Lt. Col. Arthur P. Brill Jr., USMC (Ret.), a frequent contributor to Sea Power,
interviewed Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak for this issue.
Sea Power: With eight months to go as commandant, what are your
KRULAK: The first one is resourcing the
Corps. That does not sound very sexy, but this is an opportunity that the Corps has not
seen in years. Our problem is not near-term readiness. We have been putting money there.
Our problem is that, to do so, we are mortgaging the future. I want to continue to solve
it in my final year. We have been slowly and surely getting better by QDR [Quadrennial
Defense Review] actions and better business practices. We have got our procurement up a
bit, but I want to walk out of this job knowing procurement is right.
I think I am going to do that. My
testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee [at the SASC military readiness
hearing on 29 Sept.] is probably the most important given by a Marine commandant since an
amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 regarding the future of the Corps was
How significant are the readiness
hearings Congress is conducting on the Hill this fall?
KRULAK: This is a big deal. It concerns
the long-term health and wellness of our Corps. I believe we are ready to take a giant
step forward. It will involve some of the modernization concerns we talked about over the
last three years. Can we get the AAAV [advanced amphibious assault vehicle] and the MV-22
[Osprey tiltrotor aircraft]? Can we modernize our truck fleet and HUMVEEs [HMMWVs:
high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles]? Can we get new generators and good equipment
for the Marines? We have been working very hard at that and doing pretty well. But, we
have an opportunity now similar to the Reagan years when we were able to build a modern
Corps. It is pretty exciting.
So you think the attention
readiness is getting in Washington will produce results?
KRULAK: Yes. I think it will make a major
difference. The meeting we [Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, and the commanders in chief of U.S. combatant commands] had with President Clinton
[on 15 Sept.] resulted in a letter from him to the secretary of defense stating that he
would support a short-term readiness plus-up in '99 [fiscal year 1999]. He said the
problem is a long-term issue that has to be solved by the modernization of the forces.
I think he realizes that we have gone
down [in readiness]. The defense budget has gone down 40 percent. You cannot do that and
expect to keep a ready, relevant, and capable force.
In recent years, the funding for
general-purpose [GP] forces was reduced to pay for additional strategic programs like
ballistic missile defense. Today, in light of new mission areas like counterproliferation
and "first responders" [rapid deployment forces], if there is more defense
money, will the GP forces get their fair share?
KRULAK: Today, I have 26,514 Marines
forward-deployed. In the chaos of the 21st century, GP forces like the Navy and the Marine
Corps are going to be more critical. In the environment we are going to see, I do not
think that in their wisdom the members of the Congress of the United States are going to
lessen that capability.
They know that we are an insurance
policy. If you are going to put money into such a policy, it better be the best--and
that's us. Today, we have Marines and Sailors all over the world who are literally
protecting the lives of American citizens. They are in Tirana, Albania, right now. They
were supposed to pull out, but the ambassador said, "Please don't do that; they are
critical." We have a lot of kids out there managing instability.
What are your other priorities?
KRULAK: We want to build the Corps of the
21st century. Based on the lessons learned from our Sea Dragon experiments [operational
training exploiting new technology], the capstone doctrine we have written, and the ideas
coming in from the fleet, we will then do what I promised. We will hold another Force
Structure Planning Group to build the Corps for the next century. We will then cost it out
to see if we can afford it.
In addition, we want to institutionalize
some of the key areas we have been working on, such as the entire transformation process:
recruiting, recruit training, cohesion, and sustainment. We also are refining a number of
issues related to the commandant's Planning Guidance. For example, we said we would make a
change in the performance evaluation system. It takes effect 1 January 1999, and we want
that to work properly.
We want to ensure that whoever becomes
the 32nd commandant understands where we have been and has a united front behind him--like
I had. Finally, I am also very interested in working the training aspects of our squad
leaders to go with our "power down" concept. Those are just a few of the things
on the plate.
What is the "power
KRULAK: The real warriors of the 21st
century will be our NCOs [noncommissioned officers]. You and I remember Vietnam--when that
corporal and sergeant would take a patrol out every night, leaving the lines at 2000 and
coming back at 0400. Sometimes they would have contact. We were trusting corporals to do
that. Now, in peacetime, they need a lot of supervisors. We are going into an environment
that we have got to put the trust back into that young officer and NCO. We are going to be
working very hard on that. I call him the "strategic corporal."
In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the
young Marine could be the world's greatest hero, but he really had no strategic impact. In
future wars, tremendous capability and lethality will be in the hands of the young
corporal. Combine that with the immediate "CNN effect," and it turns some of
those actions into strategic actions. That young NCO needs to be highly trained because
what he does or fails to do may literally impact on national policy.
The thriving U.S. economy appears
to be hurting the recruiting of the other services, but the Corps has made its recruiting
goal 39 months in a row and is exceeding the DOD [Department of Defense] quality
standards. How do you explain that?
