The Marine Corps is continuing an aggressive top-down push to root out gender-based bias and a culture of disrespect in the service, highlighted by a high-profile social media scandal that erupted last year.
In an address to the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) at a quarterly meeting near Washington, D.C., this week, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Glenn Walters said that five of the seven Marine commanders removed from their posts to date this year displayed a “nexus” of these cultural issues.
“It’s because of command climate, how they treat people, how they treat people of different genders,” he said.
In the context of the more than 400 senior commanders in the service, he said, the seven fired might not appear a large number. But it’s an increase over average annual commander reliefs, and the calculus for firing has changed to focus more significantly on how Marines of all backgrounds are treated within units, he added.
Not all Marine commander reliefs this year have been made public, and Walters did not specify which of the fired commanding officers were found to have a problematic command climate in their units.
Reported reliefs this year include that of Lt. Col. John Giannella, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, who was relieved in August; Col. Mark Coppess, commander of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Japan, relieved in June; Lt. Col. Marcus Mainz, commander of battalion landing team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, relieved in May; and Lt. Col. Rafael Candelario, commander of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, relieved in March.
Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, director of Marine and Family Programs at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, was also relieved in April after allegedly making inappropriate remarks at a base town hall that included calling sexual harassment allegations “fake news.”
Walters, who was tasked with leading efforts to change Marine Corps culture after a March 2017 investigative report found some active-duty troops were swapping nude photos of female service members on the closed Facebook page Marines United, has made a point of publicizing commander reliefs due to bias, permissiveness toward sexual harassment, and related issues.
In August 2017, he told reporters that two of the five field-grade officers relieved for cause that year had displayed related issues.
“Two out of those five that have been relieved, I can directly attribute to an awareness of this issue and the fact that they didn’t have the correct command climate, and what they did,” Walters told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon last year. “So to me, that’s progress.”
On Tuesday at his briefing to DACOWITS, Walters said he made a point of talking to every Marine commander at Commander’s Course training sessions. He advised them, he said, to proactively conduct their own Inspector General checklist survey to assess whether they were falling short when it came to establishing an appropriate and safe command climate.
Second, he said, “just go find someone who doesn’t look like you … and have a long conversation with them … and give them entree into your office so they can come in and tell you [where] you’re off-track.”
Walters, who was named talent manager of the Marine Corps after the Marines United scandal broke, said he’s confident that progress is being made.
“One of the good things that came out of Marines United … was, it eventually led us to this talent management,” he said.