Is Obama purging the US military leadership?

Summary:  Today we review the good news about signs of reform from within the US military, reforms starting at the core — enforcing high ethical and performance standards on its senior officers. It’s a big story, something reformers have long demanded. More broadly, it’s a strike against the system of high, middle, and low justice that’s emerging in America. How people react to this also says much about America.

Military Virtue Medal: Romania

Usually we post about national security in the afternoon. This is both good news and important, and so the subject of both of today’s posts. {1st of 2 posts.}

{A} private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
— Paul Yingling (Lt. Colonel, Army ) wrote this in 2007. It might be changing.

Flag officers rediscover ethics

As one of America’s most powerful institutions, the military has the ability to resist all but the most powerful external pressures for change. Reformers have often focused, correctly in my opinion, on the behavior of its senior officers — well protected by custom from punishment excerpt for the most public screw-ups. That’s changing.

Reformers have almost totally ignored this good news. The Left clamors for more heads to roll on a few narrow grounds, such as too-slow changing the definition of sexual assault. The Right typically declares this a conspiracy-mongering, covering instituted personally by Obama.  Articles like this from Breitbart flood the internet: “Is Obama Purging the Military of Dissent?“, 18 November 2013. These often give stratosphere numbers for those purged; “200” is common.

Here’s one of the most common lists: “Obama Purging Military Commanders“, The Blaze, 23 October 2013  — “The Nine Military Commanders Fired This Year by the Obama Administration.” Let’s examine the facts to see if these claims are true. Read for yourself and decide (

Spoiler: not only are these claims false, they don’t even bother to cite actual evidence for it. Read these as accounts of military recovering its mojo, taking the first steps to reform.

(1) Carter Ham (General, Army, retired)


Even the far-right Washington Times says that he “was not forced out”, and served a normal tour of duty as head of Africa Command from 8 March 2011 to 5 April 2013. He retired June 2013 at age 61.

(2)  Charles M. Gaouette (Rear Admiral, Navy, retired)

Integrity: 733rd Military Police Battalion
733rd Military Police Battalion

From the New York Time, 26 March 2013:

Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette, who led Carrier Strike Group Three, which included the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, had been accused of using profanity in a public setting and making at least two racially insensitive comments … a set of administrative penalties will effectively end his career.

The Navy Times contacted Admiral Gaouette, who replied ““I accept full responsibility. I own this. You know, O-W-N.” Article 1131 requires “exemplary conduct” from Navy commanders.  Here is the report of the Navy Inspector General. Read it and make your decision.

(3)  Ralph Baker (General, Army, retired)

The Washington Post uncovered the details (1 October 2014):

Then-Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, the former commander of the U.S. military’s counter-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa, was investigated by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command on allegations of sexual assault, according to the newly released documents {FOIA request by WaPo}. Baker retired in September 2013 as a one-star general, he said Wednesday.

An Army spokesman said Wednesday that Baker was given an administrative punishment at the time of the incident as well as a letter of reprimand — usually a career-ending punishment. Army Secretary John McHugh ordered that Baker be retired with the demotion to brigadier general …

Baker denied in an interview that he assaulted anyone, but expressed regret for drinking too much the night in question. Several who saw the general that night later told investigators that he was drunk. “I own the fact that I got intoxicated that night at a social event, and I regret it,” Baker said. “It was irresponsible of me. I can understand that in the position of responsibility I had, something had to be done about it.”

Army 22nd Military Police Unit
Army 22nd Military Police Unit

(4)  Bryan Roberts (Colonel, Army, retired)

Bold talk reported by the Washington Post (7 June 2013):

Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts publicly warned his troops at Fort Jackson, S.C., last spring that he and the Army had “zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Here’s what the Army didn’t tell the soldiers: At the time, Roberts himself was under investigation by the military over allegations that he physically assaulted one of his mistresses on multiple occasions.

Read the Army Inspector General’s report and decide for yourself. The WaPo reports the Army’s verdict (22 April 2014):

Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, the former commander of Fort Jackson, S.C., was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing in August of assaulting a mistress and committing adultery; a separate investigation found that he also had affairs with two other women. He was fined $5,000 and issued a written reprimand. He did not retire until April 1, almost eight months later. Army Secretary John McHugh reduced Roberts in rank to colonel …

(5 – 6)  Charles M.M. Gurganus & Gregg A. Sturdevant (both Major Generals, USMC, retired)

From the New York Times (30 September 2013):

Two senior Marine Corps generals have been ordered to take early retirement after being found responsible for errors in judgment and failure to provide adequate security at a base in southwestern Afghanistan that was the scene of a deadly — and humiliating — insurgent attack last year that killed two Marines and destroyed six Harrier attack jets.

Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, announced the disciplinary action on Monday. He said the punishments were unprecedented in modern Marine Corps history and were an effort “to remain true to the timeless axioms relating to command responsibility and accountability.”

Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, formerly NATO’s regional commander in southwestern Afghanistan, was faulted for failing to properly assess risks posed by the insurgency operating outside the vast military base in Helmand Province that included camps Bastion, Leatherneck and Shorabak. General Gurganus had been nominated for his third star and a senior leadership role at the Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, but will retire instead.

Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, formerly NATO’s regional commander in southwestern Afghanistan, was faulted for failing to properly assess risks posed by the insurgency operating outside the vast military base in Helmand Province that included camps Bastion, Leatherneck and Shorabak.

General Gurganus had been nominated for his third star and a senior leadership role at the Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, but will retire instead.

Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the former commander of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing forces assigned to Afghanistan, was faulted for not having established an integrated system of security at Bastion airfield, and will also take early retirement.


(7)  David H. Huntoon (Lt. General, Army, retired)

From the Washington Post (14 June 2013):

Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., the West Point superintendent, improperly made staffers work at private charity dinners, provide free driving lessons and feed a friend’s cats, according to a report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.

The report was completed in May 2012, but the inspector general and the Army kept the results secret until Friday, when a heavily redacted version was released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by The Washington Post and other news organizations. Huntoon is scheduled to retire July 17 after a 40-year military career.

In response to the findings, Huntoon paid his staffers $1,815 for the work and told investigators that he “never intended to violate any regulation” and “accepted full responsibility for his actions,” according to the report.

… The inspector general recommended that the Army consider “corrective action” against Huntoon. On Friday night, an Army spokesman said that Huntoon was issued a “written memorandum of concern” Oct. 5, admonishing him for improperly using subordinates. A West Point spokesman said Friday that Huntoon declined to comment.

The Army prohibits officers from using enlisted soldiers as “servants.” But the report said Huntoon “improperly induced” staffers to provide private driving lessons and care for a friend’s cats. The inspector general also determined that Huntoon had aides work at private dinners and charity events, giving them only $30 and $40 Starbucks gift cards in exchange for about 18 hours of work each.

(8)  Timothy M. “Tim” Giardina (Rear Admiral, Navy)

The Associated Press tells the tale (22 November 2014):

The admiral fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

Although Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina’s removal as deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command was announced last year, evidence of his possible role in manufacturing the counterfeit chips has not previously been revealed. Investigators said they found his DNA on the underside of an adhesive sticker used to alter genuine $1 poker chips to make them look like $500 chips.

… The case is among numerous embarrassing setbacks for the nuclear force. Disciplinary problems, security flaws, weak morale and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press over the past two years prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 14 to announce top-to-bottom changes in how the nuclear force is managed that will cost up to $10 billion.

The records obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show Giardina was a habitual poker player, spending a total of 1,096 hours — or an average of 15 hours per week — at the tables at the Horseshoe casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in the 18 months before being caught using three phony chips in June 2013.

… The state investigator’s report also said a review of surveillance footage revealed “odd behaviors” by Giardina at the Horseshoe. “Giardina was observed taking cigarette butts out of public ash trays and smoking them,” it said.

… he was found guilty in May 2014 of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer — lying to an investigator and passing fake gambling chips. He was given a written reprimand and ordered to forfeit $4,000 in pay.

… In early September 2013 Giardina was quietly suspended from his post at Strategic Command, which he had assumed in December 2011. One month later he was fired and reduced in rank from three-star to two-star admiral.

(9)  Michael Carey (Brig. General, USAF, retired)

From the Washington Post (19 December 2013):

Carey oversaw three wings of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, with 450 ICBMs in all.

… {The USAF Inspector General’s report} describes Carey as drinking heavily, spending an awful lot of time with two foreign women (a possible security risk), skipping meetings, complaining, offending the Russian hosts, at one point trying to perform with a band at a Moscow bar called La Cantina and generally acting a bit like a college kid on a semester abroad. The drinking got so bad that, according to the report, “one witness was concerned that Maj Gen Carey needed assistance standing.” As a bonus, the report mentions Carey’s impolitic comments about “Eric Snowden.”

