Commentary by Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Burke
Marines put a lot of stock in bearing. One of the 14 Marine Corps Leadership Traits is defined as: “The way you conduct or carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.”
Personally, I prefer the word comportment but it’s the same thing. A civilian friend once described it as an air of “… not to be %&@#!* with.” It’s not about giving off a bad-ass vibe, though. Any thug can be a tough guy. A Marine should be firm, courteous, tactful and leave you with the impression that if the wolf came knocking he’d kick the wolf’s tail for you.
This seemingly small attribute can leave a lasting impression on those who witness it in action.
I’m reminded of when I was standing post on embassy duty in Madrid, Spain. One evening after normal hours an Air Force buddy who worked in the embassy mailroom stopped by Post One to ask about something. Post One is the main guard post at every American embassy where Marines provide security. It provides a very visible Marine presence to anyone entering or exiting the chancery.
It was after hours and almost everyone was gone, so I had relaxed somewhat from the pacing tiger posture I normally adopted while on duty to leaning casually on the window ledge. In contrast this could best be described as a loose bag of laundry posture.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the elevator doors. They suddenly opened and out came the Defense Attache Officer, a Navy captain. My instant transformation to the position of attention with crisp salute and proper greeting as the captain left for the day completely stunned the Air Force mail handler.
“Dude! How did you do that? You, like, totally uncoiled yourself in the blink of an eye!”
What to a Marine was a seemingly mundane event was a story this guy told for weeks afterward.
How do we teach it? I really don’t think there is an instruction manual on comportment, but institutionally the Marine Corps understands the importance of professional bearing. I always tell Marines if they look squared away then they probably are squared away. If they look like a sloppy bag of smashed buttocks then it is likely they are exactly that. Perception is indeed reality.
I’ve heard more than one story from a Marine who joined because they were sitting in the office of one of our sister services until they saw the Marine recruiter swagger past. Their unanimous response to this was: “Wow! I wanna be like that guy!”
America’s Sergeant Major
Editors note: Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Burke has served throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST) Company Bahrain. He currently serves as I&I sergeant major with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in Brook Park, Ohio. When not motivating Marines, he writes for his blog http://castrapraetoria1.blogspot.com/.