THE JOURNEY OF A WARRIOR: The Twenty-Ninth Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps (1987-1991): General Alfred Mason Gray
To read Colonel Gerry Turley’s book, “The Journey of a Warrior: The Twenty-Ninth Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps (1987-1991): General Alfred Mason Gray,” is to understand how the 21st-century Marine Corps came into being. The picture that the author paints is of one man’s journey, a man who rose from the lowest position in the Marine Corps—recruit—to the highest—Commandant—and along the way became one of the most transformational officers in the Marine Corps since John A. Lejeune.
Today’s Marines, most of whom may take the existence of our Corps for granted, must understand that our relevance as a part of America’s national strategy depends on our continual evolution. If we do not anticipate and fill America’s need for a force in readiness, then America does not need a Marine Corps. Col Turley’s biography of Gen Gray shows us a Marine who foresaw needs and promoted innovation during every step of his career. We can all learn from our 29th Commandant. His accomplishments should be taught to all Marines as part of their history, serving as examples of how Marines must think and act.
A short list of innovations he fathered follows: He re-established the policy of infantry training for all Marines. He carried it well beyond our “every Marine a rifleman” ethos, believing that all Marines, regardless of occupational specialty, should be qualified to serve in a rifle squad. He conferred on every Marine the title “warrior” and further strengthened the bonds of our brotherhood.
He promoted continuous learning for all ranks. The Commandant’s Reading List, the Marine Corps University and educating Marines with other service schools, foreign armed forces and such agencies as the FBI were all due to his foresight.
He insisted that the Marine Corps no longer be a closed shop, relying on its own assets and ignoring outside opportunities at other service schools and civilian agencies and high-level billets on joint staffs. This wove the Marine Corps into the fabric of our national strategy at the highest level. For the first time in our history, Marines have served in America’s top-level command and staff billets, e.g., as commanders of U.S. Central Command, Southern Command, Strategic Command and as the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As of this writing, the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a Marine sergeant major.
General Gray also was instrumental in shaping our operational posture to meet the challenges posed by terrorist states and asymmetrical warfare.
He modernized our traditional role of projecting power against armed enemies from the sea. To this end he pushed development of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft in order to support combat operations on the world’s littorals from over-the-horizon amphibious forces. He was an early advocate of the maritime prepositioning ships and was a major force in redesigning our amphibious fleet to meet today’s requirements.
He upgraded the Corps’ armor capability and formed the light armored reconnaissance units.
He transformed our intelligence assets so they all reported to a central collection point for coordination and dissemination.
Col Turley punctuates his story of Gen Gray’s life with colorful anecdotes that illustrate his character and his affection for Marines of every rank. He bonded with the troops like few commanders have before or since. He seemed to be everywhere at once and, even after he became Commandant, refused to stick to a pre-arranged schedule.
One of the best episodes in the book is about how he, when Commandant, drove his own car through the main gate of Quantico. The sentries on the gate quickly informed the commanding general the CMC was on board, but that they didn’t know where he was going. During an exhaustive search of the base, someone finally spotted him on a softball field. He had been driving by, saw the game, stopped and borrowed a glove, and played shortstop for a while as the frantic search for him rippled through the base. He was never happier than when he was with his troops, and the Marines loved him for it.
There are many important issues regarding our 29th Commandant’s life and the changes that he wrought that space will not permit me to cover. Suffice it to say that because of Gen Gray’s wisdom, foresight and energy, our Corps is very well prepared for its journey through the 21st century. Thank you, Col Turley, for telling his story.
THE JOURNEY OF A WARRIOR: The Twenty-Ninth Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps (1987-1991): General Alfred Mason Gray.
By Colonel Gerald H. Turley, USMCR (Ret).
Published by iUniverse. 528 pages. Softcover.
$28.76 MCA Members. $31.95 Regular Price.