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In California National Guard, claims of whistleblower retaliation go beyond Fresno

Alene Tchekmedyian and Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times has found.

Interviews with current and former Guard members and an examination of internal documents show that complaints go well beyond Fresno and extend to the Army side as well. The allegations have come from fighter pilots, a top military prosecutor, Special Forces officers and a colonel who hoped to head the organization.

They allege a pattern of both retaliation against whistleblowers and others who accuse their superiors of misconduct and a failure of the Guard's justice system to protect them.

"When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation," said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. "It's meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they're going to make you pay for it."

After a Times investigation detailed whistleblower complaints and other misconduct allegations at the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, an inspector general for the California Military Department, which oversees the air and army branches of the Guard, found that a culture of reprisal afflicted the wing.

The problems led to the recent ouster of the air Guard's top commander and two high-ranking officers at the Fresno base. The department also directed the air Guard's new commander to put together "climate assessments" of the wing leadership.

 

In the wake of the Times' reporting, Democratic state Sen. Tom Umberg of Santa Ana has proposed stronger protections for whistleblowers in the Guard, something he had tried to do more than a decade ago -- without success -- while in the state Assembly.

A bill Umberg introduced in February would require the Military Department's inspector general to report to the governor instead of the adjutant general who leads the organization, his office said. Umberg, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is also pushing to include a provision that would allow whistleblowers to sue for economic damages.

"I'm certainly troubled by the acts that I've read about," Umberg said. "As a career military officer, it's antithetical to the culture of the military, which demands respect for all military members."

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.

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