He was relieved of command in October and received a “letter of counseling”. He retired as of 1 June 2014 as a one-star, one star lower than his final rank. Read the Air Force Inspector General’s report and decide for yourself if this was fair. Excerpts:

The IO found that Maj Gen Carey was frequently rude to both his fellow delegates and to his Russian hosts during the exercise and briefings. … In particular, the IO noted the Russian reaction to Maj Gen Carey’s comments about Syria and Eric Snowden. (Ex 22:25-26) He was similarly rude to his fellow US delegates on the walk to Red Square, when he was unable to keep up, pouted and sulked, and then complained repeatedly about the exercise itself.

… Despite being informed the interview [for this investigation], which began at 1300, would take at least two hours, he scheduled another meeting for 1400 that same afternoon. As such, the interview was put on hold white Maj Gen Carey called to cancel his 1400 appointment.

… His testimony frequently differed greatly from that of other witnesses, for example, regarding trying to play with the band, talking about not attending the second day of the exercise, or spending so much time with the two foreign national women on the night of the 16th.

Obama and Change
He’s probably not responsible for these reforms.


There have been many other such cases in the past few years. Such as Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair (Lt Colonel, Army, retired), reported in The Washington Post (1 October 2014). And David C. Uhrich (Brig General, USAF), also reported by the WaPo (IG report here).

See the conduct investigations of Stephen D. Schmidt (Major General, USAF) and Scott F. Donahue (Brig General, Army). Plus there have been a host of Navy officers have been relieved of command (according to Stars & Stripes), 90 during the past 5 years for a wide range of causes).

It’s good news about one of America’s most important institutions. Let’s applaud DoD’s leaders. Even better news would be Americans deciding to no longer use unreliable sources of information, and demanding evidence before believing such serious accusations about our President.

See the follow-up post: So many scandals in the US military: signs of rot or reform?

For More Information

Data from the Army about discipline of officers: “129 Army battalion, brigade commanders fired since 2003“, Army Times, 2 February 2015 — “The rate of misconduct is actually a little bit lower than the historical average, but that doesn’t make you feel any better” said Army Vice Chief of Staff General Daniel Allyn.

Posts  about the skill and integrity of our senior military leaders:

  1. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders.
  2. The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it.
  3. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired).
  4. Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!.
  5. How many generals would Lincoln have fired to win in Iraq & Afghanistan?
  6. William Lind looks at our generals, sees “rank incompetence”.

Other posts about our senior officers:

  1. Do we need so many and such well-paid generals and admirals? By Richard A Pawloski (Captain, USMC, retired).
  2. How officers adapt to life in the Pentagon: they choose the blue pill.
  3. Overhauling The Officer Corps. By David Evans (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired).
  4. The cost of too many generals: paying more to get a less effective military.



15 thoughts on “Is Obama purging the US military leadership?”

  1. Nice to see a comprehensive list of these things.
    What remains to be known is whether other officers guilty of the same transgressions remain in command, because they are supporters of the current occupant of the Whitehouse.
    The arguments that Gouette was relieved because he wanted to launch help for Benghazi, persist to this day, when in fact his task force was in the Pacific Ocean at the time. How does that proliferation of bad information get removed from the internet?

    1. Doug,

      I like to think of this as a first step on a long road to reform. Everything begins with that first step. Which is why the near total lack of applause is so horrific. And the lies by the Right are so destructive.

      As to why the lies by the Right (and Left, although of a smaller magnitude) are believed… I have written scores of posts about this, but been unable to grapple with you essential question.

      My guess is that we have become sheep. Followers of our herd, believing whatever we are told by the leader of the herd.

      I don’t know how or why this evolution occurred. My guess is that we decided that the burden of self-government was too great, much as happened in the late days of the Roman Republic.

  2. If Obama really is canning corrupt or abusive general officers, he’s treating the symptoms, not the disease.
    The real source of the rot is, as Chet and William S. Lin have often pointed out, the corruption of institutional purpose in the U.S. military. The Pentagon now exists to slurp up cash from the taxpayers’ pig trough, not to win wars. This attitude naturally trickles down from the E-ring to the generals.
    When 4-star generals get our enlisted men to tend their lawns full-time, something has gone terribly wrong with the American military at an institutional level. their lawns full-time, something has gone terribly wrong with the American military at an institutional level.

    1. Thomas,

      The personalization of the US government, attributing everything it does to the President’s will, is imo quite daft and disturbing. It is a step to seeing the President as Caesar.

      In fact the government machinery runs along despite the President as much as with him. And that goes double for the DoD.

      I doubt the decision to prosecute colonels and captains and even flag officers goes to him. If he even discussed every decision that small, he could not do so even working 7×24 weeks.

