CROSSED RIFLES / CRISS-CROSSED WIRES
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 11 March 2011
"To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness."
Crossed Rifles: The distinctive symbol centered below stripes on chevrons worn by U. S. Marine Corps lance corporals, corporals, sergeants, staff sergeants, gunnery sergeants, and master sergeants.
First sergeants, master gunnery sergeants, nor sergeants major have crossed rifles on their chevrons, but they wore them when the ranks above. Warrant officers wear distinctive bars that prove they once wore crossed rifles. A small cohort of commissioned officers once wore chevrons bearing crossed rifles. And some the distinctive bars of a warrant. Regardless from whence they came, commissioned officers do not overtly wear (other than expert rifle badges, if so earned) crossed rifles, but they damn sure do in spirit.
Monday morning an email arrived, as one does most every Monday through Friday, from a friend who anchors an unofficial 'Marine-net' forwarding the official "Daily Media Report"--a snapshot of what is going on in our Corps.
Included was a lengthy article (provided below) that appeared in Marine Corps Times. The focus of the article was a discussion/debate as to whether or not only Marine infantrymen should be privileged to wear the distinctive "crossed rifles" or some other new-fangled identifying device.
The idea is not new.
But in more than thirty-one years bearing the title Marine, not once while in uniform, and certainly not since retiring, did it ever occur to me that a non-infantryman, or any Marine--combat arms or not, would be anything other than ready-to-move-forward-under-fire-when-ordered should circumstances so require.
Sometimes fire is gunfire. Sometimes it is not gunfire. But moving forward under difficult times is what Marines--all Marines--do.
Our Marines who move forward under gunfire have a little something extra to stake claim to--knowing enough and discreet swagger authorized. But even the subtlest flashing neon sign--for any ilk--is still a neon sign and contrary to our ethos.
Young Marines--particularly infantry--opined 'yes' to the idea. According to the article, and thanks to social networking sites, thousands chimed in.
Seasoned senior infantry (et.al.) Marines say no.
I'll not bore you with the time-tested logic as to why Marines, regardless of MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), wearing crossed rifles is right. Frankly, it's too bad our Privates and Privates First Class do not wear them (crossed rifles) as some at that rank have earned the Medal of Honor and many others decorations for combat valor and Purple Hearts, and not all were infantrymen.
Some against infantryman distinction, no matter how packaged, see it as a step back toward "I," "me," and "they" and as crowing, trumpeting, or horn-blowing. Hmm. We have horn blowers in the Corps. They breathe life into piccolos, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, saxaphones, trombones, french horns, and sousaphones. Oh, and they are also riflemen and have history of being called upon to do rifleman's work. And some of them moved from infantry and other combat arms MOSs into the band--real and acceptable horn blowing.
So it matters not what famous quote from distinguished mouths one wants to cite about the remarkable fighting spirit and battlefield prowess of U. S. Marines. Every single one refers to "Marines" not "Marine infantrymen" or "infantrymen." There are no footnote qualifiers. Not one.
Marines are recruited and trained to the 'Every Marine a Rifleman' standard; conviction. That mindset, that reality, is the most elemental building block for making Marines. And our Corps entry-level training--everything--from the moment a recruit or candidate stumbles off the bus revolves around "we." Teamwork.
If infantrymen overtly step out or away, what MOS is next? "Marine" will not mean the same.
Leadership must ensure the "Every Marine a Rifleman" tenant is not just a clever tagline--fodder for T-shirts, posters, and bumper stickers, but pulses with every heartbeat, unquestioningly, through every single Marine; for life. Otherwise, "We Band of Brothers" weakens.
Straight-wired NCOs and SNCOs--all Marines for that matter--put your crossed rifles and "crossed rifles" to work. Tend to your brother Marines. Untangle--uncross--their "criss-crossed wires."
Crossed Rifles. Simple as that.
Semper Fidelis, Marines.
"I still need Marines who can shoot and salute. But I need Marines who can fix jet engines and man sophisticated radar sets, as well." General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC (25th Commandant of the Marine Corps)
Two questions: 1) What would General Cushman think about the crossed rifles?; 2) What would all the gentlemanly giants (three come to mind--Generals Lejeune, Wilson, and Barrow) who led our Corps think? Most likely any "discussion" would be pointed, and brief.
"Simplify. Simplify." An elemental yet deep thought offered by Thoreau applicable to everything--even crossed rifles. Though so obvious it can be so difficult--to simplify--to strip away all that's not necessary; all that distracts. It's not so easy.
Simplify. "Crossed rifles" and "Marines" and "we" belong in the same thought...in the same sentence...in reality.
