View Full Version : A General Discovers Candor Kills Career

07-06-05, 02:42 PM
A General Discovers Candor Kills Career
By Philip A. Quigley

Followers of SFTT have become accustomed to drama and of tales of woe and loss suffered by our troops serving in campaigns in far-distant foreign lands. But there are equally poignant accounts of deceit and betrayal right here at home.

Just ask retired Maj. Gen. John Riggs.

As former Commanding General of the First U.S. Army in 2001, then-Lt. Gen. Riggs was the placed as head of his service's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program and director during 2002-04 of the Objective Force Task Force charged with implementing this transformation effort. The Army has devised FCS as a project to supply the military with a networked family of 18 systems using advanced communications and computer technology to link soldiers with manned and unmanned air and ground platforms and other sensors.

Maj. Gen. John Riggs USA (Ret.)

What should have been a stellar assignment at the pinnacle of his career ended abruptly in May 2004 when Lt. Gen. Riggs found himself discredited, publicly demeaned, and demoted to two-star rank because he was the first senior active-duty officer to publicly call for increasing the size of the Army by a minimum of 10,000 soldiers to meet current combat requirements.

That's because in doing that, he defied Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his politicized military subordinates in the Pentagon.

The trouble started in January 2004 when Riggs told The Baltimore Sun that the Army needed at least 10,000 more soldiers because it was so seriously overstretched with its current policing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The comments directly contradicted Rumsfeld's comments in late 2003 that the Army needed no more troops. (Coincidentally enough, within one week of Riggs' comments, the Army called up 30,000 more troops for service overseas, and Congress subsequently legislated a 30,000-troop increase in the service's endstrength.) And Riggs did not help himself any when, in February 2004, he vigorously defended the proposed RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program later canceled by Rumsfeld before the Association of the U.S. Army.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, then an adviser assigned to Rumsfeld's office who had managed the initial reconstruction effort in Iraq after the end of combat operations in mid-2003 said of the DoD response to Riggs: "They all went bats**t when that happened," he told The Baltimore Sun on May 29, 2004. "The military part of [the defense secretary's office] has been politicized. If [military officers] disagree, they are ostracized and their reputations are ruined."

Retaliation quickly followed. The Army's No. 2 general in April 2004, Gen. John M. Keane, sent Riggs a disciplinary memorandum of concern alleging misuse of civilian contractors and government funding. The two alleged infractions "reflected negatively on [Lt. Gen. Riggs'] overall leadership and revealed an adverse command climate," according to a released Army statement in .

And as if on cue, Army Inspector General Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek revealed a letter from an IG probe from the spring of 2003 that included allegations of "an adulterous affair Riggs had with a female contractor that was not substantiated." Translation: Never mind that the accusation was "not substantiated" put the allegation out there anyway to further smear Riggs' name and drive yet another knife in his back.

So Riggs' 39-year Army career came to an ignominious end in a basement room at Fort Myer, Va. on May 1, 2004. There was no formal parade in review, no Army band playing martial music, no drill performances, no speeches by Army leaders praising Riggs for his 39 years of honorable service. There was only a folded flag presented by a young admin clerk and a form letter from President Bush thanking him for his service. His demotion has cost him between $10,000-15,000 a year in pension benefits.

Six months after Riggs was processed out, Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee issued a statement in November 2004 that read, "Based on review of the investigation and Lt. Gen. Riggs' comments, the Army secretary concluded that Lt. Gen. Riggs did not serve satisfactorily in the grade of lieutenant general." When The Baltimore Sun investigated the Army's demotion of Riggs, Brownlee said, "I read the [Army Inspector General's] report and made that decision. I happen to think it was that serious. Maybe I have a higher standard for these things. I still believe I made the right decision."

Over the past two decades there have been far worse crimes where the culprits have paid far less of a price. Senior officers implicated in the Navy's 1991 Tailhook sexual assault scandal, the Air Force Academy's recent sexual harassment and assault scandal involving female cadets, and the 2003 Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal, were all allowed to continue in their military careers or at worst were "asked to retire" at their current rank.

So the question remains pertinent as to why Lt. Gen. Riggs was punished with a demotion (and public humiliation) only deemed necessary for far more serious offenses such as dereliction of duty, command failure, adultery, or misuse of command authority or government funds.

It is particularly troubling given what many of Riggs' contemporaries have said of his work ethic and accomplishments. The December 2002 edition of Scientific American magazine singled him out as one of our country's "Top 50 Technology Leaders," saying Riggs was "leading the often contentious, even acrimonious debate among military planners about how to transform today's ground divisions into high-tech fighting units of the future." One colleague who had worked with Gen. Riggs said of him to The Baltimore Sun in May 2005, "The general worked hard at trying to turn the Army into a high-tech force".

Riggs today spends time between Washington and Florida doing consulting and real estate work; a shadow image of his glory days in the Army. Meanwhile, his downfall still reverberates through the halls of the Pentagon almost a year after his forced retirement.

The retired general himself put it into crystal-clear terms to a Sun reporter: "You've got to do it the Rumsfeld way, or you're not going to move forward."

"When you ask a general officer 'What do you think?' you should be able to answer candidly," Riggs continued. "I think [that Rumsfeld has] politicized the general officer corps by making the personnel selections for everyone."

When general officers can no longer speak candidly about the situations for which they are charged to take responsibility, they are no longer leaders but "yes men" puppets in a larger scheme bending to the political desires of the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Garner put it best: "The real tragedy here is that none of the leadership of the Army has the guts to stand up and say it's wrong."

This all reminds me of a scene from the Shakespeare tragedy, Titus Andronicus. Titus was a Roman general who had loyally served his emperor and country for 40 years, but was deceived, his family name dishonored, and betrayed by his dead emperor's newly elected son, his trophy wife and her sons. In one moving scene, the Roman general laments before the senators and tribunes, his uniform in shambles, his grand persona muted, pleading, saying:

"Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay!
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept;
For all my blood in Rome's great quarrel shed;
For all the frosty nights that I have watched;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks."

DefenseWatch Contributing Editor Philip A. Quigley Jr. served as an enlisted Marine combat scout during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and is pursuing a post-military goal of writing about contemporary defense issues. He can be reached at HawkmanPQ@aol.com. *Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.


07-06-05, 04:17 PM
This is just outright wrong. Since when do we (the military), allow such drastic political manipulation of our own leadership by the civilian side of the fence, especially someone of such marginal military record as Donald Rumsfeld (LT, USN, 54-57) to the detriment of our ability to field an effective military force? ESPECIALLY at the general officer level?

It seems to me that when a general says "we need this in order to operate effectively," the correct response would be to make every reasonable accomodation to that request. Instead, now that Donald Rumsfeld is seeing himself proved wrong and inept time and time again, he'd rather take it out on us than move out of the way and let the job get done right.

On a related note, the July 4th Doonesbury was quite apt: