The Curious Case of Edgar Kranz
Barack Obama's first list of presidential pardons, released last week, was deemed non-controversial. Most of those who received pardons from Mr. Obama were ordinary Americans, who committed such crimes as drug use, possession of stolen property and making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration. Many of the illegal acts occurred decades ago; one former Marine was pardoned for a 1963 felony conviction for cutting the lips off pennies so they could be used as dimes in vending machines.
While Mr. Obama doesn't have a Marc Rich in his first group of pardons, at least one individual on that list is receiving some scrutiny. We refer to one Edgar Leopold Kranz, Jr., of Minot, North Dakota. According to the White House web site, Kranz was court-martialed by the Air Force back in 1994 for the illegal use of cocaine, adultery and writing three bad checks while stationed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii.
For his crimes, Kranz was given a bad conduct discharge (which was suspended by the trial judge); sentenced to 24 months of home confinement and reduced in rank to Airman Basic (E-1). The punishment was fairly consistent with that received by other Air Force members, convicted of similar crimes.
Now, flash forward sixteen years, and the Kranz case takes a rather unusual turn--even before Mr. Obama issued his pardon. With Kranz's ties to the Air Force (and North Dakota), media outlets in Minot did a little checking and discovered that he was an airman assigned to Minot AFB. Air Force Times went a bit further and learned that Edgar L. Kranz, Jr. retired from the service in March of this year, at the rank of Master Sergeant (E-7). Local records indicate there in only one person by that name in the Minot area, so the retired Air Force NCO is (presumably) the same individual pardoned by Mr. Obama.
Why is that unusual? In almost any era, a bad conduct discharge was enough to end your military career. Yet, Kranz remained on active duty for almost 16 years after being court-martialed at Hickman for drugs, adultery and bouncing bad checks. That little detail is raising a lot of eye-brows among former commanders and first sergeants, who routinely send airmen packing for lesser offenses.
In fairness, we should note the BCD imposed on Airman Kranz was suspended, so that prevented an automatic exodus from service after his confinement ended. But for Kranz to remain in service (and eventually collect a retirement pension), he was allowed to re-enlist, not once but multiple times. While not unprecedented, that is highly unusual.
As anyone who's worn the uniform will tell you, re-enlistment is a privilege, based on meeting (and exceeding) standards of conduct and discipline. Needless to say, if you've been court-martialed for drugs and other offenses, you're not meeting the mark. That should have been reflected in the performance reports of Airman Basic Kranz back in 1994.
I can't speak for other commanders and supervisors, but as one of my airmen, Kranz would have received rock-bottom ratings on his EPR for the period(s) that covered the crimes and their adjudication. On the 1-5 rating scale used on EPRs, Kranz would be at the lowest end of that spectrum. That "referral" EPR would also mark the first step in removing him from service.
Does that sound harsh? It's standard operating procedure in the military. Don't forget: the Air Force denied re-enlistment to Alvin Greene (the recent Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in South Carolina) solely on the basis of poor performance, as reflected in his EPRs. So, how did Kranz survive evaluations that should have put him on the fast-track for discharge, despite suspension of his BCD?
Under normal circumstances, the courts-martial conviction (and poor performance reports) would be enough to deny Kranz re-enlistement in the Air Force. Yet, by my calculations, Kranz re-upped at least three more times before his retirement earlier this year. Assuming his conduct (and performance) recovered in later years, there was sufficient reason to allow re-enlistment at those junctures. But I cannot fathom how Kranz was allowed to stay in service (and re-enlist) in the mid-1990s, just after he faced military justice.
It's also worth remembering that Kranz was court-martialed in an era of draw downs and cutbacks for the Air Force. In the mid-1990s, the service was over-manned, so officers and NCOs were being allowed to retire with only 15 years of active-duty service. The USAF also convened various "force-shaping" boards during this period, weeding junior personnel from the ranks. Many selected for "reduction in force" actions had a history of marginal job performance (or other issues), yet Kranz--despite his past problems--was allowed to remain in service and eventually retire. He even survived the elimination of 10,000 service billets to preserve the F-22 program--a move that ended the careers of many airmen with past problems.
Apparently, Sergeant Kranz was able to rehabilitate himself after that courts-martial back in 1994 and met Air Force standards for the remainder of his career. But another fact is equally apparent; despite serious offenses (and a conviction), Kranz received a second chance denied to the vast majority of NCOs and junior officers. And someone in the chain allowed him to re-enlist and rebuild his career, culminating in Kranz's retirement as a MSgt back in March.
We understand that all courts-martial cases are different, and the judges and panels that hear such cases must weigh unique circumstances in each one. But it's difficult to understand why Kranz received such favorable breaks while hundreds of other airmen were kicked to the curb--for lesser offenses. Now, with his pardon from President Obama, Kranz has received a judicial windfall, making him eligible for all veteran's benefits that would have (otherwise) been denied, based on that 1994 federal conviction.
And, I really can't fault Sergeant Kanz for pursuing his legal options. Applying for a pardon, he merely followed the path of other convicted felons and came up a winner, thanks to a favorable decision by the Commander-in-Chief. As for Mr. Obama, he has the right to pardon whomever he chooses, though I wonder how much coordination there was (if any) between the White House and the Air Force in reviewing the Kranz case. There's also the matter of why the President granted a pardon for MSgt Kranz, while denying hundreds of others. What made his petition so compelling? So far, the White House has provided any details.
On the other hand, the Kranz pardon has given the Air Force another black eye. Many of us who had the tough job of recommending punishment and/or sitting on court-martial panels can only shake our heads at this one. "Second chances" (like this one) are virtually unheard of, and that begs some rather obvious questions: why was the BCD suspended back in 1994? Who allowed him to re-enlist--despite a courts-martial conviction, and during a time when the Air Force was getting rid of "problem children" left and right?
The answers to those questions would be rather revealing. Unfortunately, the USAF has gone "comm out" on this one, so don't expect any explanations from the brass. Our guess is that Kranz had friends in high places, allowing him to survive misdeeds that would end the career of mere mortals.
Somewhere out there, Michael Murphy must be smiling. There may be hope for the former JAG officer (who was court-martialed for practicing military law without a license for more than 20 years). Given the Krenz precedent--and the passage of a few more years--Murphy might also be able to get a pardon from Mr. Obama.
ADDENDUM: Discussing this case with former colleagues, one suggested that perhaps Kranz was a young airman with a flawless record who was deserving of a second chance. But the Kranz who resides in Minot is 56-years-old, meaning he was 40 at the time of his troubles in Hawaii. If that calculation is accurate, then Kranz was probably a mid-level NCO with years of Air Force experience when he was court-martialed. That makes Kranz's "second chance" even more puzzling.