1. Author of the letter to Marine Corps Times sparking the brouhaha is supposedly an NCO assigned to the tenant infantry regiment at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, California.
At last report his "name" was not on unit alpha rosters.
2. The author (not an alias) of this Commentary is an 0302 (Infantryman).
3. And finally...
Since it's March and the Madness beginning, a word about and germane thought from Coach John Wooden (1910-2010), aka: "The Wizard of Westwood," who led the UCLA Bruins basketball team to 10 NCAA Division I championships, seven in a row, in twelve years.
A coach who knew a little something about "we"--teamwork, Wooden told a story some years ago that stuck with me. In short, he had a team rule--no facial hair. Star center Bill Walton, returning for his sophmore or junior year (I don't recall), appeared for Day 1 practice sporting a mop of red hair and a beard. Coach confronted him. Walton, in so many words, explained he was a star...blah, blah, blah. Coach, a gentleman of the first order, politely listened and after Walton finished calmly reminded him of the team rule and told him if he felt that strongly about it he was welcome to keep his beard. Then added, 'Our team will miss you, Bill.' Walton shaved. The Bruins went on to win more championships. And Walton became a better person, and basketball player.
In Coach's words...
"Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
Translation: "All Marines wear 'crossed rifles.'
Marine Corps Times
March 7, 2011
Regardless of military occupational specialty, you are trained to pick up a rifle and charge into battle. You are a Marine, and "every Marine is a rifleman." That message is driven home to every recruit at boot camp. It is a fundamental part of the Corps' ethos.
But is every Marine truly a rifleman? The question alone is enough to incite anger in some. To question this fact is to question the Marine Corps itself.
Here's the reality: Infantry Marines, mainly in the junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer ranks, are openly challenging this long-held assertion. Some say it's obvious, based on mission alone, that every Marine is not , in fact, a rifleman.
And to distinguish themselves from other Marines, some grunts say they deserve a uniform identifier that singles out their service and sacrifice.
Others warn that doing so could disrupt camaraderie and redefine what it means to be called "Marine." Rumors have existed for years, infantry Marines say, of some kind of special identifier in the works to symbolize the role grunts fill - for any Marine in the "03" occupational field. Chatter among Marines online has suggested something as basic as a new pin, to wilder ideas of infantry-specific camouflage. Any special identifier has proven unpopular with nongrunts.
The rivalry between grunts and nongrunts - referred to by many as "POGs," or Persons Other than Grunts - is by no means new. But social networking has made it a lot easier to spotlight dissent between the two groups.
The latest flare-up came in December, when a Marine claiming to be "Cpl. David Morgan" from Twentynine Palms, Calif., wrote a letter to Marine Corps Times concerning the use of crossed rifles on Marines' rank insignia.
"My proposition, which is agreed on by every 03XX that I've ever asked, is this: Make the crossed rifles the 'mark of the infantryman,' " he wrote. "Every 03XX is authorized to wear them for the rest of his career, even if he changes his MOS down the road. We acknowledge that there are many non-infantry Marines who have done incredible things overseas also, so if they earn their Combat Action Ribbon, they are also authorized to wear the crossed rifles for the rest of their career. Make the crossed rifles meaningful. We don't need special recognition; we just want the crossed rifles to be earned." The full letter was posted online ( www.marinecorpstimes.com/rifle/ debate ) and in less than 24 hours, it received thousands of hits and spread like crazy across Facebook, where more than 2,000 people "liked" it. Marine Corps Times received more than 150 e-mails in response, most criticizing the idea. Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the top enlisted Marine, falls decidedly into that camp. Reached by e-mail, he promptly punched holes in the idea, saying "MOS does not make a Marine." "Distinguishing Marines by special rank insignias or patches is not what the Marine Corps is all about," Kent said. "... When asked the question 'What do you do?' Marines always respond, 'I am a United States Marine.' Marines never respond, 'I am a military policeman, infantryman, aviator,' or any other MOS.
"The Marine makes the MOS, and every Marine is a rifleman, regardless of their MOS." And, in theory, any Marine can apply himself and seek to elevate to the upper ranks. Just last year, breaking tradition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates named Gen. Jim Amos, a longtime aviator, the 35th commandant of the Marine Corps - a role traditionally bestowed on a combat arms officer.
Since the crossed rifles controversy exploded online, the author of the letter has repeatedly ignored requests for comment. There is also no record of a Cpl. David Morgan at Twentynine Palms, Marine officials said, leading them to speculate it may have been an alias.
Grunts speak out
Grunts who favor an infantryspecific uniform identifier want to make one thing clear: They know noninfantry personnel perform necessary and important functions. Even so, they feel their own roles on the front lines and under fire rate something more.
