On June 10, senior analyst Meaghan Doherty Myers participated in the 2016 Marine Corps Executive Forum (MCEF) – a day-long program for civilian community leaders to learn about the operational capabilities and programs of the U.S. Marine Corps. Held annually in Washington, D.C., the MCEF provides a valuable opportunity for executive leaders across academia, business, and community organizations to meet with USMC leaders and gain insights about the priorities and challenges facing the Corps.
By Meaghan Doherty Myers
My decision to apply for the Marine Corps Executive Forum back in March was driven mainly by a long-term fascination with the USMC, strong urging from a Marine aviator friend (Lt.Col. Dave Berke), and desire to learn more about what differentiates the Corps from other Services in this day and age. As a former PR account executive, perhaps it was the timeless and inimitable “The Few, The Proud” campaign that piqued my original curiosity, but since then I’ve retained a special interest in the civ-mil dialogue and how each of the branches addresses this important issue and seeks to inform the broader public on its objectives and challenges. Although the project work that I’ve completed at Avascent has bolstered my understanding of the Corps from an outsider’s perspective (e.g. budgets, platforms, investment priorities), participating in the MCEF offered me and other participants a unique vantage point that highlighted the human element of the Corps – the teamwork, collaboration, and camaraderie – that collectively serve as the Marine Corps’ most defining features.
The first stop on our itinerary was the Pentagon, where we would meet for a networking breakfast before attending a briefing with senior USMC leadership. The excitement, however, began as soon as we entered the building. While huddled in the vestibule before the first security checkpoint, General Dunford – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – walked in. Excusing himself politely while navigating through our groggy mass, several participants managed to sneak in handshakes. Needless to say, it was a high point of the morning.
Following our networking breakfast, we were ushered into a briefing room where a staff sergeant gave us a 30-minute overview of current USMC operations worldwide. In addition to explaining key concepts such as the MAGFT (Marine Air-Ground Task Force), he described ancillary duties of the Marine Corps such as to advise and assist missions and humanitarian response. We then had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with Brigadier General David Furness, the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant, General Neller. When asked to describe the top priorities of the Marine Corps, Brig. Gen. Furness’ response was refreshingly candid. The three priorities he enumerated were: recapitalization and modernization of USMC aircraft; Navy-USMC integration; and controlling rising personnel costs. One of the Marines attached to us for the day was a former F/A-18 pilot, which provided an ideal resource to discuss aviation priorities and challenges.
Before leaving the Pentagon, our group was directed to the Pentagon Press Briefing Room, where each participant was given a photo op behind the massive podium (which, I learned, is operated by hydraulics and is therefore adjustable for briefers of all heights).
Our next stop was the Marine Corps War Memorial, more commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial. Here, our Marine team discussed the history of the monument and the scene it represented on Mount Suribachi in February 1945 when Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division raised the U.S. flag. The image was captured by photographer and war correspondent Joe Rosenthal in a lucky shot that he initially thought to have missed. Just before leaving, it was noted that PFC Ira Hayes – one of the five Marines immortalized by the statue – was interred just a short distance from the monument in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery.
QUANTICO: SEMPER GUMBY
Departing the Iwo Jima Memorial, we headed for Quantico – the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps” – to participate in a martial arts demonstration, live-fire exercise, and a flight tour in a USMC V-22 Osprey. Before reaching our first destination, the bus made a sudden turn down a poorly-constructed dirt road littered with signs reading “Road Closed”. Undeterred, the sergeant driving the bus navigated around each sign, taking us further down the road. It wasn’t until we reached the ditch at the end of the path that an attempt to turn around was made, the sergeant finally acknowledging that perhaps the road was, in fact, closed. During the five minutes or so required to get back on track, one of the staff sergeants attached to our group took the opportunity to explain Semper Gumby, an adaptation of the official motto Semper Fidelis (“always faithful”), meaning “always flexible”—a critical element for all Marines.
