By Col. Daniel F. Bolger, USA
(Excerpt from DEATH GROUND: TODAY’S AMERICAN INFANTRY IN BATTLE)

“What makes Marine infantry special?

Asking the question that misses the most fundamental point about the United States Marine Corps. In the Marines, everyone–sergeant, mechanic, cannoneer, supply man, clerk, aviator, cook–is a rifleman first. The entire Corps, all 170,000 or so on the active rolls, plus the reserves, are all infantry. All speak the language of the rifle and bayonet, of muddy boots and long, hot marches. It’s never us and them, only us. That is the secret of the Corps.”

“If Army infantry amounts to a stern monastic order standing apart, on the edge of the wider secular soldier world, Marine infantry more resembles the central totem worshipped by the entire tribe. Marines have specialized, as have all modern military organizations. And despite the all-too-real rigors of boot camp, annual rifle qualification, and high physical standards, a Marine aircraft crew chief or radio repairman wouldn’t make a good 0311 on a squad assault. But those Marine technical types know that they serve the humble grunt, the man who will look the enemy in the eye within close to belly-ripping range. Moreover, all Marines think of themselves as grunts at heart, just a bit out of practice at the moment. That connections creates a great strength throughout the Corps.”

“It explains why Marine commanders routinely, even casually, combine widely disparate kinds of capabilities into small units…. Marines send junior officers and NCOs out from their line rifle companies and expect results. They get them, too.”

“Even a single Marine has on call the firepower of the air wing, the Navy, and all of the United States. Or at least he thinks he does. A Marine acts accordingly. He is expected to take charge, to improvise, to adapt, to overcome. A Marine gets by with ancient aircraft (the ratty C-46E Frog, for example), hand-me-down weapons (such as the old M-60 tanks used in the Gulf War), and whatever else he can bum off the Army or cajole out of the Navy. Marines get the job done regardless, because they are Marines. They make a virtue out of necessity. The men, not the gear, make the difference. Now and again, the Marines want to send men, not bullets.”

“This leads to a self-assurance that sometimes comes across as disregard for detailed staff-college quality planning and short shrift for high-level supervision. Senior Army officers in particular sometimes find the Marines amateurish, cavalier, and overly trusting in just wading in and letting the junior leaders sort it out. In the extreme, a few soldiers have looked at the Corps as some weird, inferior, ersatz ground war establishment, a bad knockoff of the real thing. ‘A small, bitched-up army talking Navy lingo,’ opined Army Brigadier General Frank Armstrong in one of the most brutal interservice assessments. That was going too far. But deep down, many Army professionals tend to wonder about the Marines. Grab a defended beach? Definitely. Seize a hill? Sure, if you don’t mind paying a little. But take charge of a really big land operation? Not if we can help it.”

“Anyone who has watched an amphibious landing unfold would be careful with that kind of thinking. The Marines actually have a lot in common with their elite Army infantry brothers, if not with all the various Army headquarters and service echelons. True, Marine orders do tend to be, well…brief. But so do those of the airborne, the air assault, the light-fighters, and the Rangers, for the same good reason: Hard, realistic training teaches soldiers hoe to fight by doing, over and over, so they need not keep writing about it, regurgitating basics every time. More enlightened soldiers consider that goodness. A three-inch thick order, a big CP, and lots of meeting do not victory make. The Marines consciously reject all that.”

“A Corps infused with a rifleman ethos has few barriers to intra-service cooperation. The Army talks a great deal about combined arms and does it down to about battalion level, often with great wailing and gnashing of the teeth. Marines do it all the way down to the individual Marine. Soldiers have defined military occupational specialties and guard their prerogatives like a union shop stewards. Finance clerks don’t do machine guns. Mechanics skip foot marches to fix trucks. Intell analysts work in air-conditioned trailers; they don’t patrol. Marines, though, are just Marines. They all consider themselves trigger pullers. They even like it, as might be expected of an elite body.”

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31 comments
DocZee
DocZee

@DavidWade1 Truth... Semper Gumby! 2/2 Fox 88/90 +/- Chair Force Lol...

