Read a Book; Get Ahead

By Sean D. Griffin - published December 2007

Reading is an essential professional pursuit
This past May the Commandant of the Marine Corps established a Marine Corps Professional Reading Program composed of three parts-a single book for all Marines to read and discuss; a streamlined, by-grade Commandant's reading list; and a broader web-based reading program organized by warfighting functions, regions of the world where Marines serve, and other topics ranging from recruiting skills to personal financial management. (Read ALMAR) Commandants have published reading lists since the 1980s. The new professional reading program differs from earlier reading lists by requiring leaders to ensure that their Marines get more out of the books they read. This requirement stems from our warfighting doctrine, which directs leaders to:

. . . conduct a continuing professional education program for their subordinates that includes developing military judgment and decisionmaking ... [using] supervised reading programs, map exercises, war games, battle studies and terrain studies.

Those Marines given the responsibility for leading other Marines are expected to regard "the development of their subordinates as a direct reflection on themselves."

The professional reading program is designed to put tools in the hands of those leaders willing to rise to the challenge of developing their subordinates as creative, thinking leaders. If you have read this far into this article you are probably the kind of Marine who is ready to achieve the Commandant's end state for the professional reading program.

The Marine Corps Professional Reading Program website at http://www.mcu.usmc.mil/ProDev/ProfReadingPgm.htm offers tools for getting a book discussion group up and running. The website offers detailed instructions for accessing the available products. For example, if you are preparing to lead a book discussion, select the "Techniques for Leading a Book Discussion" link found at the right. A blank "Book Discussion Template" is also provided for download and use. Completed book discussion guides are already posted for certain books, with others to follow.

Another means of obtaining the completed book discussion guides is to visit the Marine Corps Gazette online at www.mca-marines.org/gazette. No subscription is necessary. The Gazette also provides the opportunity to post your comments on any book in particular or on the professional reading program in general at its professional online forum. All comments are anonymous, although the person submitting the post is asked to register his computer to ensure that the forum is not used for unprofessional postings. Again, the forum is available to the public at no charge.

The "Other Suggested Reading" links located to the right of the professional reading program website are just that-books that are worth reading in addition to the minimum requirement. As the Commandant states in ALMAR 030/07:

I expect all Marines to read theit grade appropriate books-that is your minimum standard. . . . once you have achieved the minimum you can then exercise the initiative to read more broadly.

Of course, you will need books before your discussion group meets. The following are three options for obtaining Marine Corps Professional Reading Program materials:

  • Commanding officers may authorize the use of operations and maintenance funds to purchase professional military education (PME) items. The Marine Corps doctrinal publications (MCDPs) all have publication control numbers so you should be able to obtain them through the publications system. All official Marine Corps publications featured in the professional reading program are already available as electronic files and are posted to the website. Audio files for these same readings are under development.
  • The Marine Corps University Foundation (MCUF) has an ongoing initiative to supply every battalion/squadron-sized unit in the Marine Corps with books from the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program. MCUF is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide resources that enhance Marine Corps PME. This calendar year MCUF has already provided books to 153 units worldwide. For information on receiving books, please contact MCUF at 866-367-6283 or via e-mail to sschimd@mcuf.org.
  • The Lifelong Learning Branch, Personal and Family Readiness Division, Marine Corps Community Services and Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps purchases and sends reading materials to deployed unit locations. Mote information on this program is available at http://www.usmc-mccs.org/ education/lll.cfm.

Perhaps the greatest challenge associated with the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program is getting Marines to read. Two typical questions raised are: Does it count toward my composite score like Marine Corps Institute courses or off-duty education? Will reading get me or my Marines promoted?

Quoting from the Marine Corps Individual Records Administration Manual, assignment of duty proficiency marks involves the "whole Marine":

Such attributes as mission accomplishment, leadership, intellect and wisdom, individual character, physical fitness, personal appearance, and completion of professional military education, Marine Corps Institute courses, and off-duty education should also be evaluated and incorporated into the duty proficiency mark.

Participation in the professional reading program can be used by those recommending and assigning proficiency/conduct marks. Reporting seniors can also factor professional reading into fitness reports. Sergeants, staff noncommissioned officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers are reported on in the performance evaluation system report under Intellect and Wisdom (section G, page 4 of 5). Item 1 PME resources include:

... a personal reading program that includes (but is not limited to) selections from the Commandant's Reading List; participation in discussion groups and military societies; and involvement in learning through new technologies.

Another typical comment about reading can be summed up as follows: "Reading books-that's an officer thing. Enlisted Marines read technical manuals and field manuals, not theories and philosophies." MGySgt Francisco Castillo, Deputy Director, Enlisted PME, responds:

I came into the Corps without a diploma and English was my second language. I knew that reading TMs [technical manuals] and FMs [field manuals] was only the beginning. The furthet I got, the more I realized I needed to understand how officers made decisions so I could give them the benefit of my recommendations and experience. I earned my chevrons through technical proficiency as a tank crewman. The fact I served with commanders who viewed my intellectual and professional growth as direct reflections on their abilities as leaders-that's what earned me my bursting bombs.

The bottom line is that reading is part of every Marine's profession and PME. Every Marine needs both education and training. The further you advance in the Corps, the more responsibility you accept for the education and training of those you lead. The Marine Corps Professional Reading Program exists to support leaders with products to ensure that their professional reading efforts achieve the results the Commandant expects.