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Many Marines may not realize that the movie " A Few Good Men " was inspired by actual events that happened at Marine Barracks, Ground Defense Force, Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba in 1986. The author, Aaron Sorkin, got the idea from speaking with his sister who was part of the Navy JAG team sent to GTMO to help defend a group of Marines.
As a young Officer, I was assigned to Marine Barracks, GTMO in 1986 after this incident took place. I had just completed my first tour (with 2nd Marine Division). Operating in the aftermath of this incident was a significant leadership challenge to say the least. Several Officers had been relieved, and a new chain of command was in place before I arrived. It was immediately evident that there had been significant leadership failures throughout the previous chain of command that directly contributed to one Marine coming close to death at the hands of his fellow Marines. Additionally, several Marines (there were more than two involved) had potentially productive careers cut short because they were absolutely loyal to their seniors. The accused Marines came very close to killing one of their fellow Marine's in a hazing incident that was ordered by one of their Officers. "Code Red" was the actual term for their version of a blanket party. Leadership Lessons from a Few Good Men: - Moral Courage: Know when to disobey orders that are illegal, immoral or when common sense dictates they are wrong. Someone in the chain of command should have stopped the "Code Red". Every Officer in the chain of command made serious mistakes that directly and indirectly contributed to the incident. Additionally, none of the NCOs or the SNCO involved stepped in to stop the incident. The SNCO did not step in and tell his NCOs "I know what the Lt said, but if you touch that Marine I'll have your..." -Know your Men: Every NCO in the unit, and all of the NCOs involved in the incident were on their first duty assignment. They may have been wearing NCO stripes, but they lacked fleet experience, and were immature. All they knew of the Marine Corps was what they learned at boot camp and they saw at Marine Barracks, GTMO. Their Platoon Commander placed the accused Marines in a terrible position. Several months after the incident I had a Marine in my unit ask me "Sir, why don't you ever come to the E-Club after we get off the weekly fence-line guard duty and drink beer with us like Steve did?" The majority of Marines were on a first name basis with their Platoon Commander. Many were on a first name basis with the Company Commander as well. Their Officers caused them to confuse loyalty to them with loyalty to the institution. The accused Marines really believed they were doing the right thing. A Cpl, who was not involved, later told me he felt he had let his Marines down (some of his men had been accused). I thought he was going to say he should have attempted to stop them. Amazingly, he said he felt he should have been on the "Code Red" with them. -Look out for the welfare of your Marines: Every Marine in your charge is your responsibility! Whether you personally like them or not, as a leader it is your professional responsibility to ensure their well being and safety. It is also your responsibility to help your Marines improve. The NCO creed clearly states that your Marines are a reflection of you. It may take days, weeks or months, but it is your responsibility to help them to become better Marines (and thus when they EAS better citizens). Not only was the "Code Red" illegal, it was a lazy excuse for leadership. By not preventing it, the Chain of Command ultimately failed those Marines who executed the "Code Red" as well. Their Officers failed every enlisted Marine involved in this incident. They had a responsibility to each Marine's family to return them better than they found them. -Loyalty: Loyalty is a two way street. You must be loyal to your subordinates as well. Everyone was loyal to their seniors, but who was loyal to their subordinates? The command climate was such that loyalty to the institution was completely replaced with loyalty to the individual. The Marines had been conditioned such that being loyal to their Officers superseded being loyal to the Marine Corps. To their Marines it was one and the same. -Justice: The Marine Corps wide system for administrative and disciplinary action is there for a reason. It isn't the Guantanamo Bay Marine Corps, it is the United States Marine Corps. A leaders personal beliefs, duty location, religious beliefs etc.. should never come into play. It was impossible for the Officers to be fair and impartial because they fraternized with their Marines. -Command Climate: It is every leaders responsibility to establish a positive command climate. The climate at the Marine Barracks may have been fun, but it wasn't positive. The Barracks CO created a horrible environment for his Marines and it cascaded all the way down to the lowest level in the headquarters, supporting units and Rifle Security Company Windward RSC(W). RSCW was co-located on the same side of the base as the Barracks HQ. It is worth noting that Rifle Security Company Leeward had no problems and continued to function as an extremely effective unit during this entire time. They were remotely located away from the Headquarters (across the bay) and had outstanding young officers who provided effective leadership in spite of the Commander. The Officers (on mainside) bent and broke regulations without any thought about the example they were setting for their Marines. A climate of entitlement existed that was created by a combination of rank, personality, arrogance, GTMOs isolated location and the difficult mission. Their young and inexperienced Marines saw this and in turn emulated them. The enlisted Marines paid the price, but extremely poor leadership by their Officers established the conditions that caused this incident. A complete disservice was done: -A Marine, who did nothing wrong, almost died. -The accused Marines went to pre-trial confinement. -The accused Marines were convicted, their potential in the Marine Corps ruined. -The Officer leadership (Lt -Col) was removed leaving everyone in the Barracks to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath for over a year. -Dozens of impressionable Marines, who were not involved, were "Infected" by the negative examples they saw. What happened to them when they checked into their next unit and did things the "GTMO way"? What did I miss? Please feel free to comment below. Resources: A Few Good Men Wikipedia, AFew Good Men