CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq --
Sometimes, the old sergeant major’s just got to call it like he sees it.
“Devil dog, you look like a liberty risk,” pronounced Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent at a meeting with Marines from Battery T, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, Sept. 23.
The proclamation was met with much laughter. The “libo risk” in question was Cpl. Travis S. Geisler, an artilleryman with Tango Battery, who promptly grinned and flushed with embarrassment at being arbitrarily singled out by the Corps’ top enlisted Marine.
Kent, the 16th leatherneck to hold the senior enlisted spot in the Corps, had spent a few minutes quizzing Geisler on why he was choosing not to re-enlist. He used Geisler’s reticence to make a point about staying Marine.
“I get tons of e-mails from warriors who want to come back into the Corps,” said Kent. “As long as they’re qualified, we will take them back. So my point is, you can always come back if things don’t work out for you as a civilian. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is the grass really greener?’”
Kent also admonished Marines not to test the bonus system by waiting until next year’s order on re-enlistment bonuses are published.
“If you’re trying to wait to see if you get a higher bonus next year, don’t do that, because it’s no guarantee. Right now it’s looking good for next year, but it’s no guarantee,” Kent said.
During his visit to the Fallujah area, Kent visited Marines and sailors with Regimental Combat Team 6, including a battlefield circulation to positions currently held by Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
After visiting the RCT-6 subordinate commands, Kent held a town hall meeting to speak to the Marines and sailors stationed aboard Camp Fallujah about issues currently being addressed by him and Marine Corps commandant Gen. James T. Conway. These issues include the modification and update of the physical training uniform, functionality of the Body Composition Program and the policy regarding wear of the camouflage utility uniform on liberty.
The Marine Corps has had a variety of PT uniforms throughout the years, the latest of which is the green running shorts and green undershirt, dubbed “green-on-green” by Marines. While speaking about the new running suit currently under evaluation by the uniform board, Kent sought to soothe some concerns about the new uniform.
“You can keep your green-on-green, and we’ll still issue it at recruit training,” he said to an audience of more than 200 Marines and sailors. “But, the new running suit is sharp! It’s so sharp you’re going to have civilians coming up to you and asking you where they can get it. Just take them on in to the recruiting office.”
The BCP is used to gauge the fitness of Marines who weigh more than the maximum allowed by the height and weight standards established by the Corps. Currently, Marines who weighed in more than their maximum have their measurements taken to calculate their body fat percentage. Kent said there are some issues with how this system is executed.
“Some changes will come about in this program. You can have a Marine who’s a weightlifter, great shape, but be (out of regulation). Then you can have a short Marine, who’s round,” he said while making hand gestures intimating a short and fat figure, “but maybe he’s got the right sized neck. The system is broken.”
In the last of his prepared points, Kent addressed the recently changed policy regarding the wear of the camouflaged utility uniform, or “cammies,” on liberty. He said the old policy was established on a camp-by-camp basis by local commanders with no Corps-wide uniformity. Kent said he and Conway wanted that to change.
“As you saw recently, cammie policy has changed. The old policy was that you could wear your cammies to the gas station, to the bank, to day care. But some people were going further than that. You had Marines in the club throwing down out on the dance floor in cammies. So that (policy) changed across the board,” he said.
The new policy means Marines will have to change into another uniform, such as the new running suit, before leaving work if they have to stop and fill up their gas tanks or pick their children up from day care.
Once finished with his prepared comments, Kent opened the floor up to questions. One of the first was regarding the remarks of Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general, Multi National Force-Iraq, to Congress about the possibility of a troop drawdown, and the effects such a drawdown would have on the Marines in Anbar Province.
Kent replied by saying that there was a lot of political talk in Washington, D.C., but ultimately, it’s still up to the president when Marines would come home. Kent also said gradual drawdown would take time, and that U.S. forces would still have an overwatch responsibility for Iraqi Security Forces. Overwatch status, according to the briefing slides presented by Petraeus to Congress, is one of the final steps in establishing complete Iraqi autonomy in the security plan for Iraq.
Another Marine questioned the impact of giving 60 points toward the composite scores of Marines who re-enlist for fiscal year 2008. He said his concern was that it was accelerating promotion of Marines simply for re-enlisting.
“Right now,” replied Kent, “we need great warriors to stick around. Next year, you’ll be able to do it. We can’t give everyone 60 points, I won’t sugar coat it for you. That wouldn’t be fair either.”
Gunnery Sgt. Levi Hodges, administrative chief for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, focused his question on the processing of awards. He asked Kent about delegating the authority to authorize certain combat-related awards down to the level of colonel, instead of commanding general, where it currently resides.
“I’m hesitant to do that,” Kent replied.
He went on to elaborate that leaving award policy in the hands of the commanding general, instead of at regimental or equivalent level, lessens the leeway in the interpretation and application of rules regarding awarding of combat ribbons and medals. This strictness leads to greater uniformity and fairness for all Marines across the board, he said.
After the questions concluded, Kent ended his town hall meeting by expressing his pride in his Marines.
“I have 32 years in the Corps this Dec. 10. The only reason I stayed around is because of the Marines and sailors I worked with. The eagle, globe and anchor is branded on our hearts. God bless, and Semper Fi.”