A Toxic Command in the Marine Corps

Chaps,

I am writing this paper because I can’t stop thinking about some things that have happened lately.  The Bn Commander sent out the Command Climate survey results a couple months ago and noted that there is a low level of trust in female Marines for their leaders in this Battalion.  He seemed to be curious and concerned about the reasons why.  There are some very simple and obvious answers that have become strikingly clear to me in the past few months.  I will speak only for myself, but I would imagine that others have some or all of the same feelings as I do.

Senior leaders in the Battalion are out of touch. They do not understand nor attempt to sympathize with the difficulties faced by female Marines. For example:

1) Two weeks out from the Ball, there had been no guidance from SgtMaj Orellano on what version of the uniform the females were expected/permitted to wear.  No one in the position to consider it and hand down guidance had even made an attempt to do so (at least that I was aware of).  This is a question that comes up every year, without fail, no surprises.

2) There is no lactation room set up in this Battalion, and we have several Marines who are pregnant or nursing. One of them chooses to go to her home on base to pump, but that shouldn’t be a choice that they have to make.

3) There’s no backup, no buy in, no top cover for us when we try to assert ourselves and make things happen.

There are systemic problems and attitudes pervading the leadership means and methods of many people here.  For example:

4) The lone female SNCO (me) is expected by other SNCOs to be the only person responsible for correcting and policing female Marines.  I can’t think of anything more ludicrous than the notion of a SNCO being unable to lead one of their Marines due to their gender.

5) Females are talked over and their opinions discounted, in meetings, in conversations, both blatant and implied, every day. It is exhausting.

Twice in the past week, my voice has been mocked and my valid concerns made fun of by senior enlisted personnel.  It seems to me that for some reason they hear my voice as their nagging wife or annoying girlfriend, and respond to me as such.  

I was giving important direction to a group of SNCOs and was loudly interrupted by 1stSgt Fuller. When I asked them to please pay attention to what I was saying, they merely started talking again, louder, and when I stopped completely (utterly frustrated) they just laughed.  A few minutes later, those two were talking to each other again, and I quietly answered a question asked by the guy sitting next to me.  The 1stSgt loudly corrected me in a high-pitched mocking voice, in front of 5 of my peers, using the same words I used earlier.  “Pay attention to meeeee… this is importanttt.” I wanted to remind him that I am NOT his nagging annoying wife and not to treat me that way, but I didn’t because I wanted to remove myself from the room before I lost my temper completely.

A female Lt told her Co Commander last week that 1stSgt Hampton has a toxic relationship with the other SNCOs.  He said that he didn’t think it was really like that, and that he didn’t see it that way….. of course he wouldn’t see it.  If he had noticed how toxic the relationship is, then we haven’t done our jobs very well.  However, if he won’t believe what his Lts have noticed, why would he believe any one of us?  Whose credibility or influence does it require to get people to open their eyes?

I am not accustomed to my opinions and experienced advice being disregarded so easily and unapologetically, and it is very hard for me to adjust to this new reality where I have to literally YELL in order to be heard.  I am sure that the LtCol heard me several times trying to get a point across in the office next door, increasing my volume to match and be heard by the Sgt Major. SgtMaj Orellano thinks that if he just yells and curses loudly that it means he is right and that’s the end of the conversation.  I respect his position and rank, but even if he were an 85-year Sgt Major, if he is doing the wrong thing and not keeping the best interests of the Marines in mind, I am not going to kowtow and just let it happen. More than once he has deleted pro/con occasions for Marines deploying (or just normal in-house occasions), simply because they “clutter up his inbox and it is ugly as shit”.  I honestly can’t even fathom how he comes to these conclusions.  When I asked 1stSgt Hampton why these things are allowed to happen with no advice to the contrary, he told me “because he’s the Sgt Major”.   ????!!!!

In a weekly Bn meeting, a conversation was started regarding some budget items.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask for a final answer on whether we actually are budgeted for a HITT box to be included in the price of the new Command Post.  It was pertinent because we were just about to send a Sgt to be the new FFI, and when he returned there would be no gear organic to the Bn for him to utilize in training the ENTIRE Battalion.  It wasn’t an off the wall topic.  There were a couple of mumbled answers that yes we were budgeted, and then suddenly the SgtMaj blew up, cursing, saying, “Why are we talking about this stupid fucking shit?  Talk about this damn fuckin shit some other time!!” In my short experience, he had never blown up at someone in front of the entire assembled Bn leaders before or since.  Was it just me?  Is he simply an unreasonable person?  I can’t really know. What I do know is that he would never have done that if the LtCol had been there.  

The other thing I know is that after the meeting, the Bn XO approached me immediately to clarify my question, discuss my concerns, and make a mitigation plan.  That tells me that the concern was valid, and I had unnecessarily been rudely shut down in public.

Yesterday in response to a question about whether I was going to go snorkeling alone, I told 1stSgt Hampton that I live my life alone…  of course I was going to go do this alone.  This morning, he made a comment about how I showed up to a Co training day, saying “So you do show up to stuff, instead of being all anti-social. *insert mocking high-pitched voice now* Oh I live my life alone, whaaa.”

