Sad day as Marines rocked by cheating scandal

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps Band from Quantico, Va., march down Constitution Avenue during the National Memorial Day Parade, in Washington, D.C., Monday, May 30, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times) ** FILE **

Six Marine Corps officers wearing second lieutenant ranks have been accused of cheating during a nighttime land navigation course at Quantico, Virginia. It’s a sad day when America’s most-esteemed fighting force faces dings for something so sullied. America loves its Marines — but the stigma of cheating is a tough one to overlook.

  • And there’s more.

The very investigation into the cheaters led to an investigation into the investigators, after more allegations flew about botches to the investigation.

  • Yet there’s still more.

On top of all that — well, here’s how the Marine Times put it: “The episode was further complicated by the alleged illegal confinement of female officers and allegations of sexual harassment. In the end, numerous Marines faces discipline and one Marine’s claims of innocence led to a private polygraph test.”

  • What the heck happened here?

The Marine Times said the incident originated in December 2017, when a student complained to the upper brass that some of his peers cheated during the night land navigation exam by sharing key grid points. These grid points were then used to find stashed boxes in the woods — something students of the night course are supposed to undertake by themselves, using only a compass, in order to prove their knowledge of land navigation. Investigators began to question the students and confiscate cellphones to check for pertinent texts. Ultimately, the Marine Times reported, the students “began to rat each other out.” Six officers are now facing forced separation from the Marines. Two others — the captains who initially investigated — were slapped with letters of reprimand, something that will surely dent their files and dramatically decrease their chances for promotion.

  • And the sexual harassment claims?

One of the female officers swept into the scandal alleged she was wrongfully confined, pre-trial, for 24 hours. Semper Fi — “always faithful” — is the motto of the Marine Corps. “Honor, courage and commitment” are the “core values” of the Corps.

  • And its legacy?

“Founded in 1775, the United States Marine Corps shares its legacy with that of the United States of America. Intrinsically bound, the Marines have fought battles throughout time,” as states.

This scandal, however temporarily, has put a bit of a stain on those creeds.

One year after the Marines United scandal leaped into the public spotlight, the Corps has armed itself with new policies and tools to go after perpetrators involved in revenge porn-related offenses and social media misconduct. To date, the Corps has carried out 80 dispositions of cases linked to the crackdown on online-related misconduct during the past year. It includes seven courts-martial, 14 nonjudicial punishments, six administrative separations and 28 adverse administrative actions. In total, the investigation has identified 119 potential culprits ― 97 of whom are Marines ― in the wake of the scandal, according to Marine Corps officials. “There’s been accountability, probably not to the satisfaction of some,” Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in January, when pressed about progress since the scandal broke. Charges have ranged from nonconsensual posting of images, extortion, to distribution of filmed sex acts without knowledge of the victim.

For example, on Aug. 10, 2017, a lance corporal was convicted at a special court-martial of Article 127 for threatening to distribute sexually explicit photographs and video unless he received something valuable. The junior Marine was also brought up on a whole slew of other charges to include destruction of government property, theft and assault. He received a bad conduct discharge and was reduced to private.

  • On Sept. 26, 2017, a sergeant was convicted at a special court-martial for Article 80 for attempting to broadcast video a victim’s private area and Article 81 for conspiracy to distribute the recording. He pled guilty and received a bad conduct discharge, 90 days confinement and reduction to private.
  • On Jan. 31, a lance corporal was convicted at a special court-martial for Article 120C for filming and broadcasting of a sex act. He received a bad conduct discharge, 30 days confinement and reduction to private.

The details of the above special courts-martial cases were provided to Marine Corps Times from the Marine Corps’ Judge Advocate Division.

Marines United, a secretive Facebook page that contained sexually harassing comments and nude images of female service members and civilians, had roughly 30,000 members. In some instances, the posts resulted in the stalking of victims. The site’s existence was dragged into the public sphere after a report in the online publication The War Horse. It forced the Corps to address the issue of sexual harassment across the Corps. In the wake of the scandal, the Corps moved swiftly to enact new policies to help police social media misconduct. Sweeping changes to Navy regulations allowed Marine commanders to pursue cases involving nonconsensual distribution of intimate images. And the top Marine released new guidelines on social media conduct and required Marines to sign a page 11 entry that they had read and understand the new policy, giving commanders new tools to punish Marines who violated the commandant’s directive. The Corps also introduced a tip line to go after offenders. Those actions are bearing fruit, the Corps says.

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