Michael McBride

The pointy end of the spear. Often those of us in combat units would muse about “being on the pointy end of the spear.” Often it was frightening…the post-Vietnam malaise that lasted until about 1988 or so, often brought an uneasy chuckle when we referred to being “on the pointy end of the spear.”

We understood that there were many things about our institution(s) that were wholly imperfect, and many things about our training that were hollow or ineffective. We understood that the steel point was somewhat corroded and fragile. We were not making our readiness rates, and not meeting our basic individual training requirements. Marines were not going to the rifle range in any regularity, and subsequently, we were unprepared for the rigors or demands of war. We were the point…we were determined and hardened, but we were not ready for war.

Our training requirements were not aligned with the Training and Readiness Manual requirements for our combat readiness measurements. In the base requirements…we did not have enough flight hours to do the training that was required for us to be successful when we went to war. We might as well have been tin foil strapped to a bent willow branch…we simply would not have been in effective in the big fight.

This did not keep us from being successful in Grenada and Panama or Desert Storm, or somewhat successful in the USS Mayaguez rescue, but it reared its head in the Iranian Embassy takeover, Desert One, Lebanon, and the streets of Mogadishu. We were simply not aligned enough with our missions, capabilities, and tactics to execute to the level required being successful in those missions. But we were very close in each case to achieving our objectives.

What was missing? Where was the rest of the spear?

A javelin thrower is a spear throwing machine. Success does not entirely depend on the aerodynamic design of the javelin itself. A well designed javelin will pierce the air effortlessly and pierce neatly and deeply into the point of impact. The pointy end will do its part, set on the right course. But success is dependent on the application of power, through a complex interaction of human systems, and it can be heavily influenced by other fleeting factors such as rain, wind, and will. Such it is with today’s military.

From everything that I have witnessed…from the tenacity and battlefield preparation of our air forces in Desert Storm, to the integrated blitzkrieg of the ground forces in Desert Storm, to the unparalleled successes of our troops in executing Operation Iraqi Freedom I, I have seen nothing that indicates that the tip of the spear is anything but carbon steel…penetrating and deadly. The point is capable of lethal penetration.


Michael McBride

Michael E. McBride retired as a Major from the Marine Corps and blogs at http://www.mysandmen.blogspot.com.

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