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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

The Military Department could not provide complete numbers on alleged reprisals in California, so it's difficult to quantify the scope of the problem, including whether it has been growing. The department declined to comment on the multiple reprisal accusations.

In all but one of the last five years, the number of complaints reported to the National Guard Association of California, a nonprofit veterans group that is backing Umberg's bill, has increased or stayed the same, averaging more than a half-dozen annually in recent years, said its legislative director, retired Col. John Haramalis.

His review of them shows the allegations routinely are given a cursory investigation, if any, then swept under the rug, he said.

Haramalis, who said he once interviewed with then Gov. Jerry Brown to lead the Military Department, had his own experience with making a reprisal complaint.

He alleges that the head of the Military Department, Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, improperly blocked him from transferring to another state to prevent him from promoting. When Haramalis complained, he said, Baldwin questioned senior officers at the National Guard Bureau for negative information to use against him.

Inspectors general for the Department of Defense and each military service are responsible for investigating misconduct and whistleblower complaints.

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"You either get no investigation or a sham investigation," said Haramalis, who spent more than three decades in the Guard. "The end results are identical -- case closed with no further action."

Michael Wise says that's what happened in his case. Wise, a state deputy attorney general, retired from the Guard's Special Forces last year as a colonel and decorated combat veteran. He said he faced retaliation for supporting a major in his command who reported that soldiers were short-changed because of persistent problems in the Guard's payroll system.

Wise and the major, John Trent, said the Guard accused them of improperly recommending denial of a soldier's request for a transfer to another state, which would allow him to avoid a combat deployment overseas. Wise and Trent filed inspector general complaints alleging reprisals.

"They dismissed my IG complaint without interviewing my witnesses," Wise said. "The IG system as a whole has been absolutely worthless."

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