How the new Marine commandant plans to lead in the social media age

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Robert Knapp

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Marine Corps' new commandant is not one to micromanage -- but he expects his leaders to be squared away and put their Marines on the right path when they're misbehaving.

Gen. David Berger is not the first commandant who might encounter discipline problems in the ranks. But he's one of just a few who have led the Marine Corps in the age of social media, where some Marines have made career-ending decisions.

That has included racist photos, a video showing Marines defiling enemy remains, posts that degraded women and negative comments about the commander in chief.

"What's interesting to me, is over the last couple of years, ungoverned -- it's not structured, it's more like it grew up on its own -- is this self-policing on social media," Berger, who became the commandant on Thursday, told in an exclusive interview this week. "... That's pretty fascinating to me."

It's not an easy problem to deal with, as Gens. Jim Amos and Robert Neller found during their tenures as commandant. Neller, who had to deal with the fallout from a massive online scandal, even said during Thursday's passage of command ceremony during which he passed the torch to Berger that there were days when he woke up when he didn't want to be commandant.

"Dave, there are days when you wake up that you just don't want to be the commandant," he told Berger. "But you are the commandant, you are our commandant. So ... get out there and do the job and everyone else will follow."

Policing social media use for the military's youngest force is a hefty mission. Over the years though, Marines, veterans and other watchdogs have begun stepping in to report inappropriate posts when they see them. Screen shots of a lance corporal's white supremacist posts, for example, were posted on Twitter by a Marine veteran who called on the infantry assaultman's command to address the situation.

When asked if noncommissioned officers and other leads need to monitor their Marines' behavior to catch digital wrongdoing through, Berger stressed that if they do, it should be about leadership -- not micromanagement.

"I think our job is first to educate always," he said. "We should never assume that a 17-year-old Berger or 18-year-old Berger coming out of high school knows what's appropriate and not for the Marine Corps. In 13 weeks [of boot camp], you can cover a lot of ground, but there will be a level of detail where perhaps you need either more education or more reinforcement to what's appropriate."

Leaders also have the incredible responsibility of setting the right example for their Marines. And even though there has been a string of commanding officer reliefs in recent months -- at least six since late April -- Berger said he doesn't view there being a widespread problem in the officer corps.

"The leaders that you spoke of that were relieved by the organization, the service held them accountable for their behavior appropriately," he said. "... I am confident that Marine leaders understand that these are not ordinary standards.

"It's not easy to get in, it's not easy to stay in," he added. "But part of the reason they [Marines] stay is because the expectations are that high."

As commandant, Berger will have the unique role of choosing the service's next crop of commanders, something he calls the "ultimate responsibility."

"Selecting them and then ensuring that they are held to that standard and are held accountable for their actions, their behavior, their decisions is my job," Berger said. "No one else's."

This article originally appeared on

More articles from

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

Read More Show Less

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis decided to take on President Donald Trump's reported assertion that he is "overrated" at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City on Thursday.

"I'm not just an overrated general, I am the greatest — the world's most — overrated," Mattis said at the event, which raises money for charity.

"I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress," Mattis said. "So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals ... and frankly that sounds pretty good to me. And you do have to admit that between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories."

Read More Show Less

The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

Read More Show Less

The United States and Turkey have agreed to a temporary cease fire to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a safe zone that Turkey is establishing along its border with Syria, Vice President Mike Pence announced on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A Navy doomsday aircraft that would play a vital communication role in the event of a nuclear war had one of its four engines replaced this month after it struck a bird at a Maryland air station.

Read More Show Less