Marine Corps headquarters will temporarily adjust its leadership structure while military officials investigate whether a prominent general chosen to become the commandant’s top adviser bears responsibility for last year’s deadly attack on a coalition base in Afghanistan.
The shakeup was set in motion by Wednesday’s retirement ceremony for Lt. Gen. Willie Williams, who was director of Marine Corps staff at the Pentagon since 2009. Williams’ expected replacement is Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus, who was in charge of coalition forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when 15 insurgents attacked Camp Bastion on Sept. 14, killing two Marines and destroying six aircraft.
Gurganus’ new assignment and promotion to lieutenant general are on hold, however, as officials with U.S. Central Command determine whether he and members of his staff should be held accountable for the incident. To bridge the gap, Maj. Gen. Michael Regner has been named staff director for Headquarters Marine Corps, said Col. Chris Hughes, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon.
It’s a different title, but the responsibilities are similar, Hughes said. Regner will serve as a senior adviser to the commandant and assistant commandant, oversee headquarters operations much the way a chief of staff would, and engage with his counterparts in the Army, Navy and Air Force on issues bound for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Williams’ job will remain vacant pending conclusion of the Bastion investigation, Hughes said. It’s a three-star billet, and the individual in that position is considered the Marine Corps’ No. 3 general officer.
CENTCOM is investigating the Bastion attack at the request of the commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, who has said the Marine Corps must “hit the reset button on accountability” in the wake of several highly publicized scandals that have cast the service in a negative light. Since March, at least seven Marine officers have been removed from their jobs as a result of missteps within their units.
Questions remain about the level of security at and around Camp Bastion when the attack occurred, and whether complacency may be to blame. Gurganus has defended decision making ahead of the attack, saying changes were constantly made to keep the enemy off balance.
CENTCOM’s investigation could be complete as soon as mid-August, Amos has indicated.
Regner arrives at the Pentagon having spent the last two years as commanding general of Marine Forces Korea.
His background is diverse, according to an official bio. Regner has commanded infantry units, and held key posts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has extensive experience in Washington, having worked previously as a Marine liaison to the House of Representatives, a member of the chief of naval operations’ staff, and as the legislative assistant to Gen. James T. Conway, Amos’ predecessor as commandant.