'He Was the Worst Leader I've Ever Had': Suspended Brigade Commander Accused of Toxic Leadership

U.S. Army Col. Jonathan Chung.
U.S. Army Col. Jonathan Chung greets guests with his family after a change of command ceremony on North Fort Lewis, June 4, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dean Johnson)

The commander of the Army's 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade was suspended amid allegations of counterproductive and abusive treatment of his subordinates, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation.

Military.com was first to report on the suspension last week, but at the time, it wasn't known that Col. Jonathan Chung was removed from his position due to allegations of poor leadership.

Chung was suspended April 10 after being in command of the 5th SFAB headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, since July 2021 and was likely in position to be promoted to brigadier general soon.

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"I am not facing allegations regarding any illegal, immoral or unethical matters," Chung wrote in an email, reviewed by Military.com, sent to colleagues that was seeking positive character witness letters for investigators. "I am facing allegations that are centered around perceived counterproductive and toxic leadership issues."

Military.com spoke with 10 soldiers who worked directly with Chung at 5th SFAB and at his previous command with 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Most of them painted a picture of an abrasive leadership style from Chung that squashed unit cohesion and demoralized subordinate officers. No soldiers interviewed accused Chung of any criminal issues or sexual misconduct.

"He was the worst leader I've ever had, toxic, selfish and egotistical," one Army officer told Military.com on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. "I was getting screamed at multiple times for reasons I can't understand."

It's unclear what specific instance led to Chung's dismissal. His attorney declined to provide any specifics but said the investigation revolves around accusations of counterproductive leadership.

Soldiers, including other officers who worked below Chung in the chain of command, described Chung as a perfectionist and micromanager who routinely dressed down subordinates in front of others. The public criticism was commonly known in the ranks as "The Chunger Games." He also tasked his formation with listening to his podcast about leadership lessons, sometimes requiring troops to write reports or quizzing about the material.

One commander in 5th SFAB said that Chung has an unfair reputation and that his strict leadership style simply rubs some soldiers the wrong way and that they have never witnessed Chung berating or talking down to subordinates. The commander is a supportive character witness in Chung's investigation and was put in contact with Military.com by Chung's attorney.

In one case, a soldier's chain of command, from squad leader to company commander, were brought into Chung's office to be taken to task about a soldier who was wearing mismatching socks during physical training, according to two soldiers who were at the meeting. Minor infractions, including uniform violations, are often handled by low-level, non-commissioned officers. Another commander told Military.com of an instance in which they were grilled over why a soldier left duty early for a scheduled dental appointment.

Chung has been temporarily assigned to U.S. Army Pacific, an element of the force that oversees logistics for the region. Officers are commonly reassigned to low-key administrative positions during investigations that can take months to complete.

The Security Force Assistance Brigades were stood up by the Army between 2017 and 2020. Soldiers in those regionally aligned brigades sport the brown beret and "Advisor" tab, uniform items the service has implemented to make SFABs stand apart from the rest of the force. The brigades are focused on working with U.S. allies to train their forces, help refine their doctrine or assess their military capabilities. The 5th SFAB focuses on the Pacific and countries including the Philippines, Mongolia and Australia.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Commander of Army Pacific Training Brigade Suspended

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