With December in full swing, around the Corps many nondeployed Marines are preparing to head home for the traditional holiday leave block.
It is a chance to get away from the stresses of the military and reconnect with family members back home.
But, according to several noncommissioned officers in one battalion on the desolate Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California, a recent change to the duty roster will see them staying in the barracks during the leave block instead of spending time at home.
For some of the Marines, between a deployment to Central Command and COVID-19 restrictions, it has been nearly two years since they have seen their families.
“My mom had to wait at home and wait for the Wi-Fi to come back on while Iran shot missions at most of our bases and she still hasn’t seen me since then due to COVID restrictions, and Christmas we were finally getting approved leave,” one Marine told Marine Corps Times.
The change for the noncommissioned officers with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, an infantry unit on the base, allegedly was triggered by a fight between two juniors Marines over the Thanksgiving weekend, Marines told Marine Corps Times anonymously for fear of retribution from their command.
Now, the massive amount of duty slots some of the Marines must fill has led to several canceling or adjusting their leave plans, multiple Marines claim.
Duty rosters showed to Marine Corps Times indicate that in December sergeants are standing all the duty NCO positions, while the other positions are primarily being stood by corporals. No non-NCO is standing any of the positions for December, the duty rosters showed to Marine Corps Times confirm.
The Marines are not standing duty as punishment, Maj. Kendra Motz, a spokeswoman for the 1st Marine Division told Marine Corps Times Tuesday.
“Rather, the command has sought to responsibly bolster the presence of duty non-commissioned officers in the barracks to ensure good order and discipline and the safety of the Marines,” Motz said.
Motz did not confirm whether a fight over Thanksgiving occurred within the battalion, nor did she say exactly what triggered the duty roster change.
The alleged Thanksgiving weekend fight happened while most of the Marines had fled the desolate desert base for friendlier locales, and they had no idea it had even happened until after they returned, one of the Marines told Marine Corps Times.
“When we returned this week, Sgt. Maj. (Nathaniel) Bradley (2/7′s sergeant major) decided it was a justified punishment to make only NCOs and above stand all the eight allocated duty spots,” one of the Marines said.
The eight allocated duty spots for each company per day are the duty noncommissioned officer, the assistant duty, the two sentry posts and four rovers.
An unverified message on Instagram claiming to belong to Sgt. Maj. Anthony Pompos, the regimental sergeant major, that was shared with Marine Corps Times said the fight was not the only incident to cause the change.
The message said the unit recently had hazing investigations, other assaults in the barracks, and multiple inspector general reports that led to the change.
The account has not replied to a message from Marine Corps Times asking for more details, and Marine Corps Times has been unable to reach Pompos for verification.
“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on or confirm details relating to ongoing investigations,” Jeff Houston, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said Wednesday.
Motz insisted that despite the duty change Marines would still be allowed to go on leave.
“Holiday leave will take effect as scheduled, and any suggestion to the contrary is ill-informed,” she said.
However, all but one of the multiple Marines who talked to Marine Corps Times said the change has caused them to cancel or curtail their leave.
“To fit with my duty schedule, I get seven days instead of 14,” said one Marine, who has not seen his family in 17 months.
In the fall of 2019, a few months after the Marine last saw his family, the unit deployed as the ground element to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response, Central Command, spending Christmas 2019 in Iraq, the Marines said.
The excessive amount of duty days for NCOs in the unit has led to a few Marines being called out of Steel Knight, a large annual field exercise for the 1st Marine Division taking place in the month of December.
One Marine, who spoke to Marine Corps Times also on the condition of anonymity, was a Humvee driver for the field op. When he found out he had to head to the rear to stand duty, he said he laughed, thinking his chain of command was joking with him.
But before long he had emptied his vehicle of gear and was heading back to the motor pool on base.
Once his duty is over, he said he will return to the motor pool, pick his Humvee back up and head right back to his unit in the field to complete the exercise.
Some Marines told Marine Corps Times that they reached out to their members of Congress and were trying to organize a group to request mast.
All Marines have the right to request mast and personally talk to any commanding officer in their chain of command up to, and including, their commanding general about issues they are facing in their unit. The commanding officer is also required to consider their complaints and respond to the Marine personally.
“We are committed to ensuring the well-being of the Marines who fill our ranks, and we recognize the right that Marines retain to request mast as a means of directly communicating grievances to, or seeking assistance from, their Commanding Officer(s),” Motz said.
“As an administrative process, individual request mast proceedings will not be disclosed,” she added.
As of Wednesday, the Marines had not requested mast, one told Marine Corps Times, but they are still considering it.
For one Marine, the duty situation was just a last straw in a long enlistment at Marine Corps’ base in middle of the Mojave Desert.
“You know how Twentynine Palms is, when you throw idiots in charge of you it just turns to sh**t,” the Marine said.