NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry

Being the Best: A Lesson from the Marine Raiders

Posted on Apr 22, 2008 by John M Grau
Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos
Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos

Last weekend, I attended the final reunion banquet of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion held at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. Also known as Edson’s Raiders, this elite unit was created by an order from President Franklin Roosevelt as a counterpart to the British Commandos—a unique concept at the time. Raiders were trained to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare and operated behind enemy lines.

About a dozen Raiders, all well into their 80’s, attended the reunion. I was there with my father-in-law, an original Raider and a recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroics at the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal in 1942. He went on to a career in the Marine Corps, serving in Korea and Viet Nam as well

As the remaining Raiders made their way around the base at Quantico last week, they were treated like rock stars by young Marines. Many asked for autographs and requested stories about past battles. The featured speaker at the final banquet was Lt Gen James Amos, recently nominated to become assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

Amos talked about how the Corps is still focused on innovation (like the Raiders of World War II) while maintaining the traditions and discipline of the past. He noted that unlike other branches of the armed services, the Marines are not lowering their recruitment standards. He said that the Marine Corps promise to a new recruit is a trip to Parris Island for 12 weeks of boot camp where his head is shaved and he is stripped of his clothes and personal identity. Upon completion of his training, he will be sent to some remote part of the world where people will hate him and try to kill him.

Yet with this pledge in mind, the Marine Corps has been able to increase its numbers to over 180,000 men and women, and it will increase that further to more than 200,000 in the next 18 months.

As I listened to him, I thought about our need to recruit young men and women into the electrical trade. In the face of competition, we often look at compromising our standards. Wouldn’t we attract more applicants if we lowered our basic requirements or shortened our training? Why do we need tests and certifications? If the non-union can train someone in two weeks, why can’t we?

Matching the lowest common denominator is easy. Being the best is hard.

We still need to be innovative. New methods of instruction like day-schooling and boot camps are worthy of consideration. Online courses support and supplement classroom learning. New worker classifications like CW/CE and unindentured increase our workforce and lower our composite labor rates. We have to embrace all these changes.

At the same time, we can demand and expect the best of those who work in our industry. It’s a matter of pride and tradition. It means something special to be an IBEW journeyman or a NECA contractor. If we set the standard, then those who want to be the best will be waiting in line to join us.

After hearing Amos’s stirring remarks, I think each one of the eighty-plus year-old Marine Raiders would eagerly re-up to serve their country once again, if they could. I know that’s how I felt.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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