An elated Lt. Col. Michael C. “Sham” Nesbitt learned Friday that the Marine Corps had reversed an earlier finding that he restricted a whistleblower from talking to the Inspector General, clearing the way for him to retire honorably at his present pay grade.
The ruling by Marine Corps Training Command rescinds any report of officer misconduct, which would’ve sent Nesbitt to a board of inquiry to determine whether he conducted himself honorably. An adverse ruling by the tribunal could’ve forced him to exit the service as a major after 22 years of service.
Instead, Friday’s announcement by the staff of Brig. Gen. Jason Morris was another blow to a Pentagon IG investigation that’s been decried by dozens of military aviators as unfair and riddled with factual errors since its June 12 release, according to internal Navy and Marine Corps documents provided to Navy Times.
Over the protests of his Navy superiors, on Aug. 5 the Marine Corps relieved him after 52 months as the XO of the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet training squadron for the East Coast.
“I’m definitely feeling significantly better today,” Nesbitt told Navy Times Friday. “I think ‘relieved’ might be the right word, and I’m extremely happy for my family that this is over. And I’m thankful for everyone who supported me during this long journey to get to right.”
At issue was Nesbitt’s interactions with a Navy lieutenant who had spent two years in the instructor training program but had not qualified for the duty. From late 2017 to mid-2018, the lieutenant filed or assisted others in filing multiple equal opportunity, congressional and IG complaints, according to the report.
Nesbitt’s attorney, Timothy Parlatore, estimated that the lieutenant had filed or assisted in the filing of at least 11 IG complaints against the military while at VFA-106, according to a letter to Morris obtained by Navy Times.
During that span, Nesbitt attempted to communicate with the lieutenant about a range of issues, everything from allegations that he was teaching improper and dangerous landing techniques to junior students learning carrier operations to candid remarks about others failing to trust an officer who hurdled the chain of command to file numerous complaints, according to the IG report.
Reached Friday evening, Parlatore told Navy Times that the IG probe should’ve stopped there instead of continuing to target Nesbitt.
“We were very happy to represent Lt. Col. Nesbitt, and we’re happy that this was resolved, but it’s unfortunate how far we had to go to get there,” he said.
Although the IG ruled that Nesbitt never tried to block the lieutenant from communicating with investigators, the agency determined that his position as the squadron’s XO, combined with his “choice of words and continual emphasis on using the chain of command first versus reporting matters to the IG, had the effect of attempting to restrict the Complainant from lawfully communicating with an IG."
The IG urged senior military officials to “take appropriate action” against Nesbitt.
Training Command officials initially were persuaded that the 20-page report demonstrated that Nesbitt’s actions were tantamount to trying to restrict a whistleblower, but that’s not how he and others in both the Navy and Marine Corps saw it and they fought back.
According to an internal dossier provided to Navy Times, eight Navy aviators submitted personal statements or other evidence to the Marine Corps in support of Nesbitt, including VFA-106 operations officer Cmdr. Joel Caponigro; training model manager Cmdr. Mark Bair; former commanding officer Cmdr. Martin L. Weyenberg; and present commanding officer Cmdr. Brandon M. Scott.
“What did we do wrong here? We didn’t do anything wrong here except try to protect the safety of our students,” said Nesbitt.
“I thought the IG system in the beginning would’ve exonerated me,” he added. “But I guess we got to the right answer in the long run."