Last week, I announced the passing of Colonel Mike Lowe, U. S. Marine Corps. While serving as Commanding Officer, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia, Colonel Lowe was invited to speak to newly commissioned second lieutenants at The Basic School, at a traditional dining in event we call “Mess Night.” Colonel Lowe’s remarks reveal more about this fine officer than I could ever tell you in my own words.
“From that elegant introduction, you may or not have picked up on the fact that I have had 5 tours in Marine divisions, serving in all 4 divisions and 3d Marine Division twice. I have made 8 Marine expeditionary unit deployments, served with the special operations command and have been to every level of Professional Military Education (PME) possible in order to hone my warfighting skills.
Utilizing your great deductive abilities, intellect and experience as Lieutenants, you should have questioned the Corps’ collective judgment when they decided to make me a Base Commander! I sure as hell did and I still do! Look up “base” in the dictionary. According to Mr. Webster: “lowest part or bottom. Having or showing little or no honor, courage or decency; mean; ignoble; contemptible; menial or degrading; inferior in quality; of comparative low worth.” So… after 28 years of focusing on locating, closing with and destroying, I’ve got that going for me! That’s okay! Go ahead and laugh! There is at least one future base commander sitting among you right now!
Seriously, I am honored to return to the Basic School as your guest, at this, one of our most time-honored traditions. I have been asked to speak on my insights and experiences as a leader of Marines. Basically, I was told to talk about what I have learned over the last 28 years of leading Marines. Well, I have only learned eight things, and it will only take me about 60 seconds to share them with you.
Now that I think of it, if I had been invited to speak to you the day Charlie Company formed up, I could have probably saved you six months of TBS training, I thought I would get this structured portion out of the way up front so I could talk about anything I want to, so here goes.
- Seek brilliance in the basics, always do the right thing, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
- If you are riding at the head of the herd, look back every now and then and make sure it is still there.
- Never enter an hour-long firefight with 5 minutes of ammo.
- This one is really important for all of you born North of Washington, DC: never, never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
- If you’re not shooting, and I can see by your marksmanship badges that some of you are challenged in this area, you better be communicating or reloading for another Marine.
- There are three types of leaders. Those who learn from reading, those who learn from observation, and those who still have to touch the electric fence to get the message.
- Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap.
- And finally, you might want to write this one down: Never slap a grown man who has a mouth full of chewing tobacco
Now that I’ve put that check in “proper military instruction” block, are there any questions? Of course not! What a stupid question to ask a bunch of Lieutenants so close to graduation! Now that I think of it, my TBS class stopped asking questions after the first two weeks. I have a few minutes left; so let’s talk about something I like: Marines.
Up front, let me tell you how much I admire you. Why is that? Unlike the vast majority of your fellow citizens, you stepped forward and committed yourself to a greater cause without concern for your personal safety or comfort. And you did it knowing that you would gain nothing in return —except the honor and cherished privilege of earning the title of “Marine Officer.” Individually, you are as different as apples and oranges, but you are linked for eternity by the title “Marine” and the fact that you are part of the finest fighting force that has ever existed in history. If you haven’t picked up on it, I like being a Marine, and I like being around Marines. Like most of you are probably thinking, I came into the Corps to do four years and four years only. But a strange happened. I was having so much fun that I simply forgot to get out. Hell, at this point, I am thinking seriously about making the Corps a career!
So what is it that I like about Marines? This is the easy part!
I like the fact that you always know were you stand with a Marine! With Marines, there is no middle ground or gray area. There are only missions, objectives, and facts.
I like the fact that if you are a self-declared enemy of America, that running into a Marine outfit in combat is your worst nightmare, and that your health record is about to get a lot thicker or be closed out entirely!
I like the fact that Marines are steadfast and consistent in everything they do. Regardless of whether you agree with them or not; that Marines hold the term “politically correct” with nothing but pure disdain; that Marines stand tall and rigid in their actions, thoughts and deeds when others bend with the direction of the wind and are as confused as a dog looking at a ceiling fan!
I like the fact that each and every Marine considers the honor and legacy of the Corps as his personal and sacred trust to protect and defend.
I like the fact that most civilians don’t have a clue what makes us tick! And that’s not a bad thing. Because if they did, it would scare the hell out of them! I like the fact that others say they want to be like us, but don’t have what it takes in the “pain-gain-pride” department to make it happen.
