Monday, August 23, 2010

Less-Than-Honorable

It's all-but-official: the military career of disgraced former astronaut Lisa Nowak is coming to an equally-ignominious end.

Late last week, a panel of three Navy admirals recommended that Nowak be demoted from Captain to Commander, and given a less-than-honorable discharge. The recommendation will now be reviewed by the Chief of Naval Personnel and Ray Mabus, the Navy Secretary. Under service regulations, Mr. Mabus can reduce Nowak's punishment, but not increase it.

Most Navy observers believe Secretary Mabus will show Nowak a measure of mercy, going along with the reduction in rank, but allowing her to retire in the grade of Commander, with the commensurate, decreased military pension. But it's not guaranteed. Mabus could decide to strip Nowak of her pension, a move that would cost her more than $1.8 million over the next 30 years.

Neither Nowak or her attorney had any comment after learning of the panel's decision. At this point, they've apparently decided that silence is golden, believing that any remarks might influence Mabus's final decision against the one-time astronaut and Navy golden girl.

Captain Nowak endangered her retirement benefits--made herself the butt of perpetual jokes-- because of one, incredibly stupid decision. In March 2007, she decided to confront Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, the girlfriend of her former lover, fellow astronaut (and Navy Commander) Bill Oefelein.

Driving non-stop from Houston to Florida, Nowak assaulted Shipman at the Orlando Airport. Captain Shipman managed to escape, but Nowak didn't. When the cops arrived, they found a variety of items that could have been used as weapons against Shipman. Prosecutors wanted to file attempted murder charges against her, but Captain Nowak eventually pleaded guilty to one count of a felony involving a motor vehicle and misdemeanor battery. She was sentenced to probation last year.

Once the civilian justice system was finished with Nowak, the Navy got its turn. Fired by NASA shortly after the airport incident, Captain Nowak was reassigned to the Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi, Texas. She remains in a staff billet at that command pending a final determination by Secretary Mabus. The administrative board that met last week represented the first step in the Navy's disposition of the Nowak affair.

We've been as tough as anyone on Lisa Nowak, but the time has come for a bit of clemency. Prior to her adulterous affair with Oefelein--and that later run-in with his new girlfriend--Nowak had a stellar record, becoming both a test pilot and astronaut. She served honorably for a number of years before Oefelein dumped her and she decided to seek revenge against his new lover, Captain Shipman. We hope that Secretary Mabus will consider Nowak's service before the incident in rending his final decision.

Besides, Lisa Nowak is something of a piker compared to the other military criminals who have slithered out the door in recent years, pension and other retirement benefits intact. We refer specifically to Air Force Colonel Michael Murphy, who served as a JAG for more than 20 years despite the fact that he had been disbarred in two states.

The Murphy case has been well-chronicled in this blog (and other forums). We won't rehash his sordid saga here; suffice it to say that we're still amazed at the legal gyrations that prevented him from being punished despite his conviction. Murphy was later reduced to First Lieutenant and retired in that grade, the result of a separate administrative action. An Air Force panel (similar to the one that heard Nowak's case) determined that First Lieutenant was the last grade in which Murphy served honorably. It was the rank at which Murphy entered the Air Force back in 1983; he spent only months as a lieutenant before his first disbarment, the point at which his honorable service ended. Yet, it was still enough for a pension.

Then, there's the queen of military miscreants, now-retired USAF Major Jill Metzger. She's the former personnel officer who apparently faked her own abduction while deployed to Kyrgyzstan in September, 2006. Metzger's story had more holes than a back road in Arkansas, but her connections with senior officers and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations prevented the case from moving forward. Despite clear contradictions in her account--and at least one failed polygraph--Metzger was medically retired from the service, supposedly suffering from PTSD. In retirement, the two-time winner of the Air Force marathon has competed in several long-distance races; with a 100% disability pension, she has plenty of time to train.

Obviously, Air Force case law (and the service's administrative decisions) aren't supposed to influence the other services. But, if the low bar of the Murphy and Metzger cases are any indicator, then Lisa Nowak has little to worry about, beyond a decreased pension and permanent damage to her reputation.

In a just world, Nowak, Murphy and Metzger would all be sent packing, with no life-long compensation from the taxpayer. Clearly, times have changed. We can't read the mind of Ray Mabus, but it would be a bitter irony if Nowak is the only one who achieves that dubious distinction.

8 comments:

Lori said...

Lisa was married at the time of this insanity to a very decent and good man. She was blessed with three children. The Navy gave her great opportunities. She has brought great discredit upon the Naval service and should be in jail for attempted murder, not living comfortably on her (somewhat reduced) military retirement. What have we all come to that this is not obvious? And by the way, Lisa is a weapons systems officer, not a pilot, not that it matters here. I am ashamed to have flown with her.

Ed Rasimus said...

