, again, are excellent points. We have already submitted a waiver to DC, M&RA to write observed fitness reports on our Corps’ doctoral candidates (and have been observing them regularly), and perhaps it’s time to expand this mindset to more of our resident PME students-to include those in CEME. Having observed and/or participated in seminar discussions at every school and having read student papers, there are some students who “stand out” in the areas the MARSOC Marines note. While Faculty and School Directors do typically put some comments on their students’ fitness reports, we’ll get with M&RA and explore ways to more formally document Marines’ student performance in their OMPFs.

In conclusion, the Corps’ Young Turks are once again on the march, and they’re not half-stepping. Moreover, their restless energy and vision is being fueled and nourished by the Commandant, who’s simultaneously telling the Corps’ senior leaders to “Go faster!” This letter explains how MCU is responding to our Marines’ ideas to improve the quality of education we provide to all Marines. We have much vrork to do. We also encourage your feedback on how we’re doing and where we can improve. Finally, we want to encourage Marines to keep reading, thinking, writing, and publishing. As LtGen Victor “Brute” Krulak once wrote:

Progress in military affairs has ever been the product of the curiosity, impatience and iconoclasm of youth. Were this not true we might still be using the phalanx, the ramrod or the hollow square. If young Marines are indeed challenging the status quo I can only declare that they are behaving in the tradition of their forebears, and wish them well.1

Stay after it Marines-we’re listening and executing!


* Our plan for next year is to produce the three following case studies: 1) BGen Edward Craig and the Fire Brigade in Korea 1950 (suggested by Gen Alfred M. Gray); 2) the re-capture of the Aleutian islands from the Japanese (to familiarize students with the North Pacific and explore amphibious operations); and 3) Hue City (the EWS team plans to explore the impact information environment operations in this battle). We welcome input for other case study ideas.

1. LtGen V.H. Krulak, “The Corps’ Critics Are Wrong,” Washington Post, (Washington, DC: 27 October 1985).