In a recent editorial in Task and Purpose, an anonymous writer described as a junior Marine officer in the combat arms castigates Maj. Gen. David Furness, the commander of 2nd Marine Division, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, saying his rigid new basic daily routine for Marines "violates the core tenets of Marine Corps doctrine" and should be repealed.
Furness was less than impressed.
"I haven't seen it; I probably won't look at it," he said, when asked about the open letter. "I would love for that Marine officer to have the intestinal fortitude to come and talk to me about it. I can explain myself to anyone in the division at any time."
In an interview with Military.com this month about his decision to crack down on what he sees as failures of discipline in the ranks by instituting 5:30 a.m. reveilles, mandatory daily formations, and cleaning and hygiene time across the division, Furness said he did not anticipate the rapid -- and largely critical -- response that ripped across social media pages and military internet communities.
"We sent [the April 16 policy letter] out to commanders and sergeants major. They printed it and put it in duty huts, and somebody took a screenshot. I did not anticipate that," Furness said. "That's a failure on my part."
In retrospect, he said, he would have involved public affairs in the rollout plan earlier and gotten in front of some of the controversy.
"If I were to grade myself for product, on why I'm doing this, I think it's an A. I don't think anyone can question better combat performance," he said. "How I rolled it out, if I'm being kind to myself, I'd probably give myself a D-minus."
Since his policy letter dropped, Furness has been called a micromanager, obsessed with the minutiae of personal grooming rather than larger questions of combat effectiveness. He has been taken to task online for describing the majority of casualties during a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan as the fault of the Marine who died, and for an anecdote he shared in an All Marine Radio interview about how wearing a seatbelt could have saved the life of a Marine driver who rolled over an improvised explosive device.
Blaming those who gave all for their fate might be seen as a rhetorical third rail. But Furness is not backing down or walking back any of it.
"That particular vignette, the importance of it is to highlight the unforgiving environment, the enormous consequences of not doing the right thing in combat," he said. "Doing the right thing in combat and doing the right thing in garrison are not mutually exclusive."
The anecdote he gave about a Marine fatally colliding with his steering column after hitting an IED, he described as a tragic event that he remembered vividly.
"I used it to gain [the Marines'] attention and to shock them a little bit," he said.
Furness said he hasn't been in touch with the commanders of 1st Marine Division, on the West Coast, or 3rd Marine Division, in Japan and the Pacific, to learn if they plan to institute similar standards with their units. He did get a call from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller earlier this month, though.
"The commandant called me a week ago to ask me if I was doing OK," Furness said. "He was supportive. He was just checking up on one of his Marines."
Though Furness allows that not all Marines in 2nd Marine Division are thrilled about having Reveille blasted in the barracks at the crack of dawn, he maintains that most of the blowback on the policy is from an "external audience" of those outside the division. The basic daily routine policy, he said, was developed by a "council of sergeants" he assembled soon after taking command of the division.
"Marines in the division ... I think they understand, there is an issue here. We may have slipped a little bit; we need to do a better job," he said. "The sergeants remain supportive; they believe we're doing the right thing for the right reason."
Furness wouldn't point to any specific events that had triggered his decision to issue the policy letter. But he noted the problem was not just Marines' sloppy habits and appearances, but an unwillingness on the part of small-unit leaders to correct them.
As Furness sees it, what he observes at the division is a devolution 10 years in the making. The Marine leaders who trained him in the 1980s, he said, had vivid memories of the wild disarray of the post-Vietnam Marine Corps. Drug use then was rampant, racial tension was hot, and officers feared patrolling Marine barracks without a sidearm for their own protection.
The Corps implemented some zero-tolerance policies and cleaned up its act, but then came war and the frenetic operational tempo of the era following Sept. 11, 2001. Now, he said, Marines are no longer spending as much time deployed as they do at home, but some of the time and focus on professionalization has disappeared.
Some Marines don't believe personal grooming has much to do with combat effectiveness. Furness simply disagrees.
"One of the key attributes of a well-trained combat Marine or sailor is what I'll call vigilance-slash-attention to detail," he said. "That is not a skill one is born with; it's developed over much time. Grid coordinates for fire mission, or the nine-line process for an air mission -- all these requirements are very precise for how they're done and how they're executed."
Furness will kick off this new era of attention to detail in 2nd Marine Division with a stand-down event June 3-7, in which all Marines in the unit will participate. That will be followed by quarterly check-ins -- the next one is tentatively planned for September -- to dedicate time to the topics of leadership and discipline.
In his original policy letter, Furness offered Marines who couldn't get with his new program the opportunity to request a transfer out of the unit. So far, he said, nobody has taken him up on the offer. But he said he'll be paying attention to how junior leaders get in line with maintaining and enforcing the standard, particularly the officers.
"Those people that are not as courageous as we might like don't suddenly become courageous under fire," he said. "They probably need to find other employment."