An essential difference between Nowak and Col. Murphy is that Murphy is a component officer (JAG), while Nowak was a line officer. The former is sort of an ceremonial rank while the line officer is expected to be a leader of fighting personnel (writing in the PC of gender equity is extremely difficult in military matters.)

To argue that because one circumstance led to one outcome that a subsequent, but totally different situation should follow the precedent is inappropriate.

Nowak was in a favored and very public position. She disgraced that position and squandered her advantages. As an officer she is not "discharged" but separated from the service. The court would not be remiss in reducing her rank (still further), denying her pension, reducing her eligibility for benefits, etc. Other cases for other individuals are irrelevant.

Spook86 said...

Lori--In the last line of the post, I noted that in a just world, Lisa Nowak, Mike Murphy and Jill Metzger would all be in jail. But, we've let too many military cons slip by in recent years; given today's rock-bottom standards, Nowak would have excellent grounds for an appeal if she winds up being discharged w/o any pension.

Additionally, the attempted murder case against her was always a stretch--one reason prosecutors were willing to plea it down to far lesser charges. Believe me, the D.A. in Orange County wanted to send Nowak away for a long time (nice scalp for his/her collection), but the case wasn't a slam dunk. Hence, the final plea deal.

One more thing: I don't know any of the principals in the Nowak mess, but I heard the same thing about her husband. He is one of the real losers in all of this, along with their children. I sincerely hope he was awarded custody. Captain Nowak clearly has some issues that will require a lot of therapy to resolve.

Ed--I disagree that Murphy was a mere "component" officer, holding some sort of ceremonial rank. True, he was a career member of the JAG Corps. But at the time his crimes were discovered, he was Commander of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, the largest legal organization in the service. He had served as chief JAG for two major commands and run the JAG school at Maxwell, in between White House tours. Murphy was on the fast track for Brig Gen--and quite possibly--an higher rank. In those positions, the Air Force (and the taxpayers) had every right to expect the same exacting standards of conduct that we demand from any line officer.

And that leads me to another point: Murphy maintained his little charade for more than 20 years. In fact, his "honorable" service was roughly 12 months (out of a 27-year career), yet he still received a pension and retirement benefits? It's probably inappropriate to compare the Murphy and Nowak cases, but I still stand by my original argument; it's hard to kick her out of the service with no retirement when felons like Murphy (or unindicted criminals like Metzger) are drawing a check.

Final observation: it's my impression that the Navy has always been more willing to throw the book at misbehaving officers than the Air Force. In my service, it seems like everyone above O-6 is almost untouchable. Heck, I know one Colonel who did 12months in Leavenworth and still retired because he wasn't dismissed from the service as part of his sentence. Today, he runs a large non-profit in a major U.S. city. Who says crime doesn't pay?

Lori said...

Spook- You are right, unfortunately. It is all very disgusting none the less!

moxie said...

It's inconscionable that the USN hasn't yet gotten rid of her.

She should be separated with some rank reduction and no retirement pay. The fact that other miscreants have "slipped out" doesn't change anything.

She was also an academy graduate. One would expect more.

Spook86 said...

Lori--I also forgot one of the biggest military frauds in recent times, a guy who should have been prosecuted (at a minimum) for making false official statements and wearing decorations he never earned. I'm referrring to retired VADM Donald Arthur, the former Surgeon General of the Navy.

To quote Admiral Mullen, "Arthur has more degrees than a thermometer." Unfortunately for him, one of them (a master's in genetics) was never earned, and two more (a JD and PhD came from a notorious diploma mill and were conferred within 14 months of each other.

Admiral Arthur also wore the Combat Action Ribbon, claiming to have participatied in direct ground combat during Operation Desert Storm. However, Arthur's superiors have confirmed that his unit never engaged in direct combat during that campaign.

Additionally, Arthur has claimed to have held posts (within the medical corps) that he never occupied, and medical training that he never received. He even lied about undergoing Navy parachute training in Lakehurst, NJ (the former jump school became a waste dump long before he came on active duty), and even claimed to have suffered a traumatic brain injury from one of his many motorcycle accidents--after initially saying he did not receive that injury in the crash.

Amazing, Admiral Arthur got away with it. There was some sort of IG investigtion, but he was never punished and retired as a three-star. I try to keep up with (and help expose) the major military frauds, but I never heard of Adm Arthur until he was mentioned by another poster--and I accidentally deleted his comment.

By the standards of Donald Arthur, Capt Nowak is indeed, a piker. Of course, I knew plenty of dirt bag flag officers during my Air Force career, including a retired four-star who had two DUIs and referred to a female African-American officer as a black "b---h" to her face. The IG exonerated that SOB because "he was equally hard on everyone." Another one who comes to mind is an active-duty one-star (a MAJCOM IG) who was kicked out of two fighter squadrons for falsifying bomb range scores.

Lori said...

Spook,

This is why I left the Navy for a farming career.....the dirt washes off better now......

Warren said...

An interesting read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Arthur