It's not always easy to navigate the rules of ethics at the highest echelons of military authority.
That's clear from A newly released set of reports from the Marine Corps' independent oversight authority has that found that two Marine generals acted beyond the bounds of their authority in separate incidents involving the Marines under their command. The investigations, published last year and released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, serve to illustrate the challenges that come with rank and the most common pitfalls perils for senior commanders.
The Marine Corps Inspector General reports highlight complaints against Brig. Gen. James O'Meara and Maj. Gen. Steven Busby. O'Meara, then deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, was found to have detailed multiple Marines to serve as his aides-de-camp when his rank and position did not merit an aide. Busby, then the commander of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in California, improperly recruited Marines as volunteers to assist for an evening with a command holiday party held at his home, the report into his actions found.
The two incidents are strikingly similar to a pair of 2012 IG complaints that found two other Marine generals at fault for appropriating an aide without authorization and using Marine volunteer labor improperly.
Neither O'Meara nor Busby responded to a request for comment about the incidents. Both have since moved on to new posts: O'Meara now serves as director of the Strategy and Plans Division for Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations at the Pentagon and Busby is director of strategy, plans and policy for U.S. Central Command. Marine officials declined to discuss any administrative actions that may have been taken against the generals as a result of the reports, citing standard policy regarding public releases.
According to a 12-page report released per FOIA requirements provided by the Marine Corps Inspector General, O'Meara was investigated after an unidentified source Marine anonymous complainant alleged the general he was using aides without authorization, thus taking them away from their other assigned duties.
Interviews with Two aides who had served O'Meara told investigators revealed they were tasked with answering phone calls, drafting official letters, reviewing documents sent to O'Meara, prepping him for meetings with other flag officers, planning official trips and sometimes traveling with the general. One officer, the report found, wore the official aiguillette uniform shoulder decoration distinguishing an aide and used "aide-de-camp" in the signature block of official emails.
However, the report found O'Meara did not know his position didn't rate an aide. Previous deputy commanders at Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa had made use of aides-de-camp, witnesses reported. And O'Meara had only used one himself for a portion of his tenure at the command, the investigation found, using only a civilian executive assistant from November 2013 to April 2014.
Regardless, the IG substantiated the complaint against him.
Busby, the 3rd MAW commander, was notified of an investigation into his actions in early 2014, after efforts to save money on a command holiday open house came under scrutiny.
The 39-page IG report into Busby's actions found the commander had been troubled by the amount of money the command and base, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, had previously spent on the event. Food, catering and setup for the party was provided through a contract with MCCS which had cost $7,000 the previous year with the base footing nearly 40 percent of the bill, the report found.
Questioned by IG officials, Busby said he objected to charges, including $250 for a holiday ham with rolls and nearly $1,000 for a mashed potato bar with assorted toppings. While it's not clear who complained about Busby to the IG, the report does note that MCCS personnel felt his questions about "excessive" prices and wish to discontinue the annual contract were an insult to their professionalism.
Busby's personal efforts to make better use of funds included arranging to have one of the air station's units purchase event tents for long-term use and pursuing use of Marine volunteers to greet, serve and set up for four or five hours the evening of the party.
The resulting open house cost $2,500 less than the previous year's party, but crossed ethical lines, the IG found. Though the unspecified number of enlisted Marine volunteers who helped out at the party said they felt free to decline the invitation to volunteer and helped out because they wanted to, the report found it was unreasonable to expect junior military personnel to make such a decision free from "the forces inherent in military hierarchical relationships."
The time commitment went beyond the "minor" volunteer contribution allowed by ethical guidelines, and the compensation -- $10 Subway gift cards -- was insufficient for the labor provided, the IG found.
Testifying to investigators, Busby said he thought the Marines of 3rd MAW would enjoy the opportunity to give back to the command.
"We have a great number of dedicated, determined Marines and ... they know we tremendously value their service," he told investigators. said, according to the report. "They want to do anything they can to participate in every event inside of 3rd MAW."
For at least a few of the volunteers, that wasn't far off.
"[Busby] is obviously someone that we look up to and ... love to volunteer to help out 'cause of the things that he has done for the Marines," one Marine told investigators. "Everyone was definitely more than willing to help out ... There was no pressure at all."
Busby had earned accolades at the command for developing the Committed and Engaged Leadership Indoctrination Course, a training and mentoring program for newly promoted corporals, designed to develop them into more complete leaders.
Nonetheless, the IG substantiated complaints about Busby's alleged improper use of labor and improper use of government property, including equipment borrowed from Miramar and from MCCS to facilitate the party.
The substantiated complaints against Busby and O'Meara are nearly identical to 2012 investigations surrounding Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, then head of Manpower and Reserve Affairs' manpower management division in Quantico, Va., and Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, then commander of Marine Forces Korea.
Salinas was found to have employed an aide-de-camp, for whom she purchased an official aiguillette, even after being informed her position didn't merit such a status marker. She also had Marine volunteers help her prepare for a command-sponsored Cinco de Mayo party, the IG found. Regner was found to have improperly allowed Marines to assist him with personal tasks, such as washing his car and shining his shoes.
While substantiated IG complaints do not necessarily come with direct consequences, they frequently have long-term career impacts.
Salinas would retired in 2013 after a 39-year career. Regner, now the director of Marine Corps Staff, is set to retire this year after his nomination to a third star was left unapproved in Congress.
Both generals expressed surprise that they'd been found at fault when the investigations were made public. Regner told investigators that he found himself having to order subordinates not to help him with certain tasks for fear of crossing ethical bounds.
In a 2014 interview with Marine Corps Times, Salinas cited similar circumstances.
"You're getting pulled in multiple directions trying to meet all these missions," she said. "And everybody's watching you run around like a crazy person and they're just trying to help."