The former commander of the Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, Virginia, may face up to a two-and-a-half year sentence after pleading guilty at a Friday court-martial to having an unduly familiar relationship with a female subordinate, violating military protective orders, and consuming alcohol and steroids unlawfully.
Col. T. Shane Tomko, 53, was relieved from his post at the regiment in February 2015 after officials cited a loss of confidence in his ability to lead. He pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of abusive sexual contact, fraternization and other violations of lawful orders under a pretrial agreement that may include a lessened sentence. The complete details of that have not been made clear.
General officers who testified as character witnesses in Tomko's defense, including the recently retired four-star commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, painted a picture of an altered man whose battles with his personal demons had begun to influence his behavior.
A visibly shaking and emotional Tomko appeared Friday, having spent the previous three weeks at pretrial confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, Virginia, after violating terms set for him by the trial judge. According to charges that Tomko pleaded guilty to Friday, he appeared at a May 6 arraignment with a .208 blood alcohol level, and drove under the influence following a May 3 military protective order that prohibited him from drinking.
Tomko also admitted that he had sent sexual and inappropriate Facebook messages to a female Marine corporal under his command at Wounded Warrior Regiment, had called her "fun, hot and intriguing," and had carried on an unduly familiar relationship with her. After Tomko's behavior began to be investigated, he said he contacted the corporal and another sergeant in violation of a military protective order to get them to destroy evidence of inappropriate communication.
He also said he had injected another officer’s prescription testosterone, a controlled substance he was not legally permitted to use.
Kelly, who testified via telephone from Boston, where he was set to speak at a Memorial Day service, said he had known Tomko for a decade and, while he never worked closely with him, had always observed his character to be upstanding.
"Socially, he's a great Marine," Kelly said, adding that he had a reputation as a "gunfighter" and upstanding leader.
The commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, said he had picked Tomko to be his chief of staff for operations at his previous post at 2nd Marine Division aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 2013 because of his reputation.
During the time Tomko served at the division, he said, he was a key player in facilitating the newly launched Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Africa and supporting a II Marine Expeditionary Force deployment to Afghanistan.
"It was terrific," Lukeman said. "[Tomko] just brings energy, a sense of humor, a way of attacking that problem."
The Tomko that Lukeman observed following his relief at Wounded Warrior Regiment -- one who suffered from physical problems including a persistent cough, struggled with mental health issues, and ultimately was issued a military protective order by Lukeman himself -- was not the same man he knew, the general said.
Lukeman said he reached out to Tomko around Labor Day 2015, just before Tomko began full-time mental health care at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, out of concern for his well being and even a worry that the colonel might harm himself.
"I'm not a doctor, but he's not able to prevent himself from doing these things that he's pleading guilty to," Lukeman said. "I can't imagine it would come to that."
Tomko first enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1983 and has served as an infantry officer as well as within Joint Special Operations Command. His defense attorney noted he had been receiving treatment and counseling for post-traumatic stress at Fort Belvoir.
It was revealed in the court-martial that he had previously received non-judicial punishment following his relief at the regiment.
Another character witness, Maj. Gen. Craig Timberlake, is set to testify for Tomko ahead of a sentencing, which was expected to happen later Friday.