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Wet feet

26 February 2024

Contribution by: Anneloes Vree, Laurens van Geffen (Allied-Forces), Major RNLMC Martijn (Royal Netherlands Marine Corps). Published |Qua Patet Orbis magazine | December 2023

“Why No One Can Walk on Water”

“Unconsciously Brilliant.” The brilliance of the Marine Corps is beyond dispute. Our Corps excels through a combination of rich culture and core values, based on our DNA, strong camaraderie, and leadership. To preserve this self-fulfilling prophecy, we must grasp the source of this excellence. Walking on water stems from mastering both the technical skill of walking and the belief that natural laws do not apply to us, Marines. The metaphor illustrates how a non-technical skill can make the difference between dry and wet feet. Notably, we are aware of the walking (technical skill), while the belief is often unconscious. The authors discuss the necessity of developing self-awareness within the Marine Corps. An undeniable quality of modern leadership, to prevent “wet feet” in the future. The accessibility of self-awareness is comforting, as it begins with “oneself”.

The necessity of well-developed self-awareness

Commanding Officer Operational Units Marines – Colonel RNLMC v.d. Berg: Self-awareness is being aware of oneself, of your “I”. It’s being aware of your strengths, your weaknesses, your pitfalls, and your behavior. But also being aware of possibly underlying causes of these. Individuals who are self-aware are, in my view, also powerful. Powerful towards themselves but also towards others. Self-aware Marines are therefore important for the team they work in. They make the team stronger, especially when the team consists of more self-aware Marines. This self-awareness comes with time, with maturity, and investments in oneself. It is not simply handed out as course material by instructors; it takes time. The MTC, and the POTOM-framework in particular, has recently started the initiative to give these so-called non-technical skills more substance. By naming certain (visible) behaviors, they make the student aware of his usually unconscious behavior. They offer a mirror for reflection and thus make it discussable. With this, we aim to make the student, and in this case the future officer, already more aware of themselves. I am convinced that this will be of added value to him as a future leader, especially considering the way the Marine Corps will operate in the Littoral Raiding Force in the future; in small units, independently, over greater distances, without direct connection. This change in operation also requires a different way of leadership; even more as part of the team, where team members complement each other, strengthen each other. For this, we need self-aware leaders at every level. This will strengthen the team’s cohesion, make the team more powerful, and result in a team that is committed to its task.

CMTC – LTCOL RNLMC Mastenbroek: When we introduced the Corps values to the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps in the year 2013, we effectively made visible what has been present in every Marine for centuries: the DNA of the Marine. The Corps values express what makes us all Marines. Being aware of this DNA is an essential skill for a leader. Know yourself, know your team, know your task, and the context in which you must operate. This fourfold is crucial for every leader to be successful. This begins and ends with self-awareness for me.

Martijn: In the context of the Practical Officers Training Course (POTOM), it is crucial that Troop Commanders are able to adopt this form of awareness. This means they can reflect on their capabilities, decision-making processes, and leadership styles. They must understand how their actions and decision making affect others and the tasks they carry out.

Laurens: Self-awareness refers to individuals’ ability to be aware of their own thoughts, emotions, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses, values, and goals.
Martijn: A self-aware individual is largely aware of their internal beliefs and aligns their behavior accordingly. An individual is authentic when actions and words match because they have the same internal origin. In the case of the Marine Corps, the Corps values are very accessible in favor of self-awareness; it’s a good starting point. At the Marine Training Center (MOC), Marines are made, behavior is disciplined and shaped, based on the aforementioned culture and Corps values. More awareness of the origin of ‘desired’ behavior is, in my eyes, necessary.

Self-aware, Ready-to-lead Troop Commanders

Martijn: This is the mission of the POTOM, based on the qualification profile: ‘To develop knowledge, skills, and attitudinal aspects required to act as a tactical commander in the role of Raiding Troop Commander at the operational units of the Marine Corps.’

In this mission, both technical and non-technical skills are named. Due to both manageability and size, the emphasis has been on technical skills over the past decades. After experimenting and improving, in the past three years, more emphasis has been placed on non-technical skills. Observable behavior arises, regardless of technical skill, often from underlying non-technical skills.

The average POTOM student is mentally and physically capable of reaching all coordinates of a map-and-compass exercise within the allotted time. Yet, in practice, for some, it proves to be a challenge. By speaking with a student early about internal processes, such as controlling thoughts, the desired result can still be achieved.

Based on the Code of Conduct Defense and the Corps values, students are guided in their self-awareness; this yielded positive results. For the current POTOM, non-technical skills have been further operationalized and made largely measurable, a value has been attached to it.
We asked Allied Forces to guide the process, interpret, mirror, ask relevant questions, and co-write. In doing so, we, as the POTOM-framework, have stated that the end state of the POTOM is both a technically ready-to-start and a non-technically self-aware Troop Commander.