"We are the ones that sacrifice the most, and all we ask is for the much-earned respect," said Sgt. Aaron Rankin, a member of Wounded Warrior Battalion, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Rankin, a machine gunner, was wounded by a roadside bomb in 2006 in Hadithah, Iraq, while traveling in a Humvee turret as a member of Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. He fractured his right scapula, dislocated his left shoulder, received shrapnel wounds and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The Marine, who also deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, is in the process of being medically separated.
"The crossed rifles are a symbol of a warrior - a warrior that, with his rifle, is on the front lines, protecting freedom from the enemy that is trying to take innocent lives," Rankin said, stressing that his opinion does not represent the views of his unit. "The rifles should belong to the people that use rifles. Not to the people that cook our food, type on a computer, fix engines, or work in supply. ... There's honor in that they, too, are Marines, but the crossed rifles should belong to the infantry." Cpl. Chris Logan, a machine gunner with Camp Lejeune, N.C.based 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, said that the crossed rifles could be an "attaboy" to the infantry, which is often overlooked, especially when it comes to promotion.
Some nongrunts don't grasp what infantry Marines do outside the wire, said Logan, who deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009 and then to Afghanistan in 2009-2010. After suffering three midlevel concussions in Afghanistan, Logan was ordered to Camp Leatherneck to receive a CAT scan before getting the go-ahead to continue the fight. While on base, he realized not every deployed Marine shares the same experience.
"In the PX, I hear guys - noninfantry MOSs - bitching about the game selection," Logan said. "I'm like, 'I've been sleeping in the dirt for five months, dude! And you're worried about what kind of video games you can buy?' " Some of these Marines do get an eye-opener.
Cpl. Charly Mabry, early in his career, deployed to Iraq as a CH-46 engine mechanic. He was a selfdescribed "hard-core POG" who never left the base. Today, he serves as a combat cameraman. He is on his fifth deployment, this time to Afghanistan with Camp Lejeune's 2nd Marine Division (Forward). He only recently returned from a deployment to Marjah.
Seeing the "life-and-death consequences" that infantry Marines face up close convinced Mabry that they need to be recognized in some fashion.
"We like uniformity, but at the same time, these guys are going above and beyond," Mabry said.
Master Sgt. Travis Wease is a 0369 infantry unit leader with 17 years in the Corps, including two deployments to Iraq. He hasn't been to Afghanistan, but he's working on it. His current title is operations chief for Pendleton's assistant chief of staff of operations and training.
Wease is well-versed in the inequalities infantry Marines face, and he said this isn't the first time he's heard the crossed rifles argument. But while he can understand the resentment grunts hold when it comes to high cutting scores and lowered chances of promotions, he's not sympathetic.
"I tell the Marines, 'Get yourself promoted. ... It's your responsibility,' " Wease said.
Take the areas you're lacking in - be it education, the Combat Fitness Test, Physical Fitness Test or rifle quals - and focus on improving, he said. "I've told Marines, if you max out on CFT, PFT, everything you can do, and you're still not getting the score, I ask, 'Why haven't you gotten meritoriously promoted yet?' " That's tough love from a master sergeant, who added that crossed rifles for grunts is a bad idea because "we are all Marines." "The mark of the infantryman ... already exists," Wease said. "It's the bad back, screwed-up feet and knees, weathered skin, stupid tan lines due to [personal protective equipment], the chip he has on his shoulder, and the s--t-eating grin he has on his face through all of the BS and misery because he knows that he is a grunt."
'POGs' fire back
The origins of the term "POG" date at least to World War I, according to a dictionary of American slang published in 1960 and provided by the Marine Corps History Division. The book references the word "poggie," for an Army recruit and the term "pogey bait," referencing candy provided in military rations. Over time, the term evolved as a general label for any troops who aren't grunts.
To some, it is a derogatory term. But to many of those who spoke with Marine Corps Times, it is a fair assessment of who they are - a Marine who is not a grunt.
"I'm proud of the fact that I'm a POG," said Sgt. Michael Brumley. "I have three different MOSs under my belt right now, besides being a rifleman." Brumley is currently on a temporary duty assignment, serving as the alternate driver for Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West. He cites his MOSs as military police, special reaction team member and personnel clerk.
"If you want to call me a POG, that's fine, but I've got a lot of credentials," Brumley said.
He finds the crossed rifle idea to be "insulting" to all Marines, particularly noninfantry troops who have shed blood.
