Trent said he is still pursuing his case. He said the decision to challenge his superiors ended his chances of promotion to lieutenant colonel, even though he's the most-senior major in the Guard's Special Forces. The last time he applied, Trent said, a lesser qualified candidate got the position.
"They have a good ol' boy system in place, and anything that attacks that system, they're going to defend against with all their might," he said.
"Once they were called on the carpet for that pay issue, they just retaliated against me and attempted to end my career."
At the 144th Wing, at least five Guard members, including a pilot who was killed in October in a crash during a training mission in Ukraine, have filed retaliation complaints, the Times found. Two of the complaints stemmed from a March 2015 incident in which Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda found that someone at the Fresno base had urinated in the boots she had left in a bathroom overnight.
The incident and its aftermath fueled suspicions that high-ranking officers mishandled two investigations to find the perpetrator and tried to bury the episode to protect someone who may have been involved, according to interviews and Guard records obtained by the Times.
Pineda and Lt. Col. Rob Swertfager, a pilot who spoke up for her, filed complaints.
The Times investigation led to the removal earlier this month of Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, the top commander of the air Guard. Two 144th commanders -- Col. Dan Kelly and Col. Victor Sikora -- were also ousted.
A report by the Military Department's inspector general said there's at least "the perception of reprisal" at the 144th. The new commander of the air Guard, Brig. Gen. Greg Jones, was instructed to work to "restore the confidence and trust in the IG system" at the Fresno base.
Stirling said he wrestled with a similar lack of confidence and trust.
He enlisted in the Army Guard after the Sept. 11 attacks, eventually becoming its head prosecutor.