The Falconer
The Falconer

A couple of things bear mentioning here. 1) The fact that beneath the chevrons on their uniforms the Marines display crossed rifles (the symbol of the infantry) just about says it all. 2) The fact that the bulk of the administrative work of the Corps is done by the Navy allows the Corps to dedicate more of its personnel and personnel’s time to war fighting. The Army has no such luxury. 3) I was told in Vietnam that Marine officers had to spend the first six months of their tours commanding an infantry unit before they were reassigned to whatever other specialty they had. If this is true this reinforces both élan and Corps cohesion. To get that sort of esprit de corps in the Army you would have to visit an actual fighting unit especially something like the Airborne, Rangers or Special Forces. The personnel not in a fighting unit are really doing civilian jobs but wearing uniforms, i.e. they are soldiers but not warriors.


My first tour in Vietnam I was assigned as an advisor to South Vietnam’s only cavalry unit (though I was Special Forces). Advisory teams were supposed to consist of four men but we never had enough personnel so men would be assigned to us for 30 days TDY from other regular US units, even then we still rarely had a full team, it was generally just two, sometimes three but rarely four.


These TDY personnel were assigned by regimental headquarters informing us by radio what ranks they were and from what units (encoded of course) and whoever’s turn it was would get first pick etc., something like choosing up for a baseball team. 


No one wanted any of the few Marines who came our way because advising was a diplomatic job and the Marine Corps is not exactly the Diplomatic Corps so they were always the last chosen.


 One day it fell to me that I got my first Marine. When this gunny got off of the chopper I was amazed that his knuckles weren’t dragging along the ground and he bore no other simian characteristics. So I thought, “That is why he has been sent to us TDY, he doesn’t reflect the true image of the Marines so they want to get rid of him.” (Normally the TDY personnel were second rate because no commander will send his best people TDY, he needs them for himself.) I was quite impressed with him as the day wore on. He not only had two years of college; could speak in full sentences without every second word being an explicative and he also had a working knowledge of Vietnamese! 

A few days later I told him about the advisors’ reticence about using Marines who weren’t trained as advisors. He then told me that when there was an assignment outside of the Corps the Corps sent its best personnel in order to protect its image! Marine commanders knew to send only their best personnel forward because their choices would be vetted before being sent onward outside the Corps. 


Two weeks later we received another draft of TDY personnel among whom there was another Marine. It being my turn to pick first I took the Marine. He too was impressive. So my team consisted of me and two Marine NCOs. A week later I sent a message to the regimental senior advisor, LTC. Meggason, to the effect that I would take any Marines that came our way since I got along with them without elaborating further. He wasn’t exactly naïve and knew that I wasn’t either so on his next routine visit to the field he took me aside and asked me about my preference for Marine TDY personnel. I told him. His eyebrows went up. He nodded silently took a long pull on his cigar and only said, “Thank you”. He interviewed the two Marines, got back on the helicopter and left. I noticed that we had a sudden upsurge in the number of Marines who were sent TDY to our regiment. 


The Corps has come a long way from from its WWII image of jarheads storming enemy held beaches at horrific losses. 


To tell the truth I too had initially tried to join the Marines but failed both the background and mental examinations; they found out that I was both literate and legitimate. JUST KIDDING, JUST KIDDING! I always knew that Special Forces was my destiny, being that I was tall, handsome, erudite, intelligent, charismatic, multi-lingual and overwhelmingly modest. ;-)!  

USMC0369
USMC0369

I am a retired Marine 0369, I know this article to be true as one year I was tasked to lead the aggressor squad for a Super Squad competition on Okinawa Japan. I was given a bunch of non infantry MOS Marines from all over the base to do the job. With very little refreshing of infantry skills, the Marines provided to me for that evolution were an awesome team that even the infantry squads participating in the comp were impressed with. It is true ...every Marine is a rifleman. 

chimusicguy
chimusicguy

5548 here, USMC Bandsman. I remember clearly on deployments that visiting brass from other services would scoff when they found out that the band was the main brunt of the camp's security force. They would laugh and make the usual jokes. "Oh, what are they going to do, throw drumsticks at the enemy?" Our beloved General Bedard would then point out, calmly and matter-of-factly, that aside the MPs, his band was the only group in the entire camp carrying live ammunition. This ceased further comments.

littleladyusmc
littleladyusmc

As a Female Marine my pride in the Corps will always be the same. We are called arrogant and we are for good reasons.  I'm medically retired now, but would go back to active duty in a heartbeat, the body gave out not my heart. Semper Fi!