I like the fact that the Marines came into being in a bar, Tun Tavern, and that Marines still gather in pubs, bars and slop chutes to share sea stories and hot scoop.
I like our motto: Semper Fidelis, and the fact that we don’t shed it when the going gets tough, the battlefield gets deadly or when we hang up our uniform for the last time. I like the fact that Marines take care of each other: in combat and in time of peace.
I like the fact that Marines consider the term “Marines take care of their own” as meaning we will give up our very life for our fellow Marines, if necessary. I like the fact that Marines know the difference between “chicken salad” and “chicken shit” and aren’t afraid to call either for what it is! I like the fact that Marines have never failed the people of America and that we don’t use the words “can’t,” “retreat,” or “lose.”
I like the fact that the people of America hold Marines in the highest esteem and that they know that they can count of us to locate close with and destroy those who would harm them!
I like Marines. And being around Marines.
I like the fact that a couple of years ago, when an elected member of congress felt compelled to publicly accuse the Marine Corps of being “radical and extreme,” our Commandant informed that member of congress that he was absolutely correct and passed on his thanks for the compliment.
I like the fact that Marine leaders —of every rank— know that issuing every man and woman a black beret … or even polka-dotted boxer shorts for that matter, does absolutely nothing to promote morale, fighting spirit or combat effectiveness.
I like the fact that Marines are Marines first. Regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin or how long they served or what goals they achieve in life!
Let me give you one example: a young man enlists in the Navy in World War I. When the war is over, he ships over and joins the Army. He next enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1920-1922. There was no Air Force back then, so I guess he felt he had put all the checks in the block! When he served out his time in the Corps, he went after an education: receiving various degrees in engineering, history, and political science from UCLA and Montana State University. He entered politics and served for 11 years in the House of Representatives. Next, he tackled the Senate where he served for 24 years, as both the Democratic whip and later as the Senate Majority Leader. He was then appointed as the ambassador to Japan where he served for 11 years. This gentleman went from snuffy to national and international prominence. And when he passed away in 2001, he was rightly buried in Arlington. If you want to visit his grave, don’t look for him near the Kennedy Eternal Flame where so many politicians are laid to rest. Look for a small, common marker shared by the majority of our heroes. Look for the marker that says “Michael J. Mansfield, PFC, U.S. Marine Corps.
You see, Senator Mike Mansfield, like each of us gathered here tonight was prouder of being a Marine than anything else in his incredible life of national service. There is one thing I have learned for sure over the last 28 years. The years fly by, names change, the weapons and the gear change, political leaders and agendas change, national priorities and budgets change, the threats to our nation change. But through it all, there is one abiding constant —- the basic issue, do-or-die Marine. He or she will do damn near anything asked, under terrible conditions, with better results and fewer complaints than any civilized human being should have reason to expect. And we, who have the privilege of serving them and leading them, make our plans and execute crucial missions based primarily on one fact of life. That the basic Marine will not fail his country, his Corps, and his fellow Marines —that they will overcome any threat, if allowed to do so.
Think about that and remember that for 228 years it has worked and it has kept the wolf away from America’s door. I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be. We’re a brotherhood of “warriors” — nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple. We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good. But don’t worry about that. What you need to remember is that the mere association of the word “Marine” with a crisis is an automatic source of confidence to America, and encouragement to all nations who stand with us. As Marines, our message to our foes has always been essentially the same. “We own this side of the street! Threaten my country or our allies and we will come over to your side of the street, burn your hut down, and whisper in your ear “can you hear me now?” And then secure your heartbeat.
Now I must tell you that I had an opportunity to review your MOS assignments. I remember that time in my life well as a real group tightener! Regardless of what MOS you now have, if you don’t already know it, being a leader of Marines is about as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on! And that’s true regardless if you are a grunt, data dink, spark chaser, stew burner, wire dog, butt plate, Remington raider, rotor head, legal beagle, fast stick, cannon cocker, track head, skivvie stacker, dual fool, or a box kicker. And if you don’t believe it you will! Trust me!
