Parris Island Marine Officer Arrested in Florida, Marking Latest Leadership Troubles for Training Command

by Braxton Taylor

A Marine Corps leader at Parris Island was arrested for alleged felony cruelty toward a child and battery over the weekend, and was reassigned from his position as executive officer at the South Carolina installation’s recruit training regiment.

Lt. Col. Michael Masters was booked into a Florida county jail on Saturday morning and charged with felony-level “abuse of a child without great bodily harm” and domestic battery by strangulation, according to county police records obtained by Military.com. He was reassigned after his arrest, according to the Marine Corps.

With Masters’ reassignment, the regiment’s top three positions have turned over in almost exactly two months. Altogether, five top Marine leaders have been dismissed or reassigned within the Corps’ Training and Education Command since June, a three-month stretch that has brought increased attention to the entity responsible for molding new troops but provided few answers as to why some leaders were relieved.

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“The investigation is ongoing and additional details are unavailable at this time,” Maj. Philip Kulczewski, a spokesperson for Parris Island, told Military.com on Tuesday. “Lt. Col. Masters has been reassigned pending charges. Any questions related to the investigation may be directed to the Santa Rosa County authorities.”

On Sept. 2, an officer with the Gulf Breeze Police Department in Florida arrived at a residence on the western part of the small city where a female victim was “choked to the point she could not breathe,” according to the police report. It appears Masters was visiting the residence on leave from Parris Island for the long Labor Day weekend.

While the report was partially redacted to exclude the identity of the alleged victims, one told police that Masters had strangled her previously. Masters denied the accusations to the responding officer, according to the records and “started yelling, ‘She’s a liar!'”

The officer observed “slight red marks” on the alleged victim’s neck and reported that she said, “[Redacted] squeezed my neck and choked me and I could not breathe.” Masters was then arrested, and the Department of Children and Families was notified.

Military.com attempted to reach Masters via social media, but did not hear back by publication.

The arrest marks the latest in a string of known Training and Education Command dismissals or reassignments, which started on June 2 when Sgt. Maj. Beth Ellen Abbott, a senior enlisted leader at Quantico’s Basic School, struck two teenage pedestrians in an alleged drunk driving incident several miles outside of the base.

The next month, Col. Bradley Ward and Sgt. Maj. Fabian Casillas were relieved from their positions as top leaders of the Recruit Training Regiment — the same unit that Masters was a part of. Ward and Casillas were relieved for “loss of trust and confidence,” and it appears that Ward is now the camp commander of Camp Mujuk in South Korea, according to his official biography.

In July, Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett, known as “Sergeant Major Kettlebell,” was also fired for “loss of trust and confidence.” He was the senior enlisted leader for the service’s School of Infantry-West out of Camp Pendleton, California, one of two entry-level infantry schools in the Marine Corps.

All leaders, including Masters, fell under the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, an entity in the service tasked with teaching and molding Marines from boot camp through specialized skills courses.

With the exception of Masters’ arrest, firings that were coupled with a criminal charge or when local authorities released details publicly, the reason given by the Marine Corps for senior leader dismissals this summer was “loss of trust and confidence” — without any further elaboration.

That has not stopped alleged details about the firings from surfacing online. Some of those claims could not be independently confirmed by Military.com, despite attempts to contact some of the accused and affected.

For the cases that do not appear to involve criminal charges, the Marine Corps has been reluctant to publicly release details about senior leader firings. With Masters’ arrest, however, no further details were released by the Marine Corps on Tuesday.

In Burkett’s firing, Military Times reported that the service’s public records office said that it would not “begin a search for the inquiry or confirm its existence because it would not be a publicly releasable document.”

The murkiness surrounding senior leader misconduct is not limited to the last three months. Last year, the War Horse, a nonprofit news organization, sued the Marine Corps and Navy for what it referred to as the service’s “black book” — an officer disciplinary notebook that contains alleged investigations and crimes committed by senior leaders.

Military.com asked the Training and Education Command to explain or contextualize the string of alleged misconduct that has occurred over the past three months.

It did not directly answer the question, but Maj. Joshua Pena, a spokesperson for the command, said “TECOM is in full support of [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] Parris Island as they continue to work with civil authorities on the matter, and adjust, as required, to ensure the vital mission of making Marines continues.”

As of Tuesday morning, Masters was still in the Santa Rosa County Jail, according to Adam Riddle, the records supervisor for Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. However, an inmate search that afternoon said that he had been released.

“The jail is still scanning and processing the arrests from the holiday weekend,” he told Military.com over email. Santa Rosa County Jail set Masters’ bond at $10,000 for each of his two charges, according to online inmate records.

According to his official Marine Corps biography, Masters has been in the service since 2005. Prior to arriving at Parris Island, he was the executive officer at the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group at Twentynine Palms, California.

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Marine Infantry School Fires Top Enlisted Leader Known as ‘Sergeant Major Kettlebell’

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