"Take into consideration the Marines who have deployed overseas that have been blown up by IEDs [improvised explosive devices] or shot, and then were evacuated from theater," Brumely said. "Perhaps they earned the Purple Heart, yet did not earn a Combat Action Ribbon. They spilled their blood in the service of our country, yet by [this letter's] reasoning, they do not rate to wear crossed rifles." Brumley deployed to Iraq in 2006 as an admin clerk. But when he got there, there was no real need for his paperwork skills.
"I never touched a computer when I was over there," he said. "I went out on patrols, I went outside the wire and cleared houses." "My question to a grunt would be, 'Would you rather some Joe Shmoe - some Army cat, some Navy cat you don't know - in a fighting hole with you, or would you rather have that POG in a fighting hole?' " Besides, special recognition already exists in the form of valor awards and ribbons, said Sgt. John Chapman, a data network specialist with Headquarters and Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif. While the awards are not explicitly for infantry Marines, they are in a position to earn them, said Chapman, who has not deployed.
"They are the ones doing the hardest work," he acknowledged. But that doesn't mean only grunts deserve the crossed rifles.
"The crossed rifles have been earned by every recruit to step onto the parade deck at their respective recruit depot and claim the title of U.S. Marine," he said, adding that he has strong marksmanship scores.
In addition, while not a hardcharging, front-line job, Chapman added that his MOS is critical to the mission.
"I myself am in the data networking field and, without the work that my Marines and I complete every day, the command elements attached to these infantry units would be greatly affected," he said.
Second Lt. Andrew Williamson said that recognizing the infantry with crossed rifles would run contrary to the notion of "fraternity." "We rely very heavily on our traditions," said Williamson, a student naval aviator at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. "It establishes us as a separate entity from the rest of the armed forces." "We all joined the Marine Corps to be a warrior for this country." In his e-mail, Kent stressed the importance of all roles within the Corps.
"I honestly don't understand how any Marine could ever believe they are better than another Marine or their MOS is more important," he said. "All we ask of Marines is that they do what the Corps asks of them, and that's what has been happening since 1775."
An identity crisis?
The battle over crossed rifles, and the larger rivalry between grunts and nongrunts, could have larger repercussions for the force, said leaders at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va.
College leaders and instructors recently discussed this debate over an infantry identifying device.
Col. Brian McCrary, course director for leadership and ethics, warned that any identifier that veered from "every Marine a rifleman" could prove problematic for force cohesion.
"Everyone starts out the same" at boot camp, said McCrary, who served as an attack helicopter pilot during Operation Desert Storm. "We're all Marines. There are no differences among us. It's where the esprit de corps comes from. When you differentiate other Marines, you're starting to divide that esprit de corps." Tammy Schultz, director of national security and joint warfare, agreed. A change could "undermine" the tribal nature of the Marines and its proud traditions, which are unique from the other services, Schultz said.
It's possible, Schultz suggested, that this desire for infantry Marines to have special recognition is a "microcosm" of something larger occurring within Marine culture.
"In some ways, the Marine Corps is going through an identity crisis right now, writ large," Schultz said.
Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates challenged Marine leadership to define its role within the military once combat comes to an end in Afghanistan. Leaders within the service have plans to reposition the Corps for the 21st century and usher in a return to its amphibious roots, Schultz said, contrasted with years of landlocked battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
War College Director Col. Michael Belcher, who commanded 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, during the initial invasion of Iraq, said that the front lines have blurred in the current conflicts. Today, nongrunts face the same risks as the infantry, he said: There is no longer a clear front line.
"I don't think it diminishes what the infantry is doing in any way," he said. "I think it elevates the other war fighter." Combat support are taking fire and fighting back.
"On the road to Baghdad, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines ... moved toward Basra. The first casualty sustained was a corpsman. The second was a supply chief," Belcher said. "Were they at any less risk? Were they grunts? No, but they were still heroes." The recent outcry from infantry Marines could also be a generational issue, Schultz said.
People in their teens and 20s have been called the "millennial generation." There has been research that this generation likes being "singled out" and recognized for their achievements, Schultz said. Does that play a role? It's only speculation on the professor's part.
Or, maybe it's just the fact that Facebook and the rest of the Internet has given a venue where Marines can, vent about the Corps, and crossed rifles is just the latest issue to catch fire.
It could all just boil down to the basic rivalry that exists between Marines.
"The second Marine that joined the Marine Corps got harassed by the first Marine," Belcher said - to make a joke, but to also point out the tendency of Marines to bust each other's chops.
"I'm sure this [kind of] argument has gone on for generations," Belcher said.
And while the Corps is its own tribe, it's common for subtribes - grunts and POGs, for example - to exist in any large organization, Schultz said.
"They can be very positive and competitive," she said. "And at the end of the day, it's one team, one fight."