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Female Marine Who Made History Questioned Over Command Climate

Lt. Col. Michelle Macander at Camp Pendleton on June 15, 2020, before she steps down as the first woman to lead a Marine combat unit.
Andi Dukleth
Lt. Col. Michelle Macander at Camp Pendleton on June 15, 2020, before she steps down as the first woman to lead a Marine combat unit.

The first woman to lead a Marine Corps combat battalion is the subject of an Inspector General’s investigation. At least four people have filed complaints about the climate in the Camp Pendleton unit she commanded.

Lt. Col. Michelle Macander made history in 2018 when she took command of the First Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, which made her the first woman to lead a Marine ground combat unit.

Female Marine Who Made History Questioned Over Command Climate
Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

Despite the historic achievement, some in her unit are raising issues about their treatment during her tenure.

Lisa Slusher was a civilian hired to coordinate with families in 2019.

“She told me I needed to be tougher about things,” said Slusher, former Deployment Readiness Coordinator for the unit. “And I wasn’t allowed to say the word 'pretty' and we didn’t like the word 'pink,' because I needed to be Marine Corps tough. But I wasn’t a Marine, I was me.”

RELATED: First Female Marine To Head A Combat Brigade Completes Assignment This Week

VIDEO: Female Marine Who Made History Questioned Over Command Climate

Slusher was there less than a year, but she said she witnessed improper treatment of Marines and was harassed herself by Marines, including finding dead rats in her office.

“At least on a weekly basis, I would find dead rodents in my office,” she said. “One time I had a container. My husband had made me lunch and I set it on my desk and my husband came in and there was a huge cockroach sitting on the top of it. At that point, I knew a cockroach hadn’t just crawled onto the top of my container and died. Someone had put it there.”

At least three Marines have also filed complaints against the command, saying there was a hostile work environment inside the battalion.

Slusher said she was let go by Macander after filing a complaint. This despite Macander praising Slusher’s biggest accomplishment. While she was working for the battalion, Slusher organized a rededication ceremony for a memorial to the unit’s fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Macander pointed to the memorial during an interview with KPBS.

“This is in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom,” said Macander.

Nathan Duenas was in the Marines from 2001 to 2013. He served with Marines listed on the memorial.

“It was a great honor to come back and be a part of that,” he said.

He served through six combat deployments. Slusher found him so he could come back for the ceremony where he saw Marines telling her off.

“I don’t think she deserves the treatment she was getting,” he said.

Macander did not stand up for Marines when issues were brought to her attention, Slusher said.

Initially, Slusher was called to testify in another complaint brought by a Marine. But when Macander was made aware that Slusher filed a complaint, Macander’s attitude change, Slusher said.

“Her attitude went from being family to being worst enemies on the playground,” she said.

Several Marines corroborated Slusher’s treatment by the unit. Macander left in June, as part of a normal change of command to take an assignment at the Naval War College. The Marines did not comment for this story.

The Marines Corps has been the most reluctant branch to allow women to serve in combat positions. In 2015, leadership asked the Pentagon to keep women from certain roles, even as the other services opened up.

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