Marines fire two Parris Island leaders in charge of recruit training

One Marine remembered the commander beating an entire platoon of recruits in a fitness test before telling them: "You're going to love being a Marine."
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Col. Bradley Ward and Sgt. Maj. Fabian Casillas were relieved on July as the commander and Sgt. Maj. of Marine recruit training at Parris Island. USMC photos.

The top leaders of the Marine Corps’ storied recruit training on Parris Island, South Carolina were fired in early July. The two senior Marines, Col. Bradley Ward and Sgt. Maj. Fabian Casillas, were relieved for “loss of trust and confidence,” according to a Marine statement sent to Task & Purpose.

But at least one Marine who completed the famously grueling months of recruit training at Parris Island while Ward was the commander remembers him as an inspiring figure at boot camp who outran an entire platoon of recruits in a fitness test before telling them: “Wait until you get into the fleet, you are going to love being a Marine.”

Relieved Of Command

Ward and Casillas served as Recruit Training Regiment Commanding Officer and Sergeant Major at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island until July. A Marine spokesperson did not identify the two Marines by name but confirmed in a statement to Task & Purpose that the two leaders in those positions at Parris Island were relieved on July 5.

The firing of the two senior leaders was first reported Monday by Marine Corps Times.

“The Recruit Training Regiment Commanding Officer and Sergeant Major were relieved on Wednesday, July 5, for loss of trust and confidence,” Major Philip Kulczewski said in a statement. “No other information is available at this time.”

Ward and Casillas were listed as holding those positions in official Marine biographies that were still accessible Monday afternoon, while the two Marines that now serve in those billets — Col. Christopher McArther and Sgt. Maj. Michael Brown — took over those jobs in July, according to the Parris Island website.

A Boot Camp Inspiration

But at least one Marine now in the fleet who completed recruit training under Ward told his father that the senior officer had been an inspiring figure.

Ward came to Parris Island as a senior officer in 2021 after serving as the commander of the Marines’ Camp Mujuk in Korea, but he began his career on the same legendary yellow footsteps at Parris Island that countless enlisted Marines have stood on during their first moments of recruit training. According to his Marine Corps biography, Ward enlisted in 1988, completing recruit training at Parris Island, then returned as a drill instructor at the base before commissioning in 1998.

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Brent Barnhart, a retired musician and mechanical engineer from Ohio, told Task & Purpose that his son, Gordon, emerged from Parris Island after recruit training with clear memories of Ward.

For one, Barnhart, told Task & Purpose, Ward was smiling in his official portrait, which was displayed in recruit training barracks as part of the base’s chain of command. 

“All of the commanding officer’s pictures are plastered across the barracks,” Gordon wrote to Brent, in an email provided to Task & Purpose. “You stare at those 16 pictures every single day. So I had, like, everyone practically memorized, their medals, and ribbons, and ranks and faces, etc.”

Ward stood out, Barnhart said.

“The thing about Colonel Ward he had this big smile, not 1 other Marine out of the 16 were smiling. You couldn’t miss it.”

Knowing Ward’s face from the wall, Gordon Barnhart wrote, he recognized him late in his platoon’s training as they took a platoon-wide fitness test.

Ward, who took over as the regimental commander shortly before Gordon Barnhart graduated recruit training, took his own PT test with the platoon, Gordon told his father.

“The Colonel ran, and beat every single person in the Platoon,” Brent recalled Gordon relaying. “I think Gordon said only one [recruit] beat him.”

When the test was over, Gordon said, Ward turned to the platoon and asked, “so what are you all doing this weekend?” — an obvious joke that got a laugh from the recruits, who famously have almost no freedom or downtime during boot camp.

Ward continued in good humor, Gordon recalled to Brent: “Well, I just hate these things. My wife went to the store and had a 12-pack of cold beer waiting for me and I’m going to watch football all weekend.”

But Ward’s parting words, Gordon said, were less jovial but inspiring: “You guys just wait until you get into the fleet, you are going to love being a Marine.”

Training Deaths at Parris Island

Though Marine officials did not provide information on Ward and Casillas’s firing, a spate of deaths has marred training at the base in recent years. A recruit from Michigan died at Parris Island in June.

Pvt. Marshall Hartman, 18, from Prescott, Michigan, was on his sixth day of training when he died June 12. Hartman’s death was the fifth of a recruit at Parris Island in a little over two years, four of which occurred under Ward’s command.

In April, Pfc. Noah Evans, 21, died while taking his final physical fitness test. Pvt. Anthony Munoz died on Sept. 7, 2021, on his first day of training when he fell from a balcony. Pfc. Brandon Barnish, 26, had graduated from recruit training and was rehabilitating an injury when he was found dead on the base in October 2021.

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