Why is that? Because each us fought to gain the coveted title “Marine,” it wasn’t given to us. We earned it. And on the day we finally became Marines, an eternal flame of devotion and fierce pride was ignited in our souls. Charlie Company, let’s not fool ourselves. You know it and I know it. You have some challenging times and emotional events ahead of you. I am not talking about tomorrow morning’s headache. I am talking about the fact that the world is a dangerous place and as leaders of Marines, you will be walking point on world events. Make sure you keep that flame that I mentioned earlier burning brightly. It will keep you warm when times are hard. It will provide light in the darkest of nights. Use it and draw strength from it, as generations of leathernecks have done since our beginning.
Before PCS’ing to Quantico, I completed a 24-month tour with the 31st MEU aboard the USS Essex. Some of the Marines here tonight were with me. The Essex is a great ship and one of six to bear that name in defense of our nation.
In 1813, a tough skipper named Capt. David Porter commanded the first Essex. By all accounts, Capt. Porter was the type man you did not want to see at Captain’s Mast. He was tough, but he was a true warrior. On one particular mission, the Essex was ordered to sail alone to the Pacific and attack Great Britain’s Pacific whaling fleet. Obviously, Captain Porter knew the fleet was well-guarded by British men-of-war and he knew his job would be a tough one and that he would be severely out gunned in his task. Prior to sailing, Capt. Porter addressed the assembled crew of sailors and Marines on the deck and explained the task at hand. He asked for volunteers only and told his men to “take seven steps forward” if they would willingly go in harms way with him. He then turned his back and waited. After a few moments, he turned to face his crew and noticed no holes in the ranks. The ranks looked just as they had and not a single Marine or sailor stood to the front of the formation. It is reported that he went on a tirade and screamed, “What is this? Not a single volunteer among you?” With this, an aide leaned over and whispered in Porter’s ear, “Sir, the whole line has stepped forward 7 paces.”
I think of this story often. And when I do, I think of Marines like you. Charlie Company, on behalf of the generations of Marine lieutenants who have gone before you, thank you for taking the “7 steps forward”, thank you for your love of country, thank you for your life-long commitment as a United States Marine. For those of you who are wondering, “Am I up to it?” forget it. You will be magnificent, just as Marine officers always have been. I realize that many of your young Marines are going to be “been there, done that” warriors and that they will wear the decorations to prove it. But you need to know, that they respect you and admire you. You need to know that they want and need your leadership. All you have to do is never fail them in this regard and everything will turn out great. Hold up your end of the bargain and they will not fail.
I am pretty sure I can speak for the entire group of distinguished guests here tonight when I say, “We admire you, and would trade places with you in a minute to do it all over again.” Sooooo, if you’re interested in giving up a platoon in order to be a base commander, see me at the bar! One last thing. When you check into your first unit and start the fantastic voyage that only Marines will ever know, kick some serious ass. Because it is a full time job and there is a lot of that activity that must occur for America and her allies to survive.
“Long live the United States. And success to the Marine Corps!”
Colonel James “Mike” Lowe was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in May 1976. An infantry officer, he served in all four Marine Corps divisions and made eight Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Deployments, including one that took him to Beirut, Lebanon as part of the Multi-national Peace Keeping Force. Then Captain Lowe commanded Company E, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
There is nothing simple or easy about being a Marine —and this is doubly true about service as a Marine Corps officer. Colonel Lowe was a graduate of the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, the Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Marine Corps War College. After his graduation from the Marine Corps War College in 1996, he was assigned to the faculty of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College where he served as the Director of Warfighting.
Throughout his distinguished career, Colonel Lowe served as a Series Commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, a company commander in the 6th Marines, at the Officer Assignment Branch at Headquarters Marine Corps, on the staff of the Special Operations Command (Europe), as Inspector-Instructor, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, Commanding Officer, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), and as Commanding Officer, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.
Colonel Lowe completed his 30-year career at the place where his career began: Quantico, Virginia —the Crossroads of the Corps. Following his career, he joined the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies as a Research Fellow and subsequently, as Senior Research Fellow. For the past eight years, Colonel Lowe led the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, an in-house think tank for the Marine Corps. He was a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and an active member of his community.
Colonel Lowe passed away on 21 March 2014 at the age of 59. I was not personally acquainted with Colonel Lowe, but I can say this with certainty: he passed away far too young, and this officer was a brother.
Semper Fidelis, Colonel Lowe. Rest in Peace.