I might be the first spouse to ever sue her husband’s commander in civil court. This is the story of why.
My husband, Lt. Col Craig Perry, was fired from his job as a squadron commander, in part because of my key spouse initiatives. And I wasn’t going to sit by and watch.
When we found out that my husband had been selected to command a Basic Military Training (BMT) squadron at JBSA-Lackland, we knew it would be a challenging assignment after all the recent scandals. As it turned out, things were far more challenging than we imagined.
No one ever welcomed me to BMT – not a phone call, email, note, nothing. When I asked around, I realized that other squadron members also felt neglected. So I made it my personal mission to establish a key spouse program and really take care of these Airmen and their families. With no mentors at the group level to offer guidance, I simply learned as I went along based on feedback from the squadron.
We must have been doing something right, since the group commander asked us to brief Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command, on our key spouse initiatives. Shortly thereafter, the wing commander took me aside and personally thanked me for my efforts with the key spouse program, and for supporting my husband and making him a great commander. He told me he and his wife were praying for my health. Not long after that, one of our folks won Key Spouse of the Year for the entire wing.
So it came as quite a shock when my husband was removed from command the day after Christmas pending the results of a commander-directed investigation. Three months later, the wing commander fired him and gave him a career-ending letter of reprimand as punishment for the appearance of favoritism.
Since Christmas, no one in my husband’s chain of command has ever checked on us -- not the first sergeant, not his boss, not the wing commander, not anyone.Wing and group Leadership at Lackland recognizes that the key spouse initiative is supported by senior Air Force leaders, so they claim to care about their Airmen. Yet they are punishing my husband for the efforts he and I made to be engaged in the lives of his subordinates, and they abandoned us during our greatest time of need, knowing full well I was struggling with multiple serious illnesses. It was obvious to me that we had to take care of each other, because no one was going to help us.
So when I finally read the CDI report that resulted in my husband’s removal, I was flabbergasted. It was clear that they used my efforts and the key spouse initiatives as a pretext for firing my husband. But I should not have been surprised that they treated my husband like so many other Airmen at BMT: guilty until proven innocent.
That’s when we knew we had to take matters into our own hands. My husband did what he could through official military channels, with no result. So I stepped up.
We received an assignment to Barksdale AFB with less than six weeks to relocate. We had to make numerous life-altering decisions in a matter of days. We had just built a house in San Antonio, and I was very sick and only getting sicker with new complications which kept me from driving. We had to decide whether to retire, PCS, or stay and fight.
We decided to stay and fight.
Margaret Mitchell once wrote, "With enough courage, you can do without a reputation." We weighed the potential damage to my husband’s career versus the good it might do to shed light on the issues we were confronting. So when the media approached me about an exceptional commander who had apparently been fired without good cause, I was more than willing to answer a few questions about how my actions to take care of our Airmen had been used against him as evidence of favoritism.
But I wasn’t done yet. I decided to sue.
Nine months before she was set to retire, my husband’s commander began pressuring us to give her some of our wardrobe boxes, the kind of high-end moving supplies for which the military will not pay. We thought it odd that she needed them so far in advance, but it later made sense when she removed him from command a month after taking our boxes. When we were notified of reassignment, I asked his boss to return the boxes, since it’s illegal for a government employee to accept or to coerce a gift from subordinate. And in any case I now needed them for the upcoming move she was forcing us to make!
She ignored my repeated requests, so I sued her in civil court.
I understand that my actions may seem petty or vindictive to some, but it's not about the money -- it’s the principle of the matter. I did it to shed light on a much larger problem: an environment where O-6s can punish Airmen of all ranks, enlisted and officers alike, on a whim and without justification, but where these same senior leaders can violate all sorts of rules and regulations and never suffer any consequences.
In the end, I was simply doing what was right – for our airmen and for our Air Force. And I'd do it all again.
EDITOR UPDATE: Since writing this post the boxes were returned. However, Caroline Perry does not plan to drop the suit until the boxes are inspected with witnesses and court costs and fees are settled.
Caroline Perry is the daughter of first generation immigrants and grew-up in a home with a heavy emphasis on education. She's worked in various high level executive, legal and compliance positions in Health Care for the last 15 years. As the victim of a serious federal crime and a series of life threatening medical issues, including cancer, she is no stranger to challenges. She met her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Perry, when she was 15-years-old, lost touch, and then reconnected. They married exactly 25 years after they met. With four dogs, one cat and a new home in San Antonio, Texas. She has never been happier and he is her definition of perfection.