Marine Corps Records Obtained in 2017 Reveal no Purple Heart or Combat Action Ribbon for John Bennett
Stites informed me that he had already heard that Bennett was claiming decorations that he didn't rate and a private detective generated the attached document. I informed him that I was suspicious of his claim of a purple heart because the timing doesn't match the rest of his awards displayed in his office. For example, the United States invaded Iraq early in 2003. The 2nd battle of Fallujah was in Nov 2004 and this was when John Bennett told me he was injured. An injury that would have classified him as non-deployable for a lengthy time and most likely result in his discharge. In other words, the USMC would not have sent him to another combat zone after Nov 2004. Yet Mr. Bennett displayed two Iraq Campaign Medals and one Afghanistan campaign medal.
As a field grade officer who worked in a position prior to my first deployment, I became very aware of the deployment cycle. USMC deployments for the most part were 7 months and mostly alternated from East Coast bases to West Coast bases.
He left active duty with the GySgt rank (Gunny Sergeant) yet he claimed in numerous news articles that he picked up the next higher rank of 1Sgt rank in the reserves. A marine cannot join the Marine Reserves with disabilities (marines have to be deployable).
The second bullet point about Bennett's claimed reason for retiring early is from Bennett himself, he in fact told the Tea Party this story way back in 2010, that a roadside bomb caused head trauma and early retirement. He did retire as a Gunny Sergeant, with sergeant being the lowest NCO rank, staff sergeant next, then gunnery sergeant, then master sergeant/ first sergeant (both E-8), master gunnery sergeant, sergeant major, then the highest NCO rank being Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
Now there are many variations depending upon the unit but a sergeant will command a squad of 13 Marines with the actual number depending upon the type of unit. A staff sergeant will assist a 2nd Lieutenant in command of a platoon of 43 marines or a section leader in a weapons platoon . A gunnery sergeant might be a platoon leader in charge of a weapons platoon with the more experienced moving up to the company gunnery sergeant in charge of beans, bullets, and band aids so to speak. Master sergeants serve as operations chief or assistant operations chief of a company of Marines, at this level they are pushing paper and logistics, not tech experts or leading men. A first sergeant serves as the senior enlisted advisor to a company or battery commander, supervision of the lower ranks, sorting out human resource issues, not out leading men or working logistics. A master gunnery sergeant serves as the operations chief of an infantry battalion, between 500 and 1200 men depending upon the unit's purpose.
So First Sergeant is a step up from logistics or squad command to supervision. And the size of the Marine Corp is important, only around 181,000 in active service, around 91,000 in reserve units, and the room to advance is small. To become a sergeant takes almost five years statistically as 16% of the entire Marine force are sergeants, over double that to become a staff sergeant which around 9% of the entire force , nearly 15 years to make it to gunnery sergeant which are 5% of the entire force, and nearly 19 years on the average to make it to master sergeant/first sergeant 2% of the force which are. A marine must meet both time-in-service and time-in-grade to be eligible for consideration for promotion. Because of these time limitations, it takes on average 19 years for a marine to reach the rank of 1st Sgt. First Sergeant is a step up in supervising authority and responsibility from that of an E-7 Gunnery Sergeant
Are you seeing the problem here? With only 13 to 14 years of service, with being supposedly blown up in 2004 around ten years into his service, his advancement would have slowed to a crawl if he had memory damage as he claimed which led to his retirement. Marine NCOs advance only with great fitness reports, so many are skipped for advancement due to the limited number of slots available and they leave the service as they aren't likely to advance further. Promotions are handled by a promotion board and basically those with the longest service in grade, in that rank, move to the front of the list. There are merit promotions but they are rare and you cannot make it to first sergeant through merit or it is very rare.
Next up is that due to the extremely limited number of billets available the Marines expect longer service in exchange for promotion to master sergeant or first sergeant. And there are limits to years served, a sergeant is out at 13 years, a staff sergeant is allowed 20 years, a gunnery sergeant is allowed 22 years, a first sergeant or master sergeant is allowed 27 years, and a sergeant major is allowed 30 years. The retirement pay balloons with these extra years, few first sergeants would want to quit at 14 years if any.
The fourth bullet point on that document above mentions Bennett's final posting, the Third Intelligence Battalion and this is where things get interesting. Not only is the battalion a headquarters group, not a combat group, it is stationed in Okinawa and didn't send a contingent to Afghanistan until 2009, two years after Bennett had left the service. How did Bennett get to Afghanistan if his unit didn't arrive until two months after he had left the service.
Another interesting rumor has been floating around, that booze and a moped and a mountain road were the likely cause of any head trauma Bennett might have suffered. An alternative rumor was it was a nearly identical story except it was a motorcycle in Georgia. This would explain Bennett's retirement, a loss of memory loss would indeed have him denied re enlistment.
The fifth bullet point in the document above is the clincher. This is from the Marine Corp Records Branch and there is NO PURPLE HEART or CAR, Combat Action Ribbon. Without the CAR you cannot call yourself a combat marine. Now you might remember from the previous installment of this saga that being blown up by a roadside bomb is a way to receive a CAR, therefore John Bennett would have had a CAR listed on his list of medals were he indeed blown up while on duty. Add to that the improper display of a large amount of CAR ribbons, far in excess of the normal, for a guy with a desk job it seems as his last posting.
Now we do have that last award, four years volunteering in a rest home and as a girl scout leader....maybe the Purple Heart came from selling cookies or dumping bed pans?