ChrisHolley
ChrisHolley

Marine Arty (0811, 0846, 0844 and 0848), But in reality, we're just a grunt with a big gun, Semper Fidelis.... 

watsondonta
watsondonta

As a former active duty Marine I relate to this piece. We all had different jobs but we all would ask each other questions. One of the main questions was would you be able to kill. The answer was always yes. It didn't come out as easy for some as it did others but we all said yes. I at one point volunteered to deploy to Iraq. I was later taken off the list due to my MOS. To this day I still would go. One thing my drill instructor said that made since to me was "you have to be already a little crazy to join the Corps.". It was true most of my friends had come from broken homes. We all had our pass but we all agreed the Marine Corps was our future. Not all of us stayed in the corps many different reason made us separate ourselves from what we loved. In my case a medical discharge in others PTSD. An issue I know well. We carry the burden of life on our shoulders even through the hard times. To protect the life we know we are willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Some may not even ask the questions. Its said once a Marine always a Marine I understand why now. Even though I don't put on that uniform any more I still think the same. I have found myself walking towards gun fire. Also running toward accidents where someone could have been injured. So in closing I love my siblings and Semper Fi.

DavidWade1
DavidWade1

fmf corpsmen I have worked with both soldiers and marine infantry in my short career my brother as well was a soldier. I have immense respect for all branches (except the chair force) just kidding. I will say this being the one they call Doc was a title I hold with pride since it came from the great men of 2/2 weapons company 2011-2014 I miss my marines everyday even though my company is basically all gone out of the corps now. To all veterans we know the price we paid to keep our families safe it is a burden we bear and one we must suffer but know we are not alone for all veterans of this great nation have other veterans to turn to for help for no one will understand or care for a vet like another vet

Tigerman
Tigerman

I was a HAWK systems operator at MCAS Yuma 1988-1992. Tried to go back in 3 months before my 36th birthday back in '05. Recruiter wouldn't even talk to me. Joined the Army National Guard instead. Still in, but would give any1to get back into the Corps (no matter what the MOS is).

Louis Rothenstein
Louis Rothenstein

From an old retired Army CSM. Those of us Army NCOs who have worked with Marines a bit over the years have perhaps a different outlook than some of our officers. We worked with them a little closer to where the rubber meets the road. We had a Marine Corporal working independently with us from 1st ANGLICO. Outstanding support. He was always riding the back seat of an Army Bird Dog providing naval gunfire and air support when available. He trained a few Army and AF guys to do it as well. On an operation in Vietnam (Deckhouse V Jan 67). As an advisor with ARVN it was in my Province. I witnessed most of it from the U.S.S. Iwo Jima as I was just back from a hospital in Japan. It was an amazing thing to see how well things went even though the weather sucked. On my next tour, i witnessed the Cambodian Incursion. In between a VNMC Bn with USMC Advisors and an ARVN Ranger Bn. In my opinion, the two best combat units the Vietnamese fielded. The Marines did great things with that unit, particularly fire discipline. I also had three Marine SSGs working as PRU advisors in the AO. The other services had 7s or 8s attached to CORDS They did well. Later as a 1Sgt at an Army school I worked a joint project outlining what our 1Sgts were supposed to do (pretty similar) I learned that what the Army needed was a Company Gunny and field meritorious promotions. I had 25 or so Marine intel instructors attached to my company and they were among the top supporters of all our activities. One Captain retired as a Marine LTG. I recall that the Marine Finance office screwed up the pay and travel pay for every one of them that came in. Thank God for DFAS. When I was an instructor at the Army Sergeants Major Academy, I always asked to have at least one Marine with my group to provide that different outlook and sharing of experiences. As a CSM at a command and post, we had Marine I&I staff and some specialized elements living with us and they always did more than their share. As a retiree, I belong to many different organizations. Among them I am an Associate Life Member of the Marine Corps League. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was a member of the Marines Memorial Assn. The MCL locally supports a great program with the Devil Dogs and raises funds for charitable operations in the community. My association with Marines through the years has been very, very positive and I treasure the memories. My Army is organized different. Those who served in good combat divisions and special operations units have their primary allegiance with those units during and after service. Our combat support and service support unit folks who served with those elements feel the same. I think what makes a Marine perhaps a little different is that they always carry out their mission expertly and with little whimpering. Their training has that extra whatever it is that one sees in Ranger units. They take care of one another while accomplishing difficult tasks. They leave no one behind. I read one time years back that their is no other group of people in America more successful in the business world as former USMC officers. I believe that is partly due to the little bit more emphasis the Marines place on mission accomplishment, often in less than ideal conditions. I never saw a Marine NCO get into any trouble or caused any problems when they worked with the Army. Someone instilled in them that a Marine never embarrasses the Marine Corps. That is so important when someone in uniform works away from a unit and military installation and in the eyes of the public. That is a good thing and perhaps part of character building not seen everywhere as well executed as the Marines do in our military services. If the author ranks the USMC as the worst branch to join, loyalty, character and integrity were apparently not in his criteria. The Marines instill these values in their officers and men. In the end game, nothing is more important than these.

