Battle Rattle

Congressman defends Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. after controversial comments

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In the wake of a wave of controversy spurred by comments Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett made at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing, a congressman who served in the Marine Corps is coming to his defense.

At a hearings of SASC’s subcommittee on personnel last week, Barrett said Marines were more interested in equipment modernization and readiness than they were in benefits and entitlements, and said a lower pay raise and cuts to certain benefits in the coming year would improve their spending discipline.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett testifies April 9 on Capitol Hill. Listening to his right are Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael D. Stevens and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler. (Sgt. Marionne T. Mangrum/Marine Corps)

“I truly believe it will raise discipline,” he told the lawmakers. “You’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful.”

Barrett later penned a letter to all Marines to clarify his remarks, and sat down for an interview with Marine Corps Times in which he expanded on his viewpoint and said that “nobody wants less,” but that the Marine Corps needed to remain a warfighting organization, rather than an entitlements-based one.

Now, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is also coming to Barrett’s defense.

In a letter send to Barrett today, Hunter called Barrett’s remarks to the subcommittee “candid and straightforward” and said he and other lawmakers would not construe them as an invitation to give the Marine Corps less funding in the future. Read the whole letter below:

Hunter Barrett Letter


Commandant to do LIVE town hall via Facebook

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Commandant Gen. Jim Amos makes a point during an interview with Marine Corps Times in 2011. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos makes a point during an interview with Marine Corps Times in 2011. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett will conduct a live social media Q&A Friday, March 14 at 4 p.m. via the official Marine Corps Facebook page.

“An announcement post will hit the page and the bulk of dialogue will take place within the comments on that post. We will also be answering as many questions as we can on Twitter,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, Marine Corps spokesperson, via email.

The Q&A thread will resemble the popular AMA format used on the site; commenters will post questions on the thread, the media team will select a question, repeat it with the user’s name tagged, and then answers deriving from either the commandant or sergeant major will contain their attribution.

Fayloga said a media team will be present with the commandant and sergeant major, and will field them the questions live as they happen.

“We can’t answer all the questions, of course,” explained Fayloga, “but there will also be some we can’t ignore.”

The town hall is part of Amos’ new found interest in engaging Marines directly via social media, in part because of the unpopular “Reawakening” initiative.

“It’s building on ‘Ask CMC; last time, we solicited for questions and then selected some of the ones we saw the most frequently, and the commandant answered them during a video interview.”

Such a format gave the staff time to not only screen questions, but formulate answers. A live format conceivably puts the Marines and commenters closer to asking the commandant directly.

“Answering in real-time will help reach more people, and those asking questions won’t have to wait and wonder if they’ll get a response.”


The night Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent endeared himself to the Lance Corporal Underground

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From left, Paul Szoldra, creator of The Duffel Blog, retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and Max Uriarte, creator of Terminal Lance. (Photo courtesy of Max Uriarte)

From left, Paul Szoldra, creator of The Duffel Blog, retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and Max Uriarte, creator of Terminal Lance. (Photo courtesy of Max Uriarte)

Something wonderfully awesome happened last night in San Francisco. In case you don’t recognize the guys in this photo, they are:

* Paul Szoldra, an infantry Marine who left the Corps as a sergeant a few years ago and went on the create The Duffel Blog, a satirical website that pokes fun at the absurdities within military culture.

* Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and top enlisted adviser to two commandants.

* Max Uriarte, also an infantry Marine, and the original terminal lance corporal who created the popular Terminal Lance cartoon series. Of course, Max also contributes an exclusive strip to Marine Corps Times each week.

And in case you don’t know the significance of the gesture they’re making, consult Terminal Lance #10 “Lance Corporal Hand-Signal.”

Terminal Lance #10 "Lance Corporal Hand-Signal"

Terminal Lance #10 “Lance Corporal Hand-Signal” (By Max Uriarte)

The whole thing is even more incredible in light of last year’s Duffel Blog piece “Terminal Lance Creator Revealed To Be Sergeant Major of Marine Corps,” a faux-news report saying the controversial cartoon was secretly born at Marine Corps headquarters after Kent and then-Commandant Gen. James Conway grew frustrated with the “sh–load of negative feedback over all the safety briefs we were subjecting our Marines to.”

