The United States Marine Corps Financial Management School, Camp Johnson, North Carolina.
Today, the base houses six schools near the ocean in a setting that, like all of the surrounding country, is flat, sandy, and covered with rail pine trees. As you enter the connecting road to the base, the Beirut Memorial is on the left, surrounded by azaleas and dogwoods, with a sculpture of a lone Marine standing guard.
I passed through the formalities at the gate and located Building 305, the Financial Management School. It is a low, cream-colored, redtrimmed, H-shaped, one-story building that appears extremely well-maintained.
Entering by a side door, I asked a noncommissioned (NCO) officer for the location of the commander's office. He took me outside and pointed to the other wing. "Go through the second hatch on the right, the one just next to the porthole there. He's expecting you!" I could tell already that my old Army vocabulary was being expanded!
I entered the building and met Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Blewis, the commander, and First Sergeant Bruce E. i. They are both quintessential Marines, just like the ones you see on a recruiting poster. In fact, as I looked around, I noticed that virtually everyone there had a similar appearance. Very impressive.
We sat down and start chatting about the school. During that initial session, Lt. Colonel Blewis said, "We get a lot of injuries here on the staff." I realized he was describing the Corps' new martial arts requirement: All of the school personnel are working on earning tan belts. Part of the training entails being thrown through the air several times by a training partner. I thought to myself, "This will be an interesting visit indeed."
The mission of the Financial Management School is to provide the Marine Corps with a core of initially trained financial management officers and Marines with essential knowledge in all levels of finance, accounting, and comptrollership principles. The school is part of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, which is headquartered at Quantico, Virginia.
The Financial Management School is directly under the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, Camp Lejeune, commanded by Colonel Jonathan T. Pasco. His command also includes the Logistics Operations School, the Ground Supply School, the Combat Water Survival Swimming School, the Personnel Administration School, and the Instructional Management School. The mission of the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools is to conduct formal resident training for officers and enlisted personnel through the six schools.
Lt. Colonel Blewis's primary goals for the Financial Management School are quality and relevance of training. He is constantly querying the field on present practices, updating the curriculum, and incorporating real-world training scenarios. Class size is limited to 25, although most classes are smaller, thus providing a superb student-instructor ratio. The school's table of organization calls for a staff of 34; however, the current staffing level is 28, and the job is being done well.
The school is organized into a Finance Instructional Section and a Comptroller Instructional Section, which together teach the following six courses:
* Financial Management Officer's Course (comptroller - 6 weeks)
* Financial Management Officer's Course (finance - 7 weeks)
* Financial Management Career Course (enlisted - 3 weeks)
* Advanced Finance Course (enlisted - 2 weeks)
* Basic Finance Technician Course (8 weeks)
* Fiscal Budget Technician Course (5 weeks)
A staff NCO is assigned to each of the junior enlisted courses--very similar to a drill instructor who also teaches. One of the senior staff NCOs remarked to me that he had never intended to become a drill sergeant, but the opportunity to develop the young people and pass along his experiences really was a very fulfilling experience and one very worthwhile.
A "Total Marine" concept for honor graduates is used. This means that--in addition to class grades-- inspections, physical fitness training, participation in discussions, attitude, bearing, and initiative all are counted. Students have a core values discussion at least once a week, and officer students have ethical dilemma discussions weekly as well. This is excellent preparation for fleet duty, where ethical considerations become very real-world problems in a hurry.
The Financial Management School graduates about 300 to 350 students per year. Although small in size, it does not lack in innovative ideas, nor does it lack in heart. For example, the school and its members are involved in the Adopt-a-School Program (where staff and students assist teachers at a Marine Corps base elementary school), visit senior homes, participate in Red Cross blood drives, and contribute to local food banks and, of course, to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign.
As a mark of inclusiveness, the spouse of each new Marine is contacted personally by the commander and by a Key Volunteer (a spouse of a school staff member). The newly arrived spouse is offered lots of assistance and always has a phone number to call when help is needed. At his own expense, Lt. Colonel Blewis also purchases a book on Marine Corps life (Roses and Thorns: A Handbook for Marine Corps Enlisted Wives) published by the Marine Corps Association and gives a copy to each new arrival.
Every week, a Marine is selected as the outstanding class member, and a personal letter describing this proud accomplishment and signed by the commander is sent to his or her parents. All of these initiatives work together to foster a sense of unity and a sense of belonging, both of which were evident throughout my visit to the school.
Lt. Colonel Blewis also described an initiative he calls "Advertise the Mission." When each student graduates, his gaining commander receives from the school a detailed letter explaining all of the things that person learned and all of the tasks he or she can be expected to perform. This is a great help to the new commander as well as great publicity for the school.
