MARINES, CORPS VALUES, AND THE EXEMPTION CLAUSE?
by Andy Weddington
Monday, 26 August 2013
"Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning." Winston Churchill
From Merriam-Webster, two words defined...
courage: n : ability to conquer fear or despair : Bravery : Valor.
virtue: n : conformity to a standard of right : Morality : Merit.
United States Marine Corps - Corps Values...
Honor. Courage. Commitment.
Are some Marines exempt from Corps Values?
Eight years ago about this time, still on active duty and assigned as a base inspector, I was ordered to investigate allegations of officer misconduct.
What follows, less names, is what happened.
An officer alleged serious misbehavior involving more than a few married and single officers - company and field grade.
Since it was unknown as to who was involved, only the general, the staff judge advocate, and me were privy to the investigation.
Email and phone calls on government equipment indicated suspicious behavior. Sworn statements strengthened the case.
Findings of fact led to substantiating the allegations. The general concurred with findings, opinions, and recommendations.
The accused, one at a time, were read their rights, apprised of charges, and afforded opportunity to make a statement and consult with counsel.
Caught off guard - shocked - they were. Panic ensued. And then it got interesting - as a couple of the accused enjoyed name recognition and were, in the minds of some, on the path to wearing stars.
It did not take long for general officers to engage. Discreetly they wrongly toyed with administrative and judicial due process.
Officers attuned to what was going on alerted me.
Disturbed, I complained.
Eventually, some of the accused were punished and forced to retire at lesser rank; despite general officer antics to preempt.
Were the outcomes fair? Perhaps. But that will never be known for certain. Junior Marines harshly punished for less would surely conclude absolutely not.
One Article 32 (hearing to decide court-martial) was a sham. And everyone knew it. After the proceedings were closed a judge advocate remarked that everyone got what they wanted. True. But false.
I continued to pursue general officer misconduct. Why? Because the generals were out of line, continuing to pollute due process, and reporting their deviance was the right thing to do.
Further confirmation of wrongdoing came when a general officer asked my permission (and wanted me to drop the matter) to promote one of the accused. That happened while a complaint (of improper general officer conduct) to the Inspector General of the Marine Corps was still active.
Internal checks and balances proved corrupt. The officer was promoted.
An ally in high places quietly informed me I was not especially endeared by some general officers and warned to be careful.
I pursued the general officer(s) misconduct, anyway.
But to no avail for external authority without so much as a cursory look dismissed the formal complaint submitted, jointly, by me and the staff judge advocate.
Because of the Marines involved - the accused and the generals - the aim was to sweep the matter. That happened; the rubber stamp freshly inked and case buried.
Though immunized several times, by general officers, against punitive action for giving truthful statements, general officers next went after one of the accusers (promising career, too, destroyed and being administratively forced out of uniform). That nonsense stopped after suggesting the media might find the case interesting.
Troublesome was the accused Marines, while in command, had been misbehaving all whilst conducting non-judicial punishment and referring to courts-martial Marines whose misdeeds had, for the most part, been far less egregious. A more blatant double-standard and destruction to unit morale escapes me.
The subtle message was Corps Values did not apply to all Marines. Or so some believed. It was not a particularly happy realization amidst retiring.
It was nonsense. The case followed me into retirement - statements, testimony, boards of inquiry, etc. It nagged. Peace of mind came when sending the investigative package to a congressman - theirs to handle should questions arise about whatever happened to those promising stars (literally).
I offer the highlights of that saga for one reason - in light of what today surrounds the Marine Corps commandant. And though today's circumstances differ from experiences eight years ago they have the same eerie, sickening feel of senior officer misconduct.
Recently, a major, a judge advocate, leveled (and continues to pursue) serious allegations against the commandant (and other general officers) of inappropriately meddling in due process - the case of Marines urinating on enemy corpses. Documents and sworn statements (at least one from a general officer) indicate judicial fairness was compromised, and there was attempt to secret the wrongful actions. And not only is the commandant implicated but so is his counsel - military and civilian.
Further, it appears there was special treatment extended to one of the officers, a retired commandant's son, who was the executive officer of the unit (Marines who urinated). That officer was promoted and given battalion command. At last report, other officers of that unit, including the commanding officer (also pending promotion and coveted assignment), endure limbo.
So, from what's been reported to date it reads there's something afoul within the Marine Corps top ranks - not only as to misbehavior but integrity and fairness.
A key difference between eight years ago and today is the drama is on the media's radar. And as embarrassing as it is, it's necessary for the long-term health of the Corps.
And it all ties back to the Corps Values.
Thus the question, "Do some Marines, including the commandant, enjoy a Corps Values exemption clause?"
Saturday evening past I had an unexpected passing conversation with a retired Marine friend - who shared being in school and working on a dissertation. I asked the topic. "Trust." "Really," I said, "Have you considered interviewing the commandant?" I was being a bit sarcastic but not kidding. After pause, the sheepish reply, "No, there are different rules at that level."
That remark haunted for the rest of the evening, and since.
Different rules for the commandant? If that is so, then from what moral high ground does the commandant set the tone for the Marine Corps? How does the commandant lead? Why would anyone follow? And the questions go on.
Answers: No. None. Impossible. They won't.
As to this commentary's title - not a trick question - the answer is the Corps Values apply to all - from poolee (awaiting recruit training) to Naval Academy and Naval ROTC Marine-Option midshipmen to the newest private to the commandant.
No Marine is above good order and discipline.
There is no exemption clause. So the Corps Values are either a clever recruiting tag line and bumper sticker or meant to guide Marines along a wholesome, healthy path in life; in and out of uniform. The latter I still believe.
Many a Marine feels likewise. A couple of weeks back a retired Marine officer, judge advocate, wrote a piece for 'The Washington Times' calling for the commandant's immediate retirement as a major general. For those unfamiliar with the rank structure, that's two stars less than he currently wears. But considering all that seems gracious.
About two months ago I published a letter to the commandant that focused on open homosexuality and women in combat.
In closing that letter, "Draw sword! And your Marines, every living Marine, will follow and support you."
But things have changed dramatically since sending that letter. For the honor of the Marine Corps must endure - especially in these tumultuous times when and where truth, ethics, moral courage, and leadership by example - from the front - has been compromised, if not absent, in the very places expected.
Honor. Courage. Commitment.
Now, being Marines of commitment - officers and gentlemen - "Has not the time come for the commandant, and others, too, to do the honorable and courageous thing: Draw sword - and fall on it?"
Any officer, especially general officer, involved in the urination case and who directly or by complicity lacked the moral courage to do what was right ensuring fairness of due process must go; after being investigated and, if determined guilty, disciplined or punished. That's only fair.