Sergeant major fired as top enlisted Marine at School of Infantry

Sergeant major fired as top enlisted Marine at School of Infantry
Marine Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett, the command sergeant major of School of Infantry-West, poses with his trophy on April 10, 2023, after being recognized as Male Marine Athlete of the Year at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Burkett holds the kettlebell world record for heaviest weight lifted by kettlebell swing in one hour. (Angela Wilcox/U.S. Marine Corps)

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps has dismissed the top enlisted adviser at one of its two basic infantry training schools because the service has lost confidence in his leadership, officials said.

Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett, who has been the top noncommissioned officer at the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry-West for a little more than a year, was removed from the position last month, according to a Marine spokesperson.

“Burkett was formally relieved by the commanding officer of the School of Infantry-West … for a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to perform his duties as the command sergeant major,” said Maj. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for Marine Corps Training Command, which oversees the school. “A preliminary inquiry was conducted into the matter. There is no additional information available at this time.”

Pena said Col. Seth MacCutcheon, commander of the School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, relieved Burkett of his duties on July 13. Sgt. Maj. Joseph Powers has taken over as Burkett’s interim successor.

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif
In an undated photo, the sign for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., posted along Interstate Highway 5 reads, “Preserving California’s Precious Resources.” Camp Pendleton is the premier Fleet Marine Force training base on the West Coast. (U.S. Marine Corps)

At the school, Burkett was its top enlisted Marine and MacCutcheon’s top NCO adviser. Burkett wrote on his LinkedIn webpage that he “functioned as the operations director for the Marine Corps’ largest school” and “guided the educational pathways of more than 1,000 Marines.”

Burkett is a longtime NCO in the Marine Corps, having joined the service in 1994. During his time in the military, he was deployed to several countries, including Iraq and Turkey. In the late 1990s, he was a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

In April, Burkett won the title of Male Marine Athlete of the Year at Camp Pendleton and holds a world record for heaviest weight lifted in a kettlebell swing in one hour. The achievement and related content that he posted to the social media platform Instagram earned him the nickname “Sergeant Major Kettlebell” at the Southern California base. A kettlebell is a ball-shaped weight with a handle that a weightlifter swings between their legs before lifting it above their head.

“I deployed to Iraq in 2017 and brought a single 53-pound kettlebell with me. I began training with it every single day during the deployment and learned a lot about functional movement and kettlebell basics on my own,” Burkett told Military Families magazine in June. “If you want to be the best at something, you must commit. Your time, effort, and a great deal of thought.”

The School of Infantry-West is one of two schools where new Marines must go for the second stage of initial military education after they finish recruit training. The School of Infantry-East is located at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Recruits from areas east of the Mississippi River are usually sent to the North Carolina school while those from west of the river attend the California school.

It is common for military officials to cite “a loss of confidence” when leaders are removed from their posts. Earlier this year, for example, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Applebaugh, Army Lt. Col. Damasio Davila and Air Force Maj. Gen. Philip Stewart were all fired over issues relating to a loss of confidence in their ability to “command” or “lead.”