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Broken Culture of the Marine Training in Paris

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The first identification of the broken culture of the Marine training center on Parris Island was by Charles Krulak when he became commandant in 1995. Krulak began an initiative to change the brutal culture which was named the transformation process. This initiative aimed to integrate the Marines core values of honor, courage and commitment into every aspect of basic training. Krulak stated the overall goal was to create “a smarter, more selfless, more adept and more educated Marine.” From 1995-1999 Krulak claims the transformation process successfully began curtailing hazing. After 1999 the Drill Instructors of Parris Island reverted back to their own brutal training methods due in part to the retirement of Krulak and the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following September 11th.

In June of 2014, Kate Germano arrived on Parris Island to lead the Fourth Battalion and was shocked at the brutality of the culture on the base she gave her subordinates on the similarities to how recruits were being treated and how prisoners in Abu Ghraib were treated. Germano identified the depots regimental commander Col. Haas as the main reason for the toxic culture on the base, due to his hands off leadership approach. Germano had some degree of success at changing the culture within her battalion until she was relieved of duty due to a poor evaluation she received 11 months after arriving at Parris Island. Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon who was in charge of the 3rd battalion instituted a zero-tolerance policy that prohibited any drill instructors from laying hands on recruits. From 2013-2015 31% of all hazing reports came from the 3rd battalion, and more of these reports resulted in consequences than any other battalion. In 2015 Kissoon received negative feedback on his command evaluation and began to step down from pursuing these hazing charges so adamantly.

Three of the main factors that led to the failure of these change efforts and sustained the toxic culture in place at Parris Island are: Blind loyalty of drill instructors coupled with a toxic training program, laissez-faire leadership from the regimental commander Col. Haas, and the hostility towards those who attempt to change the culture. The first factor that deals with the training of drill instructors and their insular nature to protect each other instead of participate in improving the culture of Parris Island is a difficult factor to address. The HBR change management reading “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” highlights a strategy that may be effective in reforming the toxic culture and training of drill instructors. This strategy has to do with identifying competing commitments and big assumptions that are preventing Drill Instructors from adopting a values based training model, this likely needs to be paired with concerted efforts to generate buy-in from drill instructors. The competing commitments and big assumptions of the drill instructors were identified in the case. Based on the behavior and reaction of the 3rd battalion to values based training it appears that drill instructors have a competing commitment to ensure their brutal style of training stays in place and the big assumption they are using to support it is that if values based training is implemented than anyone will be able to just walk in and become a marine which would undermine the view of the marines as the most selective branch of the military. In addition the HBR reading on “Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Change” identifies some key barriers that the drill instructors cause to the changing of the overall culture at Parris Island. Most strikingly was a lack of a shared vision that drill instructors bought into. Because the drill instructors did not buy in to a shared vision they could not engage in task alignment that would drive the values based recruit training.

The second factor preventing cultural change at Parris Island is the hands off leadership style employed by Col. Haas. Because of Col. Haas’s lack of involvement in the cultural change effort at Parris Island there was no directive that officers could rely on to support their change efforts. In addition as shown in the McKinsey article “How to Beat the Transformation Odds” it is integral for senior leaders to participate in the change process and spend time where the work is done if a change effort is to be successful. The case contrasts the failure in leadership of Col. Haas with his predecessor Charles Krulak who was successful to a degree in begining to change behavior due to his involvement and leadership of the transformation process.



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