  3. Let me begin by declaring that I have been a personal friend to Admiral Gaouette and his family since 1977. Their Loyalty, to Country, Truth, Faith, Family, and Friend are without peer. My friend’s great failing, if You All wish to call it that, is his incessant devotion to comedy and satire. Read their description of the Foc’s Hole Follies (sorry for the misspell, but I’m maybe on a roll here) and read Chuck’s VERY CALCULATED planning and adaptation that evening. This guy has always been one hell of a comedic actor to boot. Sometimes comes in handy concerning their line of business? HEY, DO YOU THINK HAVING BEEN RAISED BY A NAVAL AVIATOR MAY HAVE GIVEN HIM CULTURAL INSIGHT THAT HIS JUDGES, PERHAPS LACKED DUE TO NO FAILING OF THEIR OWN? We put a guy on the shelf we’ve invested how much in? Can you imagine HOW YOU MIGHT PROBE YOUR SUBORDINATES’ FEELINGS ON EVERY TOPIC…AND WHAT MIGHT BE A SUBTLE MEANS TO ACCOMPLISH THIS? To THE CALCULATED, PERHAPS A MEL BROOKS MOVIE JUST THE RIGHT DEVICE? In closing, isn’t it the purpose of provocative comment to PROVOKE RESPONSE?

    1. Glenn,

      I don’t understand what you are trying to say. What Gaouette said would get any executive disciplined in the world’s of business, politics, entertainment, and sports. No matter how entitled flag officers consider themselves, they’re still subject to the standards of American society. Every society has such conventions.

  4. Characterizing Admiral Gaouette as belonging to a set of flag officers who consider themselves “entitled” doesn’t seem to fit the Navy report’s narrative. In the opinion of this civilian, he’s taken way too much responsibility for the judgements rendered, already. Subsequently, did he not write in response to a published query, “I O-W-N T-H-I-S”? Can you admit you neglected to finish your thought regarding “what Gaouette said would get any executive disciplined in the world’s (sic.) of business, politics, entertainment, and sports” with “…as was the common assumption in 1955.”(e.g. vs. legal fallout from the Great Recession that saw the convictions of so many corporate CEO’s…NOT!)? Expensive-to-Replace scapegoats we’re retiring to pasture early…and as with our Financial Crisis, on the taxpayer’s dime.

    1. Glenn.

      “Characterizing Admiral Gaouette as belonging to a set of flag officers who consider themselves “entitled””

      That attitude was yours. I was mirroring back your defense. In fact Gaouette assumed responsibility for his actions, without excuses.

  5. I do understand your perception. May I submit that comedy and satire make for the Buoyant Warrior? I am a Very-Left-Wing Union Dissident-Whistleblower and Plaintiff (i.e., on a Related Federal Case), so may suffer recurrent your presence. Do appreciate this forum.

  6. The military being as they are, corruption will be very difficult to cure from the source. Dealing with the symptoms are better than not at all.

    1. Craig,

      I agree. Changing the cultures of even small organizations is difficult (I have much experience with Boy Scout troops).

      On a different note, I too use the “source – symptom” metaphor, but it doesn’t really work when talking about organizations. There is no source, so there are no symptoms. Behaviors emerge from the organizations structure and rules plus the behavior patterns and values of its members.

    1. TJ,

      Now that I’ve clicked thru that website to actually read the Raw Story article, the headline you cited is quite false. This is what Graham actually said:

      “I’m dying to hear from our military leadership on how we degrade and destroy ISIL with the current strategy. So now would be a good time to call [Defense Secretary] Ash Carter and our military leaders to our Capitol Hill and say, ‘If you’ve got a problem with what we’re doing, let me know. But tell me how this is working.’ Because if our military leadership thinks we’re on path to degrade and destroy ISIL, they need to be fired.”

      Most experts I’ve read (and all the ones I trust) believes we are not “on path to degrade and destroy ISIL” in any serious sense. So Lindsey’s statement is reasonable. We’d be better off if Presidents got good advice, far different than what they’ve gotten since 9/11 (so far as we can tell).

      Graham went on to say this, which is astonishingly ignorant: “I’m suggesting that Barack Obama had turned down sound military advice by not leaving 10,000 troops behind as advised in 2011. He’s wasted all the gains we have fought so hard for … Iraq and al-Qaeda had been defeated, they were on their knees.” What does he mean by “Iraq had been defeated”? Al qaeda had been defeated, and remains so — what’s his point? Also, does Graham not realize the Bush Jr signed an agreement to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq, giving Obama no choice?

  7. Pingback: From FabiusMaximus How did the Army's leadership problem grow so bad? - My Sandbox Notes

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