The chaplain for U.S. Marine Forces Reserve has been relieved of duties, Marine Corps officials confirmed to Task & Purpose on Tuesday.
Marine Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian, the commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, fired U.S. Navy Capt. Loften C. Thornton, the chaplain of Marine Forces Reserves.
Marine Maj. Andrew M. Aranda, who serves as the officer in charge for media engagements told Task and Purpose on Tuesday that Thornton was removed “due to a loss of trust and confidence.”
Marine officials did not provide any further details about the chaplain’s removal, stating that while the command "takes all allegations against any of our Marines or Sailors seriously ... to provide any more details right now would be inappropriate as there is an ongoing investigation."
In a follow-up email responding to questions, Marine Forces Reserve told Task and Purpose that the investigation is command-directed and that it began on March 17.
The “loss of trust and confidence” description from the Defense Department is a common response that does little to illuminate why a service member was relieved of command or of their official military duties.
Historically, the “loss of trust and confidence” statement is applied to a host of issues from poor command leadership and fostering a toxic command climate to more severe issues such as violations of federal law or rules and regulations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Before being fired, Thornton previously served as the chaplain for Headquarters and Service Battalion at Marine Corps Forces Pacific and back in 2000, presided over the memorial service of 17 U.S. Navy sailors killed in the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists.
The announcement of Thornton’s removal comes amid a litany of issues that have been underscored in Marine Forces Reserve this month.
Earlier this month, Military.com reported that commanding officer of 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, the Corps’ reserve reconnaissance unit, was found dead in his California home of an apparent suicide.
Marine Corps officials told Military.comthat the Corps was notified about the death of Lt. Col. Adam L. Collier on March 11.
In mid-March, Marine Corps Times reportedthat a Marine Forces Reserve intelligence unit was under investigation for allegations of misconduct involving Company A of the Intelligence Support Battalion out of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Some of the misconduct allegations ranged from administrative and pay issues to low morale across the unit.
The reports of suicide and misconduct within the Marine Forces Reserve ranks come amid worries of low recruitment numbers among prior-service Marines in the reserve force.
Task & Purpose exclusively reported earlier in March that the commanding general for Marine Corps Recruiting Command asked Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Headquarters, Marine Corps in Quantico for a downgrade of its prior-service recruiting (PSR) goal for reserve forces.
A spokesman for Recruiting Command told Task & Purpose that while the command was on track to meet its target goals for new recruits, officials had identified a projected PSR shortfall due to “an imminent and uncharacteristically high” turnover rate of 46% among the command’s 81 PSR recruiters, well above what one senior military official described as a typical turnover rate of between 33% to 40%.
Marine Forces Reserve overall troop strength numbers have hovered around 38,500 and is currently not allowed to go beyond that per fiscal year 2018 end strength.
“The biggest problem is the command isn’t focused,” a senior military official told Task & Purpose. “The commander [Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian] is inexperienced and the staff is focused on administration and not operations. This has created a dysfunctional command environment.”