Lt. Col. (Retired) Anthony Schaffer perhaps summed up the plight of nearly 10,000 soldiers that the Pentagon ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses with interest charges as a failure of command.
Schaffer made the comments on Fox Business News saying the erroneous bonuses for combat service was obviously not the fault of the soldiers, incredulous that it cannot be remedied, and insinuated the responsible commander should be taken to task. Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin rode the coattails of the Guard-Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) scandal to the adjutant general in 2011, convincing Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Senate to give him the mandate to clean it all up.
Other than settling a few scores with internal political rivals through a double-dipping scandal and a specious “Dozing for Dollars” controversy,” Baldwin has done nothing to resolve the G-RAP scandal that’s left 9,700 California Guardsmen agonizing over how they are going to repay bonuses for which they dutifully served combat tours.
Hats off to Los Angeles Times Reporter David S. Cloud for catapulting their dilemma into the National spotlight. But questions remain in my mind as to why their cases were so easily dismissed? And why didn’t Baldwin’s staff make the system work in the troops’ favor after the Sacramento Bee exposed it as fraud at the top in 2011?
The Sacramento Bee leaves the question of command responsibility for the errant G-RAP policy hanging like a chad following the 2000 Florida Presidential balloting controversy. The Bee reported that Brig. Gen. Louis AntonettI was in “command during widespread fraud; set policy that led to self-enrichment by recruiters.”
The Bee reported that Antonetti was retired allegedly for the G-RAP fraud and that he was subject to recall by U.S. Army or Army Reserve to face consequences. Obviously Adjutant General William H Wade III and his successor Brig. Gen. Mary J. Kight exercised due diligence by retiring Antonetti for alleged improprieties during their watch.
But in a military culture with a leadership mantra that one can delegate authority, but not responsibility, Antonetti appears to have pulled off a Houdini Act by disappearing from the headlines as the Courts prosecuted subordinates. Master Sgt. Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, was ordered to pay $15.2 million and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for her role. Three other officers pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution. Meanwhile Antonetti enjoys a lucrative retirement apparently cleared of any responsibility.
As part of his Governor’s mandate to clean house, Baldwin arguably failed to leverage a Task Force, headed by COL Michael Piazzoni, to rectify G-RAP abuses. Instead of concluding that the abuses was a command error and recommending a remedy to absolve all the soldiers’ debts, the Task Force squandered taxpayer dollars hunting down veterans individually, deciphering whether they accepted bonuses knowing they were illegal. Some cases, according to Cloud’s article, were processed through the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records (ABCMR), leaving the vast majority of the 9,700 on their own to battle the corrupt policy through individual Congressionals, Senate Inquiries, state and federal courts.
Why not process all 9,700 cases through the ABCMR? Or recommend that the command absolve all the troops’ debts then seek an appropriation through Congress? An obvious reason is that the California National Guard would be admitting to the error. Another subtle rationale is to hide Baldwin’s connection to the G-RAP scandal and relationship with Antonetti. In the meantime, the Guard continues to delegate responsibility to the victims of corruption.
“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard told the Los Angeles Times. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.
This need not be the case, and sounds trite for a Command that caused the problem by breaking the law. The G-RAP scandal was the cornerstone upon which Gov. Brown issued Baldwin his mandate to clean up the corruption. Capt. Ronald Clark, the whistle-blower who exposed the scandal in 2011, revealed during Baldwin’s confirmation hearings in 2012 that Baldwin’s wife was employed as contractor with the California Army National Guard under Antonetti’s command. She had first-hand knowledge of the corruption. Clark testified that he tried to forewarn Baldwin, deployed to Afghanistan at the time, through his wife purportedly because he had influence to intervene.
Clark said that Baldwin’s wife said her husband, “wasn’t to get involved.” Baldwin didn’t deny any of Clark’s testimony and told Committee Chairman, Sen. Pres. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, “she never told me about the scandal.”
I find this hard to believe. It was no secret that Baldwin and Antonetti socialized together both at and away from work. It’s well-known that internal politics was their major topic of discussion. Making it easy to speculate that the Governor’s Mandate to clean up Corruption included a nested agenda to spare Antonetti of any involvement.
Now that Congress is caving into public pressure the LA Times has generated, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter seems to be digging in his heels to hold subordinates responsible for the California National Guard’s Command error.
“While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not,” Carter said.
Regardless of whether any of the soldiers knew the bonuses were illegal, they didn’t authorize it, and they dutifully fulfilled combat tours in accordance with the erroneous policy. The mistake is the command’s, not the soldiers. It’s better that Congress and the Pentagon cut taxpayer losses and avoid needless legislation by making the 9,700 whole, and cleaning up the corruption that sparked the entire mess in the first place. Last reports are that Antonetti and his primary command staff are subject to account for the fraud. I say do it not only for the welfare of the 9,700, but for the sake of future commands so they understand fraud comes with consequences.
I applaud the California National Guard Association (NGAC), the California State Legislature, and all those with influence jumping on the bandwagon now that the plight of the 10,000 has visibility. But as COL (Retired) Allen West alludes in his post titled, “Who in God’s name would want to serve in uniform for our country at this time? ,” we need to look beyond the tragedy and restore Faith in the Army Systems designed to prevent such misfortunes.
West called out the Pentagon, President Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown, civilian and military leaders for prioritizing special interests over these veterans’ suffering. The NGAC is on the West’s heels, pursuing meetings with Gov. Brown’s Office, writing letters to the State Legislature, and closing ranks with the National Guard Association of the United States to end these veterans’ nightmares.
I would encourage the NGAC to exploit the visibility of the scandal to swell its membership so that the follow-on echelons of injustices dogging Baldwin’s command have a voice. The California National Guard’s bungling of more than 1,300 overdue Line of Duty (LOD) investigations that NBC Bay Area News’ Investigative Unit exposed lurks beneath National headlines. The NGAC should become an active voice with which California lawmakers must reckon, not a victim’s voice a corrupt command routinely dismisses.
Baldwin’s failure to resolve the G-RAP equitably is NGAC’s opportunity to steer a Governor’s mandate back on course to cleaning up California National Guard corruption; instead of the mandate that’s gone astray, leaving nearly 10,000 California National Guard veterans behind.