A little background
“Perry, if you want to join an organization that will always look out for you, there’s no better place than the Marine Corps”. That’s what my career counselor told me in high school back in 1983. He shared a lot of his impressions with the Corps that I don’t need to go into – most of the armed forces have a dim view of the other forces but Mr. Barnes, a 30 year Air Force retiree, had nothing but positive things to say about the Corps. So I joined, stayed in 16 years, and then was lured out by the promise of big money in Corporate America. Since I got out of the Corps in March of 2000 I have found that most former military function quite well in the civilian sector and are usually a valuable member of any team, or end up being the best managers around.
Once a Marine, always a Marine
Below I’ll discuss what it’s like having a Marine working alongside you in a civilian job. A few explanations are in order. Marines are Marines, regardless of whether they are still in the Marine Corps. “Once a Marine, always a Marine” as the saying goes. The other armed forces…not so much. I won’t get into why one service is better than the others, or how they produce intrinsically different types of people, but just understand that what I explain below goes for all former military, not just Marines…but applies in varying levels based on the Service as well as the individual. The only term I’ll use is “Marine”, because that’s where my comfort level is and it’s easier to say than “Former Military”.
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What do you get when you have a Marine working for you?
Marines have a ridiculously strong work ethic. The work ethic of a Marine is grounded in training every Marine receives and then is hardened throughout the time spent in the Corps. As with any organization, there are “slackers”, but for the most part Marines are energetic, hard working, intelligent and resourceful. Give them a direction and turn them loose. You might want to ensure they know the boundaries and limitations of what they are doing, but after that…turn them loose. The job will get done down to the last detail regardless of the obstacles-that’s what Marines have been doing for over 200 years and that’s what they’ll do for you.
Marines, if ambitious, can be a handful. My first job out of the Marine Corps I found myself working for a former Army dog – this was an untenable situation as he and I just didn’t see eye-to-eye. However, he was my manager (for a very short amount of time) so I did what he said. He immediately discovered that my leadership, personality and skills placed me above most of the people on our team and put me in charge of a small group. It didn’t take long before I had his job – not sure where he is these days. So a word of caution here – if you have a Marine in your midst, understand what his/her ambitions are, feed them, and watch them take off…do it right and this Marine can make you a star in the process.
Marines are in it for the team. You’ll find no greater team player than a Marine, but the team and the leader have to stay caught up. A Marine can run a team ragged with long hours, obsessive attention to detail, and a “don’t quit until it’s done” focus. In the Marine Corps, the smallest unit of a Marine organization is the Fire Team – four Marines grouped together to get the job done at any cost. Each Marine pushes the other past the point of exhaustion when necessary, praising or kicking ass as the situation warrants. But in the end, the job is done. In the civilian sector, this can be a bit unnerving and some co-workers (and managers) will have a problem with keeping up.
Marines have character. Don’t get me wrong, Marines have earned their reputations but Marines will generally “do the right thing”. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps”.
Marines are taught to see the big picture. This has changed over the years – in the past there was definitely a “shut up and do as you’re told” mentality in all of the Armed Forces. In the past decade or so…maybe more…we have seen leadership and big picture thinking pushed down further and further until even the lowest ranking Marine has the big picture view of what the mission is. The reason for this is obvious – in combat your leader might be killed and it becomes the next guy in line’s responsibility to accomplish the mission. Given this line of thinking, it only makes sense that everybody understands the mission.
Marines are leaders. In the Marine Corps it is not uncommon to see a relatively young Marine in charge of large numbers of other Marines – again, this is taught from day one. And when I say “in charge”, I mean ”in charge”. Watch a young Sergeant work with his platoon of about 40 Marines – see how he keeps them in line, focused and engaged. See how those 40 Marines (that would require at least 8 civilian managers) quickly and completely obey this Sergeant’s every word without question, without hesitation. This is attributable to the discipline of the 40 Marines as well as the leadership of the Sergeant. The point here is that, if you have a Marine in your midst, and if he has shown he is willing to function in a leadership position, you might want to let him run with it. The people that end up working for him might have to get over a little shock at first (he might ask for their boot size, blood type or religious preference) but in the end his team will be “shit hot and built to stay that way”, as we say in the Corps.
So there you have it, a sprinkling of what it’s like to have a Marine either working for you or as a manager – what you can expect. There’s plenty more, trust me-I have barely scratched the surface. I would encourage your to explore your workplace and see what Marines or other former military you have. The chances are you won’t have to look to hard. When you find them, talk with them, listen to their crazy ass stories…only believe about one quarter of them…and then be sure to keep an eye on them. If one or more are working for you, consider talking to them about their ambition – do they want a leadership position? If yes, make it happen and hold on tight.
Lastly, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt above, but it would hurt me to finish without providing my all time favorite quote about the Marine Corps as stated by President Ronald Reagan. “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem”.