When this year’s Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Symposium convenes, its participants must be prepared to apply fresh thinking to some truly vexing challenges. Chief among them:
■ The culture of misogyny. The military’s sex assault epidemic feeds off of the unprofessional, unacceptable behavior to which leaders have turned a blind eye for far too long. Nowhere is this more evident — and grotesque — than on Facebook and other social media sites, where communities exist with the sole focus of demeaning female troops.
■ Command climate. At least seven officers have been removed from their jobs since the end of April as part of the commandant’s campaign to hold commanders accountable for missteps within their units. While it’s true a commanding officer cannot delegate accountability, his ability to maintain a healthy atmosphere depends on the effectiveness of his enlisted leaders, from sergeant major down to squad leader.
■ Abusive leadership. Junior Marines and noncommissioned officers don’t respond positively to intimidation. A 2012 retention survey indicated 20 percent of re-enlistment-eligible corporals and sergeants were unhappy with the respect superiors show them. As with command climate, individuals’ morale often hinges on the tone set from above.
Such complex problems won’t be solved with top-down directives or vapid PowerPoint slides. They require buy-in from the ground up. The senior enlisted community has an opportunity to define how a necessary cultural shift can take root, and their success — or failure — will shape the Corps for years to come.