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  California National Guard

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MG David Baldwin - Photo Credit: SacBee
More Troubles for the 129th RQW; Another Officer with DUI Arrest Fills High Profile Position, Baldwin Does Nothing

Leadership Void Plainly Evident Within the Ranks of the California National Guard
by Ben Banchs

Sacramento, CA (September 4, 2013) – Troubling new information continues to surface about the leadership of the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing (RQW). Following the two most recent unflattering news stories concerning the handling of an attempted suicide by one of their own, and of how an officer with a DUI conviction is holding two high-profile positions within the Wing, the Union has learned of yet another senior leader within the 129th RQW who had a run in with local authorities earlier this year.
 
We have received credible information via email concerning the arrest of one Charles Vincent Pratt for violating California Vehicle Code 23152, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. On January 11, 2013, at approximately 1:49am, Pratt was pulled over at 15th and West Streets in Sacramento and was subsequently booked with driving under the influence of alcohol. According to court papers obtained by the Union, the breathalyzer test performed by the officer on scene revealed a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08%, which is the legal limit in the State of California. Pratt eventually pleaded no-contest to a lesser charge under Section 23103.5, also known as a wet and reckless, was referred to a 12-hour rehab program, and was placed on probation for 3 years. The court order was signed on April 18, 2013. The information contained in the email seems to be confirmed by information that is publicly available on the County of Sacramento web site.

According to the the email's author, the Charles Vincent Pratt in the arrest record is also Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Charles Pratt of the 129th RQW, who currently serves as the Maintenance Squadron Commander (MXS). Pratt also fulfills the role of Deputy Commander for the 129th Maintenance Group (MX) under Lt. Col. Daniel Lapostole. The author of the email is Major Connie Wong, former Equal Opportunity chief for the 129th RQW. Major Wong has fashioned herself as the lead whistleblower amongst a group of approximately 20 to 30 other current and former members of the California National Guard that have come forward over the last three years to shed light on what they believe are violations of rule and law by high ranking members of the Guard. Wong’s email is, in her words, a notice of her intent to file multiple Inspector General (IG) complaints against Pratt for a slew of alleged violations of Air Force regulations and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). She addressed the email to a number of high profile individuals including: Major General David Baldwin, California Adjutant General; General Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau; and several members of Congress including California Senator Barbara Boxer.  

The arrest and conviction of Pratt, while noteworthy, is not the real story here. Assuming the information is true, what is significant is that Pratt would be the second 129th RQW commissioned officer to be arrested for DUI within the last two years. On June 9th, 2013, we reported about Capt. Donald LeBlanc’s DUI arrest in October of 2011, and how that incident had not prevented him from holding two high-profile positions within the Wing, and (at the time) also be on the promotion list for the rank of Major. Like LeBlanc, it appears Pratt has been able to not only hold on to his command position within the 129th RQW, but he has also received no other punitive action that we’re aware of. We submitted requests for comments specifically about the allegations that Pratt was arrested and convicted of DUI to both the California National Guard Human Resources Office in Sacramento, and to the 129th RQW’s Public Affairs Office, but neither has been returned.  

The fact that two officers at the same military unit were convicted of a DUI offense with zero consequences is unique in today’s military. With the service branchs' efforts to increase awareness of drug and alcohol abuse, and the drive to hold everyone accountable for misdeeds, just being arrested for a DUI usually carries a pretty stiff penalty for a military member, not to mention an actual conviction. In fact, an arrest and conviction for any type of substance abuse usually means a loss of grade at a minimum, and loss of command for your average line officer, so it is puzzling that not one but two officers within the California National Guard have DUI arrests and related convictions on record and yet still hold positions of responsibility. It’s even more baffling when you consider that the California National Guard has a zero-tolerance policy towards drug and alcohol abuse. On August 15, 2011, Major General (MG) David Baldwin issued Policy Memorandum 2011-07 which sets forth the state’s substance abuse policy. According to the heading, the policy memo applies to “all service members of the California National Guard.” MG Baldwin states unequivocally that substance abuse is incompatible with National Guard service. The last sentence makes it clear that any “personnel who fail to meet the National Guard’s standards in regard to abuse of drugs or alcohol will be subject to appropriate administrative and disciplinary action.” As we stated earlier, there is no evidence that either Pratt or LeBlanc received any kind of administrative or punitive action as a result of their alcohol related offenses, not even a Referral Officer Performance Review (OPR), which is a negative performance appraisal and would be considered standard in these types of situations. In fact, our sources claim that in addition to having a clean record, LeBlanc was recommended for a command position within the 129th RQW in spite of leadership’s knowledge of his DUI.

