Inspectors Said Her Toxic Leadership Was 'Worst Seen in 20 Years.' She Just Became a 1-Star

Col. Jennifer Grant renders her first salute to members of the 50th Space Wing.
Col. Jennifer Grant renders her first salute to members of the 50th Space Wing after assuming command Friday, June 30, 2017 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force/Dennis Rogers)

Nine months before Air Force Brig. Gen. Jennifer Grant pinned on her first star, members of the team tasked with investigating her behavior in the years leading up to her promotion said they'd never seen airmen so afraid to face their commander.

The climate Grant created while leading the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado was described as "tyrannical" and "toxic," by rank-and-file members and leaders alike. That's according to a 122-page Air Force Inspector General report on Grant's time leading the command from June 2017 to June 2019.

Investigators interviewed more than 60 witnesses, according to the report obtained by The inspector general substantiated three complaints made about Grant: that she created an unhealthy work environment, failed to treat people with dignity and respect, and improperly accepted a gift from a subordinate.

Read next: Fired Air Force General Created Toxic Work Environment: Report

The findings were released in October 2019. Grant was promoted to brigadier general last month.

The team tasked with investigating Grant's behavior while leading the 50th Space Wing described the conditions she set for her subordinates as "the worst seen in 20 years."

She created a "culture of fear," according to the report. A unit with pride in its mission saw its morale tank, according to the report, and was turned into "hushed masses afraid to speak up, speak out, or suggest meaningful innovation."

"Communications processes slowed to a standstill and were stifled both up and down the chain," the report states.

Perhaps most troubling, though, were three incidents between Grant and one of her airmen that inspectors say require closer examination. The airman died by suicide in March 2019 -- the same year the Air Force saw a 33% spike in the number of personnel who took their own lives.

As one witness put it, Grant and the airman "clashed a lot."

"Do I think [her death] was a result of Colonel Grant? No. I don't," they told investigators. "... Do I think Colonel Grant caused additional stress in her life and challenges? Yes. I do."

'Worst Year of My Life'

After the IG report substantiated the complaints made against Grant, she received a letter of admonishment from Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, deputy commander of Headquarters Space Force, said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman.

A letter of admonishment is a form of administrative punishment, so the details are not releasable to the public. The rebuke is less severe than a letter of reprimand.

Grant is now assigned to Air Force Headquarters, serving as chief of the Space Superiority Division with Plans and Programs, Stefanek said. She is expected to continue that duty when her division transitions to Space Force headquarters in the next several months, but she will continue to serve as an Air Force officer.

The Senate received Grant's nomination to become a brigadier general on Nov. 26, 2018. The nomination was confirmed that December, about 10 months before the IG's report on her leadership style was completed.

The general declined an interview request for this story, but offered a statement through an Air Force spokeswoman.

"I remain gratefully committed to serve, lead and grow," Grant said, "and I remain dedicated to our nation, our people, and our mission."

One witness noted that Grant really wanted to be a general. When the move was cleared by the Senate, things changed and Grant "became very nice," the witness said.

Col. Jennifer Grant, 50th Space Wing commander.
Col. Jennifer Grant, 50th Space Wing commander, speaks with members of the Schriever Fire Department during her brigadier general confirmation celebration at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Jan. 7, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Dennis Rogers)

Before that, though, witnesses described a different environment. One called working for Grant "the worst year of my life."

"I drank as a coping mechanism," he told investigators. "I was miserable. … I didn't spend a lot of time with [my family]. And I would tell you I probably, I probably cried weekly."

Ten 50th Space Wing members who retired, quit or deployed during Grant's tenure cited her leadership as at least part of the reason they wanted to leave Schriever, the report states.

One airman told investigators he volunteered for a yearlong deployment because he didn't feel it was healthy for him to stay and work for Grant.

"People were saying if they had to work for Col Grant again, 'I think I'm going to get out,'" one witness said. "In a time where [other leaders are] kind of messaging, 'Hey, I need folks to stay.' ... I feel like that's sort of another area where her style has a negative impact on the Air Force in terms of retention."

The report also states there were "a number of suicides" during the same period. Photos of text messages from one airman who'd served for 16 years who later took her own life referenced problems she was having with Grant.

"[She] can literally break me at this point," the airman texted. "I have too much time not to make it to 20 [years of service]. [In] my short time here, my career has taken a huge dive. I just can't seem to make the cut to be good enough. ... I'm sick of her coming after me for one thing or another."

A witness told investigators they were comfortable saying that airman "felt like Colonel Grant just hated her." The airman was "super stressed out and very anxious."

"It's just been the worst year of my life, personally and professionally," she had texted to a witness before her death. "I'm just feeling defeated."

Investigators asked Grant about the case. She responded that the airman was someone she cared about a lot.

"And it just really, really hurts my head and it bothers me," Grant said. "... But when you take somebody who is an Airman, who's not here anymore, and you put words in their mouth, that I know she didn't say, just to make a point, there's something very wrong about that. And I don't know what it's going to take for me to tell you that there's absolutely no truth to that to convince you."

'Stump the Dummy'

Grant is at least the second Air Force general officer found to have belittled her staff in recent months. Maj. Gen. Dawn Dunlop was also found to have berated her subordinates before being removed from her position as the head of Special Access Programs Control Office at the Pentagon, Air Force Times reported Monday.

The inspector general found Grant repeatedly undermined and criticized her immediate commanders and subordinates in a way that stifled mission-essential reporting, two-way communication and trust. Her method of questioning people during public briefings regularly devolved into accusatory language and perceived personal attacks as the questions turned from the topic at hand to the person presenting.

One witness said that, during briefings, it was as though Grant was out to "stump the dummy" because of the personal attacks that often followed.

"Her body language would change," the report states. "She would 'bristle up,' speak in a lower and more deliberate tone, heavily emphasize certain words, clench her teeth, point her finger, and generally display an angry posture."

In one instance, Grant publicly humiliated a briefer by leaning over to people at a table and saying in a voice loud enough for others -- including investigating observers -- to hear, "He doesn't know what he's talking about."

The investigators wrote they had "never seen anything like that." When the team asked Grant to provide a response for the report, she invoked her right to remain silent, per advice she received from counsel.

During her interview, investigators noted, Grant "at times displayed the very demeanor witnesses described."

"The Investigation Team noted she pointed her finger despite claiming she never points because it is not polite," the report states. "She pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes, and seemed agitated at times."

Witnesses told the team they'd been criticized by Grant, insulted or undermined, embarrassed, made to feel stupid, verbally cut off, ignored and forced to move their offices. One recalled having a package thrown at them.

Of the witnesses who recalled the events during the investigation, 85% reported negatively on Grant's approach to engaging with people, investigators wrote.

"Col. Grant created an environment infused with fear and intimidation, which stifled communication and reporting, and undermined the welfare and morale of her subordinates," the report states. "In doing so, the [Air Force Space Command] IG determined the conditions Col. Grant created were the worst the IG team had seen in 20 years."

Grant told investigators she felt people were "weaponizing the [inspector general complaint] system."

The report notes that none of the 60-plus people interviewed by the inspector general's team filed complaints against Grant. Several noted her intelligence and high standards and said she was a "smart and hard worker," the report states.

"I don't challenge her intelligence. I don't challenge her vision and her direction she wants to take the wing," one person testified. "... Col. Grant has definitely made this wing a better place in terms of its warfighting capability for the joint command downrange. However, [her] leadership style has limited her ability to take the wing to where it could have been."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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