Report: Marine general's crude remarks, treatment of women, created a negative work environment

U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling was the focus of an inspector general's investigation after the Senate Armed Services Committee complained about his behavior in February 2018.


By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: June 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Marine Corps Commandant's former representative to Congress bullied his staff – including saying he'd castrate one of them – devalued women and created a negative work environment, according to a Pentagon Inspector General report released Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling was the focus of the inspector general's investigation after the Senate Armed Services Committee complained about his behavior in February 2018. The inspector general referred Cooling's case back to the Marine Corps for discipline, and officials there are reviewing the report, Maj. Brian Block, a Marine spokesman, said Wednesday.

In a letter to investigators, Cooling challenged their findings. He wrote that "aggressive leadership is incorrectly deemed by the investigator to be negative.

"It was my responsibility to maintain the trust and confidence of my subordinates and I clearly pressed them to the point where some experienced work-related stress and may have questioned my motivations," he wrote. "It should be noted that the comments perceived by some as inappropriate were related to substandard performance."

The Marine Corps removed Cooling from his post after seven months. He is currently assigned to the Marine Corps headquarters, Block said.

In a statement, Cooling said the investigation showed that he broke no laws. He also thanked the Marine Corps, which he called his life for 33 years.

“My intent was always to increase the performance of the office, but I did not account for the politically charged environment in which it operates," Cooling said. "I inadvertently offended some through random remarks that were taken in a different context than I intended."

The report on Cooling comes as the military continues to address abuse in its ranks, including sexual harassment and assault. In its latest report, the Pentagon found that reports of sexual assault, for example, had increased 38% from 2016 to 2018.

Among the allegations substantiated by the inspector general against Cooling:

"He publicly yelled to a staff member that if the staff member did not give him requested budget information he would castrate the staff member."

The Senate complaint alleged that Cooling told "members of his staff and a female Marine who was aiming to be a Marine pilot that he would rather have his daughter work in a whorehouse than be a female Marine pilot."

In a meeting with Senate staff, Cooling "made the statement that opening combat roles to women had negatively impacted men because women are physically inferior to men and men could no longer refer to their rifle parts by the names of female body parts."

Cooling disputed many of the findings in the report. For example, he wrote that the castration comment was a joke and that he had used the term "brothel," not whorehouse. He denied making the comments about women in combat.

The inspector general largely disagreed. Investigators interviewed 37 witnesses and reviewed 11,650 emails.

"We substantiated the allegation that Brig. Gen. Cooling's overall course of conduct toward subordinates disparaged, bullied, humiliated them and devalued women," the report concluded. "We determined that Brig. Gen. Cooling conducted himself in a less than exemplary manner in his treatment of subordinates or in comments that devalued women on seven occasions during his 7 month and 17 day tenure at (the Office of Legislative Affairs.)"

The Marine Corps is reviewing the report and will take appropriate action, Block said.

"The Marine Corps expects every Marine, uniformed and civilian – and particularly those in leadership positions – to hold themselves to the highest standards in their personal and professional conduct," Block said in a statement. "When Marines fall short of our standards they are held accountable."

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