At least one of the 13 lieutenants kicked out of The Basic School in May after instructors there discovered widespread cheating on a land navigation exercise is fighting back, saying the punishment is too severe for a problem he alleges is significantly greater than just this one incident.
Former 2nd Lt. Adam Ballard, a star fullback at the Naval Academy who now is pursuing a career in the National Football League, was administratively discharged from the Marine Corps on May 20 - just a day before he was set to graduate from TBS aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Ballard and his Annapolis-based attorney, formal academy professor Bill Ferris, have sent a letter to Juan Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, asking him to reconsider the separation.
They have not received a response from Garcia or his staff, but it's still possible for Ballard to bring his case before the Board for Correction of Naval Records to determine whether he should be reinstated, Ferris said.
In the letter, Ballard admits his actions were wrong but said they were facilitated by "inordinately lax procedures at TBS," the Corps' first step for newly commissioned officers. He alleged that as many as 30 lieutenants were originally accused of cheating and that 16 were eventually separated from the rest of the company as the investigation unfolded.
"I [told investigators] that over half of the three hundred Marines in our company possessed the same information that I had and that those numbers were comparable, if not more, in all the other training companies past and present," according to another letter he personally wrote to Garcia. The command was "convinced that there was one Marine behind all of this distributing answers and that the students at TBS would not act in this manner. In actuality, I know for a fact that [the] majority of Marines in training often shared answers on the land navigation course and after, so that their friends could have an advantage."
Newly commissioned officers are required to attend TBS where they learn how to lead an infantry platoon. Part of that training includes 9½ hours of classroom study, during which they are taught how to use a map, compass and protractor to plot grid coordinates and how to use terrain association to keep from getting lost. The students also complete 41 hours in the field where they conduct multiple practical applications.
The land navigation training concludes with a final examination in which students have seven hours to find 10 boxes spread throughout 14 square miles of heavily wooded terrain, TBS spokesman Maj. Jeffrey Landis said.
The cheating was discovered last fall after instructors compared current answer sheets to those used on previous tests and discovered that several wrong answers matched correct answers on the old test, TBS Commander Col. George W. Smith, Jr., told Marine Corps Times. It's not clear who the other 12 officers who were booted from the service are or whether they chose to fight the ruling.
Officials declined to elaborate on the scope of the investigation, but they maintain this is an "isolated case." Smith, who made the recommendation to administratively separate the lieutenants in November, acknowledged there were similar allegations that surfaced a few years ago, but the command was unable to substantiate those claims. The last known cheating scandal at TBS for which Marines were kicked out of the Corps happened in 1995. At the time, 16 officers received some form of nonjudicial punishment, with nine officers facing formal boards of inquiry because of their level of participation in the cheating scam.
Despite Ballard's claims, the Corps is standing behind its decision, saying integrity is one of the most important characteristics for a Marine officer to have and that unethical decisions, such as cheating, will not be tolerated.
“I continue to be impressed with the quality of student officers coming to TBS. They are smart. They are exceptionally fit and they want to serve,” Smith said. “I’m confident the investigation exhausted all the leads we had and the 13 administrative separations are the extent of the action.”