Sgt. Maj. Jayme Winders, right, alleged reprisal after filing a complaint with the inspector general on the behavior of his commanding general in Korea, Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, left. Winders is fighting back against the IG's findings -- especially those he says slander his career -- and is seeking to have the records corrected. (Marine Corps Images)
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A sergeant major who asserts that Marine leaders halted his career after he accused a two-star of wrongdoing is challenging the DoD IG’s findings in his case and alleging a whitewash. He is calling on military and federal leaders to help review his case.
Sgt. Maj. Jayme Winders, the former top enlisted adviser for Marine Corps Forces Korea, wants several statements removed from the Defense Department inspector general’s report that he says slander his career performance.
“It is important to see this through because if a [sergeant major] with nearly 30 years’ service can be treated as I have, I worry about junior service members’ welfare,” Winders told Marine Corps Times.
The issue dates back to 2012, when Winders launched an official complaint, which slammed Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, then commanding general of MARFORK, with accusations of looking the other way when his subordinates performed personal tasks for him — like shining his shoes or washing his car.
The IG would later substantiate Winders’ claims.
In retaliation, Winders says, several top Marine officials — to include Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett — forced him out of his job in Korea at a two-star command to instead work for a colonel in Pensacola, Florida, at Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21. Winders struck back with a reprisal complaint, which was the subject of a Marine Corps Times cover story last year.
“Young Marines deserve to know that their leaders are held to the same high standards they are,” Winders said of his battle with authority. “... I remember a time when leaders, in fact, held themselves to a higher standard in order to set the example.”
The 30-year sergeant major took his fight to the Board for Correction of Naval Records on April 10 insisting the findings of the DoD IG investigation be reviewed. He has also reached out to members of Congress, the U.S Office of Special Counsel — a federal agency that protects whistleblowers from reprisal — and a Navy rear admiral, the defense secretary’s top adviser for military professionalism, for help in having his records reviewed.
In his BCNR request, Winders wrote that the findings of the investigation were inconsistent, and that facts about him were taken out of context. The report stated, for example, that Winders let certain programs lapse under his watch and that he was not happy with his Korea assignment. Neither of those statements is true, he wrote.
Winders also cited a simple error that, to him, brought attention to the “lack of effort that went into substantiating [his] claims.” The final report stated that the sergeant major who served in Korea before Winders did not receive an end of tour award. But Winders said he stood next to his predecessor when the award was presented, and that it should have been a simple thing for the IG investigator to confirm.
“My opinion is that there are serious problems with not only IG complaint investigations, but also DOD IG whistle blower investigations,” Winders said. “Lawmakers should take a greater interest in this as the intent seems to be to find reasons to excuse blatant abuses of authority rather than to seek the truth and hold people accountable for their misconduct, and/or grave lapses in judgment.”
Regner was cleared by his command after the IG investigation substantiated claims that he allowed subordinates to perform personal duties. That clean bill of health allowed Amos to name the two-star as staff director for Headquarters Marine Corps, in July, where Regner still serves.
In a letter to the Marine Corps IG dated Dec. 18, 2012, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, wrote that he disagreed with the IG report that substantiated the allegations that Regner required subordinates to perform personal services.
At the time, Robling wrote, Regner was was the only commanding general with MARFORPAC who didn’t have an aide. His position required him to host official and social events, the letter pointed out, and the duties the Marines carried out would have been appropriate for an enlisted aide or officer aide-de-camp at any official event.
In 2012, the command got an enlisted aide to assist the executive staff and an officer aide-de-camp billet was internally staffed. Continuing to staff those positions will enable commanders to properly host official functions, Robling wrote.
“[We] agree it is likely that the good intentions of Maj. Gen. Regner’s staff [redacted] caused some to form a negative perception that Marines were inappropriately providing personal services,” the letter states.
Winders, however, has gone from serving as sergeant major for a 2-star command abroad, to one led by a colonel in the U.S. In his request to the BCNR, Winders states that his case for reprisal will become evident if the board reviews the materials he submitted.