In Corps, comm officers move up ranks

In Corps, comm officers move up ranks

Communications officers are warfighters, too, Brig. Gen. Robert M. Shea says.

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

With one Marine Corps communicator-general celebrating the first-year anniversary of his promotion and a second selected for promotion, Defense Department officials are offering different takes on whether the communications career path has gained clout within the department.

Brig. Gen. Robert M. Shea, the Marine Corps assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications, computer and intelligence, celebrates the first anniversary of his promotion to brig-adier general on Sept. 1.

In the fall, the Corps selected fellow comm officer, Col. John R. Thomas, for promotion to brigadier general, too. He is assistant deputy chief of staff for pro-grams and requirements for the Pacific Force.

Shea was the first comm officer selected to become general within the past 15 to 20 years, said Capt. Mike Neumann, a Corps spokesman. 'There's no way to check the record of every general officer to see if he served as a communications officer,' he said.

But there are more than 80 Corps generals, and almost all have aviator or infantry military occupation specialties, he said.

There is no new promotion allocation for communications officers to reach general, said Maj. Patrick G. Gibbons, another Marine Corps spokesman. 'The Marine Corps does not promote by occupational field.'

The merging by the Corps of its comm and data systems officer career fields in 1995 created the fourth largest career field after aviation, infantry and artillery, he said.

The Navy's director of space, information warfare, command and control seemed to argue against placing comm officers in high service positions, particularly if they lacked warfighting experience.

Vice Adm. Robert J. Natter said his warfighter's perspective has helped him deal with the Information Technology for the 21st Century initiative, as well as the Navy-Marine Corps intranet project and year 2000 readiness.

'This is a warfighting issue, not a widget issue,' Natter said of year 2000 readiness. In addition to serving in Vietnam and earning a Bronze Star Medal with Combat V and Purple Heart, he commanded the 7th Fleet before taking his current assignment.

Although Shea reiterated the qualifications of all Corps officers selected for the rank of general, he said the brass has begun to pay attention to systems professionals.

'As you look at the increased emphasis on information technology, and command and control, there's a heightened awareness on [the part of] senior leadership' of the importance of computer systems to the Marines' day-to-day operations, he said.

Network administrators are critical to the Marines conducting network-centric warfare, and the current crop of three-star generals is particularly forward-thinking in their understanding of that, Shea said.

The case

'They're just every bit a Marine as a rifleman,' he said of comm officers. Because all Marines know how to use a rifle, he argued that they all are warfighters, whether they run networks on deployments or dig trenches.

In the field, the Corps cannot use civilians or contractors extensively, so it needs Marines well-trained in systems use. 'On forward deployments, you're talking about Marines, you're talking about warfighters,' Shea said.

One three-star general in the Air Force rejected the suggestion that an officer's systems experience would help win promotion.

'Your success is measured by your contribution to the operational effectiveness, not information technology,' said Lt. Gen. William J. Donahue, the service's deputy chief information officer.

'Whether it's been a shift in thinking, it opens up a lot of opportunities' for Corps communicators, said Debra M. Philippi, the service's deputy chief information officer. 'We feel the support and endorsement' from generals in command, control and communications, she said.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.