29 July 2017

Drop Marine Standards for "Cyber Warriors?"

The previous administration proposed many trendy personnel ideas in its waning days. One that has been resurrected after initially being rejected is the idea of recruiting Marines directly into a cyber corps, where they don’t have to do all that “Marine stuff,” such as enduring 12 weeks of boot camp, attending the school of infantry, or firing weapons. They would be “cyber warriors” who work in dark rooms and do wonders on the Internet. Cyber has, indeed, become an important domain of warfare, and the Marine Corps needs experts who can operate in that domain; however, the Corps should not drop its standards to put specialists into uniform. Instead, it should use government employees and contractors where it cannot recruit enough Marines to fill the required number of cyber “specialist” positions.

Cyber has been a rising concern as military systems become increasingly dependent on the flow of information. In fact, cyber is now considered one of the warfare domains along with ground, sea, air, and space. As in other domains, the military needs both offensive and defensive capabilities. The Marine Corps is committed to standing up cyber teams as part of its participation in a Department of Defense (DOD)-wide effort to improve cyber capabilities, especially the new Cyber Command.

Not surprisingly, the Marine Corps is finding it difficult to recruit young people with the skills and/or aptitude to become cyber warriors who also are physically fit, drug-free, and willing to endure the rigors of military training. So the Corps is considering using its authority to bring in people directly, including direct commissions, as “lateral entries.” For example, a skilled cyber technician in Silicon Valley might be enlisted directly as a staff sergeant.

Why do these specialists need to be in uniform? In an environment where government employees and contractors already provide a lot of support, even in combat zones, many jobs do not require military personnel. The unique military role relates to danger and sacrifice and the routine use of weapons. But none of these apply to “cyber warriors.” Cyber connects to a global network so it mostly can be done remotely, without a need to deploy. Cyber warriors don’t exert lethal force and don’t face personal danger. It seems the only reason they will be in uniform is because of the bureaucratic commitment the Marine Corps has made to stand up a certain number of cyber teams––and it’s easier to do that though the military personnel system than through the civil service and or support contracts.

Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that government employees and contractors can provide effective support, even in a combat theater. They can hold high-level clearances and work on the most sensitive projects. The deployability of government employees has increased greatly as Congress has provided authorities to make them more expeditionary, and DOD has used those authorities to deploy thousands of civilians. [1] Contractors are ubiquitous in theater and provide a wide variety of services. Many are former military professionals who blend in smoothly with military operations. Either group could easily provide cyber capabilities.

Proposals for direct accessions sometimes make an analogy to the Marine Corps Band, pointing out that band members are directly accessed musicians who do not go through military training. This is disingenuous, however. Field band members—Second Marine Division Band, for example—do go through boot camp, the school of infantry, and everything else required to be a Marine. After that training, when some Marines go to artillery school, or supply school, or electronics school, musicians go to the School of Music in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In war, musicians fight like any other Marines; band members often are charged with security of the division headquarters. The Washington-based Marine Corps Band, “the Commandant’s Own” (as wonderful as it is), is a professional orchestra that is recruited and trained for ceremonial duties and has no other functions.

Implied in the proposal for direct accessions is the argument that this small reduction in quality won’t matter. The Corps should fix the immediate problem and not worry about long-term effects. This is nonsense. Reductions in quality always matter.

Marines need to remind themselves of what Lieutenant General Victor Krulak said years ago :

"The United States does not need a Marine Corps . . . the United States wants a Marine Corps. . . . The country has an almost mystical belief that when trouble comes there will be Marines – somewhere – who, through hard work, have made and kept themselves ready to do something useful about it, and do it at once . . . . . and that when Marines go to war they invariably turn in a performance that is dramatically and decisively successful – And, likewise, should the people ever lose that conviction, the Marine Corps will then quickly disappear."

All the concepts about amphibious warfare, expeditionary warfare, and air-ground task forces are important and useful, but they are not why the people of the United States spend $25 billion a year and annually send us 40,000 of their sons and daughters to sustain this organization. It is because of the perception of excellence.

If the Marine Corps decides on direct accessions, it should at least be clear that it is redefining what it means to be a Marine. Maybe there should be combat Marines who are fit, aggressive, undergo rigorous training, and put themselves in danger. Then there are noncombat Marines who provide vital support services but do so from safe locations in the rear and are not trained for military duties. In that case, the Corps would need to modify General John A. Lejeune’s birthday address. He said, “. . . the term Marine has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.” It can just add, “except the cyber corps.”

Colonel Cancian is a senior advisor with the CSIS International Security Program. He served more than 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, active and reserve.

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