[April 7, 2019] The old and grizzled Sergeant Major, Korea and Vietnam War veteran, was talking last week with a group of young college students. Just out of luck, I happened by and overheard that gravelly voice one would expect from such a man. He was giving them some basic advice; to get respect, you must be willing to give respect.
As I sat down in the back of the college cafeteria, I heard his impromptu message about how the U.S. Marines Corps had changed. He was certainly not enthralling them with “war stories” or “combat adventures.” USMC Sergeant Major William McBlankenship was a hard man in every sense of the word. Despite being much older than everyone else in the vicinity – and tougher – it was his severe demeanor and booming voice that attracted a crowd of students and a few faculty.
His message about respect knocked me a little off guard. Today, many senior members of the U.S. military still consider the recent trend in teaching respect to overemphasize it to the detriment of tactical training of the force. The modern military is being pushed hard to demonstrate respect at all times. This is an extension of their early training on Consideration of Others that was popular in the 1990s.
Core values of the U.S. Marine Corps are honor, courage, and commitment.1,2 Respect doesn’t even show up in the list. But that was the point of Sgt Major McBlankenship and why he was pounding his fist on the tables. Honor, he noted, requires a Marine never to lie, cheat, or steal. “This means,” he said, “an uncompromising code of integrity, respect for human dignity, and respect and concern for each other.”
We can all appreciate a U.S. Marine Corps standard comment that “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” The Sergeant Major was poking his finger in the air at each of the college students and telling them (almost yelling) that it takes more than studying hard to be a good person but that it also takes giving respect to others because there is no other way you will get it.