Friday, April 5, 2013

A Man of the Corps

Imagine if you can, watching a naval battle while sitting in a small boat, furiously sketching and recording everything you see with pencil and paper.  Simply an observer, nothing more.  Your observation of one country's amphibious landing craft, with later modifications and effort, will become a Higgins boat, a small landing craft that Ike said helped win the war for the allies during WWII.  Or imagine you developed new tactics, never before used, for what was in the 1950s a new weapon in war -- the helicopter.  And finally, imagine defending and saving not only your livelihood, but a cultural institution -- the United States Marine Corps -- against hostile historic heavyweights -- army officers that helped shape the course of US history yet didn't believe the Corps should still exist.  Lieutenant General Victor Krulak did all that and more in his long and amazing life.  

DaVinci's Helicopter (from notebooks)
I finished Robert Coram's outstanding biography on Victor Krulak about a week ago.  I put the book down and I intended to do a blog post immediately following the last page.  But I had to think about the man before I wrote anything.  I even considered making a short pilgremage to his grave site, located here in San Diego.  Soon after finishing the book I wrote a retired senior naval officer, whom I regularly correspond with, and said that Krulak was, if I recall, "an amazing Marine -- but a questionable father."  Something to that effect.  I say that only to tell you reader, of my immediate opinion of the man, in so few words.  And after a week of thinking about the man my opinion hasn't changed.  

I could spend paragraphs retelling his story.  Telling you how much Robert Coram fairly captured Krulak's success and shortcomings.  I'd say read it for yourself.  If you want to know anything about the Marine Corps, particularly one of the more interesting personalities in its history, read this book.  Besides Chesty Puller, I can't think of another single Marine that has changed or influenced the Marine Corps as much in its entire history.  

What I did think about while reading it, was how Krulak rose to such heights.  And how, if at all, his story might apply to officers today. 

Two things stand out about him after reading the book:

1.  He saw opportunities and aggressively pursued them.  In many instances arguing or demonstrating his case/opinion in front of officers many years senior to him in age and rank.  

2. And second,  closely tied with my first point, he found mentors in very senior officers (most notably General Holland "Howlin' Mad" Smith) that pushed him and help endorse his ideas and career.
Higgins Boat

Could he have risen to historic heights without -- what Coram quotes -- a "Sea Daddy"?  Can any officer do so today?  Namely, does pure merit and no mentor make you invisible?  It stands to reason that if you show promise, someone senior will see it and (hopefully) cultivate your talent.  A good survey would be to ask flag/general officers today if/how senior officers changed their lives or possibly enhanced their career.  I'm not saying military officers should not have mentors, or even that mentors of senior (general officer/flag officer) rank should not influence subordinates' careers.  What I am saying, or rather asking, is that if we live and work in a military organization that honors and rewards these types of relationships, what does that mean -- and what needs to be said to junior officers?

No comments:

Post a Comment