Commandant relieves Officer Candidates School commander | Marine Corps Times |

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.”

via Commandant relieves Officer Candidates School commander | Marine Corps Times |

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?

5 thoughts on “Commandant relieves Officer Candidates School commander | Marine Corps Times |”

  1. I understand command responsibility, and where the buck stops and I submit gentlemen and gentleladies that a 3-way murder-suicide was/is way beyond anticipating, forecasting, or in anyway preparing for in the traditional PTSD, or Suicide Prevention Programs. Baby got thrown out with the bath water and hopefully a Marine BN/Regiment won’t have to take it on the chin in combat because of the absence of this combat leader. If this Marine Officer was otherwise useless would have made this decision easier.

  2. I know Col. Stillings personally; I had the pleasure of working with him when he was at MARFOREUR back in 2004. He led one of the first iterations to the Republic of Georgia with the Georgia Train & Equip Program (GTEP), which would later become the Georgia Sustainment & Stability Operations Program (GSSOP) that I was involved with a few years later.

    I can say without hesitation that he is one of the finest Marines I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. When I read that he had been screened for command, and would be assigned as the CO of OCS, I thought that there could be none better for that post; a former enlisted Marine who understood what it takes to excel as a Marine officer.

    The decision made and action taken by the Commandant changes my opinion not one bit. Kris Stillings is and continues to be an excellent Marine. The events that took place within his command could have, unfortunately, happened at any base or station, and within any platoon, company or battalion.

  3. I am astonished that the Commandant saw fit to relieve Colonel Stillings under these circumstances. The burden of command lies heavily on the shoulder of the commander, but it is beyond belief that the Commandant would hold a commander responsible for the actions of what appears to be a psychotic individual.

    While I am not privy to all of the facts surrounding the double murder-suicide that occurred at OCS, I have seen nothing that would indicate that it was either foreseeable, or preventable.

    To hold commanders responsible for random acts of subordinates where there is no evidence to suggest that they knew, or reasonably could have been expected to know, in advance, that such acts would take place requires a level of omnipotence that few, if any, have.

  4. For some commanders, every day of command is a crap shoot. Depends on the command climate you work within, and the one you set. Soldiers do bad things, but if you have done nothing in the way of preventing the 3-5% that we may actually be able to prevent, and your subordinates are constantly caught by surprise by the things their guys do because they don’t even know them, command is harder.

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