For at least the fourth time since last October, the Air Force has fired one of its wing commanders.
The most recent senior officer to be dismissed is Colonel David Orr, who led the 66th Air Base Wing at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts. Orr's firing was announced Friday afternoon by Lieutenant General Ted F. Bowlds, the commander of Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom.
In a letter transmitted to the center staff (and obtained by In From the Cold), General Bowlds said that Orr was removed from his position for showing "undue favoritism" to a subordinate officer. As a result, Bowlds said that Colonel Orr "failed to provide a complete and candid assessment to me, the center commander."
General Bowlds said Air Force requirements for accountability made the firing necessary:
In the Air Force, we hold our commanders to the highest of standards. No commander ever wishes to take such an action against a subordinate commander, but I firmly believe this action is warranted by the circumstances. Colonel Orr has otherwise served Hanscom AFB and this Center well in many ways since taking command of the 66 ABW in July 2008. He has also served the United States Air Force with distinction throughout his career.
A career fighter pilot, Orr had served as the air base wing commander for almost two years. In that capacity, Colonel Orr was charged with supporting the center, affiliated research labs and other functions related to ESC's acquisition mission. Orr's wing provided support for more than 20,000 military, civilian and contract employees across New England, along with 155,000 Air Force retirees.
The Air Force has not revealed the officer who allegedly benefited from Orr's favoritism, or the individual's relationship to the former commander. It is unclear if Colonel Orr could face additional punishment for his conduct.
Before assuming his post at Hanscom, Orr served as Vice Commander of Second Air Force, headquartered at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, and Vice Commander of the 56th Training Wing, located at Luke AFB, Arizona.
Replacing Orr as the air base wing commander is Colonel Charles F. Thompson, previously assigned as the unit's vice commander. General Bowlds said he is "confident" will provide the "stewardship needed at this time."
Closing his letter, Bowlds asked his subordinates to "not let this distract you" from the critical duties you perform. The change-of-command announcement was made at 3 pm Friday afternoon, at the end of the duty week.
With today's dismissal, Colonel Orr becomes the fourth Air Force wing commander to lose his job in less than six months. Last fall, the service fired the commanders of the 91st Missile Wing and the 5th Bombardment Wing, both located at Minot AFB, North Dakota. Air Force officials said the actions were related to continuing problems in the nuclear-capable units. Both the missile wing and the bomber unit had failed inspections and suffered embarrassing mishaps under their former commanders.
The firings at Minot were accompanied by the dismissal of the 11th Wing Commander at Bolling AFB in Washington, DC. According to a press release, Colonel John Roop was removed from his job because superiors "lost confidence in his ability to lead."
Still, failed inspections don't always mean a change in leadership. Two units at Kirtland AFB New Mexico (the 498th Nuclear Systems Wing and the 377th Air Base Wing), failed nuclear surety inspections last fall, but their commanders remained on the job.
The Air Force says any decision to remove a commander is based on a variety of factors, and not just the results of a single evaluation.
But in Orr's case, his "apparent favoritism" towards a single officer ended his tour as commander of the 66th Air Base Wing.
Orr was not available for comment late today. Commanders removed from their post usually have the option of taking a staff job--with virtually no prospect for advancement--or requesting retirement from the service.