CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- "Right now, the Marine Corps has a golden opportunity," said a warrior to the crowd assembled at the Base Theater Dec. 15. Retired Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command, addressed more than 1,500 Marine officers here on the "Roles of Marines in the Future" during a professional military education presentation sponsored by the Marine Corps Association. "Marines have got to get to the front of the line and take the challenges," said Zinni. "We've got to experiment, change and adapt. It's amazing that everybody (other services) wants to be just like the Marine Corps." The general envisions the services becoming more "interoperable" with greater coordination to accomplish their missions."The world has become more interdependent," the infantryman said. "A seemingly small conflict has the potential of disrupting regional and world stability...we have to be ready for the dirty, little jobs."Speaking about the value of the Corps, Zinni said, "We're the world's 'crisis response force.' We take the missions and don't complain. Our strength and value is how we respond to crisis."The Vietnam veteran emphasized that quality of life, compensation and benefits are factors affecting attrition. He also spoke at length on the need to revamp the Marine Corps' hierarchical levels."Count all the battalions and squadrons. Count all the headquarters. Why do we need so many headquarters elements over our operating forces?" the general asked. "This outfit is supposed to be lean and mean. If we traded all those pens for bayonets, we'd be dangerous. I think you will see changes."The retired Marine commented on Marine Corps leadership by saying, "Noncommissioned officers are the backbone. They are the Corps' finest. While wounded in Vietnam, I virtually became a spectator. It was amazing to watch the sergeants and below execute." In Washington, Zinni is actively involved in promoting the Marine Corps and lobbies Congress and both Republicans and Democrats regarding issues that affect its future."Once a Marine - always a Marine," he said.Editor's note: General Anthony C. Zinni, is a decorated Vietnam veteran who began his career as a 1st Battalion, 6th Marines platoon commander and recently retired as the Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Among other assignments, the Philadelphia Marine served with the 2d Marine Division as the 1st Bn., 8th Marines executive and commanding officer, 3rd Bn., 2d Marines operations officer and 2nd Bn., 8th Marines commanding officer.As a general officer, Zinni was involved with relief efforts "Operation Provide Comfort" in Turkey and Iraq, "Operation Provide Hope" in the former Soviet Union and operations "Restore Hope" and "Continue Hope" in Somalia.Other positions included: Deputy Commanding General, United States Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Va., from 1992 -1994, Commanding General I Marine Expeditionary Force from 1995 - 1996 and Deputy CINC, U.S. Central Command from Sept 1996 - Aug 1997.