During our afternoon at Quantico, we were exposed to a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) demonstration, a live fire exercise, and – finally – the long-awaited V-22 Osprey flight. Before watching four Marines practice martial arts techniques, their instructor described the evolution of USMC martial arts from the Korean War to the present day. We learned that Marine Corps martial arts is differentiated in that it’s an amalgamation of multiple different global techniques and incorporates elements of taekwondo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and muay thai. One of the particular highlights of the demonstration was witnessing a female Marine, substantially smaller than her opponents, employ a variety of martial arts tactics to escape one of their prepared scenarios. Within ten seconds, all three opponents were face down in the gravel.
The live fire exercise and V-22 flight were the most exhilarating experiences of the day and reinforced my life-long preference for ground-based activities. After an efficient safety brief delivered by the range sergeant that covered all the main points (e.g. “The gun will shoot where you point it,” “Aim downrange,” “Aim anywhere else and you’ll be tackled,” etc.), we were assembled into small groups to test a series of standard USMC weapons. With seemingly limitless ammo and an open range the size of two football fields, I opted to try the SCAR rifle, the M-16, and the Beretta 9mm.
Although many of us could have easily stayed on the range for the rest of the afternoon, we were then escorted to a nearby landing zone where a shiny V-22 Osprey awaited our group. Earlier in the day, we were informed that there would be two options for the V-22 flight: the ‘easy’ ride and the ‘fun’ ride. However, due to time constraints, we soon learned that there was only time for one flight, so a hybrid ‘easy/fun’ solution was proposed—whatever that meant. Once we were all aboard and strapped in, the pilot assured us that we were “good to go!” and initiated the vertical take-off. The initial part of the flight was riveting, hovering over Quantico and looking out through the open back hatch before experiencing the slight jolt that occurs when the rotors tilt and wings rotate. What came next was unexpected: after 2-3 minutes of steady flight, the pilot initiated what they call the ‘fun’ ride—a series of aerial stunts and maneuvers that left many MCEF participants longing for solid ground. Exhilarating as it was, I doubt many of us would have volunteered for a second round.
“THE MARINES HAVE LANDED” – THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE MARINE CORPS
Our penultimate stop of the day was the National Museum of the Marine Corps a few minutes from MCB Quantico. Easily one of the most impressive military museums in the world, I was particularly taken by the layout of each exhibit relative to the others: instead of merely entering and exiting galleries sequentially as one often does at historical museums, here the exhibits seem to blend naturally from one into the next, giving visitors the impression that the history of the Marine Corps is more of a long-winded story than independent chapters. Visitors can wander from the Battle of Belleau Wood to Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Chosin, Fallujah, and dozens of other historic battles in less than a mile of walking. Although a mere 90 minutes was insufficient given the breadth of their permanent collective, the National Museum of the Marine Corps is definitely a place to return in the future. On my way out, I couldn’t help but snap a photo of one of the quotes etched into the ceiling of the museum, attributed to war correspondent Richard Harding Davis as the Marines entered Panama in 1885: “The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.”
EIGHTH & I
The MCEF came to a close at one of the most historic buildings in all of Washington: 8th and I, the “Oldest Post of the Corps.” The Marine Corps Barracks was first established in 1801 and has housed every Commandant of the USMC since 1806, including the current Commandant, Gen. Robert B. Neller. Although the Evening Parades, held every Friday at the 8th and I Barracks during the summer months, are open to the public, MCEF participants were invited to the Commandant’s reception prior to the parade where special guest Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii distributed authentic lei for those in attendance. The parade began promptly at sundown and will remain in my memory as one of the most impressive demonstrations of discipline, skill, and commitment to detail. It was a moving and meaningful way to conclude the day.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Despite having learned a bit more about aviation modernization efforts, force structure challenges, and budgetary issues facing the Marine Corps, my main take-away from the Marine Corps Executive Forum is that having these types of interactions matters deeply. Being exposed to and gaining an understanding of military culture, values, and priorities is important for civilian community leaders, especially for those working in defense-related industries. I consider myself very fortunate to have had this informative, meaningful opportunity.