Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slithering Out the Door

Colonel Jeff Smiley has resigned as Commander of the Alabama National Guard's 187th Fighter Wing, but questions still remain about his status and past conduct.

According to Air Force Times and WSFA-TV in Montgomery, Smiley submitted his resignation on 21 June for "strictly personal reasons." His departure came three months after an investigation by the Alabama Guard revealed that Smiley had used his unit's F-16 aircraft for personal trips and received more than $96,000 in extra pay for unauthorized compensatory time.

National Guard Bureau officials would not say June 23 whether Smiley had been reassigned or would retire. Smiley has been in the Air Force for 31 years.

Smiley was investigated during the third year of his command after an anonymous complaint was filed with the Air Force Inspector General’s Office. After multiple investigations, four of eight allegations were deemed to have merit.

The investigation concluded Smiley accumulated excessive comp time and converted it into flight training time, for which he received nearly $96,000. The IG also found that he used government property — an F-16 — to visit family several times in 2006; neglected to conduct a semiannual climate survey of the unit for three years while he was installation commander; and improperly coerced his officers to join the National Guard Association of the United States.

A few years ago, we remember an Air Force Technical Sergeant (E-6) being court-martialled for claiming an extra $75 on a do-it-yourself move. So will Smiley face any charges for fraud or theft? Don't bet on it.

After investigators from the Alabama Army Guard found merit in four of the eight charges, Colonel Smiley received a mild letter of counseling--even by senior officer standards--from Brigadier General Paul D. Brown, Jr., commander of the state air guard.

Brown conducted the initial investigation of the allegations and found none to be substantiated. He referred to his own interpretation of the allegations in his letter to Smiley.

“By a ‘preponderance of the evidence standard,’ a recent Alabama Army National Guard Inspector General investigation has substantiated four allegations of apparent misconduct on your part,” Brown wrote. “While my own review of the allegations and available evidence lead me to conclude that the substantiated allegations are primarily of a technical nature, devoid of any malicious or fraudulent intent, I want to emphasize to you, a senior officer under my command, conditions can develop and/or exist which cast doubt on your overall judgment and create an appearance of impropriety.”

Brown went on to write that he considered “the totality of the circumstances leading up to this counseling” and concluded that he was confident that Smiley was capable of accomplishing his duties as wing commander.

But as Smiley began to feel the heat from the media and the public, he decided to step down. A graduate of Texas A&M, Smiley is said to be living in the Houston area and preparing for retirement, after a career that spans 31 years of active duty and guard service.

Back in February, Air Force Times demanded that Smiley's record be made public, wondering how he retained his job when other wing commanders have been fired for lesser offenses. Obviously, the guard does things a little differently, but it's stunning that Smiley is (apparently) walking away with an extra $96,000 in his pocket, and his pension and benefits intact.

We'll go the Times one better. Smiley should not be allowed to retire until the entire matter has been investigated by the Air Force or DoD Inspector General, with subsequent referrals for criminal prosecution, as required. As a guard officer, Colonel Smiley can be recalled to active duty, even if he is currently on terminal leave, or actually retired. One hundred thousand dollars in undeserved compensation and the misuse of government aircraft are serious offenses, serious enough to warrant a wider probe. Since the Alabama Guard is unwilling to do the job, it's time to move the matter up the chain of command.

Sadly, the Smiley case appears to be the latest example of the "different spanks" rule that is painfully evident in all Air Force components, active duty, Guard and Reserve. Too many senior officers have been allowed to skate on serious charges over the last 20 years, and that only encourages the next generation. Such behavior will continue until someone finally court-martials an Air Force general and sends them to Leavenworth. That's the kind of shock required to restore ethical standards in the USAF.
ADDENDUM: While we don't know Colonel Smiley, we've followed his career. He is one of the best pilots in the F-16 community. As a First Lieutenant at Shaw AFB, SC back in the early 80s, (not long out of RTU) he won the wing's "Top Gun" competition, bettering dozens of far more experienced Viper pilots. Later, he took top honors in two categories at the Air Force's worldwide Gunsmoke competition. Smiley is also a graduate of the USAF Weapons School and is one of only 10 pilots with more than 4,000 hours in the F-16. Regrettably, Smiley's misuse of government aircraft--and his undeserved compensation--have stained what should have been an exemplary career.

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