Q&A with Gen. Neller
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller toured Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 13, 2016. During his visit Neller addressed Marines at the Camp Kinser Theater, where he allowed Marines to ask questions they had about life in III Marine Expeditionary Force. Here are the questions and answers discussed during the town hall style meeting.
Q: At the noncommissioned officer level and the junior Marine level how do we thrive in the Marine Corps as disruptive thinkers? What do we do differently than previous generations at the small unit level?
A: You’ve got to figure out how to present your idea to show how it’s going to improve the unit and how it’s going to work. You can’t just sit there and howl at the moon. It’s incumbent upon those that are superiors to say “Hey that’s a pretty good idea. Let’s give it a shot.” Continue to press professionally about it, write about it, talk about it, in your own area influence it if you can light the candle and wherever the area lights up and make the change there.
Q: On the topic of idealism it’s my understanding that ISIS is a decentralized organization because of the ideologies. In what ways are the Marine Corps combatting this or the U.S. government?
A: ISIS has a physical real caliphate right now. That was their goal to have land with a capital where they could market and show videos of people living in Raqqa, going to the market, children playing and I would say that’s probably not going to be there. They’ll have to use a virtual caliphate. It’s easy to fight something physical that you see because I can see it and I can make it go away, but an idea is hard to fight. Particularly if it’s a good idea like freedom, freedom is an idea. We’re going to have to contest the virtual caliphate with the ideas.
Q: With the somewhat anti-American sentiments from Philippine President Duterte how do you think it will affect the Marine Corps in terms of operations involving Philippines, humanitarian assistance, SOFA status and the possibility of opening U.S. bases in the Philippines?
A: I think like everybody else, I’m watching the news and listening to the comments of President Duterte and his spokespeople, and the Philippine people elected him to be president, he is the newly elected president of the democratic nation, so if they decide that they don’t want to train or somehow reduce their relationship with the United States, that’s their prerogative. I’m not sure that the majority of the Filipino people agree with that, but if that’s the decision and he’s the head of state, then we’ll comply. This has happened before, I think it was 1994, the United States then had an agreement as far as access to bases in the Philippines, in that year, the Philippine government decided not to renew the lease, so the bases we had, like Clark Air Force Base and the naval base and air station left. It’s very important, that’s why I talk about being aware of what’s going on in the world. The United States has a very long history with the Philippines that goes back to the Spanish American War in 1890 and 1899. There are some parts of history that don’t always reflect well on us. For the most part, we’ve had a long, strong relationship with the people of the Philippine islands. We try to be a good partner, we want to be a good partner, but if the president makes that call I don’t see how we have any other choice than to comply. With that being said, if in the future we have to provide humanitarian assistance, there is no doubt that if a nation asks the United States for assistance, we would try to be there for support. But we have no other choice than to see how this plays out.
Q: Earlier you said something about upgrading the quality of the barracks and the quality of life, are there plans on moving forward on that?
A: Probably not as fast as any of us would like, we’re going through the closure of Futenma and the replacement facility for some time. There was a conscious decision not to put funds into some of the facilities. Now that the Japanese government and the United States have also put money forward to update some of the facilities. So, there’s funding which is part of the change moving forward. There’s enough room to move people around and talk to some people about different ideas where we might be able to come up with different ideas. I’m not going to make excuses, these barracks are old. We would like to be able to move you into as good of facilities as we can. As Marines, you’ve got what you’ve got. So what I need everyone to do, it’s on us to fix things, repair things, build new things; it’s your responsibility to take care of the things you’ve got. That means you’re cleaning it, and we’re doing what we can to make sure you have a safe, healthy place to live. We’re doing this balancing act of maintaining what we have and trying to build something else. I could give you thousands of reasons, but I’m not going to make excuses. So what we’re going to have to do is take what we’ve got and try to maintain it to the best of our ability and we’ll continue to work with the Japanese government and see if we can fix some of the things that are the most degraded. Housing and all that is all tied together. I could ask you to be patient and you’re going to say ‘well, I don’t know, it’s easy for you to say it, you don’t live here.’ Fair enough, but I’m just going to ask you to be patient and we’re going to make do with what we have and it’s on us to try and accelerate this stuff and get the quality of the facilities back up. This is a harsh environment, you live in the tropics, you fight the jungle, you fight the weather, you fight the humidity, it’s hard on people, it’s hard on the building, and it’s hard on gear. It makes extra work, you can fight it, or you can just walk away and let nature win. You can’t walk away; I need you to fight it.
Q: One of my Marines brought up the question earlier in regard to the RAT boots. When they were issued to us, the clothing allowance went up. Since we don’t have to have those anymore will our allowance be going back to what it was before the change?
A: Sgt Maj. Green: We made no adjustments to the clothing allowance, what the commandant said was, the boot will not be required as the mandatory boot. But it is still out there and it costs almost three hundred bucks. So, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to give you the option. As leadership, we’re going to give you options, so we’re not going to re-adjust the clothing allowance and we’re not going to take anything from you.