Brig. Gen. Norm Cooling is currently the assistant deputy commandant of Plans, Policies and Operations, a post he took after he was fired from his job as legislative assistant to the commandant in February 2018.
Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Marine Corps Times in an email that, “any actions taken were administrative in nature, and therefore the service will not be able to provide additional information.”
When reached by Marine Corps Times, Cooling directed any comment on the allegations back to Butterfield’s office at Headquarters Marine Corps public affairs.
An administrative action includes a range of possibilities, from nonpunitive routes such as counseling or a nonpunitive letter of caution to a nonjudicial punishment ― all of which fall far short of a court-martial.
But, Cooling did tell the Washington Post in an email that he had been, “officially counseled regarding the IG’s findings.”
A Department of Defense Inspector General’s report found that during his seven months at the legislative office Cooling had, “created a hostile work environment through disparaging treatment of personnel that led to a ‘general distrust’ of his impartiality toward women and his overall leadership.”
Both in his rebuttal to the report and subsequent statements to the media, Cooling disputed nearly every characterization of each allegation made by his subordinates and legislative liaisons and congressional staff.
“At no time during my seven months in the Office of Legislative Affairs, nor at any other time during my 33-year career, have I ever negatively singled out anyone for anything other than their job performance,” Cooling wrote in a June email to Marine Corps Times. “I inadvertently offended some through random remarks that were taken in a different context than I intended. Additionally, there were statements attributed to me that I unequivocally did not make or were purposefully embellished.”
IG staff interviewed 37 witnesses, many of which confirmed and added to allegations made by a Senate Armed Services Committee complaint made to the inspector in early 2018.
Other witnesses disagreed with how Cooling was characterized and what he had said or done.
A few said that he “was respectful toward everybody” but others called him an “equal opportunity offender.”
And still others accused him of careerism.
“He was purely self-motivated for promotion for himself and he would say or do anything, and demand anything of his staff that would facilitate that,” one witness told investigators.
Yet different witnesses had nothing but positive descriptions of their treatment while working for Cooling.
“I feel like he always treated me as a Marine first, like professionally and we developed trust because I was good at my job,” a witness said.
Some of the alleged — and disputed — behavior included allegations of him yelling down the office hallway that he would “castrate” a Marine staffer he suspected of withholding information.
While the staffer described the incident as “inappropriate,” “immature” and “disrespectful,” but did not consider it a threat.
“I have no recollection of saying anything to that nature. I mean, I might kid somebody but not with castration per se,” Cooling responded in the report.
In September 2017, report authors allege Cooling asked two of his staff if they are “trying to f**k” him by giving him information late when they delivered a list of 2019 congressional fellows that did not have more ground combat Marines than the previous year’s list.
Cooling said his typical profanity was the words “hell,” “damn” or “bullsh*t” but he couldn’t deny whether he use the F-word.
In October 2017, Cooling allegedly told a Senate staff member that opening combat roles to women had adversely affected male Marines.
In the report witnesses told investigators Cooling explained that it was because women were physically inferior to men that male Marines had to “pick up the slack” during training and “men have had a difficult time adjusting to open combat roles because they can no longer refer to certain rifle parts as female body parts.”
In his response, Cooling said that he didn’t say those things.
“Well, one that’s a ludicrous statement,” Cooling said. “Two, I don’t recall having any conversation [like that] at all with anybody on the Senate staff.”
At a December 2017 congressional fellows breakfast during a question and answer session witnesses allege he said women make better schedulers and secretaries.
Cooling denied using the word secretary but did say that in his experience women make better schedulers. He saw that as a compliment noting the important aspect of that part of the job among congressional staffers.
A few of those in the breakfast meeting took offense, seeing the comment as demeaning to women and brushing off the position as “menial.”
Also in December 2017, witnesses told investigators that Cooling told a female noncommissioned officer in passing that he would rather see his daughter work in a brothel than be a Marine Corps pilot.
The incident occurred in the legislative office late at night while Cooling’s deputy was speaking with the female NCO about her career plans after she finished officer candidate school. The NCO said she wanted to be a pilot.
Cooling, a career infantryman, said he was telling a version of a joke often shared between ground combat and aviation Marines.
“The joke goes, ‘I would rather have a daughter in a brothel than a son that’s a pilot,’” he said. “That has nothing to do with gender discrimination or bias. It has everything to do with a good natured tease towards pilots and aspiring pilots.”
He admitted the joke was in poor taste but didn’t rise to the level of bullying or creating a hostile work environment.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.