Liars figure and figures lie, as the old adage goes. One can often make statistics fit one’s argument regardless of the statistic … or the argument.
But it’s pretty clear that compared to their comrades in the United States Air Force, Army, and Navy, Marines are very young. Occasionally you’ll hear a senior staff non-commissioned officer or an older commissioned officer refer to them as “kids.”
When my wife and I pass through one of the local USMC main gates, she often exclaims when a particularly young Marine motions us through the gate, “He’s just a baby!” Well, they’re neither babies nor kids. They’ve got to be pretty tough young men and women to successfully earn the title of U.S. Marine.
According to Department of Defense manpower statistics compiled by several websites (including Statisticbrain.com), the average age of a Marine is 25, compared to 29 for the Army, and 30 for the Air Force and Navy.
In the Marine Corp, 45.7 percent are E-3 and below (low enlisted ranks) compared to 26 percent, 25.6 percent, and 28.9 percent for the Air Force, Army and Navy, respectively. The officer to enlisted ratio is 1-to-8.4 for the Marines but 1-to-4, 1-to-5, and 1-to-5.3 for the Air Force, Army and Navy, respectively.
And when figured as a percentage, nearly twice as many Marines are 18- to 21-years old compared to their older airmen, soldiers and sailors.
All-in-all, Marines are younger and of lower rank and experience (some not even 18 when enlisted), and this youth forms a much larger percentage of Marine Corps fighting power than that of the Corps’ sister services.
“So what?” you may ask. Well, those statistics — the overall youth and inexperience of enlisted Marines and the low ratio of Marine officers to enlisted — along with the reputation of Marines for toughness might give you the impression that the relationship between officer and enlisted Marine would be strained, even difficult. That there’s an officer-enlisted “schism” caused by age, experience, education, and skill, even class. “Those high and mighty officers with their fancy college educations in the rear with the gear … nothing but rear echelon types flying desks while the real work gets done in the lower ranks.” Or, “These knucklehead enlisted kids are more trouble than they’re worth.”
While there’s a lot of truth in the above contrived statement about most of the work getting done in the lower ranks, the fact is, if you believe the youth and inexperience of enlisted Marines and penchant for toughness in the Corps means strained relationships between officer and enlisted, you’d be greatly mistaken.
This was clearly displayed at the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing-MCAS Cherry Point headquarters building on New Year’s Eve. I was leaving at noon to grab lunch. The duty officer and the duty clerk were already on watch, a captain and a private first class stuck together on holiday duty. I always feel a little sorry for Marines on duty during holidays, their families far away and lonely without them. If the duty standers get a couple hours of sleep, they’re lucky. TV or computer use is forbidden. The watch standers need to keep their eyes “on the ball” — on security — not on the “ball dropping” at Times Square.
But their eyes were, at least partially, on the chess board this past New Year’s Eve at the Cherry Point command duty hut. They had picked up a “friendly” game. The private admitted he had never played chess. The captain was teaching him a lesson by “crushing him” (a chess term for a decisive win) as it were — over and over.
When I left that evening, they were still playing. The private had not yet won a game. But he was learning.
I hope no trouble will come to that duty officer by my writing this column. Chess is a 500-year old military game of strategy and tactical moves originating in ancient Afghanistan, a country where strategy and tactical moves are still being practiced by Marines today. Chess should be allowed — even encouraged — in the command duty hut, if not computers and TV.
So here’s my point. The duty officer was teaching his young enlisted duty clerk a lesson even more important than the game of chess itself. There are no strained relations between officer and enlisted personnel in the Marine Corps regardless of the differences in age, rank, education, experience and skills.
That captain duty officer on New Year’s Eve was carrying on the legacy of Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 1-0, the iconic Marine Corps directive that orders the officer-enlisted relationship to be “… in no sense one of superior and inferior nor that of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar.”
The Cherry Point Command Duty Officer this past New Year’s Eve was doing his job as a watch stander but more importantly as a Marine officer. And as I left 2013 for 2014, these “friendly” chess games between captain and private were a fine reminder of the time-tested officer-enlisted/teacher-scholar relationships that have stood the Marine Corps so well.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.