The pass that Pratt and LeBlanc received is in sharp contrast to the punishment an enlisted member of the California National Guard received earlier this year for merely being a passenger in a vehicle who's driver was arrested for DUI. It's important to note that this particular individual was not even cited by local authorities for doing anything against the law, yet the California National Guard saw it fit to penalize him because he was "senior" in rank to the individual driving the vehicle. Among the remarks contained in the decision letter informing him of his punishment, his commander states that he "brought disgrace" upon his unit, and that his "inaction...caused me to question my trust and confidence in you to make appropriate judgments and to take responsibility when more senior NCO's and officers are not present." The employee was suspended without pay for a period of 15 days, which was a reduction from the 30 days they originally wanted to suspend him for. Compare this tongue lashing and very real punishment of a low ranking individual within the organization to the absence of punishment rendered upon Pratt or LeBlanc in light of actual arrests and convictions, and you have a clear double standard.   

In addition to the DUI-related offense that Pratt was convicted of, the email received by the Union also claims that Pratt failed at least one physical fitness test, which (in accordance with Air Force regulations) would require an automatic Referral OPR, a mark that is never welcomed, but which has yet to be placed in Pratt’s file. In accordance with (IAW) Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2406, paragraph 1.8.3, “all personnel must meet established standards...Failure to meet fitness requirements or minimum fitness scores will result in a referral evaluation, unless exempt from fitness...” We have no indication that Pratt is officially exempt from fitness standards. AFI 36-2406, paragraph 1.4.10.1.4, further requires that the individual’s OPR be marked with an “X” to indicate that he/she “Does Not Meet Standards.”  

Wong goes on to make further disturbing allegations about another incident that took place under Pratt's watch, which NBC reported on, regarding the theft of ammunition from the base. In addition to the allegations made by Wong, we have also received information about a Staff Assisted Visit (SAV) Inspection conducted by the National Guard Bureau (NGB) from November 28 thru December 5, 2012, a period during which Pratt was already the commander in charge of the MXS. The inspectors found less than favorable conditions present throughout the 129th RQW, especially when it came to the safety of aircraft and personnel. Some of the excerpts provided to the Union included a comment that “maintenance was rushed to support a Christmas party. Personnel were allowed to work in an unsafe environment to complete the work.” Another excerpt from the report states that “the CTK (tool accountability) program had lost virtually all control and was unusable…The MXG/CC took swift action to ground the aircraft and conduct lost tool searches and FOD walks. A 48 hour period was established to inventory all assets and recover control, it was extended to 72 hours due to the massive size of the problem...in Avionics alone 60-70 items were still not accounted for.” However, trusted sources tell us that the SAV Team was incredibly generous in reporting their findings. The sources claim that the supposed “quick action” by the MXG Commander, Lt. Col. Lapostole, came only after repeated urging form the NGB inspection team for him to do something about the findings. Successful tool control and accountability programs center on a dedicated tool room staffed with attendants that are responsible for the issue, return, and inventory of all tools and technical manuals used by maintenance personnel. These types of tool rooms are considered fairly standard throughout aircraft maintenance facilities world-wide. It’s important to note the 129th RQW had an operation tool room prior to the SAV inspection. According to our sources, that tool room was ordered disbanded by Lt. Col Lapostole and Lt. Col Pratt. It's also important to note that it's a rare occurrence for a SAV Inspection Team to call for such drastic measures, like the grounding of aircraft. Usually, the inspection team observes operations from the sidelines and then provide their views and recommendations during their debrief. In this case, the inspectors apparently felt the situation was so dire that immediate intervention was needed to ensure the safety of personnel and assets.     

