Those Pesky Details
Readers of this blog know that we've been following the case of Air Force Major Jill Metzger, whose disappearance in Kyrgyzstan last September touched off an international incident. Metzger disappeared from a shopping mall in Bishek, then resurfaced three days later, claiming that she had been kidnapped and held prisoner. Major Metzger claimed that she escaped by overpowering one of her captors and running miles to freedom. Both Kyrgyz and U.S. authorities have expressed doubts about her story, and the incident remains under investigation by the Air Force and the Justice Department.
While the official inquiries continue, Major Metzger will be placed on the Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) for the next 18 months, as we noted earlier this week. By our count, this represents the fourth "change" in Metzger's duty status over the past month; initially, sources told military corruption.com that the Major would be permanently retired with a disability pension resulting from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that stemmed from her captivity. When that touched off a storm of protest, her status kept changing. Within the span of a single week, Major Metzger's mother told the press that her daughter would be taking a leave of absence, then described it as medical leave. The TDRL version came from Metzger's father, a retired Air Force officer, who spoke with Air Force Times earlier this week.
While each of those actions are permissible under military personnel regulations, neither the Air Force nor the Metzger family has explained why the Major's duty status kept changing. Placing her on the TDRL indicates the Metzger's case was reviewed by a medical board at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC), which determines the status of personnel who have been wounded in the line of duty, or suffer from serious illnesses. There is no indication when the board made its ruling, and we've encouraged the Air Force to release that information. Learning when the board met and made its decision could go a long way toward quieting rumors about "special" deals" and those apparent changes in duty status over the last month.
But even the TDRL ruling raises additional questions, for both the Major and the Air Force. Some of the most informed analysis on the "mechanics" of the Metzger case can be found at Johca's Conversation, a blog run by a retired Air Force NCO. Johca doesn't list his military vocation, but he must have been a personnel specialist, given his detailed knowledge of those particular regulations.
As he observers, the TDRL determination should have followed rulings by two other panels. Given the fact that Major Metzger went missing in Kyrgyzstan, the Air Force would be required to convene a Board of Inquiry (BOI) to determine the circumtances of her disappearance. That would be followed by a separate BOI for a "line of duty determination," to decide if injuries or disabilities received were in conjunction with her military duties. If the initial board of inquiry validated her tale of abduction, then the second panel becomes unnecessary.
On the other hand, if the "missing person" BOI (specified in Title 10 USC, Section 1501), can't corroborate the kidnapping story--or worse yet, determines that Metzger's disappearance was the result of an unauthorized absence or miscondut--then the Air Force has a real problem on its hands. Any unauthorized absence is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and is subject to punishment. Moreover, establishment of unauthorized absence would have a deleterious effect on the concurrent "line of duty" determination. If you're absent without authorization, the military can deny benefits for injuries or disabilities received during that period. Those provisions are outlined in Title 10 USC, Section 1207, Disability from intentional misconduct or willful neglect: separation.
At this point, we can only assume that these steps were taken because neither the Air Force nor Major Metzger have explained how she would up on the TRDL. In fairness, portions of this process--and the material presented--are covered by the Privacy Act, which prevents full disclosure. However, given the publicity (and controversy) this case has generated, we believe it's important for the service and Major Metzger to provide some details about these events. At a minimum, this information should include the dates and convening authority for the boards of inquiry (as described above), along with similar data for the medical board which granted TRDL status. We also encourage the Air Force--or Major Metzger--to release the data of the medical board's retirement ruling, so that it can be compared with other "status stories" that have made the rounds over the past months.
The Metzger case is more than the saga of an Air Force officer who went missing for three days. Not only did it damage relations with a key ally in the War on Terror, it also required the marshaling of extensive resources to aid in the search. By one account, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) dispatched 24 additional agents to Kyrgyzstan to hunt for Major Metzger. Calculate their bill for transportation, billeting, per diem, and man-hours expended, and you'll see that the search for Major Metzger was anything but cheap. And that's another reason that the public deserves more answers about this bizarre case, and the "disposition" of its key figure.