WASHINGTON -- The colonel who steered the Marine Corps' war-fighting strategy away from frontal assaults and toward the speed and maneuvering that marked Operation Desert Storm has been forced into early retirement.
Col. Mike Wiley, 51, was passed over for promotion to general on March 19. In the military, this means mandatory retirement. His dismissal takes effect in October.
Some officers say they fear that the dismissal of Colonel Wiley may mean a reversion to old-fashioned thinking and could send a message to other young officers that innovative ideas do not promote careers.
Reinforcing this message is the fact that the review board that dismissed Colonel Wiley was headed by Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., who has been nominated to be the new Marine Corps commandant.
The Senate must confirm this appointment, a normally routine task. But General Mundy's role in Colonel Wiley's dismissal, which was dis
closed in a House hearing Tuesday, is beginning to prompt controversy.
John Boyd, a retired Air Force colonel who is considered the intellectual leader of the movement that revived maneuver-warfare philosophy, urged the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday to look into Colonel Wiley's case.
"If nothing is done about Colonel Wiley," he said, "young . . . officers will be inhibited" from pursuing unconventional ideas "and the Marine Corps will be left in the hands of . . . dinosaurs" who will undo the
progress that led to the successes in the Persian Gulf war.
"The difference between brilliant armies and mediocre armies has always rested on a small number of innovative officers. . . . If you do not protect these people, it's hi-diddle-diddle, straight-up-the-middle again," Mr. Boyd said.
Colonel Wiley, a 29-year veteran, has been shaping Marine Corps doctrine since 1979, when he was assigned to the Marines' Warfighting Center in Quantico, Va.
In 1988, Colonel Wiley wrote a revision of the official Marine operations field manual that formally altered the corps' war-fighting doctrine from attrition warfare to a maneuver-warfare philosophy relying on outsmarting the enemy and throwing him into confusion and disorder.
Colonel Wiley said he was led to this direction after serving in Vietnam. "I had a lot of misgivings about our tactics," he said in a telephone interview this week. "They were more casualty-producing than they needed to be. I said, 'Let's do some study. Let's have the courage to criticize our own efforts and move forward.' My career became sort of a crusade from then."
Two Marines familiar with Colonel Wiley's case said Tuesday that they felt the dismissal was political.
"I know I've taken some career risks," Colonel Wiley said. "I've disagreed with senior officers -- blatantly. I'd deny that I've ever been insubordinate or disrespectful, but I've taken issue . . . and that wasn't appreciated. . . . You have to pay the price for that. I'm disappointed, but I'm not bitter."