Lance corporals were very common throughout the Corps leading up to the 1930s. However, the introduction of private first class largely replaced them during the years of the second World War. In 1958, the rank was officially established. Where lance corporals come from after that and what they do is, by all accounts, a big part of Marine Corps history, and its future.
The term “lance corporal” comes from the French word lancepesade and the Italian phrase capo corporale. Lancepesade means “broken lance,” whereas capo corporale translates to “head of the body.” Therefore, the term lance corporal can be translated as “one who has broken a lance in combat,” and “leader.” A seasoned warrior with battle experience.
A lance corporal is a rank above private first class and below corporal. What they amount to in relation to the standards of the Marine Corps is certainly a different story.
I know that becoming a lance corporal requires nine months of time in grade as a private first class. That said, Marines holding this rank have some experience. I can understand and agree to the thought process that Marines with “mosquito wings” on their collar are excited about the months until they pick up lance corporal because that rank brings respect and leadership. Such was the case when I was at the Defense Information School, the institution where public affairs Marines receive their entry-level training. Lance corporals carried some reserved respect, and they were appropriately designated the student leaders in our detachment.
When I was promoted to lance corporal, I even received some increased acknowledgment from our new privates and privates first class. I didn’t gloat over it thinking they would obey my every word. Instead, I took some pride in it because I was someone who had already graduated one major military occupational specialty, or MOS, course and about to finish another. I had experience and knowledge and I wanted them to see me as a resource for help and answers.
Upon arrival to the fleet, I saw what I expected. Lance corporals everywhere and more corporals and sergeants. Once again it seemed I was at the very bottom of the food chain. However, I felt that this was the time and place to prove myself and develop as a Marine.
As a combat correspondent working in the public affairs office, my job primarily consists of writing stories about events that occur aboard the Combat Center. These stories are backed by interviews from subject matter experts and pictures of what is happening.
Like any task, there is a precise method of making the best work output possible. I can see that the corporals in my shop know it and I want to know and apply it as well.
A lance corporal’s priority is to learn and grow in proficiency within their particular job field. Becoming a non-commissioned officer in the future will just make them that much more of a solid Marine and an asset.
In a platoon, organization is broken down into squads. Each squad has a leader that is usually a corporal or a sergeant.
However, in the event of a platoon being undermanned, it is the lance corporal that will step up and assume leadership. Just like the corporal or sergeant that would be there, the lance corporal will be expected to lead by example, even alongside his or her peers.
At the DINFOS, I started truly understanding what it means to lead by example. Such minor actions such as showing up to formations early, taking the initiative to clean on field day or exceling in schoolwork was noticed by the senior Marines around me. I was doing those things as a private first class and as a lance corporal I only continued it and encouraged it.
I had the opportunity to speak with two lance corporals who are field artillery cannoneers to get a better understanding of the role of a lance corporal plays in another MOS.
Lance Cpl. Mason E. Coutre, assistant section chief, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, has been a lance corporal for 13 months. He assists the section chief, a corporal, and his duties include making sure the weapon is laid properly and that the section is safe.
“I’m always kicking impromptu classes about the MOS,” Coutre said. “The biggest thing in our section is MOS proficiency.”
Coutre encourages his Marines to know the specifics of their job, not just for the sake of getting it done, but to develop leadership qualities.
“A leader can definitely be someone E-3 or below,” Coutre said.
Lance Cpl. Levin J. Jolley, cannoneer, 3/11, has been a lance corporal for less than a month. He feels he has an understanding for his job and the Marines above him.
“(Coutre) has been a junior lance corporal, so he knows what the unit expects,” Jolley said. “He’s showing me everything I need to know to get there.”
Senior Marines in any MOS should be a resource for knowledge.
“I ask a lot of questions,” Jolley said. “The chief knows I want to learn.”
Some would agree that lance corporals are often stepped on by all of those that outrank them, but in reality it is the lance corporal that is developing privates and privates first class and working hard to become future corporals and sergeants. They are in a unique position in the enlisted rank structure.
“Everybody has a role,” Jolley said. “Nobody wants to stay complacent.”
Writing this article has taught me that a lance corporal is more than just a Marine tasked with police calling or delivering items. It is a Marine that learns from those that are above him or her and mentors the Marines that are below. Marines, like Lance Cpl. Jolley, take pride in their work and duties and can bring up other junior Marines to do the same. The future of the Marine Corps depends on it.