The embattled head of America’s efforts to account for MIAs has resigned, according to emails obtained by Stars and Stripes.
W. Montague Winfield, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs and director of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, submitted his resignation letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Oct. 15, according to an email from his special assistant that was sent to family and veterans groups.
The retired Army major general’s resignation is effective Nov. 15, when he will return to work for the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
After becoming the first commanding general of the newly formed Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in 2003, Winfield became a polarizing figure in the accounting community, alternately blamed for its shortfalls and credited with its successes. His resignation comes on the heels of a nearly yearlong reorganization effort and a damning Inspector General report on America’s accounting operations.
“… Winfield made great strides in bringing the various components of the Personnel Accounting Community together as a team, and his emphasis on families brought new energy to Department of Defense meetings with families and veterans/family service organizations,” Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Workinger wrote in the email. “We greatly appreciate his many years of service, as a soldier and a civilian, and wish him continued success at FEMA as he continues to serve our nation.”
The resignation comes at a fragile time in the reorganization process, as both JPAC and DPMO have merged into a new command that is to be set up by January. The Oct. 17 IG report made it clear that the effort is threatened by poor leadership and a hostile work environment.
Family groups lashed out at the reorganization efforts in recent weeks because leaders whom they blame for the dysfunction remained in top positions.
Emails from Personnel Accounting Consolidation Task Force Director Alisa Stack, who is overseeing the reorganization on Hagel’s behalf, confirmed that Johnie Webb, JPAC’s longtime deputy to the commander for external relations and legislative affairs, has been appointed to a position “working on the future family experience.”
News of the appointment angered families and leaders of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen, who have sharply criticized Webb.
“This supposed reorganization is nothing more than a multimillion-dollar public relations stunt designed to get Congress and the media off DOD’s back,” Alliance research director Lynn O’Shea wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “Do they really expect the individuals who caused the problems to correct them? DOD is thumbing their noses at the families by involving Webb and any other senior management in the reorganization.”
Tom Holland, JPAC’s scientific director and deputy to the commander for Central Identification Laboratory operations, recently told a group of Korean War families and advocates that he had been fired.
However, family groups say that they have been told by Stack that no officials will be losing their jobs. They may be offered other positions within the new agency if the need for their current positions no longer exists.
For some, like Holland, this could mean having considerably less power and authority.
Winfield, or “Q” as he is called by friends and colleagues, served in the Army for 31 years, according to his DPMO biography. He later served as a federal coordinating officer for the FEMA, where he coordinated the federal response and recovery activities for 11 presidentially declared disasters.
Initial efforts to reach Winfield, Webb and Stack for comment were not successful. Holland referred questions to the secretary of defense’s office, which declined to comment on personnel issues.