Laurens: In guiding the POTOM-framework, insight was created about the effect of one’s language and actually shown behavior. It is evident that everyone uses the same words, but assigns a completely different meaning to them. This discrepancy can cause confusion, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. The ability to convert individual awareness into collective awareness makes the team of instructors cohesive.

Operationalization of Corps Values

Martijn: The collaboration with Laurens (Allied Forces) is valuable to be able to interpret what we actually mean. Within our Marine Corps, we use different words than outside the gate and -remarkably enough- we also lack words.

Laurens: Writing out “the behavior to be observed” is an important tool for every instructor, leader, manager. After all, the desired behavior is universally recognizable, and if this behavior is not shown or insufficiently shown, it can be intervened.

Anneloes: Language and words play a crucial role in developing self-awareness and expressing our thoughts, feelings, and identity. You cannot not communicate. It is therefore important that you are fully aware of your own (body) language, both verbally and non-verbally. On the other hand, self-awareness enables us to think about the impact of our words on others. We become aware of the power of language to evoke emotions, cause misunderstandings or, conversely, promote understanding. This awareness can lead to more thoughtful and empathetic language use, thereby improving the quality of our communication and relationships.

Martijn: Words from the Corps values linked to words from science and/or Allied-Forces give us the opportunity to actually interpret what we mean. For each Corps value, and underlying values, I will briefly discuss the blind spot, or present an alternative way of interpretation.


Solidarity, described in the Corps values as ‘no one is bigger than the team’, is easy for every Marine to translate into concrete behavior. Regardless of rank or position, maintaining one’s own weapon, jointly unloading the truck, throwing away garbage, etc. are associated with solidarity.
After a reinterpretation and reflection with Allied Forces, it turns out that we are actually talking about empathy or the ability to empathize. The ability to empathize with the emotions, perspective, and what you can mean for the other, is thus equal to “no one is bigger than the team”. Putting yourself in the shoes of what the effect is on the other of something as accessible as maintaining your own weapon, is thus actually what the Marine Corps labels as solidarity.

Team interest, described as ‘for Marines, self-interest is always subordinate to the team interest’ actually has to do with ownership and giving each other respectful feedback. The ultimatum that self-interest is ‘always’ subordinate to the team interest is also destructive. Without self-interest, there is no individual and it cannot contribute to the team or the accomplishment of the mission. Not keeping yourself deployable has a direct effect on the team, as does not speaking out for yourself.

Mutual trust is described as a prerequisite for ‘fighting for each other and supporting and caring for each other in setbacks’. Marines fight for each other because they are individually capable of evaluating their own actions and reflecting on them. By looking at yourself realistically, you are trustworthy and thus able to fight for each other. This can come forward in a reflection report, in a debriefing of a mission, and during the evaluation of a training in the form of a realistic After Action Report.


Mental resilience is described as ‘absorption capacity and stress resistance, combined with confidence in one’s own abilities’, and mainly arises from cognitive control. Controlling one’s own thoughts and their expressions. An expression of those thoughts is the mutual humor and the ability to put things into perspective of the Marine Corps. Humor and thus not a multitude of alternative methods, such as ice baths, yoga, hugging trees, etc. thus contributes to controlling thoughts.

Physical toughness is described as ‘the combination of great perseverance and good discipline, makes Marines perform excellently and are independently deployable for a longer duration’. Essential in this regard is that the team is as strong as the weakest link, burdens are distributed to ensure long-term deployability.

Presentation is described as “the radiance that stems from inner discipline and self-confidence gives Marines a distinctive character; flexible steel of world-class.” This goes beyond what presentation actually is. Presentation is visible during communication, a presentation, an order issuance and contributes to influencing the other by convincing, motivating, or inspiring.


Solution-oriented is described as ‘in combat, Marines are confronted with friction, chaos, and uncertainty’; this indicates the necessity to look for solutions. However, what is needed to look for solutions is: anticipating, adapting, improvising, courage, and some form of vision.
Expertise is described as ‘a great degree of physical fitness and expertise to perform at all times’ and focuses on worldwide deployability. It also addresses, for example, meta-cognition, knowing what you don’t know, where you get information and how you effectively make this information your own. Expertise in a complex and chaotic context is thus necessary for the expected performances, some insight into processing the expertise is essential.
Decisiveness is described as “Marines see opportunities, take action” and this proactive attitude summarizes the necessity for self-awareness. Actions speak louder than words.

Way Ahead

Laurens: If actions speak louder than words, and the actions stem from a lack of self-awareness, then you can easily get wet feet, as an individual, team, or organization. But rather, you get wet feet consciously after a landing, than pain in your belly from unconscious incompetence.
Martijn: Through the operationalization of the Corps values, it is not only possible to discuss the behaviors of students early, but also makes one’s own behavior more accessible. Looking forward, the invitation to first apply some form of reflection yourself, contact us for more explanation, do the self-test in a next article, and perform a simple sanity check during an amphibious landing. If you unexpectedly conclude that you have wet feet, then there is work to be done.