Time for a Another Stand-DownPosted on January 13,2021
Article Date Dec 01, 2020
by Capt Devon Sanderfield
With multiple conflicts in the Middle East coming to a close and the Commandant refocusing the Corps attention to naval integration and a future conflict with China, the time has come to evaluate our Marines understanding of our foundational doctrine: MCDP 1. Maneuver warfare is central to our Warfighting philosophy. Characterized by speed, fluidity, surprise, and the focusing of combat power against an identified enemy weakness, our Warfighting doctrine requires initiative and sound decision making down to the small unit level.1 With many of our enlisted Marines having never critically read this little white book that describes how we should think and make decisions on the battlefield, it is time to take a pause and educate the force. Leaders throughout the Marine Corps should initiate a stand-down to educate every Marine under their charge on our foundational warfighting doctrine and how these concepts must be applied at every level in both garrison and in combat.
Marines are used to stand downs. Each year, Marines pile into the base theater or auditorium for a days-long discussion on hazing, violence prevention, social media use, and local wildlife.2 Marines are even forced to sit through a brief titled 100 days of summer: a yearly requirement that warns troops of the dangers of water sports and proper way to utilize a grill.3 Yet, when was the last time a unit conducted a stand down to ensure that every Marine understood the tenants of our warfighting doctrine? As you read this article, when was the last time you read the most important foundational document we have (MCDP 1)? When was the last time you talked to your Marines about it? It is time for leaders across the Marine Corps to step up and address this educational gap.
Marine Corps officers were the driving force behind the rigorous debate that led to the adoption of Warfighting and the concept of maneuver warfare in 1989, but the concepts were meant for all Marines. In the foreword to MCDP 1, Gen Krulak directs that, “all Marines, enlisted and commissioned, to read this book, understand it, and act upon it.”4 Sadly, we have not met this vision. As a Staff Platoon Commander for the Warrant Officer Basic Course, I had the privilege of leading a group of seasoned gunnery sergeants and staff sergeants as they transitioned from enlisted to officer. These warriors were the best of the best of their assigned MOS. While they were smart, mature, and experienced, they admittingly lacked an understanding of maneuver warfare and our warfighting doctrine. Despite over a decade of service, many acknowledged they had never thoroughly read MCDP 1. This is not a surprise when the discussion of our warfighting doctrine at the Recruit Depots is limited to one hour and Corporals Course spends six times as long on sword manual as it does discussing MCDP 1. This is no longer acceptable. The stakes are too high. Without prioritizing a service-wide understanding of our warfighting doctrine by every leader of every MOS, we could fail at the time when our country needs us the most.
The Commandant has identified the need for increased Distributed Operations in the face of an enemy that is capable of detecting and targeting our forces with long range precision guided weapons.5 Young leaders will be spread across the battlefield with increased responsibility whose decisions will have greater operational and strategic implications than ever before. With forces distributed in this manner, there will not always be time to request permission to act and doing so may emit an electromagnetic signature that could result in enemy detection. All leaders will be trusted to understand the commander’s intent to allow them to take bold action in the absence of orders. Bill Lind writes about the importance of trust in applying maneuver warfare in The Maneuver Handbook. He states, “Such trust is molded by a shared way of thinking.”6 For Marines, our shared way of thinking is driven by our warfighting doctrine. It is what teaches them how to think about problems: to avoid enemy strengths and utilize speed and surprise to put them in a position of advantage. We need leaders who will ruthlessly exploit fleeting opportunities as they arise on the battlefield. Yet, for many Marines across our Corps more time is dedicated to the dangers of smoking than on understanding how they are expected to think and make decisions in combat.
While PME has a role to play in increasing Marines understanding of maneuver warfare and our warfighting Doctrine, leaders in the fleet must do more. Force the Marines under your charge to read MCDP 1 and facilitate discussion groups that can help clarify its contents and how it can be applied in the completion of their everyday job. Incorporate decision making exercises into the daily schedule—there is no excuse not to. This is a great opportunity to empower the NCOs, who should not only understand the concepts within MCDP 1 but should be able to teach it to their young Marines. Sadly, it is not just the junior Marines who need reeducation on the lessons of maneuver warfare. With the ever-increasing centralization of decision making at the higher levels, continued micro-management of the troops, and inability to accept risk by officers at every level, all would benefit from a refresher of our doctrine.
The Marine Corps does seem to be going in the right direction with the increased emphasis and incorporation of decision-making case studies and force-on-force exercises to allow leaders to think and make decisions against a living, breathing, thinking adversary. The recent MWX 1-20 exercise and its emphasis on decision making is a great example.7 This exercise and those like it are necessary and should be replicated. Unfortunately, these exercises have predominately been executed at the battalion-level or higher and take months to plan and put into motion. Weekly training at the small unit level must be similarly designed to test our young leaders’ ability to think, not just execute predetermined battle drills on a cookie-cutter live-fire range that resembles more of a golf course than a battlefield. This is not a task for only the infantry. All MOSs must do better, and it starts with ensuring that all Marines are well versed in our Warfighting doctrine and are applying them during in training exercises as well as in garrison.
This is an issue that must be addressed Service-wide, and there is an easy solution. It simply requires leaders in the fleet to step up and make the education of the Marines a priority. Undoubtedly, there are excellent leaders throughout our Corps who are already doing this, but more must be done to reach every Marine. Much like maneuver warfare’s emphasis on focusing combat power at a particular time and place, we need leaders to focus their efforts on making all of our Marines “maneuverists” who are able to not only apply the concepts on the battlefield but within the walls of the barracks. Leaders throughout the Marine Corps must initiate a stand-down to educate every Marine under their charge on our foundational warfighting doctrine and how it must be applied at every level in both garrison and in combat. There is no time to wait. This is long overdue.
- Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP1, Warfighting, (Washington, DC: 1997).
- Headquarters Marine Corps, MCBUL 1500, Annual Training Requirements, (Washington, DC: April 2017).
- Headquarters Marine Corps, MARADMIN 360/20, 2020 Summer Safety Campaign, (Washington DC: June 2020).
- MCDP 1.
- Gen David H. Berger, 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, (Washington, DC: July 2019).
- William Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook, (New York, NY: Westview Press., 2018).
- Chris Niedziocha, “Fighting a Peer Adversary Part II: Observations and Recommendations from MAGTF Warfighting Exercise 1-20,” Marine Corps Gazette (Quantico, VA: July 2020).