He Was Fired for Degrading Female Marines. Now He Wants Marines to Learn from His Mistakes

Lieutenant Colonel Taylor White (Marine Corps Photo)
Lieutenant Colonel Taylor White (Marine Corps Photo)

Lt. Col. Taylor White and his colleague were not seeing eye-to-eye.

The two had butted heads in the past and, when she started complaining that his squadron wasn't offering enough support during a 2017 conference call, White lashed out. With the phone muted on his end, he called the woman a "dumb c---" and a "stupid b----."

It wasn't the first time some of the Marines in the room had heard him do this. After the call, one of them filed a formal complaint, kicking off a command-led investigation.

Two months later, White was sacked from his job as commanding officer of North Carolina-based Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 by Maj. Gen. Matthew Glavy, then-head of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The investigation that led to White's relief, which Military.com obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, found that he had also made inappropriate comments about male superiors in front of his Marines, calling one a "boob" and others "idiots" and "stupid."

Marines told the investigator that White made a sexually explicit joke about a sign in their building. White denied those charges.

His relief came about four months after news broke that hundreds of Marines were under investigation for allegedly sharing nude photos of their colleagues online without permission using the now-defunct Marines United social media group. The scandal uncovered a troubling trend in the ranks of rampant disrespect many male Marines showed their female colleagues.

Over the next two years, White would become one of more than half-a-dozen Marine leaders fired for improper behavior toward women. Former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Glenn Walters said at least one other leader relieved in 2017 and five more in 2018 were let go "because of how they treat people, how they treat people of different genders."

Walters, who ran a task force to end gender bias, harassment and other misconduct across the Marine Corps, called reliefs like White's "progress." But White says that, while he regrets his comments, he doesn't think they should have cost him his job.

"I believe I deserved counseling and mentorship, not relief of command," he told Military.com. "I made a very positive impact on MWSS-274."

Now the force engineer at Marine Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., White is on a different mission: sharing his hard-learned lessons with other Marines as the service works to combat a culture of sexism.

That, says Maj. Jessica Karlin, White's operations officer who heard his negative comments firsthand, is the real progress.

"When Marines United happened and the commandant said we all need to do better, that's really all [White's] doing now," Karlin said. "It would be an honor to serve with him in the future because he's a more mature, more professional leader today than he was then."

'Expressing My Frustration'

When the investigating officer interviewed more than two dozen officers and staff noncommissioned officers in White's command, few were aware that their commanding officer had made disparaging remarks about women.

Several said the behavior wasn't in line with his character, and that he routinely praised male and female Marines in front of the rest of the squadron.

White insisted the name-calling was not indicative of how he views female Marines or female commanding officers.

"While I am not sorry for expressing my frustration or disagreement, I would nonetheless be deeply sorry if I used any language at all during that conversation that would be construed as unprofessional," he said. "And I would be deeply embarrassed if [the commanding officer] thought I said something unprofessional about her as a person or her abilities as a leader."

White's wife, Kelly, said the respect her husband has for women can be seen not only at work, but in his personal life, too.

"He has spent a career in the Marine Corps working alongside and leading female Marines," Kelly White told Military.com. "I am a career Navy civil servant, and he has worked with me for the last 20 years to ensure that his career choices would support my career. Those are not the actions of the man he was painted to be in the investigation."

Karlin and Capt. Lydia Fakes, a company executive officer and company commander with MWSS-274, say White never treated them differently than the male Marines in their squadron. "We were all held to the same standard," Fakes said.

White made the comments about the female CO behind closed doors with just a handful of other leaders in the room, including his operations officer, executive officer and sergeant major.

"I absolutely believe that in order to have trust among the leadership in the command, there must be a significant level of candor with the key players," White said. "…However, that level of candor still needs to be professional."

White was less apologetic about the other claims the investigating officer substantiated in the report. While he admitted to expressing frustration about some of his male superiors, he denied calling any senior officers idiots.

"In general, I do not spend my days frustrated or complaining about outside individuals or organizations," he said. "Despite occasional points of friction, we're all on the same team working toward the same goals."

Similarly, White denied making a sexually explicit remark in front of several Marines, who confirmed to the investigating officer that they'd heard him say it.

"This accusation is very upsetting to me because I do not talk like this and I don't believe I would've said those words," White said, according to the investigation.

Glavy ultimately concurred with the investigation, deciding to relieve White of command in July 2017, and said he would formally administratively counsel the lieutenant colonel, according to the report.

'A Reflection of His Character'

Karlin, who served on Walters' Marines United task force, said when she confronted White about the comments he made about women or others when they were with MWSS-274, he was only somewhat receptive.

Since his relief though, she said it's obvious that White has taken the experience to heart.

"I think the fact that he chose to serve after his name hit the headlines and he had a very traumatic event in both his career and his personal life – that's a reflection of his character," she said. "Him taking ownership of his mistakes and now being an advocate for change and professionalism in the workplace, I think that's a win."

If White had retired, Karlin said there would be one less field-grade officer trying to affect change in the ranks. What he was tone-deaf to before, she said, he now understands, which can leave a positive impact on his unit.

"I think that's an important part about what happens to commanders when they're relieved," she said.

White declined to discuss some of the lessons he's sharing with other Marines today, saying he'd rather keep the often-personal conversations between them. But his wife says they both continue learning from the situation.

"We have worked very hard to take the lessons from this experience and become better for it," Kelly White said. "But I will always wish that he had been afforded the opportunity to apologize and show his ability to change for the better."

White is an engaged leader who knows how to reach Marines, Fakes said. Having someone with those qualities share his experiences -- even negative -- with other Marines benefits the entire Marine Corps, she said.

"We all learn from the experiences we are a part of in this institution," she said.

It's not easy to see a commanding officer relieved, Karlin said, but leaders must be willing to set the right tone. Before Marines United, behavior that eroded unit cohesion or left some feeling ostracized was too commonplace.

White and others now have a chance to change that, she said.

"As leaders, and specifically commanders, if they tolerate that behavior, it further degrades the Marine Corps," Karlin said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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