Michael Pressley
Michael Pressley

Folks that have not been in the Corps have no business trying to explain it. And General Armstrong was my Dad's CO when he was stationed at Barksdale AFB in the fifties.

D. Frank Dalton (OUTLAW)
D. Frank Dalton (OUTLAW)

Once a Marine always a Marine! Being a Marine is not an occupation, it's a way of life until you go to guard the streets of gold!!

Dave meade
Dave meade

Good morning marine!!!!!! Myself ,75-78 barracks marine peace time Can I get your webLog-page direct Without going to twitter???? Semper fi Meade

Sgt. Mike
Sgt. Mike

Nothing commands more respect in a room full of veterans than the words "I'm a Marine". Served for 7 years, MOS 0311. What makes us different? There is nothing a Marine and his rifle can't do, enough said. I admire all veterans, I understand Marines.

jose barelas
jose barelas

MY NAME IS JOSE BARELAS, I GO TO SCHOOL AT FOSTER ELEMENTERY. IM DOING A PROJECT ABOUT WHAT MAKES THE MARINES DIFFERENT FROM THE ARMY AND WHY MARINES DO WHAT THEY DO. IF YOU CAN SEND ANY KIND OF INFORMATION I WOULD APPRECIATE IT. YOU CAN SEND IT TO THE EMAIL ADDRESS LISASMITH@DALLASISD.ORG OR LISA SMITH C/O FOSTER ELEMENTARY CLOVER LANE DALLAS TX 75220. I LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING BACK FROM YOU. THANK YOU,JOSE

Dawn
Dawn

Coming from a Marine Mom this is oh so right if I've been listening to my Marine sons correctly. They requalify in many different areas and are always considered a rifleman. Even though my son is in supply in Afghanistan (no off base duties) he still has to bring his weapon with him where ever he goes.

DJ Black Adam
DJ Black Adam

>Pretty fair assesment. The ARMY doesn't want to admit it, but (as Jack said in "A Few Good Men") "Deep down in places they don't want to talk about at parties, they want us on the wall, they NEED us on that wall..."

raytheon91
raytheon91

Show love for the step-child MOS 0861

cleffer
cleffer

@Tigerman DUDE!  Smith here from Yuma! Contact me at cleffer at yahoo dot com!!

Cpl. Beddoe
Cpl. Beddoe

"I admire all veterans, I understand Marines" Roger that.

dragoneye12002
dragoneye12002

@Dawn Our bullets wouldn't fly without supply. Tell your Son "Semper Fi, POG!"

ChrisHolley
ChrisHolley

@raytheon91 your no step child, your the eyes and ears of arty....(I was one back in 1980 (served as a 0846 before it was changed to 0861 with BLT2/4) until I retrained and changed  MOS to 0844/0848 back in 1983). That's when the Corps restructured with the M198s. I started out as an 0811 on the M101A1 and later M110.  Party with arty...

Stickman85
Stickman85

@cleffer @Tigerman Stickman here, are you on the 2nd LAAM Bn group on FaceBook?


RubenCastillo
RubenCastillo

@Stickman85 When did they start a FB page?!  I was in 2d LAAM Bn from 1986-1989 and loved every minute of it!


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