Army to review problems plaguing senior officers

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Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning delivers opening remarks during this year's (POM) meeting. U.S. Army Program Objective Memorandum (POM) meeting - Program Analysis and evaluation (PA&E) - Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., December 15, 2016.  John G. Martinez/U.S. Army Photo
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning delivers opening remarks during this year's (POM) meeting. U.S. Army Program Objective Memorandum (POM) meeting - Program Analysis and evaluation (PA&E) - Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., December 15, 2016. John G. Martinez/U.S. Army Photo

Army to review problems plaguing senior officers

by: Tom Vanden Brook | .
USA Today | .
published: December 19, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Army has named a three-star officer to review its burgeoning problem of sexual misconduct among senior officers and the shocking suicide this summer of a general, Army Secretary Eric Fanning told USA Today.

The Army also instituted a new procedure that prompts the review of the security clearances of top brass to be triggered by investigations of misconduct, Fanning said Friday. The new approach to clearances, which grant troops and civilians access to national security secrets, stems from a USA Today report on a senior officer fired from his job last spring but allowed to retain his clearance for several months.

Lt. Gen. Edward Carbon will examine the recent spate of top officers felled by misdeeds, and, one, Maj. Gen. John Rossi, who killed himself, Fanning said.

“This has hit the general officer corps pretty hard,” Fanning said of the suicide.

Fanning stressed that the overall number complaints lodged against the Army’s top officers and senior civilians has remained relatively low, and dipped in the most recent reporting period, fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30. The vast majority of that group of about 560 senior officials perform their duties honorably, he said.

Data do, however, show what Fanning referred to as “an uptick” in extramarital affairs and other misbehavior. An internal Army report found that “most concerning is that seven allegations of sexual misconduct, inappropriate relationships and sexual harassment were substantiated in FY16. This constituted a significant increase from the two allegations involving sexual misconduct that were substantiated in FY15. These types of cases have a significant negative impact on the Army and its image.”

The Army has been rocked several high-profile cases of top officers felled by extramarital affairs, carousing and suicide. Among the findings of investigators: Maj. Gen. David Haight, the “swinging general,” had an 11-year affair and led a “swinger lifestyle”; Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who had been the three-star adviser to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, frequented strip clubs, got drunk in public and had improper interactions with women; Rossi took his own life in July, just days before he was to be become a three-star general.

Fanning speculated that the multiple combat tours over the last 15 years of soldiers like Haight, and their long absences from their families, may have contributed to their misconduct.

“We want to have a better understanding of the impact that has on our senior officers, and look for ways that we can mitigate any causes or linkages that we see,” Fanning said.

The problem does not appear to be widespread, he said, but continual combat stress may be a common thread for those who violate military rules and laws.

“I don’t think there’s a problem because I don’t think the numbers bear that out,” Fanning said. “But if you look at that small subset of the general officer larger population, we want to understand why. My guess is there’s something systemic in there. We want to get at it and be preemptive about it.”

One immediate action is the automatic review of security clearance status for top officials under investigation. Lt. Gen. Gary Cheek, the director of the Army staff, has been directed to remove the loophole that allowed Haight to retain his clearance for several months after he had been fired from a top post with U.S. European Command.

“We’ve got him fixing that,” Fanning said of Cheek.

Security clearances are required for top officers and senior officials to review secret information. They can retain the clearances after retirement and have value because they are often required for jobs in the defense industry.

© 2016 USA Today. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.