KRULAK: There are several reasons. This
is not to beat our breast or stick anyone else in the eye, but our recruiters are the
hardest working in DOD. These are not Chuck Krulak's statistics; they are DOD stats. Our
recruiters are some of the best--like our drill instructors and Marine security guards. To
be a recruiter is an important thing. They get promoted at a greater percentage with an
increased chance of meritorious promotions. Recruiting is a hard job. It is the front line
of the Corps today, and we look at them that way. They get support from the top down.
Finally, we have a helluva product to
sell--the ethos of being a U.S. Marine, a breed apart. That appeals to a certain segment
of American society. When you say, "The few, the proud, the Marines," it
resonates in their soul. You end up getting the type of young men and women of character
we are looking for.
The Corps has remained true to
its values and moral issues during difficult times--when some citizens say certain values
can be compromised.
KRULAK: I think that our stand on many of
the moral issues of the day and the standards have resonated with the American people,
particularly mothers and fathers. Recently, an officer dropped into a recruiting station
in the Atlanta area while a recruiter was talking to a family. The mother and father were
absolutely connected with the values. The kid wanted to go in the service, and they
brought him to the Marine Corps because of the stand we have taken on values.
Some people might not always agree with
our stand. What impacts on them is that we are willing to take a stand in an environment
that is not actually rewarding stands right now. This is what we are going to do. We are
saying this is acceptable behavior, and this is what is not acceptable.
Have you actually made recruit
training--boot camp--tougher or have you merely changed things?
KRULAK: It is much tougher. The
statistics prove there is absolutely no comparison. They march more, they run more, they
hike more, and there is more physical fitness and drill instructor time. The
"Crucible" [a 54-hour "defining event" culminating recruit training]
itself is tougher along with the new physical fitness test. If you compare the previous
plan of instruction with today's, the question is easily answered.
What do you think about
"Generation X"--today's young men and women?
KRULAK: I love 'em. They are the
greatest. They are a secret weapon this nation is wasting. Three days after I became
commandant I called in a psychologist and psychiatrist and asked that very question
because we were having trouble recruiting. I was told they all have six characteristics.
Generally, within defined boundaries, they are willing to be held accountable. Anything
outside of that, they will pick your pocket! They do not mind being followers if someday
they can lead. They want to be associated with something that is easily identifiable with
their peers, and something that is challenging. We adapted a strategy to get at Generation
What did the experts advise you
to do in dealing with Generation X?
KRULAK: They said we were not giving them
what they want. In fact, we were going the opposite way. Our recruiting slogans said we
would give them money, teach them a skill, and do this and that. They are not interested
in this. They want to be challenged. They are joiners and want to be part of a clique, a
fraternity, or a gang.
But this gang--the Marine Corps--has got
a focus, a mission, and values. We took all the junk [older recruiting advertisements] off
TV and built one commercial. You have seen the kid running through the maze, using his
head. The message says if you want to be challenged mentally, morally, and physically, be
a Marine. The guy puts up the sword--zap--he turns into dress blues, and it says the
change is forever.
We have not had a problem recruiting. It
is hard, it is tough, but we are making our mission. Why? Because I think we are giving
this unbelievable generation what they want. The Corps cannot change the values of an
18-year-old. The psychiatrists say you have got to give them your values and hold them
accountable. We say, "Here are the boundaries. If you step outside of them, you are
not going to be a Marine."
This is a generation that must be told in
very clear terms--this is what we expect of you: Honor, courage, and commitment.
Congress seems to be alert to the
Corps' needs. Most of your critical programs--the AAAV, MV-22, and LPD-17 [amphibious
transport dock ship]--are on track, correct?
KRULAK: Yes. We exist because of the U.S.
Congress. On one major occasion [during the post-WWII debate on the roles and missions of
the armed forces] they saved us. It is my belief that they also saved us over the past
seven to 10 years because our funding got so low. They have gotten Marines Gore-Tex gear,
new body armor, and new communication gear. They are helping with the MV-22 acceleration
and the AAAV. They invested in the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory ["The
Lab"] and allowed us to steal a march on the 21st century.
I was commandant two months and went to
the Hill with no money. The Lab was not even a program. I told them what I wanted to do
and, by golly, they gave us the money. They are true heroes as far as I am concerned.
Do we always agree with everything the
Congress does? No. Do I believe they are some hard-working, very patriotic people? Yes. I
do not mean just the members--I mean the staffers too. The amount of work they do trying
to understand and solve the Marine Corps' problems would surprise you.
Does that include the
congressional members and staffers who have not served in the military?
KRULAK: Many of them have not served.
