One of the strangest sagas in recent Air Force history is apparently taking another bizarre turn. Major Jill Metzger, whose alleged kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan last fall touched off an international incident, is reportedly taking an 18-month leave of absence from the service. However, it's unclear if service regulations would actually permit an extended absence from active duty, and who might approve that request.
Metzger, a personnel officer assigned at Moody AFB, Georgia, made world headlines last September when she was allegedly abducted from a shopping mall in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan. Major Metzger was on temporary duty at Manas AB near Bishek at the time of her disappearance on September 5th. She reappeared three days later, claiming that she had been abducted, but was able to escape and ran for miles to flee her captors. Metzger is a champion long-distance runner who has twice won the women's division of the Air Force marathon.
The Metzger incident caused strained relations between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, an important ally on the War on Terror. Her abduction claims prompted a joint American-Kyrgz investigation that apparently failed to substantiate the kidnapping report. Fox News reported last October that federal prosecutors and the FBI had joined the inquiry, and authorities expressed doubts that the Air Force officer was actually abducted. "This just doesn't add up," one federal law enforcement source told Fox. The Justice Department probe into the incident is reportedly continuing, and the Air Force is conducting its own investigation.
However, Major Metzger's Air Force career appears to be drawing to a close, at least for now. In a copyright story posted earlier this week, Militarycorruption.com reported that Metzger would retire from the service in early July with a disability pension, based on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that resulted from the incident. The web site has also advanced its own theory on what might have prompted Metzger's disappearance in Kyrgyzstan, but those reports have never been independently confirmed.
Readers should also note that we've had our disagreements with Militarycorruption.com in the past. Last year, they ran a "story" claiming that Air Force General Mike Hayden, then a nominee for the job of CIA Director, had engaged in an extra-marital affair during a visit to an intelligence unit in Kosovo. We thoroughly demolished those allegations in a series of posts, and even reprinted an Air Force Inspector General report that disproved charges of improper conduct.
But we'll give credit to the website for sticking with the Metzger story, because there are many unanswered questions about the episode. For example, Major Metzger claims that she was approached by a woman at the Kyrgyz shopping mall requesting assistance, and directing her to another location. Security camera video from the mall does not show Metzger being approached--or in the company--of a local woman. Militarycorruption.com also directed readers to an insightful article by Newsday reporter David Stern, who traveled to Kyrgyzstan last fall, and interviewed local police and security officials. They told Stern that available evidence did not support the Major's story, and raised the possibility that she orchestrated her own disappearance.
And, in recent days, there are unresolved questions about Metzger's status in the Air Force. After Militarycorruption.com posted its "retirement" story, the Associated Press offerred a slightly different account. In an article reprinted by Air Force Times, Major Metzger's mother told the wire service that her daughter will begin a leave of absence next month, to spend time with her husband. Jeannette Metzger described the leave as a "temporary thing, to give her a chance to get her life back together" and spend time with her husband. Metzger married Air Force Captain Joshua Mayo last year, shortly before the deployment to Kyrgyzstan.
But Air Force administrative specialists contacted by Militarycorruption.com said they can't find a regulation that allows a leave of absence. In my own experience, I've never heard that term used in conjunction with leave from normal duties. Medical leave can be granted for extended periods, to allow recovery from serious illnesses or injuries. But an individual requiring such a long recovery time would probably face an evaluation board instead, and likely be separated from service on medical grounds. It's worth noting that POWs returning from years of abuse in the Hanoi Hilton received an average of six months of medical leave, and spent much of their time in treatment facilities. An 18-month medical leave for PTSD (or any other condition) is virtually unprecedented.
Metzger's upcoming "leave" may actually be a transition to the inactive reserve, the status of most military personnel when they leave active duty. The 18 months could represent the time remaining on Major Metzger's active duty service commitment (ADSC), which would normally determine the earliest date she could leave the Air Force. As an active duty Major, Metzger was likely on "indefinite" status, meaning that she could continue serving as long as her duty performance remained satisfactory. An ADSC is often established by other criteria, including completion of professional military education. The Air Force--and other services--routinely waive ADSCs to allow personnel to separate or retire from the military.
From what we can gather, Metzger's transition from the Air Force has been underway for sometime. After her return from Kyrgyzstan, a spokesman at Moody said the base was focusing on "re-integrating her to her military duties." But an airman assigned to the base personnel office, where Metzger works, painted a different picture of her duties in a recent e-mail:
"...she is currently working in Manpower. To be honest, we hardly ever see her. She is never at our PT formations in the morning and she does not attend any of the staff meetings. Everything is low-key around here and I don't hear anything at all. There was a 1st Lt running the Manpower shop, but he has PCSed. There is a MSgt running the shop...again, she is there but not playing an active role at all. I do see her from time to time with her running gear on, so she is still staying in shape."
Obviously, Majors don't work for First Lieutenants or Master Sergeants in the Air Force--or any other branch of service. That description indicates that Metzger is simply manning a desk and biding time until that "leave of absence" starts next month.