Female Marines In San Diego Hope USMC Will React Better To Latest Photo Scandal
After the embarrassing revelations coming out of the Marines United photo sharing scandal, military leaders have said the Marine Corps will no longer tolerate the denigration of its female Marines.
But this is not the first time Marines have vowed to change.
Growing up, Elizabeth Fitzgerald loved the Marine Corps. Her father was a Marine.
“From a young age, I always wanted to join the Marine Corps,” she said.
Fitzgerald lives in the San Diego area, but at one of her last assignments she was as a captain, at the Marine boot camp at Parris Island. Though San Diego also has boot camp, South Carolina is the only place where enlisted women go through their initial training to be Marines.
Photo draws attention
“What’s unique, that is it’s the only all-female Marine unit in the Marine Corps,” Fitzgerald said. “It kind of seems obvious by design that battalion was going to be treated differently and we definitely were.”
A photo of Fitzgerald’s unit in 2013 drew the attention of male Marines targeting female Marines online. The photo was taken in front of their company office.
“We have a tiny staff sergeant and we’re picking her up,” she said. “It’s because we had just completed a really hard event and we had done a really good job.”
One of her instructors posted the photo on Facebook. Within 24, hours Fitzgerald was getting calls from friends. Someone had reposted the photo. There were jokes about their training.
“Sorry to be explicit, but from what I remember the comments were like — I’d rather (expletive deleted) that one than that one. Really objectifying.”
Then came a call from her commander, who was also a woman. They weren’t upset by the harassment, instead they were upset with Fitzgerald and the other Marines.
“We, my Marines, were reprimanded verbally by command,” she said. “Because they said it was our fault for taking the pictures in the first place.”
100 percent Marine
Fitzgerald had not known about the Facebook pages but, from the number of people who contacted her, it was clear the pages were well known by Marines, including her own command.
“Up until that point, I had never thought of myself as a female Marine, just a Marine — 100 percent Marine. After that I definitely didn’t feel anything like that. I felt constantly, not dismissed, I just felt different all the time,” she said.
Around the same time, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, sent an open letter to the commandant of the Marine Corps, complaining about the explicit content on similar sites. In 2014, Military Times and the website Task and Purpose exposed one of the Facebook pages — Just the Tip of the Spear. Pictures of female Marines were posted without their consent — some nude, others partially dressed.
Back then, the Marines threatened to punish active duty Marines administering the Facebook pages. Marines were briefed about how to conduct themselves online.
The episode was embarrassing but less than three years later, Marines United erupted. In March, journalist Tom Brennan — a former Marine — uncovered another Facebook page, with thousands of nude and suggestive photos of female Marines, and more than 30,000 followers. There is an ongoing investigation into the active duty Marines who posted to the Facebook pages.
'Not a social media issue'
“Perhaps, in the past we’ve hit on the wrong target,” said Col. Roberta Shea, who is the commanding officer for First Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. She joined the Marine Corps 32 years ago.
“It’s not a social media issue. This is an issue or respecting each other. It’s of teamwork. It’s how we treated each other,” Shea said. “Cohesion and teamwork is the hallmark of how we get our mission done. And our mission is hard. There is just no room to want to hurt or humiliate their fellow teammates.”
She is convinced the top leaders of the Marines and Navy are reacting differently this time.
“I think what’s unprecedented is the scale and scope, from the recruits up to four-star generals,” Shea said.
Marine Commandant Robert Neller tweeted out a photo of himself signing a new social media policy. In the last few weeks, the Marines and Navy made sharing explicit photos without consent a crime.
“I think people are having a lot of frank discussions. A lot of frank discussions and some of those discussions have been uncomfortable,” Shea said.
Marines separate men, women during boot camp
The Marines remain the only service which continues to separate men and women during boot camp. Reformers have cited that as one reason Marines struggle to accept women as their peers.
Shea would not address whether she thought it was time to stop separating women at boot camp.
“I’ll leave that to our leadership, our Marine Corps leadership,” Shea said. “I know they’re taking a look at a whole range of things. Here at the MU we’re concentrating on getting our mission done.”
After three years at Parris Island, Fitzgerald faced a decision: leave or re-enlist? A few years earlier, she planned to make the Marines her career, but by then she felt differently about the Corps.
“I felt that if I were to stay in for 20 years, I’d have to deal with this for 20 years and I thought, pfft, I just don’t want to do this anymore,” Fitzgerald said.
She is actually heartened by how the military has reacted since Marines United broke.
“At the time when I got out, this hadn’t gained as much media attention, as it has now,” she said. “I think now that it has happened, maybe it will occur faster.”
The problem, she said, is that Marine Corps is slow to change, even after a second round of scandals.
