Marine Heroes #7 - Alfred M. Gray
Rank: Lieutenant General
Hometown: Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
There have been thirty-four Commandants of the US Marine Corps. Thirty-three of their pictures show Marines in their formal dress uniforms with rows of ribbons, but no so for Lt. General Alfred Gray. As a reminder that “the primary role of every Marine is a rifleman”, he had his official photograph taken in the Camouflage Utility Uniform.
It was a dark and difficult year for the US Marine Corps in 1987. Still recovering from the 1983 bombing of the Beirut barracks, several Marines were accused of espionage at the US embassy in Moscow, and Lt. Col. Oliver North appeared daily in uniform to answer charges of illegal activities before a Congressional committee.
Nobody thought Gray had a chance at the job. After all, he spent most of his career outside Washington and, according to one source he "lacks the smooth edges you normally see in Washington."
Gray had risen from private to four-star general. Enlisting in the Marines in 1950, he achieved the rank of sergeant before being selected for officer training and being commissioned a second lieutenant in 1952. By definition, serving in the enlisted ranks prior to becoming an officer makes Gray a "mustang," which generally commands more respect in the Corps due to the combination of officer smarts and enlisted practicality.
Then Secretary of the Navy James Webb must have thought some rough edges were needed. He nominated Alfred M. Gray to be the twenty-ninth Commandant of the Marine Corps. After confirmation by the Senate, General Gray assumed his post on July 1, 1987.
Less than a month later, he gave a speech to an audience of Marines. There was no doubt what the new Commandant wanted. He said that Americans saw the Marines as an elite force. They expected excellence from Marines. "I don't think we're that good," he told the officers, "But we're going to be."
"I warn you, the basics mean a lot to me."
Widely considered a visionary at the development of warfare, he is associated both with stimulating the intellectual growth of the Marines while simultaneously emphasizing the Marine culture as warriors.
Gray thought that the Marines had lost focus on their mission and on the values embedded in their tradition. He wrote that the Marine Corps should be "organized for warfighting and adapted for peacetime, rather than vice versa."
So Marines quit running in jogging suits and went back to running the obstacle course in full combat gear. Gray told his officers to listen to the people in their units so they don't miss the good ideas that will "bubble up." To walk that particular talk, Gray spent a lot of time out of Washington, talking with Marines of all ranks.
In 1988, Gray established the Commandant's Reading list, the first service head to make such recommendations for all Marines. He created a research center (that bears his name) where officers were to look ahead a decade or two. He emphasized that learning was intrinsic to being a Marine.
He currently serves on numerous corporate, non-profit, and governmental advisory boards. Now over 80 years old, he still finds time to visit the library at the Alfred M. Gray Research Center to donate the latest books he’s read.
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