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Letters to the editor: Errors, enlisted and enemies

May. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Col. Kris Stillings talks to prospective officers' family members at Officer Candidates School in December. A reader says Stillings removal as head of OCS was unjustified.
Col. Kris Stillings talks to prospective officers' family members at Officer Candidates School in December. A reader says Stillings removal as head of OCS was unjustified. (Lance Cpl. Antwaun L. Jefferson/Marine Corps)
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COMMANDANT ERRED

It is my opinion that Gen. Jim Amos is one of the best Marine Corps commandants in recent memory. But I think his removal of the head of Officer Candidates School [“A matter of accountability,” May 6] makes it clear he needs a break.

He has removed Col. Kris Stillings without a plausible reason for doing so. Stillings has done nothing wrong and deserves better.

Certainly Stillings should not be held responsible for the fact that one of his men cracked and killed two others before taking his own life. I have read this article three times, and I simply cannot believe what I have read. Stillings deserves an apology from the commandant.

Former Marine Harold T. Freas Sr. | Port Charlotte, Fla.

ENLISTED ARE CAPABLE

In regard to the story about a Navy petty officer second class who created the iPad/smartphone application that simplified the process in which wounded warriors and families track information related to their recovery [“Corpsman’s app eases paperwork pain at two Army hospitals,” April 8]:

The corpsman’s effort is beyond commendable and displays the immense capability and skill of the enlisted force. I was dismayed, however, by the quote from a Navy captain: “This guy is a lieutenant commander in an E-5 uniform.”

This statement implies that an enlisted member is not capable of creating a tool of this magnitude, but a lieutenant commander is. The digital age is well underway, but some officers still operate mentally in the analog domain. The corpsman’s accomplishment is not an anomaly but the norm. Enlisted members are just as capable, and in many cases more so, as many officers but choose a different call to service. The corpsman is an outstanding service member, a credit to the enlisted corps and a representative of the great enlisted members who have gone before; no other comparison is necessary.

Army Sgt. Maj. R.S. Neal | Fort Knox, Ky.

ELIMINATE ENEMY'S COVER

I flew 220 medevac missions in Afghanistan’s upper Helmand valley in 2011.

As our reliance on air power has grown, so has our enemy’s reliance on concealment.

Concealment and cover — bulletproof protection — are among the most powerful assets in war, and Afghanistan presents us with a unique opportunity: by applying the sort of farm modernization that occurred in America many decades ago, we would be able to severely limit the Taliban’s ability to maneuver undetected.

For every penny we spend on permanently removing concealment, we will save a dollar or more in military cost. The idea is to apply these funds tactically, creating clear zones around and between outposts. Here are the main components:

1. Reduce tree cover via clean cookstoves and biomass briquette mills. The No. 1 tactical problem in Afghanistan is the treelines surrounding the farm fields where most of the fighting takes place. There is a worldwide movement to replace the open fires used by 2 billion people with simple cookstoves that burn half as much wood. These stoves cost approximately $10, and one stove can eliminate the need for a ton of wood per year. A biomass briquette mill presses crop waste into fuel briquettes. For roughly the cost of operating one helicopter, the entire country’s cooking fuel needs could be provided via biomass mills. Then the farmers could use their precious water to grow food, not wood.

2. Use irrigation tubing and wire fence to replace ditches and walls. This would save water and labor and deprive the Taliban of cover.

3. Plant soybeans instead of corn in critical areas. Aside from soybeans not being tall enough to hide in, it would help Afghanis, who have a protein-deficient diet.

All of this could be tested on a small scale. In fact, it is already being tested across the country every year. The leaves fall down, the Taliban go home; the leaves spring up, they start attacking.

The root of the problem is that the military never saw this as our job. So tell me, whose job is it to deny the enemy cover and concealment?

Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Haston | Satellite Beach, Fla.

SELL YOUR SKILLS

In recent months, I have spent a lot of time talking to recruiters, trying to convince them that my experience as a captain easily translates to the corporate world. Desperately trying to avoid getting boxed into a leadership development track, usually reserved for recent college graduates, I spent a lot of time researching business, management and leadership.

Conceptually, there is no difference between a corporation and a military unit. At their core, they are groups of people working together toward a shared goal. For a corporation, the goal may be increased revenues, whereas the military’s goal may to be to save lives. Both require a top-down strategy outlining the vision of senior leadership. I have read a few books on strategy. Ironically, “Warfighting” (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1), a book that I read as a second lieutenant, stands neck to neck with some of the best business strategy books I have read. “Warfighting” highlights the importance of conveying the commander’s intent (corporation’s strategy) to the lowest levels, so that all Marines can act in any situation while remaining faithful to the vision. In that vein, successful corporations understand that sustainability in today’s market means tapping into their human resources, enabling the vision on all levels. The “next big thing” may come from someplace other than research and development.

Then there is the issue of culture. High-performance environments consist of ambitious people working as a team to meet and surpass expectations. Teamwork is the fabric of a successful military unit and is the core of any successful corporation. In the beginning of our careers, aspiring officers attend Officer Candidates School, where they learn the value of teamwork, communication and cooperation. Wharton Business School recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its OCS/Wharton integration, where business students learn team-building and leadership from the Corps’ perspective.

I am lucky. My quest to prepare myself for this transition has drawn out my own skills, core values and understanding. A successful military unit is no different than a successful corporation. Let’s stop compartment­alizing industries and experiences. It is easy to see how we are different, but much more fruitful to find the ways we are the same.

Capt. Dwayne Edwards | Lorton, Va.

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