The commander of a Marine Corps squadron in Yuma, Arizona, was fired in April after an investigation determined he had created a toxic work environment and allegedly made racist, sexist and other unacceptable comments about personnel who worked for him, according to an official military report.
Lt. Col. Armando Gonzalez's command philosophy at Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 can perhaps best be summarized by the advice that he allegedly gave to a subordinate: "You've got to crush their nuts … or they'll never respect you," he said, according to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's command investigation, which Marine Corps Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"In general, Lt. Col. Gonzalez appears to have conducted himself in a manner that created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment," the report concludes. "This environment appears to have episodically culminated with the premature departure of several members of the command."
Gonzalez declined to comment on Tuesday. He told the investigator that some of the people who made accusations against him had an ax to grind.
"There are individuals who obviously want to crush me; I am not sure why; I was under a lot of stress; the burden of command is heavy; people just don't understand how challenging it is to always do things in a professional manner," he told the investigator.
A member of Gonzalez's unit tried unsuccessfully to make Gonzalez aware of the command climate problems by writing him an email saying: "The staff often avoids presenting you with bad news because they fear your reaction. Instead of absorbing bad news and providing guidance for a solution, the perception amongst the officers and [staff noncommissioned officers] is that you immediately look to lay blame on someone."
Many of the 27 witnesses told the investigating officer that Gonzalez used demeaning language against African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, Samoans and others, according the report. Witnesses said he was especially disparaging toward women and Jews, the report says.
Gonzalez vehemently denied some of the claims outlined by the investigating officer.
One woman told the investigator that she did not object when Gonzalez allegedly demeaned women and Jews because she was "concerned about what he thinks of her and the type of report he might write on her," the investigation determined. The woman was likely referring to her fitness report, which is akin to performance evaluations in the private sector.
The squadron was deployed to the Middle East between March and October 2015. Before leaving, Gonzalez allegedly said he wanted all women in the unit to remain in Bahrain instead of going to Kuwait, the investigation found. As one witness understood it, leaving the women behind was meant to "protect them from the predominantly male infantry Marine population in Kuwait," the investigation says.
During the deployment, Gonzalez was allegedly surprised to learn the unit would receive care packages because "Marines in Bahrain and Kuwait were not in real combat such as Fallujah," the investigation found. The commander allegedly "feared that word might get to the Marine Corps Times that MWSS-371 Marines were deliberately misleading a class of second graders and tricking them into sending care packages."
Not all of the allegations against Gonzalez were substantiated. A woman told the investigator that Gonzalez swore at her and then threw a two-inch thick binder at her. In a separate alleged incident, a woman said that Gonzalez made her hold a pushup position for a minute while verbally berating her. Gonzalez denied both allegations, and the investigator said he was unable to substantiate them.
However, the investigation determined that Gonzalez failed to correct a speaker at a safety stand down, who told the squadron that hazing is "not a real thing."
Some of Gonzalez’ commanders praised his leadership of the unit, including one who called him "one of the most professional and ethical officers with which I have served," the investigation found.
But the investigator determined that "any reasonable person, being exposed to the same facts and circumstances" would conclude that Gonzalez created a hostile workplace.
"The Marines and sailors of MWSS-371 deserve to be treated fairly with dignity and respect and must be allowed to work in an environment free of unlawful, offensive and discriminatory behavior," the investigation found. "Lt. Col. Gonzalez bears accountability and full responsibility for the negative command climate and hostile environment fostered at MWSS-371."