MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The former commander of the Wounded Warrior Regiment was sentenced to 60 days confinement minus three weeks he has already spent in jail and a $10,000 fine after pleading guilty to having an inappropriate relationship with a Marine corporal at Friday court-martial.
Col. T. Shane "Rhino" Tomko also pleaded guilty to using a subordinate to secure testosterone, violating a military protective order not to contact his wife and showing up drunk to his May 6 arraignment.
Tomko appeared to be close to a panic attack after the verdict was read. His military attorney, Maj. Geoff Shows, tried to calm him down by assuring him he would only spend a few weeks in the brig.
Shows told reporters afterward that he was not satisfied with the decision and he was not sure yet if Tomko will appeal. He declined to comment on how his client is handling the verdict.
At sentencing on Friday, Shows argued that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had turned Tomko from an exemplary leader to "a Marine officer who is so broken that he can't get out of his own way."
Shows argued that Tomko drank after being told not to because he was distressed about being prohibited from seeing his wife, and Tomko was later diagnosed with having low Testosterone levels – something he couldn't admit to.
"Col. Tomko needs help, not confinement," Shows said.
But prosecutor Lt. Col. Pete Houtz argued that Tomko needed to be held accountable for his actions Houtz also argued that the case was not about PTSD.
"If he's let out of confinement now … more than likely there will be more misconduct," Houtz said.
Prosecutors had asked for six months in prison a $20,000 fine and dismissal for Tomko.
Before Col. Pete Rubin, a military judge, sentenced him, Tomko gave a rambling statement to the court in which he said he has been close to his Marines for his entire career.
"That's the only way you can know them," he said. "You know them by loving them."
Tomko also talked about suffering from nightmares and having to bury his feelings so he could deploy on combat missions and also deliver next of kin notifications to the families of fallen and wounded Marines.
"You can't unsee what I've seen," Tomko said. "How do you tell your wife, 'Honey, I killed a bunch of people today?'"
He remembered showing up at the home of one woman to tell her that her son was dead. He was outside the house and she was inside, but he could still hear her scream.
"Your body breaks down," Tomko said. "You just hurt."
Throughout it all, he felt "you can't break and you can't cry" because he needed to demonstrate the power of the Marine Corps, he said.
The reason he couldn't ask for help was that he wanted to provide for his wife and children, and the only way he knew how to do that was by working hard, Tomko said.
Tomko worked so hard that when his mother was dying, he waited for permission to go on leave to see her until he got a call from his father saying she was gone, he said.
"I just feel like I've been fighting my whole life," Tomko said. "I'm tired. I just want to unclench my fists. I just want to touch my wife gentle and figure out a way to get her to love me again."
Tomko, who was relieved of command in February 2015, faced allegations of misconduct that were investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Charges were preferred against him on Feb. 11, and he was put in jail after driving to his arraignment with a blood alcohol level of 0.28 — more than three times the Virginia state limit of 0.08.
He was visibly distraught during Friday's proceedings. It appeared that he could not control his arms from shaking violently, and he had to wipe tears from his face while confirming the facts of his guilty plea.
He told Col. Rubin that between May 2014 and August 2015, he had an unduly friendly relationship with a Marine under his command, with whom he shared text and Facebook messages that which contained sexual content.
After a command-directed investigation was launched into the relationship, Tomko talked to the Marine and a noncommissioned officer about destroying evidence of the relationship, he admitted.
"I feared there were things on numerous Marines' Facebook accounts that could be used in a prosecution," he said.
Tomko told appeared to try to justify some his actions by telling Rubin that his job as commander of the Wounded Warrior Regiment required him to have an intensely close and "intrusive" relationship with the Marines under his command.
When Tomko said that one inappropriate statement he made was meant as a joke, Rubin told him that Tomko that he was sending "mixed messages" and that might prevent him from accepting Tomko’s guilty plea.
"I need to hear it from you why your relationship clearly exceeded permissible [Uniform Code of Military Justice] lines," Rubin said.
Tomko replied that his position at the Wounded Warrior Regiment required him to be in constant contact with those under his command, including taking phone calls in the middle of the night from of Marines contemplating suicide.
But, he added, he understood that "clearly, clearly" he was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Still, Tomko's military defense attorney Maj. Geoff Shows had to nudge Tomko to stop defending his actions, such as when Rubin asked Tomko if he made disparaging remarks about the commander and sergeant major of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
"I stand by every one of of those words I said," Tomko said.