The Complex

Marine Commandos Make Horrible Martin Luther King Jr. Gaffe on Twitter

The national holiday honoring assassinated civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. is Monday, and it has turned into a massive headache for the U.S. Marine Corps' special operations organization. Marine Corps Force Special Operations Command posted a message on Twitter Friday urging Marines to stay safe over the holiday weekend -- and urging them not to be a "lone shooter."

"Don't be lone shooter #MLK weekend! make sure you've got security - stay safe! #MARSOC #Marines #shortbarrelforVBSS," said the message, posted at 10:52 a.m. along with a link to a photo of a Marine aiming a short-barreled rifle out a window.

The post was quickly removed when attention was drawn to it.

"Could this have been stated more awkwardly?" asked one Twitter user going by the handle Tequila0341.

"That MARSOC #MLKweekend "lone shooter" tweet is gonna get someone fired," said another Twitter user, @JRMoockjr.


King was killed April 4, 1968, by a lone gunman in Memphis, Tenn. His holiday coincides with his birthday, Jan. 15.

MARSOC quickly removed the post after questions were raised.

"Marine leaders will frequently take the opportunity to remind their personnel to make wise decisions and to look out for each other especially before a long holiday weekend," Lt. Col. Neil Murphy, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, told Foreign Policy. "The intent of the post was to remind personnel to partner up when going out over the weekend and to look out for each other. When MARSOC was alerted to the potential that this military post could be viewed as insensitive or offensive when combined with the historical facts concerning Martin Luther King Jr., they immediately took it down and have posted a short apology."

UPDATE: 1:31 p.m.:  MARSOC just posted the following in regard to their last tweet.


The gaffe perpetuates an ongoing problem between the military and civilian world. U.S. service members frequently use military or gun terminology when speaking about other issues, causing confusion or misinterpretations.

In one example, a comment from an Army officer published in Army Times in 2012 was twisted in a subsequent article in The Nation to insinuate that the U.S. military is actively and deliberately targeting children during military operations in Afghanistan. The initial comments said only that the Taliban's use of children in the war zone "kind of opens our aperture" on what U.S. forces must observe while in Afghanistan -- a gun reference apparently lost on The Nation.

Twitter photo

National Security

First Drugs, Now Cheating: The Air Force Nuke Scandal Just Got Bigger

U.S. defense officials acknowledged last week that a handful of Air Force officers safeguarding the country's nuclear missiles had been implicated in a drug investigation. But the probe has spawned another embarrassment: The discovery that at least 34 of the estimated 190 nuclear officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana either cheated on a monthly launch officer proficiency test, or knew colleagues had gamed the system and did nothing.

The widening scandal in a command that historically prided itself for its zero-defects culture was announced Wednesday by the Air Force's top officer, Gen. Mark Welsh, and its new civilian leader, Air Force Secretary Deborah James. In a hastily announced press conference at the Pentagon, they said the investigation -- now split off from the existing drug probe -- is ongoing, and pledged accountability and corrective action.

"We do not know of an incident of this scale involving cheating in the missile force," Welsh said. "We are researching that now.… but we are not aware of it at this point in time."

James and Welsh insisted that the security of the intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal was never at risk. The cheating reflects a "failure of integrity" of individual airmen, "not a failure of the nuclear mission," James said. The security clearances of all 34 officers implicated have been suspended, and they have been restricted from missile crew, Welsh said.

The scandal emerges as the Air Force's nuclear force, charged with handling the United States' most dangerous weapons, already was grappling with the removal of a two-star general in October. An Air Force investigation determined he went drinking and dancing with Russian women while visiting Moscow on official business, shocking some officers traveling with him. Maj. Gen. Michael Carey commanded the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal.

Top Air Force leaders learned of the cheating over the weekend as investigators continued to probe illegal drug possession that has implicated 11 Air Force officers on six U.S. bases worldwide. One of the personnel ensnared in the drug probe is a missile launch officer with the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, one of three Air Force bases that maintains and operates the Minuteman III ICBM, Welsh said.

Investigators discovered that the launch officer had shared answers for a monthly test electronically with 16 colleagues, all with ranks between second lieutenant and captain. Officials subsequently approached the other estimated 190 officers in the force at Malmstrom, and 17 admitted to at least being aware that material had been shared, Welsh said.

"We don't know how or if each of those officers used that material, but we do know that none of them reported the incident to their leadership," the general said. "Regardless of an airmen's level of participation, cheating or tolerating others who cheat runs counter to everything we believe in as a service."

Welsh declined to say how the drug investigation led to knowledge of potential cheating. But he said the answers appear to have been shared by text message, raising the prospect that investigators discovered them while examining the phone of the officer who initially shared the information.

The drug case, first reported Friday, includes three nuclear officers among 11 personnel implicated, Welsh said. He declined to identify what kind of drugs are involved, and said that investigation is being run separately. Two of the nuclear officers implicated in the drug investigation serve at Malmstrom, while the third works at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

All of it is bad news for the Air Force, which is still smarting from the 2008 removal of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael Wynne following a string of embarrassing incidents, some involving the nuclear force. They were forced to resign by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, most famously after the service accidentally transferred six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

James, who took over as secretary in December, and Welsh promised Wednesday they would investigate the cheating scandal fully, and won't go easy on anyone found to have committed wrongdoing. They met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday to discuss the situation, and plan to closely examine in coming months everything from morale to modernization that may be needed in the nuclear force, James said.

"Accountability, to me, is everybody," she said. "Everybody is accountable... No one escapes accountability in the Air Force, as far as I'm concerned, so we'll be looking at all of that."

Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales/ Air Force