Thursday, March 25, 2021

Kafka and the Corps

It is time to return to a topic no one likes. It is one of the most damning of the military service and its leaders; the abuse of Command Investigation and the Inspector General process.

Sadly, they often degrade to the lowest motivation from one or two of the players involved. If not properly led and managed, they can quickly devolve in to Star Chamber, Kafkaesque nightmare that no one gets out of alive.

The more I've seen of them, the firmer I hold that no one can survive one intact. If you dig enough, you will run in to something or someone that can give an investigating body enough to destroy in a day what took decades to build.

I give to you another example, this time from the USMC. 

If you read this like I do, you come away with more questions coming out than going in.

Time to take a snapshot via Todd South Marine Corps Times.

You've had a full and successful career and are set up for Major Command;

Following multiple combat deployments after 9/11, by early 2017 Mann had been asked to take over 25th Marine Regiment ― one of only two infantry regiments in the Marine Corps Reserve.

The colonel had accepted the job, overseeing more than 4,500 Marines spread across 23 sites in 11 states and overseas, knowing it would be a different kind of assignment.

A tough but important job - a crown jewel for our best ... and two months after taking over;

...he learned about two equal opportunity complaints from a Marine sergeant in the headquarters company administrative section, which predated his tenure.

We have a NCO, been there a few years, who has a couple of EO complaints already under their belt.

The first of those EO complaints, in August 2016, coincided with a command climate in which Marines claimed there was hostile work environment and that the section, “unhealthy and rife with conflict.”

Look at that again. Having picked apart a few Command Climate Surveys, you cannot automatically assume that those at the top are the ones responsible for creating a section "rife with conflict" - they are responsible for fixing it, but may not have created it. Hard to tell, but the rest of the story may flesh that out.

Though the Marine sergeant’s supervisors listed in those previous complaints had since left the unit, he nevertheless counseled leadership within the section and said he was clear with his expectations.

The EO complaints and the climate survey may not be directly related, but in any event, we have people who "were" the issue who were now gone. That should clear the problem if that were it, right?

Better yet, Col. Mann did exactly the right thing out of Leadership 101. How will that work out?

Remember though, this isn't a happy story.

By late summer, the same Marine sergeant in headquarters company who had made two previously resolved EO complaints before Mann took over, was serving on limited-service status at a civilian doctor’s direction.

The Marine had suffered a health-sensitive medical incident that put the Marine on limited status.

Air conditioning wasn’t working at the time at the Fort Devens, Massachusetts, site of the admin section’s office.

The command allowed the Marine sergeant to wear physical training gear instead of the Marine’s uniform to work. They put portable air conditioners in the office and had previously allowed the Marine to work at an air conditioned site closer to the Marine’s residence, which was out of state.

If you served on active duty long enough, you should be at the point in this story where you can feel what is going.

On July 26, 2017, regimental Sgt. Maj. James Boutin told the Marine sergeant that the Marine needed to be wearing the uniform of the day while on duty. The Marine was in physical training gear instead. At the time of the brief interaction, Boutin did not know that the Marine was under medical orders.

Who could ever think that Sgt. Maj Boutin did anything substantially wrong here? 

Then, after having difficulties tracking down the Marine during duty hours, headquarters staff visited the Marine’s residence on Aug 1, 2017.

Time to make a couple of assumptions here. Like all assumptions, they could be wrong, but you have to make them with what you have at hand. "The Sergeant" in question here is your Mk1-Mod0 administrative burden ... and "The Sergeant" was UA.

[Editorial Note: at the point in the article it is clear that some post-modern journalistic decision was made to spot-weld a new grammatical structure that is as obvious as it is clunky; all steps are being made not to make a gender specific reference to "The Sergeant." No "he" or "she" or any other pronoun used to describe people for centuries since Chaucer. From here on out, I am going to refer to "The Sergeant" as T.S.]

The sergeant’s officer-in-charge, “decided independently to override a medical chit and recall the sergeant to duty, exceeding his authority, and misrepresenting his decision as the commanding officer (Mann’s) decision,” according to a subsequent investigation. The officer sent enlisted Marines to the sergeant’s residence to instruct the sergeant to return to work.

Mann, though unaware of the incident at the time, told Marine Corps Times that while the incident was handled poorly, the Marine was never denied medical care and all medical chits were honored.

