DoD Considers Publicizing Generals Ethics Review

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey

The recent spate of misconduct in the top ranks has put pressure on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey to crack down on the runaway egos among flag and general officers and go public with his recommendations for getting his senior leadership back in line.

Dempsey completed a lengthy review on the ethics of the leadership in February, and his findings and recommendations have now been given to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said Marine Col. David Lapan, Dempsey's chief spokesman.

Dempsey also briefed the White House on his review, Lapan said, and a decision on going public with the recommendations was expected soon. Misconduct within the top levels of the military brass was highlighted when retired Gen. David Petraeus admitted to having an affair and resigned as the director of the CIA.

In the latest embarrassment, Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, commander of a counter-terrorism force in the Africa Command, was relieved on March 28 for allegedly groping a female civilian after drinking heavily.

Baker's fall in AfriCom followed a scandal involving its then-commander, Gen. William "Kip" Ward, who was demoted last November and ordered to pay $82,000 back to the government for taking expensive personal trips and misusing his staff to take his wife shopping.

The Washington Post also reported last Saturday that the Pentagon's inspector general had upheld unspecified misconduct allegations against two other top Army generals -- Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, Jr., the superintendent of West Point, and retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil, a former commander in South Korea and Iraq.

The scandals have not been limited to the Army. The Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force have all had to relieve top officers or file charges against them for offenses ranging from sexual misconduct to abusing the perks of their office and creating a toxic atmosphere among subordinates.

The Army focused on the problem in the January-February issue of Military Review, the  professional journal of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Doty, Ph.D, and Army Master Sgt. Jeff Fenlason wrote the article "Narcissism and Toxic Leaders," which has received plenty of attention within the ranks.

By definition, narcissistic leaders have "an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves," Doty and Fenlason wrote.

"It is too simplistic to imply that all narcissistic behaviors are inevitably toxic," the two wrote. "However, when narcissism becomes a disorder (like alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression), the results hurt morale and group effectiveness and can potentially lead to disaster."

Doty and Fenlason noted the recent scandals involving top leaders.

"Individuals like these are a cancer spreading throughout the profession of arms, although the Army culture has systemically supported this behavior pattern over the years in many ways," the two wrote.

Gen. Dempsey has stressed that he began his review on ethics in leadership well before the issue exploded last November with the disclosure of Petraeus' extramarital affair.

At the time, Dempsey said that he had previously written an unusual letter to every four-star officer in the armed services -- about 50 admirals and generals -- noting his alarm at the string of misconduct cases.

Dempsey's final recommendations were expected to focus on improved leadership training for senior officers.

"First, the Joint Chiefs believe that while we have appropriate ethics training programs in place for senior leaders, we needed to start earlier and reinforce that training more frequently in an officer's career," said George Little, the Pentagon's chief spokesman.

But Dempsey was also expected to consider reducing the bloated staffs and perks afforded to generals and admirals that could be a contributing factor to the over-inflated egos.

At a conference in Chicago last November, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made public his own concerns about pampered senior officers.

"There is a temptation to take all these perks to the next level," Gates said. "There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews peoples' judgment."

As Defense Secretary, Gates recalled living near Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

"I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time," Gates said, adding that he would tell his wife: "Mullen's got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I'm shoving something into the microwave, and I'm his boss."

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey
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