One of the many very pleasant experiences I had on my visit was a meal in the mess hall. I am pleased to say that the Marine Corps still has mess halls as opposed to "dining facilities" and other euphemisms used today in other services.
The facility was modern, both inside and out, and the food was outstanding. Gone were the stamped metal cafeteria trays and the master menu with its single hot entree for lunch. In their place were a well-stocked salad bar, a fast-food line, a hot meal line, and a dessert line that was tempting indeed. These Marines have to be among the healthiest, best-fed ever, eating like that three times a day. Life is good at Camp Johnson.
Following observation of the Financial Management Officer class, I attended the Commander's PT, led this particular week by the Financial Management School. PT is conducted three times a week; however, on Wednesdays, the commander and the command sergeant major attend.
The Financial Management School First Sergeant ascended a raised platform, called the entire assembled group of several hundred trainees and staff to attention, and commenced the session doing Marine Corps pushups (many of them). Despite the size of the field and the competing traffic noise, he did not use, nor did he need, a microphone.
After the daily dozen plus, the entire formation moved out for a three-mile run, led personally by Colonel Pasco and Lt. Colonel Blewis. Every member of that command is in shape and everyone participated.
During the second day of my visit, I was given a short tour of Camp Lejeune and the nearby Marine Corps Air Station. Most impressive were the recon Marines putting rubber rafts into a high and unfriendly surf on a day that could only be described as wintry at best.
While we were standing on the beach, First Sergeant McPeters noted, "This is where I left for Somalia. We just got on the landing craft here, the ship was anchored off the coast, and we went out to the ship and left"--and, as he said it, I realized this is what Marines can do. They can come and go from land to shore to ocean at will. I was a bit awestruck thinking about it.
I sat in a few more classes, watching young Marines learning about combat zone tax exclusions and computing basic pay entry dates and monthly pay and then visited the recently opened Montford Point Marines Museum, which is dedicated to keeping the early history of Camp Johnson alive. The installation has donated a rebuilt building to the Montford Point Marine Association, which operates the museum and builds its exhibits.
Approximately 20,000 African-American recruits received training at the Montford Point Camp during World War II. The purpose of their training was to develop African-American Marines for support roles. Once they graduated from training and finished serving, they were to be discharged back to civilian life. The outstanding military performance of these men changed this plan forever as the Montford Point graduates took their places in the Corps.
In July 1948 then-President Harry Truman issued Executive Order #9981, and in September 1949 Montford Marine Camp was deactivated, ending seven years of segregation. On April 19, 1974, the camp was renamed Camp Johnson after the late Sergeant Major Gilbert H. "Hashmark" Johnson, who was one of the first black drill instructors and who later advanced to the rank of sergeant major as one of the first 600 black regulars in the Corps.
My final activity was a visit to the martial arts training, which was being conducted indoors in deference to the wintry blast that had descended on the camp. True to Lt. Colonel Blewis's description, people were being tossed through the air like large sacks of potatoes.
I elected to observe only, since the rating points to earn the tan belt include bayonet techniques, front-break fill, an eye gouge, a hammerfist strike, a variety of chokes, and a whole bunch of knife techniques.
Throughout my visit, it was obvious that the instruction was being continually improved. While at Camp Johnson, I was briefed on the updating of computer-based systems available to students for practice; a major curriculum revision under way through the Marine Corps Training and Education Command; plans to install a mock office to improve the realism of training offered; and surveys to the field, the responses to which keep materials up to the minute. The students I talked to enjoyed the instruction and generally were pleased that they had been able to get into the financial management field.
This visit to "The Smallest School" was, in a way, the most educational for me. While I felt very much at home in the military school environment, I had not spent any time previously with the Corps. There is a camaraderie and a feeling of family even among the new students that is uplifting and kind of old-fashioned. Yet the military heritage and traditions are always present.
For additional details, please consult www.lejeune.usmc.mil/mccsss/fms.
John Raines received a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut, a master's from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and has done doctoral study at the Virginia Tech Graduate Center in Northern Virginia. He is currently serving as the Associated Direct for Professional Development for ASMC. He is a member of the Association for Government Accountants, and has twice been President of the Virginia Tech Graduate Center Phi Delta Kappa chapter, an education association. He is a Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) and a member of the Mount Vernon Chapter of ASMC. His awards include the Army Humanitarian Service Award, The Army Staff Badge, and the Army Superior Civilian Service Award. He is a runner outdoorsman, and avid motorcyclist in his spare time.
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|Publication:||Armed Forces Comptroller|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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