Lance corporal is the most common rank in the Marine Corps. It’s the upper-most junior-enlisted Marine; the last step before becoming an NCO. It’s at this rank that you truly learn the responsibilities that come with being an NCO — and it’s when you start to shoulder those responsibilities. But Marines can be lance corporals straight out of boot camp. But how can someone with no experience possibly be ready to lead others Marines? This is why we created an unofficial rank — “senior lance corporal.”
Lifers everywhere will tell you that there’s no such thing. They’ll say something along the lines of, “being a senior was a high school thing and it ought to remain there.” But the truth is that there are very valid reasons for the distinctive title.
No matter your reason for stating otherwise, one thing’s for sure: senior lance corporals exist. This is why.
This Lance Corporal still has a lot to learn.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Catie Massey)
The “junior” lance corporal
The “junior” lance corporal is the guy who picked up rank during boot camp because they were an Eagle Scout or some sh*t. Regardless, they didn’t earn real Marine Corps experience while waiting for that rank. Hell, the only experience they have in the Marine Corps is with marching — which is important, sure, but there’s a lot more to being a Marine than marching.
There are exceptions, of course. You could have spent time in the service prior to deciding that whatever branch you were in was a group of weaklings compared to the Marines. In that case, you do have experience, but this is pretty rare. The majority of “junior” lance corporals haven’t led Marines yet — not really, anyway — nor have they been to any leadership courses.
They spent a lot of time doing things by the book, which isn’t typically how things go in a real unit.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
They spent their time learning the basics which, if we’re being honest, are great building blocks, but your unit’s standard operating procedure may render a lot of what you learned basically useless.
Anyone who’s reached NCO before their first term and has led Marines knows that you can’t trust a junior lance corporal to clean their room the right way on their first attempt. How could that lance corporal possibly be the same as the one who went through leadership and/or advanced schools and has a deployment under their belt? Hint: It’s not.
Enter the “senior” lance corporal.
These guys have been around a minute.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The “senior” lance corporal
When a junior Marine gets to their unit, even if they’re a lance corporal, this is the guy they refer to as “lance corporal.” The junior will quickly come to understand that, while they may hold the same rank, they are not the same. The difference, in fact, is rather large.
A senior lance corporal has been on a deployment. Regardless of whether that deployment was into combat or not, that lance corporal has real leadership experience. They went to a foreign country and they were responsible for leading Marines to success. Then, before you got to the unit, they went to leadership schools. These Marines have a lot more experience than a greenhorn fresh out of boot camp.
So ask yourself, are you treating your Marines a certain way based on experience — or rank?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo Cpl. Aaron Patterson)
Realistically, there are plenty of senior lance corporals that don’t give a f*ck anymore. But for every one of those, there are ten who strive to be good Marines and great leaders. To diminish their hard work and reduce them to the same level as some fresh boot does nothing but destroy their spirit.
The fact is, a “senior” lance corporal could be a squad leader — a job that is meant to be held by a sergeant, but is more commonly held by a corporal. You could not take a “junior” lance corporal and say the same. The difference is clear.