The commanding officer of the Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior Battalion East has been relieved from command, and two civilian staff have been placed on administrative leave after an investigation into alleged improprieties around a donation fund used by the unit.
Lt. Col. Chris Hrudka was removed from his post today by Wounded Warrior Regiment Commanding Officer Col. Larry Miller due to a loss of trust and confidence stemming from a command investigation, Capt. Andrew Bolla, a regiment spokesman, confirmed to Military.com.
Wounded Warrior Battalion East was established in 2007 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina under the Marines' Wounded Warrior Regiment. The unit provides a place for wounded, ill and injured Marines on the East Coast to receive full-time care, rehabilitation and services while remaining on active duty.
The two civilian unit staff placed on leave are Craig Stephens, command adviser to the battalion; and Dallas Poole, its veteran and charitable organizations program coordinator.
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Stephens and Poole, who both spoke with Military.com, said the investigation centered on a fund that had been established early in the unit's history in order to accommodate donations specially earmarked for the battalion. Both men said they had operated within the guidance of their command and had never been informed of a problem with the fund's use before an investigation was launched.
Called the Marine Corps Community Services Donation Fund, the pot of money was created in order to buy equipment for the battalion's Warrior Athlete Reconditioning (WAR) Program, which funds had not otherwise been allocated for, Stephens said.
Formally, donations for Marine Corps units would be deposited into the Department of the Navy General Gift Fund. But donors who wanted to contribute to Wounded Warrior Battalion East specifically would sometimes ask that their money be put into the MCCS Donation Fund for direct use by the unit.
"From my understanding, we got approval from the regiment that we could have an account that would serve our recovering service members and their families," Poole said. "There's nothing in my four years at that office that has not been recorded on some type of report, and I don't do anything unless the command approves it."
Poole added that he often had to call donors who made their checks out to 'Wounded Warrior Battalion East' and ask them which fund they wanted to put their money in. They were encouraged, he said, to choose the Navy Gift Fund.
According to Poole and Stephens, the MCCS Donation Fund contained about $30,000 at its highest point; it was used for WAR program equipment as well as unit functions including parties and family readiness events.
The fund was closed about a year ago after a lawyer attached to the unit started asking questions about its propriety, according to accounts. Around then, a command investigation into the matter was launched.
Stephens said the fund had existed under six different commanders of WWB-E and both unit leadership and lawyers had been made aware of it on multiple occasions.
"I personally shared my concerns with the regimental lawyer because I felt the MCCS Donation Fund was a means to get around the normal process of donations. But he said 'no, it's not going to the Navy Gift Fund,'" Stephens said.
Bolla, the regiment spokesman, said he could not comment on or confirm Poole and Stephens' accounts as the investigation has not been formally endorsed and personnel actions are still pending.
Efforts to reach Hrudka were unsuccessful. A logistics officer, Hrudka was commissioned in 1994 and previously served at Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command as its director of future requirements.
Bolla said Hrudka would be reassigned to another Camp Lejeune unit and the executive officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment, Lt. Col. Larry Coleman, would temporarily take command of the battalion.
Final decisions regarding the employment of Stephens and Poole are still pending.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.