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Trailblazing Marine officer faces sour end to her career

Feb. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Lt. Col. Kisha Flagg Marine Corps photo ()

A senior Marine officer who was fined $18,000 and formally reprimanded after being convicted at court-martial late last year of fraternizing with a senior enlisted Marine is protesting her treatment, saying she was falsely accused by someone with a grudge.

Lt. Col. Kisha Flagg, an 18-year Marine whose resume includes service as the Corps’ first female commander at the Jungle Warfare Training School in Okinawa and service as the vice president of the Quantico branch of the National Naval Officers Association, was convicted Dec. 13 by military judge Lt. Col. Charles Miracle of fraternization, making false official statements and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Flagg, until recently a diversity management liaison officer in Quantico, Va., was accused of having an inappropriately familiar relationship with Master Gunnery Sgt. Steven Fontenot, a fellow Quantico Marine she knew through a recreational running group.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, fraternization entails a relationship of military equality between an officer and enlisted service member. Such charges are not exclusive to sexual or romantic relationships, just prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Flagg and Fontenot both say they sent hundreds of text messages to each other, talked on the phone, and participated in recreational activities such as bowling during their two-year acquaintance, but they deny anything untoward took place.

In a letter she drafted requesting early retirement, Flagg said she does not understand why the court determined her relationship with Fontenot was inappropriate, and said the evidence against her consisted of false statements made by Fontenot’s ex-girlfriend, another senior enlisted Marine, who knew what “buzzwords” would bring the command to attention.

“I did not consider our interaction to be prejudicial to good order and discipline, and I am disappointed that the command felt the need for these proceedings to exist,” Flagg said in the letter, reviewed by Marine Corps Times.

Flagg said her command pursued charges when the accuser claimed she might harm herself and that she was a victim of sexual assault by Fontenot, an allegation he vehemently denies.

“She knew what buzzwords would force this issue to this level,” Flagg wrote.

Marine Corps Times is withholding the identity of the accuser because of these allegations. Reached by phone, she declined to comment.

Marine Corps Times reviewed a grant of testimonial immunity for the accuser, which allowed her to testify against Flagg without fear of self-incrimination.

One of the false official statement specifications, Flagg said, referred to a trip she and Fontenot coordinated on behalf of their running group. He purchased flights for the group, and she booked a block of hotel rooms. She maintains that she did not make false statements regarding the trip, use improper travel procedures, or stay in Fontenot’s room.

Fontenot, who corroborated Flagg’s account of events, said he anticipates facing charges of sex assault following his ex-girlfriend’s accusations. He said he has filed a complaint with the Marine Corps’ inspector general asking for a probe into the way the case was handled and why the accuser was given immunity to testify.

“I think the Marine Corps and other branches are going out of their way to protect victims,” he said. “But some people know how to use the system to their advantage. I would take a lie detector test, have (Flagg) take a polygraph test, and we’ll see.”

Fontenot said he was willing to admit his mistakes, but maintained Flagg’s treatment was unduly harsh.

“Maybe (Flagg and I) did talk too much,” he said. “Even if that was fraternization, I’m grown enough to own up to what I did wrong. I just don’t know, the punishment does not fit the crime for her.”

At 18½ years in the service, Flagg said she is requesting early retirement because she fears her command may move to have her administratively separated before she reaches 20, which is the minimum tenure needed to obtain retirement benefits. She said she also plans to appeal her conviction.

“This whole incident has been blown out of proportion,” Flagg told Marine Corps Times. “It’s going to end my career, and it will probably end (Fontenot’s) career too.”

A Marine Corps spokesman for the command that prosecuted Flagg said officials have no comment on the case.

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