Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Marine Corps

Joint Chiefs to get taste of Marine modernization with new senior enlisted advisor

As the new senior advisor to the chairman, Sgt. Maj. Troy Black will bring four years’ experience with Force Design 2030.

When Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black packs up his office to head over to his new position as the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he’s planning to bring some of the tenets of Force Design 2030 with him.

“I think if I was gonna say anything about [his new job] and moving forward, it's that the joint force must continue to modernize…in order to maintain primacy over our adversaries,” Black told reporters last week.

“We will always be involved in some form of counterinsurgency and low-intensity conflict. However, not since the end of the Cold War have we needed to focus on geopolitical adversaries…We are back there again. This is the war of our grandparents, the war we're living right now. And we need to transition to that.”

Black, who championed the Marine Corps’ transformation efforts for four years under then-Commandant Gen. David Berger, will be the first senior enlisted advisor to the Joint Chiefs chairman to come from a service’s senior enlisted position. In his new role, he will offer thoughts on the readiness and wellbeing of the military to the next chairman—presumably President Joe Biden’s nominee Air Force Gen. CQ Brown.

Putting the troops first, the infantry Marine said, is what he’ll carry over from his Force Design work.

“It's gonna be the same things that I'm doing now,” Black said.

The U.S. military is in an “interwar period” that the Marine Corps has been using to modernize its force, he said, adding that it must continue to do so in order “to meet the current multi-domain threats and be able to maintain our competency as an institution on the fundamental core requirements.”

While not everyone has been happy about the changes made through Force Design, the Marine Corps has grown accustomed to questioning what should be modernized next, Black said. That gives his successor, Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, an advantage that he nor Berger had at the start.  

“That momentum is already moving. Everyone is open right now to look at everything,” he said.

In a separate conversation last week, Ruiz told reporters that he wants to listen to Marines first before thinking about making any changes.  

“So it's not about what I'm going to change, it’s what's not going to change. And that's really about knowing your job, respecting the standard, and striving every day to have a disciplined day. That's the way I think of it in my brain. To be a little better than you were yesterday,” he said.

Hailing from Sonora, Mexico, Ruiz started in the Marine Corps as a supply warehouse clerk, figuring a short enlistment would set him up for success in the civilian world. Instead, he made the Marines a career. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and was supposed to take the senior enlisted position at U.S. Space Command before “fate stepped in.”

“This is surreal for me to be sitting with you,” he said. “I feel like an out-of-body experience because I never thought that I would ever be a sergeant major of the Marine Corps.”

Asked what he will prioritize with Force Design, Ruiz said he will always focus on the Marines and their professionalism and discipline.

“Because whatever fight we get into next, I think—I know—that what makes Marines different and why people think of Marines [differently], because they expect us to be a disciplined Marine Corps. And in that, I think we’ll carry the day no matter where we go fight,” he said.

Recruiting and maintaining the size of the force is “a lot of pressure,” Ruiz said. “Retention is key.”

He said the service is working on “permeability,” to allow people to move between the active component and the reserves, allowing them to pursue personal dreams while still being able to serve. Gen. Eric Smith—the Corps’ assistant commandant, whose ascension to the top job is under a GOP senator’s blanket hold—listed this as a “warfighting priority” in his recent guidance to the force.

“The point being is that we want access to you and your talents and your skills. You have to do your part to remain relevant, but I think we have to move towards that direction,” Ruiz said. “Because now the Marine Corps’ being advertised as making recruiting and retention, but the pool of people to recruit from is drastically shrinking."