From what I can tell, T.S. was never authorized to work from home ... so ... yeah, UA ... and while not perfect in 20/20 hindsight, what was done on balance was fully inside the lines.

So, you know where this is going, right?

The next day, Aug. 2, 2017, the Marine sergeant reported for duty, was counseled and then made a “for your eyes only” request mast to Whitman, commanding general of 4th Marine Division.

...and there we go.

The Aug. 4, 2017, request mast launched a command investigation, ordered by Whitman. Due to the nature of the request, Mann was not aware at this point of either the incident that had triggered the request nor the request itself.

See a pattern?

The subsequent investigation placed blame on the actions of the sergeant’s immediate supervisors and “did not recommend any adverse action be taken” against Mann, according to both the original 2017 investigation and a recent ruling by the Department of Navy Board for Correction of Naval Records.

That is an important point  ... in hindsight ... but that is not what happened.

Mann and Boutin said that Whitman didn’t hold them at fault for the incident would follow the recommendations of the investigating officer, which included counseling of the Marines directly involved and further education and training on EO and medical issues for members of the staff.

But on Oct. 4, 2017, Whitman returned from his talk with McMillian and told the three Marines they were fired.

“I was asked to clear my office space, put on my civilian gear and that was it,” Mann said. “I never put on a uniform again except for my retirement in 2019.”

There you go. Lt. Gen McMillian, USMC. There's your player.

I've seen some take their experience in the Star Chamber lying down ... others, no.

Mann disputed his subsequent adverse fitness report, which dropped him from the very top of the promotion pile to the lowest possible category of “unsatisfactory” for promotion.

The colonel filed multiple rebuttals to the three-star’s decision, all were rebuffed.

Mann countered McMillian’s reasoning directly in his rebuttals.

“Fundamental fairness suggests that a board selected regimental commander be relieved for actual facts that create a clear understanding of the senior commander’s loss of confidence ― I do not feel that has occurred in this instance,” Mann wrote.

The relief was based on the command investigation out of the request mast, McMillian wrote in his fitness report remarks to Mann.

Yet the investigating officer “never directed that (Mann) be a subject of the investigation or that my performance regarding the incident at hand be specifically investigated,” Mann wrote in his rebuttal to McMillan’s fitrep remarks.

Because of the nature of the request mast, Mann didn’t know what had happened involving the sergeant until he was being fired. He essentially reconstructed the event after the fact as he was fighting for his career.

“The Investigating Officer’s exhaustive investigation does not contain a single finding, opinion or recommendation specific to my performance, actions, conducts or decisions as the Commanding Officer; nor does it suggest dereliction or neglect on my part,” Mann wrote.

McMillian stated that the investigation itself was enough reason to consider Mann’s conduct as commander.

In his response to Mann’s rebuttal, McMillian rejected Mann’s reasoning and reiterates that, “the Commander is responsible and accountable for all things the command does and fails to do.”

True. Command is command ... but ... still amazing.

Let's check in with Sergeant Major Moutin.

The fired sergeant major, Boutin, filed a 22-page rebuttal to the report but told Marine Corps Times in March that it had gone nowhere.

“It devastated me,” Boutin said. “It devastated my family. I have dedicated my entire life to the Marine Corps.”

During nearly 30 years, Boutin had served his entire time as an infantryman, seeing five combat tours, and never having had any bad paperwork, he says.

This is what his Corp did for him;

The sergeant major stands by his interaction with the Marine sergeant. The sergeant was not in the assigned uniform of the day and he corrected the situation by telling the sergeant to wear the appropriate uniform, though Boutin was unaware of the Marine sergeant’s medical condition or limited work status at the time.

He was not involved directly in the subsequent house visit. But he was fired, along with the personnel officer and Mann because he was part of leadership, he said.

Boutin had envisioned completing a full 30-year career before saying goodbye to the Corps.

“I didn’t even get a handshake on the way out the door,” Boutin said.

Read the whole thing. I took a lot of pull quotes, but there is a lot more to the story. 

I would offer that there is a lot to this story beyond what is in the article, specifically in two areas.

T.S. and the 3-star decision tree. 

Those are the two stories.

At the end of the day though, as is usually the case in situations like this; how do you get your name back?  

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