We all need real discipline from time to time

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 03:21 PM.

A Marine colonel infantry officer, my boss, exclaimed, "Fetzer, you are so … !," poking me hard in the chest, the volume of his admonition and force of his stabbing finger increasing with each strongly enunciated word. Of course, I have left out the exact expletive that completes the sentence.

Standing at attention but leaning forward into the colonel’s stabs so I wouldn’t stumble backward and break my stance when he hit me, I was being "coached." As the 42-year-old commanding officer of a deployed-at-sea aviation combat element (a squadron) comprised of 28 aircraft and 500-some Marines and sailors, my boss was unhappy with my unit’s performance, and he was showing it.

I can’t say I enjoyed being yelled at, harshly criticized, or poked in the chest. Does anybody?

But frankly, I deserved to be briskly coached, disciplined, and admonished. All of that.

Did I deserve to be poked? Well, that just came with the turf and the time. The colonel was a hard man. And we were Marines. Man to man. Raised and tempered by a throng of disciplinarian men, including my dad, coaches, teachers and drill instructors, I’d been through far worse than the colonel could dish out. And if you can’t handle a dressing down and a few finger stabs in the chest without running off to the powder room sobbing, how the heck will you be able handle the rigors of combat and capture by the enemy or, closer to home, the mental and physical demands of contact sports?

Anyway, I knew the score. As commanding officer, everything that happened or failed to happen in that squadron was ultimately my responsibility. My team had performed poorly. I was responsible for its failures. I deserved what I got from the colonel and the colonel clearly got his point across. I really wasn’t any worse for the wear.

A lot’s changed in 20 years. Not only is physical discipline or touching Marines (in a disciplinary way) frowned upon if not outright forbidden, even simply pointing at Marines with an opened palm and rigid fingers — some call this gesture a "knife hand" — and raising one’s voice to add emphasis may be discouraged.

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