I checked in today with Paul, Max and the Sergeant Major, and got the gouge on how this extraordinary rendez-vous came to pass. The meeting took place Thursday evening at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel, a San Francisco landmark built in the 1940s. Max and Paul call northern California home. Kent was there on business. In retirement, he co-founded KCK, an organization that works to find jobs for veterans and wounded warriors. Marine Corps Times profiled the venture earlier this year.

Max described their meeting as “one of those rare moments where the universe aligned just right.”

But how did the photo come about? Paul gets credit for instigating it, he told me over Facebook this morning, adding that “Max immediately jumped at the opportunity to get the LCpl sign, showed [Kent] how to do it, and SgtMaj was like, ‘Oh ok. No problem devil dogs.’ ”

Kent, as many Marines know, is a true man of the people, perhaps best evidenced in this profile written by Marine Corps Times former senior writer Dan Lamothe, who accompanied the sergeant major overseas during the months before he retired. As Dan’s superb story describes, Kent has always made an effort to be approachable and for junior Marines to see him as a human being. A case in point: During that trip across the pond, Kent joined a group of Marines during a night of karaoke and even belted out a rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl.”

Indeed, Kent earned high praise within the Lance Corporal Underground after some jokesters doctored the tail end of the 2009 Marine Corps Birthday message, creating a clip known as “The Handshake”? Yes, he’s seen it and, no, he doesn’t mind it. Caution: Contains coarse language.

Those who regularly follow the Duffel Blog and Terminal Lance revel in the same brand of humor. And Kent told me that’s a good thing. “They make warriors laugh, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said during a post-PT phone call Friday morning. “When warriors are taking it to the enemy every day, they need an outlet.”

Paul and Max, whom Kent called “smart, young hard chargers,” deserve a lot of credit, he said. “They’ve seen the horrors of combat, and they truly have love for our Corps; the EGA is branded in their hearts.” And although Sgt. Maj. Kent is familiar with their projects, he said he is not a habitual viewer of either The Duffel Blog or Terminal Lance. That, of course, was before this epic photo went viral.

“I guess I’ll be looking at them more regularly now,” he said.


Modern Day Marine exposition kicks off at Quantico

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A Marine fires his weapon Sept. 8 during the exercise Africa Partnership Station 13. (Photo by Sgt. Marco Mancha)

The Marine Corps’ annual exposition of gear, weapons and vehicles kicks off today at Quantico, Va. It is expected to draw thousands of Marines and civilians from across the country, with a special emphasis on what industry is producing for the Corps.

Marine Corps Times prepared for the expo by producing its annual State of the Marine Corps issue. Out on newsstands this week, it leverages insight from 15 general officers to paint a picture of where life stands in the Corps. If you’re on base and looking, you’ll find it available at the expo.

Highlights of the event include an enlisted awards parade Wednesday at 9 a.m. and a brief to industry involving several senior Marine officers Thursday at 11. The exhibition floor will be open Tuesday morning through Thursday at 3 p.m. A complete schedule of events is here.

Marine Corps Times and its sister publication, Defense News, have several reporters who will be walking the floor at Modern Day Marine and providing updates on our Show Scout site. Twitter also is active with updates through the hash tags #MDM and #MDM13.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett just shared the following on Twitter, in fact:

Commandant @USMC and I are looking forward to being with @MBWDC & @usmcdrumcorps tomorrow for #MDM13 enlisted awards & parade @MCB_Quantico.

New glimmers of hope for wounded warriors with blast injuries

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Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, right, and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett visit medically retired Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco last week at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md. (Photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans/ Marine Corps)

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett visited Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore last week, intent on seeing Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, the first American serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to survive a quadruple amputation.

As I outlined in this feature story, the trip renewed a friendship between the commandant and the soldier, a wise-cracking infantryman with an (unfortunate) love of the New York Yankees. In December, he became the first veteran of this generation’s wars to receive a double-arm transplant, and he has pushed hard with his physical therapy since.

