Inspirational Wisdom from a War-Hardened Marine Corps Officer
“I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be one. We’re a brotherhood of “Warriors” – Nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple. We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good.”
Colonel James M. Lowe, Commander, Marine Corps Base Quantico, 2004
Marine Corps officers are straight shooters; especially the old, salty ones. They’re straight shooters with their rifles and with their mouth. We can learn a lot about leadership, integrity, honor and courage, among other valuable topics, from Marines and Marine Corps officers.
As I was researching for some inspiring Marine Corps messages and quotations, I stumbled on a speech presented by Colonel James M. Lowe, former Commander of the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. I could not find very much biographical information about Colonel Lowe. However, I did find the following:
Colonel James M. Lowe was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1976 through the NROTC program upon graduation from the University of South Carolina. Col. Lowe embarked on an illustrious military career during which, among varied assignments, he served as an Infantry Officer with the 3rd Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 4, in Okinawa, Japan; was a Series Officer and Personnel Officer at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina; completed a tour of duty in Beirut, Lebanon with the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force; and was assigned to Special Operations Command-Europe in Stuttgart, Germany. Col. Lowe earned personal awards including the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Gold Star. Col. Lowe assumed his duties as Base Commander, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, on August 22, 2003. Col. Lowe, now retired, made eight Marine expeditionary unit deployments, served with the Special Operations Command, and undergone every level of professional military education possible to hone his warfighting skills.
In this speech, Col. Lowe presents his insights and experiences as a leader of Marines during his 28-year career. The speech was delivered at The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, and was dubbed the ‘Mess Night’ speech to Charlie Company at a formal ‘dining in’ event. Through my research of this speech, I could not find the actual date it was delivered, although it appears it may have been delivered late last year. Regardless of when Col. Lowe delivered this speech, his words and wisdom is timeless.
There are various sources for the transcript of this speech; sources that are also good blog spots on the web. I present a few of them at the end of this post. What I wanted to do here is present some poignant highlights of the speech that will both inspire you and fire you up; no matter if you are a Marine or not. You can find the entire transcript of the speech via Marine Corps Web Log, as well as other links listed at the end of this post. Please note that what I have summarized below are pieced-together excerpts from the speech.
“Basically, I was told to talk about what I have learned over the last 28 years of leading Marines. Well, I have only learned eight things, and it will only take me about 60 seconds to share them with you.
Now that I think of it, if I had been invited to speak to you the day Charlie Company formed up, I could have probably saved you six months of TBS training.
I thought I would get this structured portion out of the way up front so I could talk about anything I want to, so here goes.
1. Seek brilliance in the basics, always do the right thing, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
2. If you are riding at the head of the herd, look back every now and then and make sure it is still there.
3. Never enter an hour-long firefight with 5 minutes of ammo.
4. This one is really important for all of you born North of Washington, DC. Never, never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
5. If you’re not shooting, and I can see by your marksmanship badges that some of you are challenged in this area, you better be communicating or reloading for another Marine.
6. There are three types of leaders. Those who learn from reading, those who learn from observation, and those who still have to touch the electric fence to get the message.
7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap.
8. And finally, you might want to write this one down: Never slap a grown man who has a mouth full of chewing tobacco
I have a few minutes left; so let’s talk about something I like…Marines. Up front, let me tell you how much I admire you. Why is that? Unlike the vast majority of your fellow citizens, you stepped forward and committed yourself to a greater cause without concern for your personal safety or comfort. And you did it knowing that you would gain nothing in return. Except the honor and cherished privilege of earning the title of “Marine Officer”.
Individually, you are as different as apples and oranges, but you are linked for eternity by the title “Marine” and the fact that you are part of the finest fighting force that has ever existed in history.
If you haven’t picked up on it, I like being a Marine and I like being around Marines.
So what is it that I like about Marines? This is the easy part!
I like the fact that you always know where you stand with a Marine! With Marines, there is no middle ground or gray area. There are only missions, objectives and facts.
I like the fact that if you are a self-declared enemy of America, that running into a Marine outfit in combat is your worst nightmare, and that your health record is about to get a lot thicker or be closed out entirely!
I like the fact that Marines are steadfast and consistent in everything they do. Regardless of whether you agree with them or not; that Marines hold the term “politically correct” with nothing but pure disdain; that Marines stand tall and rigid in their actions, thoughts and deeds when others bend with the direction of the wind and are as confused as a dog looking at a ceiling fan!
I like the fact that each and every Marine considers the honor and legacy of the Corps as his personal and sacred trust to protect and defend.
I like the fact that most civilians don’t have a clue what makes us tick! And that’s not a bad thing. Because if they did, it would scare the hell out of them!