The fallout continues from the photo sharing scandal Marines United. Top commanders are saying the Marine Corps will no longer tolerate the denigration of its female Marines. This is not the first time Marines have vowed to change after facing public embarrassment. KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh has the story. Growing up Elizabeth Fitzgerald loved the Marine Corps. Her father was a Marine. I always wanted to join. She lives in San Diego but what of her last assignments was a captain at the Marine boot camp in Parris Island. The San Diego has its own boot camp South Carolina's only place where enlisted women can go through basic training. What is unique about that is it is the only all-female unit in the Marine Corps. It kind of seems obvious by design that Battalion is going to be treated differently and we definitely were We have a tiny staff started. We are picking her up and smiling. One of the instructors posted the photo on her Facebook page. Within about 24 hours of taking the photo we were getting texts. From what I remember the comments were like I would rather [bleep] that one then that one. Really objectifying. The next call came from her commander who also happened to be a woman. We were reprimanded because they said it was our fault for taking the picture in the first place. Fitzgerald did not know about the Facebook pages but from the number of people that contacted her it appeared the pages were well known by the Marines including her command. Until that point I had never thought of myself as a female Marine. Just as a Marine. After that I did not see anything like that. I felt constantly -- not dismissed but different. Not long after military times and the website task and purpose exposed one of the face with pages just the tip of the spear pictures of female Marines were posted without their consent. Is a minute and him a partially dressed. Back in 2014 the Marines threatened to punish active duty Marines involved with the Facebook pages. In March journalist Tom Brennan a former Marine uncovered there's and on -- there is an ongoing investigation into which Marines posted on the page. Colonel Roberta Shay is a commanding officer for the expeditionary first post. This is an issue of respecting each other and teamwork and how we treat each other cohesion and teamwork is a hallmark of how we get our mission done. There is no room for a Marine to want to hurt or humiliate their fellow teammate. There was a photo tweeted out signing the Marines new social media policy. In the last few weeks the Marines and Navy have made sharing them People are having a lot of frank discussions. Some of them are uncomfortable. They remain the only service I continue to separate men and women during boot camp. This is one reason Marines struggle. Is the time to start desktop celebrated. They are taking a whole look at a range of things that the Marine Corps could be doing. After three years at Parris Island Captain Fitzgerald faced the decision leaves or we must. A few years earlier. That have Despite some of her experiences she would recommend the Marine Corps to other women. She's hopeful they would be joining a core that is different than the one she left. Joining me now is Steve Walsh. Steve late last week the Marine Times reported that more than 30 Marines could face punishment including court-martial. What can you tell us? I tell you that when you look at the 30 Marines it is a high number that we are talking about is candle that involves some 30,000 users. It is a pretty small number and if you look at the same article in military times starts with 19 other -- 16 other individuals that may face criminal prosecution which is how this started. We have seen numbers as high as 29 people could have charged criminally. It looks like there will be far fewer than that going forward. Your story mentions Marine, not Robert Miller signing a social media policy. What does that say and what can happen if it is violated. There are a couple of different things there. The page 11 is change of the social media policy and in many ways it is a reaffirmation that Marines are Marines 24 seven and that you have to conduct yourself accordingly at all times including online. This page 11 was a little bit stronger and everybody was forced to sign it but again a couple of years ago they went through this very same policy and they reaffirmed back then that Marines are Marines 24 seven and that they have to conduct himself that way online and obviously that did not solve the problem the first time. To be clear this makes them crimes within the Navy. That is not a civilian crime correct? It is true. We are talking about that page 11 is basically new social media policy. And then also after that the Marines and the Navy came back and created a new set of rules that criminalized the Melissa to be making it a crime to share some of these photos without consent. There's also a lot of discussion that it's very hard to prove intent in those cases. Good luck proving that someone intended to intentionally put those photos out there without the consent of the person. Also isn't there a controversy over what constitutes can count. Some female Marines say it should be written consent. Correct X That is the position of area already is representing a couple of Marines in the case. She was up at the gates and camp Pendleton in Oceanside last Thursday and said yes what needs to happen is that you have to have written consent before sharing those photos. I see all sorts of issues with this is social media people are sharing photos constantly. Somebody actually be criminally charged to face and pleaded not have written consent before sharing something so this is a large issue and it will take a while to clear up The underlying issue here seems to revolve around women still having a hard time being accepted as Marines to our peers and team members with their male colleagues. Did you get the sense that that continues to be an institutional problem within the Marines? Obviously this is why we are back here a little over three years after this became a scandal the first time. Evening Marines United they were able to other services that the is. It seems like this is something that the Marines struggle with mother and other services. And others just like the story -- story suggests that separated camp. Men do not see women as their peers they see them as somehow adhering to a separate or different standard they don't seem like real Marines. Captain the Dutch Fitzgerald who spoke to left the Marines because of the first scandal. Any indication of these are affecting retirement for recruitment and the Marines? It is certainly something that Marines are worried about This is something that the Marines were the most resistant to but they are trying to increase the number of women that are in the Marines. This is something that can be a tremendous embarrassment. You have so many women saying that they are treated quite differently than their male peers. The crux of your story was about the fact that this has happened with our. What early indications that this will be the last time. Colonel Shay has been in the Marine Corps for 32 years. They did make are available to us so I think that is one sign that they are trying to be a little bit more proactive. A couple years ago when he supports came out to task and purpose in military times you got a couple of notices from the public information officer but did not see them getting out in front quite so much. She believes that the response has been very different this time they are taking it much more seriously than I have in the past. They are acknowledging that this problem just has not gone away over the years. I have been speaking with Steve Walsh. Thank you.