Marrocco doesn’t yet have feeling in his new hands, which came from a cadaver. He was glad to show how far he’s come, though. At one point, the commandant asked him to “pepper it in there” and throw a rubber ball at him. Marrocco, seated with no prosthetic legs on, responded by cheerfully snapping it straight at him.

“Next time we meet, we’re going to sit down and have lunch together,” Amos said. “And, you’re going to be eating cheeseburgers with both of your hands.”

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos tosses a ball back and forth with Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, a double-arm transplant recipient, during a visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

The visit served a second purpose, however. The commandant and the sergeant major had serious questions about treatments that are available for service members who are seriously injured by bomb blasts. The unfortunate assumption, Amos said, is that if you step on an improvised explosive device on a foot patrol, you probably lose both legs. And that’s to say nothing of the gruesome injuries someone can sustain to their genitalia, which many of us who have walked the ground in Afghanistan fear most.

Dr. Andrew Lee, the surgeon who led the operation on Marrocco, told Amos and Barrett that they the stigma to receiving a transplanted arm or hand is diminishing. As soon as a recipient can use it, he said, they claim it as their own.

The process doesn’t end with surgery, however. It takes serious work to gain maximum use of a transplanted hand or arm, and a strict regimen of drugs to make sure the body does not reject the new body part. At least one individual who received a transplanted hand later lost it, Lee said.

Still, there’s hope for a better tomorrow — and not all service members know it. Amos said he recently asked a Marine who lost a hand while serving as an explosive ordnance disposal technician if he had considered getting a transplant, and the man wasn’t aware that was a possibility.

There’s also the matter of “losing your manhood,” as troops typically put it. Lee told Barrett that a variety of research is ongoing in this regard. Johns Hopkins is researching the possibility of transplanting cadaver penises, Lee said, and other institutions are studying how to regrow tissue.

In the middle of all these conversations, you find folks like Marrocco. David Wood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Beyond the Battlefield” explored the pyschological effects that major blast injuries cause, but you also find individuals who are willing to push through to find the new best “normal” they can.

Marrocco said he can’t wait to go quail hunting with his new hands, and with his positive attitude, it’s hard to believe it won’t eventually happen. He lit up with a grin when his doctors described to Amos how much he enjoys proving doctors wrong on how quickly he can recover function in his hands.

“I do,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure that on every occasion, I have.”

Video: Commandant releases new sequestration update

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Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett released a new video update about sequestration on Thursday. (Marine Corps video screen grab)

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said Thursday in a video released by the Marine Corps that the Marine Corps has enough money to continue training through the rest of the year, but is still working to prevent furloughs to its civilian employees.

The video was released one day after the Defense Department’s budget for fiscal 2014 was released amid a federal financial crisis. As laid out here, the new Marine Corps budget calls for $323 million less in military construction spending next fiscal year, affecting some planned modernization and maintenance not directly associated with operational readiness.

Amos said in the video that he is still deeply concerned about whether civilians working for the Corps will be furloughed.

“The very latest information that I have is that furloughs have been delayed until mid-May, with an effective date of mid- to late-June,” he said.

Watch the whole video here:

Sgt. Maj. Barrett tells Marines to step up, stop sexual assault

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The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps issued a video message with some straight talk for Marines on the issue of sexual assault prevention.

Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett told Marines in the passionate message posted Tuesday to “step in and do something.” When the Corps has a problem within its own ranks, they have to own it and fix it, he said.

“There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” Barrett said. “Remember who you are. … Remember who we are.”

The message introduces the Defense Department’s theme for the 2013 Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is in April. The year’s DOD theme is, “We own it. We solve it — together.”

But Barrett tells Marines it’s a message to remember all the time. Sexual assault destroys unit cohesion and devastates Marines, he said. And a failure to act is inconsistent with who Marines are, he added.

“You are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper,” he said. “We always always stand together and protect one another. We always remain faithful.”

