View Full Version : Soldiers and Marines march to admirals' orders

06-16-07, 07:42 AM
Soldiers and Marines march to admirals' orders
By Harry Levins
Saturday, Jun. 16 2007

In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the heavy lifting falls to the soldiers
and Marines on the ground. So why are all the key command jobs going to sailors?

In March, Navy Adm. William Fallon took over the top spot at the U.S. Central
Command. He replaced a soldier, Gen. John Abizaid. Now, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
stands poised to take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He'll
replace a Marine, Gen. Peter Pace.

So I asked an old soldier and an old Marine: How do they feel about it? Their
response: It's OK, more or less.

The "more" part comes from Mackubin "Mac" Owens, a strategy professor at the
Naval War College and once a Marine colonel.

Owens has been around the Navy long enough to know of its reputation as the
most stand-offish service. That runs up against a military buzzword:

"Jointness" means working well with people who wear a different uniform. And
time was when the Navy cared little for jointness.

Well, that figures. The Navy tends to operate by itself, out at sea. Aboard its
submarines, the Navy has its own nuclear strike force. Aboard its carriers, the
Navy has its own air force. The Navy has its own little army, the Marine Corps.
And the little army even has its own little air force.

With that much stuff in hand, who needs jointness?

"That has changed," Owens said. These days, he says, Navy officers who want
fast promotions seek out joint assignments.

As for admirals, he says, "At that level, they're astoundingly joint. You can't
make it to that level if you're ignorant of what the other services do."

Besides, says Owens, naval officers tend to see more of the world than their
ground counterparts. He once edited a military journal written by officers from
all services. His conclusion: "You're more likely to get geopolitical thinkers
from the Navy than you are from the Army or Marine Corps."

He gets a second from military writer (and retired Army officer) Ralph Peters,
author of the soon-to-be-released "Wars of Blood and Faith." But Peters sees a
darker side to the recent rise of the admirals.

"They're doing it because a Navy guy is the only one who can get confirmed in
the Senate," Peters said.

"The Army and Marines are tainted by Iraq," he says, "and the Air Force is
tainted by scandal" — for example, the mess over a new tanker plane. Peters'
take: "People didn't suddenly fall in love with the Navy. It's just that the
Navy guys have their virginity."

He quickly adds, "Don't get me wrong. Mullen has great credentials."

But if Peters were choosing a new chief, he'd pick the same man as Owens:
Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis.

So why was Mattis passed over? Says Peters: "He's too blunt, too honest, too
much of a fighter. That's the last thing Washington wants."