Some people look at them as a challenge: "Oh, we got a problem." I look at it as
a great opportunity. They want to know about the military. We go to them and ask for their
time to help them understand the Corps. We have found them very willing. For example, one
of the great supporters of the Gore-Tex field clothing was Representative Pat Kennedy
[Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I.]. People could say he is very liberal and does not know
much about the military. After he learned about the Marines he said, "What can we do
for them?" Well, he helped get us some Gore-Tex. He, along with some people on the
Senate side, helped us get the first sets of extreme-cold-weather equipment. Now that has
progressed to other field equipment so important to the individual Marine.
Why do the Marine Corps and
Congress get along so well?
KRULAK: The Corps understands it exists
because of Congress. We also tell them the truth no matter how painful it is. When
something bad happens, like the tragedy at Aviano [Aviano Air Base, Italy], we go to the
Hill and say, "Here is exactly what has happened, and we will keep you informed every
step of the way."
They also respect honesty in testimony. I
have been in trouble with some people in the Pentagon about my comments [to Congress]
regarding the insufficiency of the [Marine Corps'] budget. For us, it [funding] has not
been sufficient for years. I think that the Hill responds just like the American people do
to honesty. And we are honest.
Is the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]
critical to the Corps?
KRULAK: Yes. It is important not just to
the Marine Corps, but to the nation. I believe industry can produce an airplane that meets
the key performance parameters. It will save billions of dollars by taking the price of an
airplane from the $60&SHY;70 million per system to about one-half of that, and it will
be unbelievably good. I just think we need to do that. We will blacken the skies with a
stealthy, very good, 21st-century fighter-attack aircraft.
The Corps made the conscious decision not
to buy the Super Hornet [F/A-18E/F fighter/attack aircraft]. If you can get a
short-takeoff/vertical-landing version of the JSF, you get a weapons system that is truly
a leap ahead in technology. Other nations will not be able to keep up with it. We believe
it is the absolutely correct decision.
Are the other services as
committed to the JSF as the Marine Corps is?
KRULAK: You are going to hear rumors
where the Navy or Air Force are falling off. I talked to Mike Ryan and Jay Johnson [U.S.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay L.
Johnson]. They are committed to the JSF. Far more important, the secretary of defense and
the Congress are committed to it. It is the fighter of the future. You cannot keep saying
you are going to upgrade the F-16, a 1970s' aircraft.
What are the major threats just
over the horizon?
KRULAK: We are seeing the tip of the
iceberg for the 21st century. I do not foresee a major theater war against a near-peer
competitor anywhere in the future. We may get into another Iraq-type situation, but I will
tell you right now, the results will be the same. So, those countries will determine
another way to fight us, and it will be asymmetrically.
You are seeing it now. It is called
terrorism, ethnic and tribal warfare, and clan warfare. It is called Bosnia, Somalia, and
the Central African Republic. It is called any place where chaos can reign that endangers
either American citizens or vital [U.S.] national interests. When they get us there, you
find yourself in a conflict where you are no longer matching tank against tank. They are
We must think asymmetrically. That is
what our Warfighting Lab [the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, created in 1995] is all
about and OMFTS [Operational Maneuver From the Sea]. It is not just about getting systems
that can go from over the horizon deep into an objective. It is a state of mind that lets
you understand an asymmetric conflict and how you are going to fight and win it.
What have you learned so far in
your urban warfare experiments?
KRULAK: It is real tough. Urban Warrior
is basically a two-year experiment with many lesser experiments within it, because it is
so tough. It is manpower-intensive and deadly. Aircraft are vulnerable over urban terrain.
It is difficult for command and control, and for overhead sensors to detect the enemy. It
is hard to develop ordnance that will strike an enemy without creating rubble. It is
difficult to drop ordnance in an urban slum, because you will burn the slum and destroy
everything with one bomb.
And again, there is the CNN impact--you
just burned down somebody's home. This is tough. It is difficult to differentiate a good
person from a bad person when they are coming at you "a la Somalia." It is
difficult to resupply ammo, medicine, food, and you name it. The urban environment is a
tough nut to crack.
Will another Wasp-Class LHD
[multipurpose amphibious assault ship] be the initial replacement for the Tarawa-class LHA
[general-purpose amphibious assault ship]?
KRULAK: Take it to the bank, Art. This is
how it will be done. You cannot SLEP [service life extension program] an LHA. That is not
being fair to the American people. It is not being fair to take $1.2 billion to SLEP a
ship that is not capable to extend its life for 15 to 20 years. For approximately $300
million more you can buy a totally capable, brand-new ship for the 21st century that will
last 40 to 50 years. You cannot go to the American people with your hand out for that kind
of money and give them such a very low return on their dollar.
I won't do that. Secretary Dalton
[Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton] and Jay Johnson won't do that. They are running a
study right now. We already know what the results of that study will be--you need an LHD
8, and then you need the follow-on, an LHX [next-generation amphibious assault ship], just
like you need a CVX [next-generation aircraft carrier].
