Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is a plain-spoken officer who has a knack for explaining complex problems in easily understandable, and sometime humorous terms.
A decorated officer who led Marines in Iraq, Neller has a self-effacing demeanor but a dogged focus on making sure his Marines get what they need to fight the nation's wars. His self-deprecating humor was on display Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where he referred to himself as "just an old, fat man."
Here are some of his quotable quotes:
FOOTBALL VS. SOCCER: "I came into the Marine Corps in 1975. It was the end of Vietnam, and the country was kind of in a — still dealing with that war, the Soviet Union was a major threat and it was pretty simple… You were going to fight a state-directed military force, there would be a forward line of troops, and you would be on one side and they would be on the other, and we were going to go fight.
"It was very traditional; the way Americans like to fight. That's why we like football, the field is all lined out, goals on either and, referees all around the field to make sure people play by the rules. We like that. And then you would stop to call a play and make another play.
"I find it interesting that the rest of the world likes soccer. There is one referee who never seems to see anything, guys run around in different directions all the times, they fall down even though they are not touched, we think that's bad, but everybody else just thinks that's part of the game. In military, that's called deception."
HOLDING ON TO GOOD MARINES AFTER YOU'VE TRAINED THEM: "So if we're going to train somebody to work in the cyberdomain, for example, and we invest in them, and they get to the end of their enlistment, they're going to have a huge number of opportunities. So how do we convince them? And the same for the Army, Navy, Air Force, how do we convince them to stick around and wear this uniform or wear a uniform and do that when some of your companies are out there offering them two, three times as much money, and they get to sleep in their own bed at night and no one's trying to kill them. Let me think about that for a minute."
LOST ART OF MANEUVER WARFARE: "We've been operating out of fixed positions. We have not moved across the ground. We have not maneuvered. We have not lived off the land. We've been eating in chow halls and drinking green bean coffee. That's pretty nice.
"I mean, there were people that were out on the edge, don't get me wrong; there were soldiers and Marines living out there, they were living hard. They were living hard. But it was different. And so, what I'm suggesting is we've just got to change."
LACK OF CAMOUFLAGE SKILLS: "You know, when was the last time you think about when you saw Marines or soldiers operating in Iraq or Afghanistan when they camouflaged their face or they broke up the outline of their helmet with camouflage so they couldn't be seen? When was the last time you saw that?"
THE NEED FOR LOW-TECH ANALOG OPTIONS: "The Navy used to call it, you know, operating in EMCON, electromagnetic spectrum reduction. It's still kind of important to be able to do semaphore and, you know, raise flags. And so they've been practicing this, you know, turn off your radar; be able to shoot stellar — you know, celestial navigation in case the GPS goes out. They're actually teaching that again at the Naval Academy. They'd stopped teaching it. I mean, Admiral [Jon] Greenert found that out when he was [chief of naval operations] and he realized that if they lost GPS, they had no means to navigate — no charts; just, you know."
THE SIGNATURE CHALLENGE: "We realized that we didn't have the right solution because, you know, Seaman Hicks decided she wanted to check her Facebook page, and so she walked out on the weather deck at night with her phone, and what's that phone got? It's got GPS. So anybody in the world is going to know there's some GPS somewhere out floating across the ocean, most probably on a ship."
A FEW GOOD MEN AND WOMEN: "Marines don't join the Marine Corps to sit on their sea bags at Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton. They didn't. They want to train, but they want to go somewhere and do something."