I like the fact that others say they want to be like us, but don’t have what it takes in the “pain-gain-pride” department to make it happen.
I like the fact that the Marines came into being in a bar, Tun Tavern, and that Marines still gather in pubs, bars and slop chutes to share sea stories and hot scoop.
I like our motto: Semper Fidelis, and the fact that we don’t shed it when the going gets tough, the battlefield gets deadly or when we hang up our uniform for the last time.
I like the fact that Marines take care of each other. In combat and in time of peace.
I like the fact that Marines consider the term “Marines take care of their own” as meaning we will give up our very life for our fellow Marines, if necessary.
I like the fact that Marines know the difference between “chicken salad” and “chicken shit” and aren’t afraid to call either for what it is!
I like the fact that Marines have never failed the people of America and that we don’t use the words “can’t”, “retreat”, or “lose”.
I like the fact that the people of America hold Marines in the highest esteem and that they know that they can count on us to locate, close with and destroy those who would harm them! I like Marines. And being around Marines.
I like the fact that a couple of years ago an elected member of congress felt compelled to publicly accuse the Marine Corps of being “radical and extreme”. I like the fact that our Commandant informed that member of congress that he was absolutely correct and that he passed on his thanks for the compliment.
I like the fact that Marine leaders — of every rank— know that issuing every man and woman a black beret — or polka-dotted boxer shorts for that matter— does absolutely nothing to promote morale, fighting spirit or combat effectiveness.
I like the fact that Marines are Marines first. Regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin or how long they served or what goals they achieve in life!
Here is one thing I have learned for sure over the last 28 years. The years fly by, names change, the weapons and the gear change, political leaders and agendas change, national priorities and budgets change, the threats to our nation change. But through it all, there is one abiding constant —- the basic issue, do-or-die Marine.
He or she will do damn near anything asked, under terrible conditions, with better results and fewer complaints than any civilized human being should have reason to expect. And we, who have the privilege of serving them and leading them, make our plans and execute crucial missions based primarily on one fact of life. That the basic Marine will not fail his country, his Corps and his fellow Marines. That they will overcome any threat. If allowed to do so.
Think about that and remember that for 228 years it has worked and it has kept the wolf away from America’s door. I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be. We’re a brotherhood of “warriors” — nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple.
We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good. But don’t worry about that. What you need to remember is that the mere association of the word “Marine” with a crisis is an automatic source of confidence to America, and encouragement to all nations who stand with us. As Marines, our message to our foes has always been essentially the same. “We own this side of the street! Threaten my country or our allies and we will come over to your side of the street, burn your hut down, and whisper in your ear “can you hear me now?” And then secure your heartbeat.
Regardless of what MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code) you now have, if you don’t already know it, being a leader of Marines is about as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on! And that’s true regardless if you are a grunt, datadink, sparkchaser, stewburner, wiredog, buttplate, remington raider, rotorhead, legal beagle, fast stick, cannon cocker, track head, skivvie stacker, dual fool or a boxkicker. And if you don’t believe it you will! Trust me!
Why is that? Because each of us fought to gain the coveted title “Marine”, it wasn’t given to us. We earned it. And on the day we finally became Marines, an eternal flame of devotion and fierce pride was ignited in our souls.
You have some challenging times and emotional events ahead of you. I am not talking about tomorrow morning’s headache. I am talking about the fact that the world is a dangerous place and as leaders of Marines, you will be walking point on world events.
Make sure you keep that flame that I mentioned earlier burning brightly. It will keep you warm when times are hard. It will provide light in the darkest of nights. Use it and draw strength from it, as generations of leathernecks have done since our beginning.
For those of you who are wondering, “Am I up to it?” forget it. You will be magnificent, just as Marine officers always have been. I realize that many of your young Marines are going to be “been there, done that” warriors and that they will wear the decorations to prove it. But you need to know, that they respect you and admire you. You need to know that they want and need your leadership. All you have to do is never fail them in this regard and everything will turn out great. Hold up your end of the bargain and they will not fail.
Long live the United States. And success to the Marine Corps!”
Related Articles –
*Some very good USMC blogs and sites*
Col. Mike Lowe’s Mess Night Speech (usmc81.com)
Col. Mike Lowe’s Speech at Quantico (grunt.com)
Colonel Mike Lowe’s Mess Night Speech at Charlie Company TBS (onemarinesview.com)
Long Live the United States. And Success to the Marine Corps (leadingmarines.com)
Long Ago and Far Away I was in a “Charlie Company” at TBS Quantico (v4asa.org/v4ablog)