March 3, 2010 at 8:14 am EST | by Chris Johnson
New report undermines officers’ letter supporting ‘Don’t Ask’

U.S. Sen. John McCain (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A number of high-ranking military officers whose names appear on a well-publicized letter supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were involved in career-ending scandals or have said the letter doesn’t represent their views, according to Servicemembers United.

The organization’s preliminary investigation of 200 names on the letter, which more than 1,100 flag and general officers signed, reveals new information that could undermine the document supporting the 1993 law barring gays from serving openly in the military.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said his organization’s report “speaks to an overall lack of expertise” the signers have on the views of service members of the 21st century military.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center of Military Readiness, gathered the names for the letter, which was first published last year. She didn’t respond to multiple requests from DC Agenda to comment on Servicemembers United’s report.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have often cited the letter as evidence of military support for keeping the law on the books. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of repeal, held up the letter during a Senate hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last month.

“I hope you’ll pay attention to the views of over 1,000 retired flag and general officers,” McCain told Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the time regarding the study of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that’s underway at the Pentagon.

But Servicemembers United’s report — titled, “Flag and General Officers for the Military: A Closer Look” — sheds new light on the letter. Nicholson said one of the most striking discoveries was the age of many signers.

“Only a small fraction of these officers have even served in the military during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period, much less in the 21st century military,” Nicholson said. “How can these flag officers honestly claim to know how accepting and tolerant 18- and 21-year-olds are today when most of them haven’t been that age themselves since the 1940s and 1950s?”

The report found the average age among is the officers is 74, the oldest living signer is 98, and several signers died in the time since the document was published.

At least one signer, Gen. Louis Menetrey, was deceased when the letter was published and didn’t sign the document himself. According to a footnote on the letter, his wife signed the document for him after his death using power of attorney — six years after Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of the ability to communicate.

Servicemembers United findings also indicate the letter doesn’t represent the viewpoints of some officers who purportedly signed it. One signer said they no longer want to be a part of the letter, writing to the organization, “I do not wish to be on any list regarding this issue.”

Others said they never agreed to sign in the first place. One general wrote, “I never agreed. To represent either side of this issue.” Another wrote, “I do not remember being asked about this issue.”

DC Agenda independently found one general who acknowledged signing the letter, but said he now believes gays should be allowed to serve in the armed forces so long as they adhere to the code of conduct.

“I do not believe there should be any limitations based on sexual orientation,” said the general, who asked not to be identified.

In addition to signers who say the letter doesn’t represent their views, others were involved in scandals tarnishing their careers. Nicholson said the number of scandals in which signers have been involved “jumps out” as a major component of the report, adding some officers made “heinous failures of judgment and leadership.”

The report identifies seven officers that were involved in such incidents:

• Brig. Gen. Eddie Cain was in the early 1990s director of the Pentagon agency in charge of the anthrax vaccine administered to troops and testified before Congress the vaccine was safe and tested. Later reports showed it was neither. Cain was revealed to have known his testimony was inaccurate, and wrote in personal e-mails that if Congress found out, he’d be “in big-time trouble.”

• Brig. Gen. David Boland in 1994 was executive director of a “boot camp” for at-risk children at Camp Wiecker, Conn., that was mired in problems and later discontinued. According to the New York Times, gang recruitment, sexual relations between students and faculty, drug use, gambling rings and widespread violence and fighting — including one fight that resulted in 14 arrests — took place at Camp Wiecker under Boland’s supervision. Boland later stepped down to “pursue other interests.”

• Rear Adm. Riley Mixson in 1993 received a career-ending letter of censure from then-Navy Secretary John Dalton for involvement in the 1991 Tailhook scandal, during which he failed to take action against allegations of sexual misconduct. According to the New York Times, “Mixson was cited for failing to take action when he saw a woman drink from a dispenser made to look like a rhinoceros’ penis and men shaving women’s legs.”

• Gen. Carl Mundy made several statements in 1993 on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that racial minority soldiers “don’t swim as well” or perform other duties as well as white troops. He also once unilaterally banned married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, a move Defense Secretary Les Aspin rescinded the following week.

• Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle was head of Marine Corps Aviation in the late 1990s, during the design and test phase of the V-22 Osprey. He oversaw cost overruns and allegedly falsified records — all while praising the aircraft. McCorkle now works for and sits on the boards of several companies that manufacture Osprey components.

• Brig. Gen. Gary Pendleton was named in a lawsuit in 2008 for unlawfully discriminating on the basis of race against an employee in awarding her a lower annual bonus than her co-workers. Pendleton was also said to have fired the employee in retaliation for her complaints.

• Brig. Gen. Darryl Powell oversaw in 1985 a spike in malpractice lawsuits as commander of Madigan Army Medical Center. In one case, a woman was injected with formaldehyde instead of medication, killing her and her unborn child.

Nicholson said even with these scandals, the majority of the officers on the letter served with distinction. Still, he questioned whether the more than 1,100 officers who signed the letter understand the attitudes and beliefs of the young people in service today.

“It is simply unreasonable to think that any of them can be experts on the new generation [of] youth that make up the vast majority of the military today — the generation of iPhones, Facebook, and acceptance of those who are different,” he said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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