Marines say Hagee's service ribbon mix-up not unique
ARLINGTON, Va. — For seven of the last eight years, Gunnery Sgt. Jody Thawley rated the Navy Commendation Award.
He just didn’t know it.
The Marine Corps’ archaic record-keeping is getting some long-deserved attention, the Military Police Marine said, after commandant-to-be Lt. Gen. Michael Hagee faced controversy over ribbons he wore that had no documentation.
Though Hagee, who gets his fourth star Monday when he takes command, stopped wearing the ribbons, he says he is confident he earned them and will continue a search paper records to prove it.
Meantime, he plans to improve the Corps’ outdated system after assuming his new leadership role Monday.
“We have a system that needs to be worked on, and when I become commandant, that is one of the things I’ll do. Obviously, we need to make it more user-friendly,” Hagee said.
Marines’ Official Military Personnel Files are kept on microfilm at headquarters in Arlington, Va. The OMPF listings are not computerized, unlike the Electronic Relational Database, set up in 1999 to provide a computerized database for Marines.
However, those two record-keeping systems don’t always match, said several Marines interviewed.
Master Sgt. William Hanrahan said he knows firsthand.
He’s been fighting for years to have the computerized system, which Marines simply call “the 3270,”reflect his OMPF — and it’s a battle he says he’s still losing.
“We have annual audits and I’ve brought this up and I’ve asked and asked the admin Marines to take care of it. I’ve been told they can no longer go in and change the old records. I’m kind of an anal guy and I like things to be accurate. … But it’s forever there and I’ll be forever irritated.”
As a third avenue, Marines also can check their personnel files, which includes information such as retirement funds, pay stubs, and which awards they rate, by registering on the Corps’ Marines Online Web site at www.mol.com. The site includes the 3270.
The computerized system record shows Hanrahan’s earned seven Navy/Marine Corps achievement medals and one Navy/Marine Corps commendation medal. In reality, he has three achievement medals and two commendation medals, he said. And that doesn’t include discrepancies with marksmanship scores, he said.
“The burden is on the individual Marine to come back with the OMPF and try to correct inaccuracies in the official file,” said Hanrahan, a Marine recruiter with 22 years in uniform, both active duty and Reserve. “And this happens all the time, particularly to senior Marines.”
Staff Sgt. Marvin Stolf, who works in Administration at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., said Marines new to the Corps experience fewer problems, especially those diligent in keeping track of their own career.
“The Corps puts out announcements, telling units what award they rate and when,” said Stolf, 36, a Marine for 17 years. “They make it pretty easy to keep up with.”
That is, if you have regular access to a computer, Sgt. Carlos Vazquez and Lance Cpl. Jason Eustice said.
Unit citations are typically awarded a year after a deployment — “a year and two and three units later,” said Vazquez, 21, active duty for 3½ years. “It’s hard to keep track of that. To go back and figure out where the old unit was and whether you rate the award.”
Until October 1999, the only awards entered into the electronic database were personal awards issued by the United States, said Hagee, who himself received a tutorial on the system for Tuesday’s press briefing.
“All the others are noted in your record book, which was kept at the company or battalion office and documentation for those awards was sent to Headquarters Marine Corps to be filed in a paper file.”
The documented paper database and the electronic relation database “don’t talk to one another,” Hagee said. “The individual Marine is responsible for ensuring that those the two databases are both accurate, even though they are supposed to contain the same information.”
Hagee publicly apologized Tuesday for the lapse — a slip most Marines interviewed said is forgivable.
Hagee said he removed the decorations of his own volition when it came time to he be photographed for his official commandant photo because he could not track down paper documentation for the three ribbons.
“You’d think a three-star [general] would know better, but that’s more telling of our system than him,” Stolf said.
One Marine wasn’t so quick to gloss over the issue.
“You’re responsible, as an individual. It’s that simple,” said Sgt. Alex Mateo, a Marine of eight years. “He should know what ribbons he does and does not rate. But he did the right thing until he can prove it.”