Marine Corps Commandant Explains Plans to Confront Record Suicides and Sexual Assaults in 2012
by Marine Corps General James Amos
National Press Club, Aug. 28, 2012
General James Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, discussed the role of the Marines as America’s crisis response force at a National Press Club luncheon on August 28, 2012. Since being confirmed in October 2010 as the first career aviator to lead the Marines, Gen. Amos has overseen a force exhausted by a decade of war. He recently embarked on a worldwide tour to warn Marines to clean up their act after a series of embarrassing incidents pointed to a breakdown in the storied discipline of the Corps.
Transcript excerpts below quote Gen. Amos, the Marine Corps’ top officer, as he explained two very different approaches he has ordered in response to the two most critical leadership challenges facing the Marine Corps during 2012 and beyond — record suicides and sexual assaults.
Three years ago uh — and by the way, we’ve got, we’ve got a family member of the Marines that is affected by this, um, a couple years ago … so bout three years ago we hit, we hit the top of uh probably the most we’d ever, in fact the most we’ve ever had since we started tracking. And it’s 52.
We put a full court press on the leadership and interestingly enough it was the young corporals and sergeants that came forward and said ‘let us do this.’ So we spent no shortage of effort and put together interactive videos with real Marines using the language that real Marines use which surprise everybody we would actually put something in print like that and the Marines talk to one another in this and it was led by non-comissioned officers. The next year the suicide rate dropped to I think from 39 to 52. Last year it dropped to 32.
This year we’ve, we’ve gone back and now we have the same interactive video. I mean that’s what the youngsters of today they’re electronic. They learn by that, as long as you don’t try to throw a bunch of garbage at ’em.
And we’ve got it for young officers. And are really what I call our ‘baby Marines,’ you know our brand new ones. So we’ve got that out there. But even at that, even with the attention of the leadership, I think all the services this year, we’re feeling it. And uh, I guess what I would tell everybody here is, it is through no shortage of, of great effort and leadership on the part of all the services to try to abate this. But this year I think is gonna be a tough year for all the services.
We convened last May what we call an ‘operational planning team.’ Let me just explain what that means to you. When we were preparing to cross the border into Iraq, or do operations in Afghanistan, you bring together the best minds that you have, and from a variety of different sources, and you do the planning.
So it’s collaborative, it’s cross military occupational specialties, talent, everything. And that’s the way we do business when we are going to do something really really important and difficult and challenging.
So I hand-picked 20 Marines, officers and staff NCOs. The staff NCOs were all sergeants major except for one, who was a master gunnery sergeant. The officers were all commanding officers led by a general. He had just come out of Afghanistan, former division commander, a great great leader in his own right.
And I pulled the regimental commanders, and all these high-priced leaders from across the Corps. And for two weeks convened the operational planning team to define the problem of sexual assault in the Marine Corps. In my Corps. What’s the problem? Help us all to understand what ‘ground truth’ is. And then armed with ground truth, how do we proceed? How do we turn this around?
So they did that. They gave me, I sat. In fact Bonnie (points to audience) sat with me when I took the second debrief from them. And then they went away for two weeks and they came back for another two weeks and we, and we finished up. And they developed a campaign plan to eradicate sexual assault in the Martine Corps.
I think it’s revolutionary. It’s very directive. I think it’s it’s all inclusive. It is being led by the senior leadership of the Marine Corps.
I brought all the generals in; we’ve only got 85 generals in the Marine Corps. I brought all all of them in — exception of probably a half a dozen that were deployed — back to Washington the second week in July. And we spent two days going over all the data, all the information from the sexual assault OPT. Introduced the campaign plan to ’em and then I directed them with their responsibility in this.
So now we’ve got the campaign plan. We are … we’ve got classes going on. And guess whose leading the classes? It’s not … it’s not, uh, some young 21-year-old, uh, corporal. It’s the general officers. It’s the colonels. It’s the sergeant major.
So we needed to have buy-in from the very top. And I think we’ve got that. So where are we headed? We are headed to zero. Will we get there? I don’t know. We’re part of society today and this is probably one of the most challenging things I have to deal with as a service chief.
But I tell you what, my women — I have only got 13, 000, I think, 700 females out of 200,000 males, or 200,000 total. So again, I’ve got a small slice of females. But I’ve looked every single male Marine in the eye that I could — while the sergeant major and I were traveling — and I said, ‘you need to understand that my females are just as important to me as my males are.’ And I think they believed me. Right now they believe me.
So, this is a fight. This is not going to to be won this year; not going to be won next year. And I tell you what. I am absolutely bound and determined that we’re gonna to do something about this thing.
One of the things that absolutely has to happen, right up front, is our females have to be confident enough in the leadership; both the officers, commanding officers, the sergeants major, their bosses … uh … to come forward when something has happened. They have to be confident enough to come forward and say ‘this happened’ and not … not be afraid of … of … of … of … uh … of some sort of recompense … uh … being … uh … being … uh … drug through the facts publicly.
This is a personal thing with me. We intend to turn it around in the Marine Corps.
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos, Marine Corps Operational Planning Team, Military Rape, Military Sexual Assault, Military Sexual Trauma, Military Suicide, National Press Club, Suicide prevention