There has been a Corps-wide push to tackle the issue the service’s top leaders have identified as a significant problem. The Marine Corps saw 333 reported sexual assaults in 2011, according to a report released in July. However, officials believe the number is likely much higher, as such crimes are under-reported.

Last summer, the Marine Corps’ commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, introduced a new sexual assault prevention campaign that includes training for leaders, as well as an all-hands program for Marines provided by their commanders.  Amos has called the problem’s scope an “ugly mark” on the service’s reputation.

Marine Corps Recruiting Command also launched a program early this year that has recruiters teaching poolees about sexual assault prevention.

“We’re not going to tolerate it,” Gen. Joseph Osterman, who then headed MCRC, said of sexual assault when the command launched the program. “So how do we, from the very first time a person even thinks about becoming a Marine until they retire or get out of the Marine Corps, make sure that they’ve got this woven into everything they do?”

Behind the Cover: Marines prepare for women in combat units

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Pentagon leaders announced last week that they were rescinding the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy that kept women out of ground combat units, raising a host of questions about what will change for rank-and-file service members.

This week, Marine Corps Times addresses many of those concerns. Our cover story is splashed across four pages inside the magazine, and includes interviews with Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett, and other senior leaders.

By now, it seems safe to assume that nearly all of our readers are aware of the announcement Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made on Thursday. Therefore, I took a decidedly second-day approach to the story. I asked about what the Corps will do this year to prepare, which military occupational specialties will be affected and how the service will go about deciding what to keep open to women.

“None of these MOSs will be immediately opened to female Marines,” Milstead said in an exclusive interview at the Pentagon on Thursday. “That’s just not what this means. To simply just open up all MOSs to our female Marines would be irresponsible. We’re not going to just push them in there. We’re going to do that deliberate, measured responsible research to make sure that we can responsibly and safely get them into these MOSs.”

This week’s issue also has a flashy spread outlining what the Corps’ next generation of flame-resistant uniforms will look like. Staff writer James K. Sanborn addresses why the new version will be better than the existing Flame Resistant Organizational Gear, or FROG.

Video: Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett on women serving in combat units

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Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett addresses the Pentagon’s decision to overturn the policy preventing women from serving in ground combat units. The video was released Thursday night, after the change in policy was announced. (YouTube screen grab)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey announced yesterday that they were lifting the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy that bans women from serving directly in the infantry and other ground combat units. The move has been greeted with mixed reaction, with some hailing it as a victory for equal rights and others saying it will weaken the U.S. military.

I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours working on a full-length cover story that will be published soon addressing what the change means for Marines. In particular, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett and Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, sat down with me yesterday afternoon to discuss it.

For now, here’s a video of Barrett that the Corps released last night addressing the change:


Remembering Henry Black, 7th sergeant major of the Marine Corps

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Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett, the Corps’ top enlisted Marine, presents the U.S. flag to the family of the late Sgt. Maj. Henry Black, the seventh sergeant major of the Marine Corps. Black died on Friday at 83. (Photo by Cpl. Cody Fodale)

The country lost a legend on Friday with the death of Sgt. Maj. Henry Black, the service’s oldest surviving sergeant major of the Marine Corps. As noted in an obituary I wrote Monday, Black served in combat in both Korea and Vietnam, even earning a Silver Star for heroism as a junior Marine.

It’s his leadership that Marines miss the most, however. Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the Corps’ 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, recalled Black as a father figure and mentor when I spoke with him Monday. Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett, the Corps’ current top enlisted Marine, weighed in through email yesterday. His thoughts:

SgtMaj Black was a stalwart Marine. I was privileged to spend time with him over the past 15 months. Last Monday I visited with SgtMaj Black, and all he wanted to talk about were the Marines in the fight and how they were holding up … their spirit, morale and welfare. He was talking and thinking about the Marines until his last breath. Like SgtMaj Kent, I valued and relied on SgtMaj Black’s wise counsel and breadth of experience. SgtMaj Black was a selfless servant leader … the Corps has lost a great Marine.

In the photograph above, Barrett is seen this morning presenting the U.S. flag to Black’s family. The sergeant major was buried with full military honors at Quantico National Cemetery.