A Talk With Gen. James Jones, USMC  Commandant

View From The Top: A Talk With Gen. James Jones, USMC  Commandant
Pacific Stars and Stripes
April 21, 2002

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Jones, sat down with Stars and Stripes on Wednesday to talk about transformation, how the Corps works with other services and a host of other issues. President Bush is expected to nominate Jones to head the European Command in the fall. It would be the first time a Marine has held the post. What follows are excerpts from that interview.

Stripes: One of the things I've heard from the fleet is that there isn't enough time to go through training of martial arts. Is the Marine Corps doing anything to improve upon that?

Jones: Well, I think the commanders are going to have to decide how much time they want to allocate to the development of the skill. When troops are really enthusiastic about something, and they are looking for the training schedule and saying 'Hey, where is the martial arts program?' eventually the commanders find time to give them what they want. It's a question of growing the culture and doing it incrementally, but also not losing sight of the fact what we're really teaching here is character and self-discipline, judgment, confidence, and only in last place the physical skill.

My message to commanders is: Don't award this belt to people whose character and whose behavior doesn't justify it. The last thing in the world I want is an army of undisciplined ninjas.

So far, the statistics for the units who have gone into this show a marked decrease in incidents of lack of discipline and alcoholic consumption, drug abuse. And all these things go down because they're learning the value of being centered and being disciplined and being in control of yourself all the time.

Stripes: Do you think the typical 18-year-old is ready for Eastern philosophy and being centered?

Jones: When we ran the sample test program as to how we were going to shape it, I read every critique by every Marine.

Many, many of them said, 'I used to feel like I always had to prove my manhood - because now I was a Marine, I was expected to be tough, so I wanted to show everyone I was tough until I went through this training, and now I see I am confident in what I can do and who I am.' There's greater skill in avoiding a fight and walking away from it, particularly one in a bar or situations where acts of reckless and undisciplined ... would be prone to be exacerbated by alcohol abuse and everything else. Before you fight, before you beat your spouse, before you commit your DUI, the overwhelming percentage of anything bad that happens, even drugs. Before they do drugs, they get drunk.

It's a statistic that, to me - this is a way of fighting it, of teaching. Do we get them all? No, absolutely not. But let me tell you, they all want that belt.

Believe it or not, we had couple thousand of people fired up to do this. It's been really good, I think. Potentially very transformational, not only in physical ability, but in improving discipline in the ranks and teaching young people the values. When you tie it to something they really want, it becomes more meaningful.

Stripes: Speaking of transformation, tell me a little bit about the future of the Marine Corps and where you're going.

Jones: Transformation is an interesting word, because it's being used all over the place. The Marine Corps thinks about transformation in four ways: One is the most obvious, which is leap-ahead technology. Two is institutional reform.

Three is operational concepts that can be transformed as a result of new things that we couldn't do in the past.

The fourth piece is a little bit radical, but I believe really has to be done and that is acquisition and business reform and how we spend the taxpayers' resources.

A simple example of that, [is] generally most technology seems to be changing about every 18 months to two years, we have an acquisition cycle in the department that is a 10-year acquisition cycle, so the implications are, if you can't stay abreast and change your buying patterns, you're buying stuff that's already old by the time you get it. As you can see by some of our major weapons systems, like the F-22 and the V-22, which has been on the books for over 15 years, you have to be really carefully because potentially some of the things in the design have been there for so long they are obsolete.

Stripes: Do you agree with the idea that we'll never have that storm-the-beach type front again, and if so, why are you still training for that?

Jones: We don't.

Stripes: You don't train for that?

Jones: What you've said is the absolute classic of how the Marine Corps is perceived. And on the one hand, it's a wonderful history. The sands of Iwo Jima, the shores of Tripoli, Guadalcanal, Okinawa - the age-old view of Marines coming ashore, hitting the beach, fighting tooth and nail against the dug-in enemy.

Stripes: Isn't landing part of [Pacific exercise] Balikatan though?

Jones: Oh, we do that. But here's the difference: The word I would like to see disappear from our lexicon is amphibious and I'd like it to be replaced with expeditionary.

I can't imagine too many scenarios in the future where we would knowingly and willingly expose large numbers of people to the risk of a World War II-type of operation, which we don't have to do anymore. We wouldn't even do Iwo Jima, if we had to, the same way we did in 1945. We would not do that, and we don't do that now.

The two MEUs that went ashore in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, they went where the enemy wasn't, to build up the position, 300 to 400 miles from the beachhead.

Now, did we use the beachhead in conventional ways? Yeah, we did. Big LCACs (Landing Craft, Air Cushion) came into Pakistan. We staged the gear there, and we carried it 300 to 400 miles inland.

This was not a force-on-force engagement. It's like people say 'How are you going to get through the minefields?'

First answer to that, the first thing I care about is locating the minefields. Once we know where they are, we'll go around. You go around it.  Why would you want to go through a minefield if you've got the technology not to do that?

In the old days, we didn't have that choice. Slow-moving amphibious tractors. Now the AAAV (Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle) is almost 40 knots and, by the way, it's on top of the water. If you're worried about minefields, Public affairs officer: General, we've already gone over our allotted time. Jones: I apologize for talking too much. It's not an intentional technique.

I do that intentionally on the Hill, but not to the media.

Stripes: Last question, probably one on everybody's mind. When are you going to Europe?

Jones: Europe's a great vacation spot and I hope to take my wife over there for a cruise on the Danube or something like that. I haven't been nominated and logistically, it's very premature for me to say anything about that.

Stripes: What does it say if you do assume the position? Is it a message going to the Army to have someone from the Marine Corps assume that position?

Jones: I think that in the assignment process for all of the important military jobs, let's say the four-star jobs, the commanders in chief, the unified commanders and the like and service chiefs, obviously service chiefs' jobs are going to be filled by servicemembers from that service, but in the unified command, it's a matter of policy ... I think - the secretary (of defense) has tried to put people out there since I've been watching him, are people he has faith in.

I think he's less influenced by the color of the uniforms than by who he has faith in. He's spent a lot of time building consensus. I've been consulted privately by the secretary, as have all my counterparts, as have all the unified commanders. All have had plenty of say at the table as to who the guys are. I think my responsibility in providing the input is to recommend people who are the best people for the jobs and the color of the uniform should be secondary. So, that's my view of the process. Whether or not I get nominated, we'll see.

Stripes: If you don't, what's next?

Jones: My tour is over on the 30th of June of 2003, and that will be 36½ years. After college, I drove a taxicab for Arlington Red Top Cab Company. That seems like a good way to spend a few years.

Stripes: General, what in your daily job do you really get a kick out of?

Jones: I really get a kick out of the enthusiasm of the young Marines coming up. The Marine Corps I see is a very social organization. I try not to make it a hierarchy or a bureaucracy where the commandant sits up there and says you will do this and you will do that. I spend most of my time going around talking to young officers and young Marines and asking what they think about things. This uniform was designed by 25,000 Marines. The old guys wanted a different collar. For example, they wanted the standard collar we have with the sharp point. All of the young guys, all of the young Marines wanted this type of collar. This isn't the collar I would have picked, to be perfectly honest. But on the Internet, of the 25,000 Marines who participated, 90 percent of them said this is what we want on our uniforms. Being able to do that, and, to get back to your question, it is absolutely an experience to talk to the young people who are coming up. Too many times in the military we spend a whole lot of time focusing on young people meeting our expectations. I see it as a two-way street. And that's what makes it fun, the two-way street.