Backbone History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of the Marine Corps NCO’s, by Julia Dye

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Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

If Marine NCOs form the backbone of the Corps, then the fourteen traits Julia Dye lists form their individual bones.

Although no Marine, Julia Dye relies on her expertise in hoplology (the anthropology of human conflict) to the task of explaining what makes a good—if not great—Marine NCO. She narrows it down to fourteen character traits, grouped under the headings of Body, Mind, and Spirit. Some traits are obvious, such as courage, loyalty, endurance, and dependability. However, Dye includes some not-so-obvious ones like tact, and defines it in a way which makes one think twice. Moreover, she not only cites Marines who personify the trait, but carries it to the outside world. Take integrity. Southwest Airlines’ response in the aftermath of September 11 is given as a shining example. Rather than lay off its workers, Southwest sought input from them on how to cut costs and keep going. Grateful workers responded with countless valuable suggestions on the company could stay solvent. Dye thus shows the other side of her thesis: if leaders (NCOs and officers) practice these virtues, then so will those under them.

Backbone is rich in examples of Marines, both men and women, who personify the ethics presented. Perhaps a little too rich at times, for it is possible to get bogged down in the various examples. However, Dye’s research is impeccable, as her lengthy bibliography suggest. She succeeds in making the case for her interpretation of each trait, and concludes by admitting no matter how outstanding a person’s actions are, no one is perfect, nor can be. High quality photos of many of the NCOs mentioned are an additional plus, tying the text to an actual face. This is a book which can resonate at many levels, Marine NCOs, officers, enlisted personnel, other service branches, and the general public.

Thoughtfully done and thought provoking, Backbone has a place on any bookshelf.

Reviewed by: B. N. Peacock (2014)


Author's Synopsis

Non-commissioned officers stand as the Backbone of the United States Marine Corps. The Corps is among the most lasting institutions in America, though few understand what makes it so strong and how that understanding can be applied effectively in today’s world. In her first book, Julia Dye explores the cadre of non-commissioned officers that make up the Marine Corps’ system of small unit leadership. To help us better understand what makes these extraordinary men and women such effective leaders, Dye examines the 14 traits embraced by every NCO. These qualities—including judgment, enthusiasm, determination, bearing, and unselfishness—are best exemplified by men like Terry Anderson, the former Marine sergeant who spent nearly seven years as a hostage in Beirut, and John Basilone, the hero of the Pacific.&; To assemble this extraordinary chronicle, Julia Dye interviewed Anderson and dozens of other Marines and mined the trove of historical and modern NCO heroes that comprise the Marine Corps’ astonishing legacy, from its founding in 1775 to the present day.