When a problem happens in the world, the
national command authority asks, "Where are the carriers, and where are the
amphibs?" Well, you better have the right type of carrier and the right type of
amphib. The right type of amphib is not a service-life-extended version of the LHA. It is
an LHD and an LHX.
How many more LHDs do you want?
KRULAK: I want 12 big-deck LHDs and LHXs.
To meet the requirements and the chaos we will be seeing in the 21st century, the nation
could use more than 12 ARGs [amphibious ready groups] and more than 12 CVBGs [aircraft
carrier battle groups]. There will be a time like we have seen already when the national
command authority asks, "Where are the carriers?"--and they are in the Persian
Gulf when they are needed in the Taiwan Straits.
Well, we ought to have one in the Taiwan
Straits and an ARG in the Arabian Sea area 100 percent of the time and not 50 percent. The
requirements are unbelievable. If you take a look at what is needed to execute the
national-security strategy, the answer is easy to come by. It is naval forces out there
The Navy seems to be emphasizing
its antimine efforts to permit ship-to-shore movement, and to provide naval surface fire
support [NSFS] for the Marines ashore.
KRULAK: Yes. Those who question our
[Navy] brothers-in-arms need only to look at the budget. The Navy is not building enough
ships right now to even meet the QDR force. Look at the ships they are building over the
last couple of years: two [San Antonio-class] LPD-17s at a whack, the LHD 7 [Iwo Jima,
under construction], which was not going to be in there, and they are going to build the
If you just follow the money you would
see that the assertion they are not paying attention to littoral warfare is hogwash.
Today, the communications capability of a big-deck amphib is similar to [that of] a
carrier. That was not the case three years ago. The LPD-17 will have it too. So when
people say the Navy is not supporting the Marine Corps in littoral warfare, I say,
"Follow the money!"
Whether you like it or not, you
are going to be remembered as an activist commandant who shaped the Marine Corps for the
21st century. How do you want to be judged in history?
KRULAK: Mine would be more emotional. I
would like to be thought of as someone who loved his Marines, and that they knew it. That
is the key point. Also, that I knew and loved the institution, and that I tried to do the
best I could.
What was the impact on you of
being raised in the Marine Corps?
KRULAK: I was blessed to come in as the
commandant with something that nobody else had ever had. I grew up in the Corps. People
like General Shepherd [Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., 20th Marine commandant] and Chesty
Puller [Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Puller, a Marine legend] used to sit around my breakfast table.
My godfather was "Howlin' Mad" Smith [Gen. Holland M. Smith, top Marine
commander in the Pacific theater in World War II]. During the fights for survival in 1952,
my Dad [retired Lt. Gen. Victor H. "Brute" Krulak] was very involved in that.
Even at a young age, I knew that
something very important was going on. Growing up, I saw what my Dad did at the
educational center and in special ops. I came into this position with much more than a
varied 30-year career. At the other end of the phone I had my Dad. Whenever I had a
question I could always go back and ask, "Why are we at this position? What do you
think we ought to do?"
What do you think your most
lasting contribution will be?
KRULAK: I think if we build the
"strategic corporal," continue with our transformation, and make cohesion what
we want and sustain it, that will have a powerful impact. That is not Chuck Krulak, but
all of those Marines who worked so hard to make it happen. The second one is the
21st-century fight. I am a transition commandant to get to the next century. To prepare
for it, we created the Warfighting Lab and experimented in a way similar to what the Corps
did after World War I. We changed the name to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab because it
was not me--it was all these smart, young Marines supported by the FMF [Fleet Marine
Force] who stopped what they were doing to test such things as the Dragon Drone when we
needed it. I think that two commandants from now, people will look back and say, "By
God, that was a defining moment, an inflection point where we stole the march on the
Do you have any concern, with the
emphasis on joint experimentation, that the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab could be taken
away from the Corps?
KRULAK: We will not let that happen. Each
service has got to conduct its own experimentation, and then they should come together in
the joint experiment and see what does not fit. Joint experimentation is necessary and
critical, but it absolutely is not in lieu of service experimentation and should never
reach that stage. I can assure you that whoever follows Chuck Krulak as commandant is not
going to allow that to happen.
Will it be hard for you to leave
KRULAK: I go on the 30th of June 1999
and, until then, I'm the commandant of the Marine Corps. But on that day the door will not
catch my rear end as I go out, I will tell you that! I am going out a happy man--that is,
unless something tragic happens to me and my family. I am going out excited about the
Corps and, more importantly, about its future.
Your interviews have been
revealing these past three years. Is there anything you want to add before we wrap this
KRULAK: This has been a good
relationship. Sea Power has done well by us. I think you have helped me articulate to my
Marines what this is all about--who is this little guy, and why is he doing all this