The Marine Corps is investigating an active-duty gunnery sergeant who wrote a self-published "memoir" detailing a relationship with a young potential recruit while he worked in a recruiting office in Texas.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Champagne, 36, published the story of what he described as "a scandalous romantic relationship" with a "young woman ... who wanted to join [the military]" last month. The investigation was confirmed by the Marine Corps, and Military.com reviewed excerpts from the book.
The excerpts paint a disturbing picture of an adult man in a position of power within the Marine Corps engaging in sexual activities with a potential recruit who needed consent from her parents to join the military, indicating that she was under the age of 18.
"This is not the kind of guy you want recruiting your children," Rob Kersch, Champagne's ex-father-in-law, told Military.com in an interview Wednesday.
A spokesperson for his command confirmed that, while Champagne is still on active duty, he is no longer serving as a recruiter at Recruiting Station Fort Worth, Texas, pending the results of the investigation, which is directly related to the book. The investigation has been referred up to the service's Western Recruiting Region.
"The kind of conduct that we're discussing is absolutely not representative of Recruiting Station Fort Worth, 8th Marine Corps Recruiting District or the Marine Corps at large," Capt. Bryanna Kessler said.
"We don't support people who don't conform to our ... ethos," she said. "And if people aren't willing to abide by those, they are no longer welcome to serve in our ranks. ... That is not representative of what we as an institution believe in."
A request for comment was emailed to Champagne through his book's website before it became defunct over the weekend. A person who answered the phone at a number listed under Champagne's name hung up after the reporter identified himself.
Military.com will not publish the name of the memoir as it cannot confirm the age of the potential recruit, who is named "Cosette" in the book, or details of Champagne's account, though it was billed on his Kickstarter campaign as a "true story" with details such as names changed.
Kessler told Military.com on Wednesday that the command was in contact with "Cosette's" family, "ensuring that the family understood that the justice system is at work, the command has taken action. He is not in contact. ... She's not in any danger of being contacted by him."
Marine Corps recruiters are responsible for signing up young Americans -- many of whom are still in high school -- for the service. A recruiter having a romantic or sexual relationship with a prospective recruit is strictly prohibited under Pentagon policy, and there are laws protecting minors from adult sexual advances, though the age of consent varies from state to state. It is 17 in Texas.
Kessler did not confirm whether the potential recruit was underage, but did say she was not recruited into the Marine Corps.
In one of the book excerpts, Champagne wrote that he was "presented with a no-contact order for Cosette and her father" and "was told I was under investigation for sexual harassment and sexual assault."
Kristi Champagne, his ex-wife, and her father, Kersch, said that they filed complaints over the last two years with the Azle Police Department in Texas, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Champagne's current and former units about what they described as a history of abusive behavior, including sexual assault.
After the divorce, Kristi has split visitation rights with Champagne over their daughter. "I am terrified every day that I send her to him," she said. "And that's been that way since before the split, but there's literally nothing I could do."
Kessler said she was not aware of any complaints filed to 8th Marine Corps Recruiting District, but Military.com reviewed several documents that outline official military responses to Kristi that refer to her allegations of abuse. One was from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fleet and Family Support Center that said Kristi's intimate partner emotional abuse case against Champagne was closed because the offender was "non-compliant/unresolved."
Other documents from military officials said that some of Kristi's allegations "did not meet criteria" for issues like spousal sexual abuse.
Champagne was arrested on charges of sexual assault against Kristi, an elementary school teacher who also served in the Marine Corps, in March of last year, according to a jail booking list reviewed by Military.com, but the case was dropped by the district attorney for the Texas county he was arrested in, former family members said.
He wrote in his memoir that he hid the pending assault case from his recruiting school staff. Champagne also wrote that his former command served him a military protective order prohibiting him from speaking to Kristi and his daughter.
Kessler, the Marine Corps spokesperson, said she was not aware of the arrest.
Military.com contacted the detective in charge of the case at the Azle Police Department and a law firm that apparently worked with Champagne, but did not hear back by publication.
The Tarrant County clerk's office could not confirm arrest records for the identifying numbers listed next to Champagne's booking document, which was obtained by Military.com.
A Marine Corps spokesperson confirmed that Champagne was still a gunnery sergeant and on active duty after Military.com sent the service a link to a social media page that brought attention to the book, Champagne's date of birth, and excerpts from his Kickstarter campaign.
"My memoir is a true story about a scandalous romantic relationship," a Kickstarter description of the book read. "Cosette was a much younger woman with an affinity for older men, but we connected through discussions of overcoming suicide, assault, and abuse."
Champagne described himself as a recently divorced man who suffered from financial instability, loneliness and depression that led to a suicide attempt. "I felt like I had lost so much, but pursuing a relationship with Cosette would mean I would have to risk it all," according to the published description of the book.
Excerpts of the book that Military.com reviewed, which were provided by Champagne's former family, described Cosette's body in objectifying terms, referring to her as a "gift" from another recruiter. He described messaging her on the social media app Snapchat and wrote that Cosette would stay with him "three or four nights a week."
He wrote about how she would tell her parents she was going to see a friend, and described hiding that he had unprotected sex with her. Champagne's Kickstarter campaign described that agents and publishers "want to remove some of the controversial elements" of the book, which is why he decided to self-publish.
"By self-publishing as an indie, debut author, I am afforded the opportunity to share the truth, even when it is hard," his Kickstarter campaign -- which appeared to have been canceled -- said.
Champagne wrote that he was "willing to risk my career to save her and protect her" and that the relationship was one that "we could never have."
Typically, recruiters have to sign a prohibited activities acknowledgment that prevents service members in a position of power from "develop[ing], attempting to develop, or conduct[ing] personal, intimate, or sexual relationships with a recruit," according to the form.
"This includes, but is not limited to, dating, handholding, kissing, embracing, caressing, and engaging in sexual activities," the form states, adding that those prohibited activities include allowing a recruit into a privately owned vehicle or sharing the same living area, such as an apartment.
When asked, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service would neither confirm nor deny it was investigating Champagne. Kessler said that Marine Corps investigators and NCIS were involved in the case.
"NCIS takes allegations of criminal sexual misconduct very seriously," NCIS spokesperson Jeff Houston told Military.com via email. "Out of respect for the investigative process and to protect victim privacy, NCIS does not comment on, confirm details relating to, or confirm the existence of ongoing investigations that involve allegations of criminal sexual misconduct."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.