Deloitte's Marty Croxton earned one of the military's most prestigious honors for his service in Afghanistan.
As small-arms fire reverberated and mortar shells landed just a few hundred meters away, Martin Croxton, senior manager in Consulting, put a lifetime of military and consulting experience to the test.
In the winter of 2010, Croxton, then a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, met with his Civil Affairs teams assigned to the town of Marjah, home to the headquarters of the Taliban in Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan. Two teams from his detachment participated only days earlier in the middle-of-the-night offensive, sporting night-vision goggles and praying not to stumble onto an improvised explosive device. Croxton took the first opportunity to get into Marjah to evaluate conditions in the town and check on his Marines.
After coalition forces gained hard-fought control of the town, Croxton's mission was to cultivate a trusted advisor relationship with Afghan local and tribal leaders. He directed and led outreach efforts that began the work of translating military gains into lasting peace – re-building roads and schools, re-opening markets shuttered by combat, and trying to bring back some sense of normalcy in a way that that neither Al-Qaeda nor the Taliban could or would deliver.
Of course, the environment Croxton describes in these discussions was hardly a typical client meeting.
“Don't think for a moment that because you are meeting with someone that they have your interests in mind,“ Croxton says. “You must be prepared to kill the person sitting across the table from you. That sounds harsh sitting here in a Deloitte facility, but when you are in Helmand Province in 2010, that's a matter of survival and taking care of your Marines.“
A former active duty Marine specializing in infantry, reconnaissance, and intelligence, Croxton has served more than 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve while at the same time advancing his career in consulting. For his service in Afghanistan, Croxton earned the Bronze Star, among the military's most prestigious honors. His Bronze Star citation said Croxton's “leadership, bravery, and high personal standards inspired those around him to perform their difficult and dangerous duty, enabling Marine and Afghanistan forces to secure the hard-fought victories in southern Afghanistan through civil-military operations.“
It's an apt description of an honoree who still conveys the gung-ho dedication that is a hallmark of the Marine Corps.
As the third of 13 children, Croxton identified an ROTC scholarship as his path to a college degree. He attended Penn State, where he studied industrial engineering and served as president of the university's Blue Band. He pursued a commission as a Marine officer because “I like challenges, and if you can be a Marine, you can do anything.“
Shortly after leaving active duty in the early ‘90s, Croxton read Tom Peters' “In Search of Excellence,“ which inspired him to explore consulting. With no contacts in the industry, he walked from office to office in Los Angeles before landing a position at Coopers & Lybrand. “The partner who hired me was a former Army officer, and he was a bulldog kind of a guy. He threw me into four projects at the same time – it was his way of seeing if I could handle it. Here I am, still doing it.“
Croxton joined Deloitte three years ago through the BearingPoint acquisition. He serves in the Federal practice, working on finance matters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, he maintains his role as a reservist with periodic weekend maneuvers to keep his skills sharp. In that capacity, he is subject to “call up“ at any time to engage side-by-side with active duty forces.
When Croxton was activated in the fall of 2009, the Marine Corps was charged with turning around Helmand Province, a rural region of 1.4 million people best known as the world's largest producer of opium. The mission of Croxton's unit was to build a spirit of cooperation with locals living in the war-torn region and diminish the influence of the Taliban by enabling improved governance, economic development, education, and basic health services.
“Our job was to find out various issues facing a community, and engage in conversation so that we could drive a wedge between the population and the insurgents,“ he says. “We helped to show the population the benefits that would accrue to them if they sided with the coalition forces and the Afghan government.“
In Marjah, Croxton led a $2 million micro-finance effort designed to provide local farmers with a legitimate means to feed their families while convincing them not to grow or harvest poppy, the basis for opium and heroin. Farmers who took specific actions with their fields and signed a commitment not to take action against Afghan and coalition forces were paid a nominal amount per hectare and given simple agricultural tools, seeds and other farming aids to grow other cash crops during the summer planting season.
“We knew we were having a positive impact on the population when we heard our teams were being targeted and saw the number of Taliban incidents against the population begin to increase,“ Croxton says, referring to the Taliban's efforts to discourage residents from cooperating with the Marines. “Our responses were genuine and culturally sensitive, and went a long way toward making Marjah more secure and peaceful.“
Another of Croxton's teams also led a broad-based effort in the town of Now Zad, including restarting a community health clinic, re-opening schools and stores, providing operational support to the district government, and coordinating training for locals to work on all of these projects.
“I went up there to get military-aged males to do something other than plant IEDs or shoot at us,“ he says. “We needed to give them an alternative. We turned around a ghost town and gave the people the opportunity to become a thriving society again.“