I had to just ignore it or else I might have flipped a table and started screaming.  HOW DO YOU MISS SUCH AN OBVIOUS OPPORTUNITY TO MENTOR A MARINE AND ASK THEM WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON IN THEIR LIFE?  HOW CAN YOU BE SO DAMN OUT OF TOUCH???

I have dropped strong hints to others and come right out and told some people that I do not have any friends.  I am not allowed to be friends with anyone here.  The overwhelming majority of people in my rank and age group are married and have kids. Any single male SNCO could go to a married coworker’s house on the weekends or evenings to hang out, and their wife would not bat an eye.  I do not have that luxury.  Most wives distrust me implicitly, even if they have never met me.  My mere existence is a threat to their family and their marriage.  

I live a lonely life.  There is no one who calls me up and asks if I want to go see a movie, or have dinner, or go to the beach, or anything at all. When I do bring this up, people use where I live as an excuse not to invite me to their house for dinner.  I have tried, and I still cannot fathom what on earth my living across the island has to do with them sitting in their home and answering the door when I have driven my own car on my own time over there to see them.  How does that affect their life in any way?  They don’t have to do anything but sit on their couch, but it seems like even that is too much effort for anyone to make.

The leaders are utterly oblivious to repeated hints that I have dropped regarding this, and actually misinterpret it as me being anti-social, instead of the blatant cry for help that it actually is.  Everyone gets wound up about the junior Marines getting suicidal and making all of these overt warning gestures.  Nobody remembers that an important risk factor for suicide is SOCIAL ISOLATION.  Nobody cares about how the Gunny is doing on the weekends.  Nobody, except one female Lieutenant who actually came out asked me.  She said, “How are things really going?  I know that everyone always focuses on the junior Marines, but not on the senior Marines.”  Finally…. someone who gets it.  She is the only one.  Likely because we are paddling the same canoe.

There are no female 1stSgts. No female Sgt Major. No female Commanders. All of the inbound replacements are males too, so I don’t see anything changing any time soon. There’s only 3 female officers and 1 female SNCO (Naval personnel not included).  There is nobody in a real position of power who understands, empathizes, and can advocate for changes in attitudes and procedures in order to make this an enjoyable place to work, for EVERYONE.  

I was very excited to come back to this unit.  I started my career here, and I love the missions.  However, it has become difficult for me to maintain faith in my leaders when they act the way that they do.  They can purport to care about us all they want, but their actions are the opposite of the façade they build.

I polled the female officers and they all agreed that the Marines could wear either slacks or skirts to the Ball, and I sent an email out explaining this, about a week before the Ball. Apparently that made SgtMaj go nuclear because it’s “not my place” and I “need to stay in my lane”….. but he couldn’t even muster the courage to talk to me about it himself. He had his lackey 1stSgt Hampton confront me about it, I got frustrated, and he also said I need to stay in my lane. I was a Co 1stSgt JUST like him with JUST as much responsibility and NOBODY had cared about this topic but ME. Exactly WHAT is my lane supposed to be?

His response: “Uh… is there a problem?” 

I didn’t say, but wish I would have:

Yes, I don’t trust you.  I don’t trust that if I came to you with a problem that you wouldn’t make fun of me as soon as I walk out the door.  I don’t trust that you have my interests at heart instead of your own, political, career interests.  How can I trust someone who will blindly back up the Sgt Major, regardless of if he is wrong or off the mark, and not even ATTEMPT to argue my side of something in my absence?  I can’t trust you, don’t trust you, and won’t trust you.  It is broken, and it won’t come back.

I can’t lump the Co Commanders and other officers into this argument, because I don’t interact with them as much as I do the enlisted.  I haven’t heard nor do I have any indication that they hold the same attitudes as the enlisted.  I’ve only had good, professional, fulfilling interactions with them.  They are friendly and they care.  It is just a shame that the enlisted filter through which they must operate is clogged with egos and politics.

The NCOs feel like they are not empowered, and that the leaders lump them in with the junior Marines.  I hate to say that I completely empathize with them at this point.  If even I don’t feel empowered, I can’t imagine what it feels like for them to be stripped of all decision-making power in favor of a central point of egotistical control. A lot of the issues here are personality driven.  When one overbearing and out of touch personality is allowed to bring in others of the same cloth, things get really weird.

Maybe you will want to talk me to about the things that I’ve expressed here, and maybe I will agree.  Honestly, I’m just so fed up and tired of thinking and talking about it.  That’s why I wrote this, so that the thoughts would stop circling in my head.  I think about it when I’m driving home (to the moon, I guess), when I wash dishes, when I walk the dog, any spare moment I think about how I wish I was back at my old command where I was respected and valued as an integral part of the team.  Here, I am just some annoying chick that causes trouble.

If you want to talk about these ideas with the CO, you can.  It doesn’t take an analyst to figure out who wrote it, but I ask that if you/he speaks to anyone about it that you/he attempt to keep me anonymous…perhaps not mention that there was a letter at all. He’s smart enough to have noticed some of this and come to his own conclusions.  I don’t need anybody pointing fingers and blaming me for things. The last thing I need is more negative attention and pressure to conform and just keep my mouth shut.  I hear a lot of “stay in your lane” over here, instead of praise for my initiative and concern for the unit and Marines.  All I want is the space and opportunity to make a difference and be a good leader for whoever needs me.

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