The commander of the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School, where last month three Marines died in an apparent murder-suicide, was removed from his job this week by the service’s top general.
Col. Kris J. Stillings, a decorated infantry officer who served previously as a military assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was relieved of his command Monday by Gen. Jim Amos, the Marine Corps’ commandant. Located in Quantico, Va., OCS is a boot camp of sorts, used to train and screen all prospective Marine officers before they are commissioned second lieutenants and put on the path to leadership.
The decision to relieve Stillings was “painful,” Amos told Marine Corps Times during an interview Wednesday at his home in Washington. The commandant selected Stillings for the OCS post nearly two years ago and acknowledged feeling a sense of “personal loyalty” to him. But as he agonized over what to do in light of last month’s tragedy, “it boiled down to accountability,” Amos said.
“I just lost confidence in Colonel Stillings’ ability to handle all the many, many requirements of Officer Candidates School, being commanding officer,” he said. “… With the death of three Marines, goodness, a month ago and a half ago now, that was a cold shot to the heart. … I worked my way through that, and I came to a persistent theme that I’ve been talking about for some time, and that’s the issue about accountability.”
The Navy seems to be in an “eat our young” mode for relieving commanders. That and an appalling number have shown gross lapses in their personal conduct.
This relief in the Marines is somewhat different. And frankly, while “loss of confidence” is the least concrete reason for relief, I have to say, it’s probably among the best. Rather than waiting for further failures (which, admittedly, may not come to pass), a commander has a responsibility to be proactive.
Generals Eisenhower and Bradley were quick to relieve division and even corps commanders in the campaign in Europe when they lost confidence in them.
This is not an example of a zero defect mentality, mind you. Rather, commanders and leaders have to balance a requirement for fair and equitable treatment of their subordinates, as well as a responsibility to train and mentor them, against the absolute requirement of mission accomplishment. Sometimes, good officers and NCOs may simply be in the wrong position. Who knows? Maybe Colonel Stillings would have been a fine regimental commander?