The Attritionist Letters (#6)

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence, which I now offer to the public, fell into my hands. The general who authored them is almost certainly retired, for he writes with such careless disregard-and one might suggest some contempt-for our beloved Corps. The young captain to whom he writes is a more puzzling case; there are far too many Capt Wormwoods in the global access list to determine which is being addressed. Nevertheless, it is the essence of these papers that I find disconcerting-and thus the urgency with which I submit them to you, the reader. Read on.

Capt Wormwood,

In my last letter I discussed some of the reasoning behind why we have made such a concerted effort to eliminate such archaic concepts as “commander’s intent” and “mission tactics.” You noted that I only mentioned examples from in theater or from combat situations. How daft of me! You obviously are aware that we are aggressively pursuing this agenda on all fronts – including in garrison environments across the Corps.

For the past 20 years we attririonists have sought to banish commanders intent and mission tactics from the modus operandi of the Corps, and we have all but succeeded. For instance, in all previous predeployment training programs (PTPs), higher echelon leadership was limited to providing commander s intent and allowing mission tactics to occur as subordinate regiment, battalion, company, and platoon commanders determined specific training requirements and the methods of best accomplishing them. However, most – ii not all – current PTP is coordinated, directed, and supervised by higher echelon directives. I think that we can all agree that such templated training programs as Enhanced MOJAVE VlPER exist because subordinate unit commanders have proven themselves consistently unable to execute higher headquarters’ intent.

Marine Corps Doari nal Publication 1 (MCDP 1), Warfighting, dates itself by claiming that “as a rule, [senior commanders] should refrain from dictating how the training will be accomplished.”1 In no other PTP environment has the Marine Corps been able to institutionally create, maintain, and disseminate such extensive guidance via such effective media as e-mail and Microsoft PowerPoint and SharePoint systems. With these assets available today, there is simply no need to rely upon subordinate commanders to create or execute training plans. Rather, it is best to implement templated training packages rhar cover all potential situations for all units preparing for deployment. Wormwood, I must ask, does it not make your job considerably less challenging now that you have no need to schedule or execute training? Just count the Marines when they show up and ensure that your operational risk management has been submitted.

Our dear friends – those attririonists who implemented the PTP – have minimized any platoon, company, battalion, and even regiment leadership input into the PTP process. This centralized attritionist policy – while clearly executed on a daily basis across our Corps – is still not reflected in those antiquated philosophies found in MCDP J. I find it so frustrating that MCDP I still claims that “commanders at each echelon must allot subordinates sufficient time and freedom to conduct the training necessary to achieve proficiency at their levels.” MCDP Î goes on to claim that commanders “must ensure that higher-level demands do not deny subordinates adequate training opportunities for autonomous unit training.”2 It is almost laughable! Thankfully, these archaic pronouncements are clearly out of step with the current attritionist trends across our Corps! MCDP 1 falsely assumes that subordinate commanders are best situated to divine training shortfalls and requirements for their respective units, when in fact the PTPs offer a far superior and comprehensive solution.

Higher echelon commands have effectively relegated subordinate commanders to “managers” of their assigned personnel with limited ability to interfere with the training of their units. While skeptics decry this trend and claim that it will serve to diminish initiative and the abilities of subordinate commanders, it is a small price to pay for the creation of a MAGTF with “standardized” capabilities and the protection of our training programs from the tampering of subordinate leaders.

Wormwood, more examples of our success abound! Think of those junior Marines who are so often subject to restrictions placed upon them while deployed. Liberty cards in Okinawa, curfew restrictions imposed in Korea, and exclusion from major cities in Kuwait are specific policies directed by the highest echelons of command, not by local subordinate commanders. After all, it is far simpler to impose a regulation than it is to establish an expectation and challenge subordinates to accomplish it. Moreover, it is far more difficult to trust a subordinate than it is to impose a regulation.

Thus the practice of the Marine Corps must be to eliminate the outdated need of “trusting subordinate commanders.” While MCDP 1 might claim that “trust by seniors in the abilities of their subordinates” is essential, you will witness the hypocrisy of that statement.3 As I mentioned in my last letter, it is far better for a senior to eliminate all doubt and ensure that subordinate commanders execute guidance as passed rather than make false assumptions.

And Wormwood, you will concur that when units return from training exercises or a deployment and the Marines seek to set out on leave, each is required to complete a paperwork-intensive leave request. In years past, the highest echelon commands would establish their intent and allow subordinate commanders to determine unit leave policies (and thus execute mission tactics). That obviously did not work. The Marine Corps has therefore established directed leave policies (including those extensive paperwork requirements) by higher echelon commands. Skeptics will query why a MEF commander must dictate the requirements of a lance corporal desiring to take leave. The answer lies no doubt in the inability of regimental, battalion, and company commanders to competently implement the commander’s intent from higher headquarters. Thus, the most senior commanders have no choice but to dictate and institutionalize standardized procedures that restrict subordinate commanders’ use of discretion and judgment.

You can see that we are achieving success on all fronts. Soon – very soon – subordinate leaders will be relegated completely to automaton-like roles, simply executing that guidance explicitly directed by the highest command. That transformation of the Marine Corps to a completely attritionist force will provide unprecedented battlefield effectiveness for the battles we have yet to fight. Until then, I remain,

Gen Screwtape


1. MCDP I, Warfighting, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 1997, p. 60.

2. Ibid.. pp. 59-60.

3. Ibid., p. 58.