How did I get my assignment to Russia? If I said “Because I didn’t ask for it?” would that make sense?
I had been in my job as the G-2, the senior Intelligence Officer, for Marine Forces Korea for only a few months, but it was time to start asking about a new job because I was only serving in a one-year tour. When I asked my assignments guru called the monitor, who by the way was responsible for all Ground Officer assignments and not just intelligence officer assignments, he told me that I had been hiding from the Fleet Marine Force for two tours of duty in a row and it was time for me to return to the Fleet. This in itself requires some explanation.
I fought my assignment to Korea like a wildcat. At the time, I was the United States Central Command senior Intelligence Briefing Officer. I worked directly for the J-2, Brigadier General Bob Noonan. When I heard that I was being considered for the assignment in Korea, I called my monitor and told him that I was not interested. All of my experience could be used so much better at the intelligence schoolhouse in Virginia Beach. The Fleet Combat Training Center – Atlantic (FCTCL) at Dam Neck housed the Navy-Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center (NMITC) where I had such good times in the past as a student. There was so much potential to influence future generations of intelligence officers. I did not want that opportunity to disappear by taking an assignment that was not in touch with current intelligence methods or hardware. Korea was the intelligence black hole.
I discussed my pending assignment with the J-2, who said that he would do anything to help me get to Dam Neck. He called my monitor personally and put the call on speaker so I could hear what his response was. The General used his rank and logical arguments, but the monitor, a Marine Corps Captain, would not be dissuaded. He simply countered any arguments the General made by saying that the USMC needed me in Korea. The monitor also confirmed that this assignment would fulfill a Ground billet, a requirement for every other or every third tour in order to continue on a correct career path, ensuring that I would stay in line for promotions. I knew that there were open positions at NMITC. This bothered me as I didn’t know who had more experience or would be better suited for the position. I knew most of the best Intelligence Marines in my peer group and they did not want the schoolhouse. It was mine if I wanted it – in my mind. The monitor had different designs on me and my future.
The intelligence office in Korea needed help and maybe I should have been flattered to have been selected as the Marine to go in and fix it. But I wasn’t. At that point in my career, I cared about me and I knew that I could be of most use to the Marine Corps Intelligence community by teaching future generations how to think. All of that does not matter since my orders to Korea had already been cut. I was bound for Seoul. The only influence I had on that process was that I selected an unaccompanied tour as it was still an option. They wanted me to go to Seoul for two years, but there was no way I would do that. This upset the monitor and the folks at Marine Forces Korea, but again, I did not care what they thought. I did not want to be out of the main stream of intelligence for more than a year. I only had three and a half years left to reach my 20 years and the golden egg of retirement. One year would not put too much of a crimp in my future.
Back to the matter at hand – I was trying to find the best assignment to finish my career in the Marine Corps. I looked at the available assignments page, but did not find anything other than Fleet Marine Force units. So I simply started asking for some nice glory tours. I asked for Space Command in Colorado Springs, but received a scathing response from the monitor. The choices he gave me were much more narrow. They included exactly one choice, although the word “choice” would indicate there was more than one option. My real choice was to accept it like a man or whine and go into the same assignment screaming and kicking. He intended to send me to the 1stMarine Division G-2 in Camp Pendleton, California in order to be the Deputy G-2. This would not have been a bad billet as numerous intelligence Marines are influenced daily by the G-2 leadership and these Intelligence Marines have a chance to make a difference and save lives during real conflict.
“Martelle! You’ve been hiding from the Fleet for the last two tours! You’re going back to the Fleet!”
“But, the Captain’s monitor told me this was my Ground tour?” I asked in mock disbelief.
“MARFORK is a joint headquarters. It doesn’t count as a Ground tour. You need to go to the Fleet,” the monitor replied.
So I had been set up and hung out to dry. Yes, I should understand that I serve in the Marine Corps and that the needs of the Marine Corps come first. This is one of my many failings – I had been selfish enough throughout my career, but I also believe that no matter where I went, I did the best job that could have been done and I made a difference. No matter where I went, I left the place better than how I found it. I left written standard operating procedures (SOP) so that those who followed would know exactly how and what I did. In most instances, my replacement threw away all I had done in order to make a name for him or herself, but it didn’t work. I had great teachers at NMITC and I learned well, mostly the hard way, but I understood what needed to be done. Staff planning and the written word were my forte.
As it turned out, the Korea tour simply filled a hole that the monitors desperately needed to fill. I did a good job in Korea, but not the best I could do. I did better than my predecessor, because I carried with me a lot of information and tools from my previous tours. I provided training like they hadn’t seen before and coordinated a couple inspections that improved Marine Forces Korea’s security posture and planning capabilities. Still, MARFORK was not a real headquarters, despite the inauspicious title. It had less than 20 Marines to act as a major subordinate command like the 8th Army or the 7th Air Force. Both of these organizations had actual troops and real headquarters. The real Marine Forces Korea headquarters personnel and troops originated out of first, Camp Smith Hawaii where Marine Forces Pacific was located and second, Camp Pendleton where the First Marine Expeditionary Force would bear the brunt of any Marine combat operations on the Korean peninsula.
A couple days before Thanksgiving I received a very short e-mail from the monitor asking if I wanted to go to Moscow. Needless to say, I called the monitor immediately and asked what was up. He explained that the assignment was necessary to fill and did I want it. I asked what happened to the requirement to fill a ground assignment. He was less than amused.
“Don’t mess with me, Martelle. Believe me when I tell you that I tried to find anyone else to fill this assignment.”
I decided there was no value in trying to get my pound of flesh. I told him that I would have to check with my family first. I then sent a quick e-mail to Wendy, who was on the USS Enterprise with VAQ-130 (an EA-6B squadron out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island). The Enterprise was on its way to the Arabian Sea in order to conduct combat operations against Iraq…
But we were both intelligence officers so I used her SIPRNET email (a classified system that she had access to as part of her work). Wendy was very excited about the opportunity to go back to Russia. I only waited a day before I gave the monitor his answer. It was a trivial way to show him my dismay at being read the riot act, then turned around and given a plum. He had no choice and a job to do, but the lying is always hard to deal with. What happened to hiding from the Fleet? What happened to bad for my career? I guess nothing mattered when there was a position to fill and only one person qualified to fill it. I found this out later.
The Major filling the position in Moscow decided to get out of the Marine Corps. She did this on short enough notice that the Monitor was unprepared to replace her. When he conducted a search of the entire Marine Corps Officer corps, he found exactly one officer who fit the requirements to fill the billet. The most strict requirement was for a 3/3 in the Russian language. This meant a high level of proficiency in reading and listening as identified in the Defense Language Proficiency Test. I took the test in August of 1998 while in Korea. My scores in recent years had not been as high as 3/3, but for some unknown reason, the test was a little more congenial and I made the minimum score for 3/3. I was proficient according to this 2 ½ hour test, but I was sorely out of practice as reality determined. A test was one thing, but walking the streets of Moscow and talking with people was a completely different thing. Luck was on my side and fate determined that I would go to Russia as the next Arms Control Implementation Unit (ACIU) Operations Officer.
After all of that, it turns out that I was promoted to Major two years below the zone making a “Correct career trajectory” less than a compelling argument.