Our pride in the Corps was not at anyone else’s expense.
A common aspect of military service is competition. We compete for nearly everything from promotions, assignments, even awards. At the service component level, the competition rages on in the form of heated debate over roles and missions, to say nothing of the fight for budget dollars.
Healthy competition is good and spurs us on to heights of success and excellence we would not reach striving individually. Yet we all know competition is too often taken to its extreme.
How does the Christian leader achieve and promote healthy competition while maintaining an atmosphere that fits within the boundaries of "Love thy neighbor as thyself?"
I learned a very useful technique for achieving this balance in Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. Early in the course, the staff sergeant in charge, our "Sergeant Instructor," sat us down for instruction on the roles and missions of the various military services. We were expecting a presentation praising the Marine Corps and putting down the rest of DOD.
Instead, our Sergeant Instructor presented the different services this way, "The United States Air Force is the premiere air force in the entire world. They rule the sky and are the very definition of air superiority. The United States Navy is the supreme naval force on this globe. They rule the oceans and are without peer. The Unites States Army is the undefeatable land combatant force. They don’t start wars, they end them.
When the army arrives, the battle is over." At this point the Sergeant Instructor paused, looked slowly around the room and then continued in a low menacing voice, "…and then there is the Marine Corps." And that’s all he said. "Yes!" we barked and "Ooh-Raahed" with every fiber of our being, but it slowly dawned on me what our Sergeant Instructor had done. No one had been put down. Our pride in the Corps was not at anyone else’s expense. It was a lesson I have never forgotten.
Years later I commanded a company. The unit I received had a well-earned reputation of excellence, but it was also a highly competitive organization. My predecessor had openly fostered a degree of competition that bordered on the combative. This level of competition had enabled the company to achieve great success, but had also created a blatant disrespect for our sister company. Yet, we desperately needed that sister company, because neither company was manned or equipped to function independently. I decided to apply my old Sergeant Instructor’s technique.
I let every officer and staff noncommissioned officer in my unit know that while I knew we were the premiere company within the battalion, I would tolerate no disrespectful word regarding our sister company.
Instead I put our sister company up on a pedestal of their own and made sure everyone knew that I considered them without peer as well. Old habits die hard and I had to correct individuals from time to time, but the concept caught on quickly. We worked just as hard, we were just as successful, but never at the expense of a fellow Marine. Instead success came within an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.
I still receive comments from former company members about the wonderful command climate which we had experienced. There’s no secret to our success. All we did was love our neighbor.