These excerpts and anonymous source accounts, if true, are particularly disturbing when you consider that the 129th RQW is in the business of safely maintaining mission ready aircraft in order to save lives. The excerpts from the SAV Team’s findings mean that between November 28th and December 5th of 2012, the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard was unable to fly for a period of atleast 3 days because they were not able to account for their tools and equipment. Had there been a need to launch aircraft for a real world mission such as search and rescue or firefighting (during a different time of the year), the Wing would not have been able to respond to the call(s) for help.
 
The negative exposure is not good for the 129th RQW. The Wing, which is commanded by Colonel (Col.) Steven Butow, has repeatedly come under fire over the last year for claims that senior leaders participate in, and allow, the coercion and retaliation of subordinates, and fails to protect its employees from discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault. In one of the most glaring examples of failed leadership ever recorded, Col. Butow went on camera and very coldly admitted to NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski that rather than provide comfort to a fellow airman in her time of need, he instead authorized his staff to serve termination papers to Master Sergeant Jessica Brown as she lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed following her third suicide attempt. Jessica had publicly blamed Butow and his staff for exacerbating her PTSD symptoms following the unit’s failure to properly handle her claims of sexual assault at the hands of another member of the 129th RQW.  

Clearly, there is a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality within the senior ranks. Pratt and LeBlanc are continued proof that something is amiss within the leadership of both the 129th RQW and the California National Guard, as a whole. Wong’s email is but the latest claim of an organization run amok. The lack of accountability at the higher ranks, and the clear double standard that exists within the entirety of the organization is confirmed, once again, by the fact that Pratt is allowed to continue his command with zero consequences while lower ranking personnel suffer severe administrative and disciplinary action for much lesser offenses. But as much as Butow and his staff may be responsible for the failures at the 129th RQW, ultimate responsibility for leadership failures throughout the entirety of the state rest squarely on the shoulders of Major General Baldwin, who very publicly stated the buck stopped with him as he assumed command in early 2011, yet continues to allow commanders like Butow to run their military units as if they were an independent branch of a much larger organized crime family.  

This is not the first time Wong has sounded the alarm concerning questionable practices at the 129th RQW. In her most recent email, Wong also claims that Pratt retaliated against members under his command after she personally warned him not to do so when she was in charge of the Wing’s Equal Opportunity Section. Wong also makes very strong allegations that Pratt engaged in the sexual harassment of, and created a hostile work environment for, a female subordinate. Pratt allegedly made unwanted advances towards his subordinate including showing up at her home with flowers, chocolates, and alcohol “unannounced and without invitation.” This pattern of sexual harassment by those in senior leadership positions at the 129th RQW is disturbing to say the least, but seems par for the course as has been documented by both print and television media over the last several years, and by independent bloggers. In fact, another former member of the 129th RQW stunned Senators on the California Rules Committee during Major General Baldwin’s confirmation hearing when she publicly called out another member of Col. Butow’s staff, Chief Master Sergeant Jason Red, for allegedly shouting profanities at her and threatening to punch her in the throat during an overseas deployment. Not only did she recall the expletives to the Committee, she also called him out by name and pointed to him as she exclaimed, "that's him back there, the one y'all clapped for," a reference to earlier in the hearing when Red testified on behalf of Baldwin. When questioned by Senator Steinberg as to whether he was aware of these allegations, the General seemed visibly aggravated, indicated that that was the first he had heard of the incident, and promised that he would be initiating an investigation "tomorrow." Apparently, either an investigation was conducted and nothing was found, or no investigation was conducted at all since Red’s bio says he was appointed to the position in October 2011, and appears to still hold the top enlisted billet for the Wing.  

To say that the Union is disappointed with Major General Baldwin’s leadership is an understatement. Shortly after our public endorsement at his confirmation hearing for the Adjutant General position, Baldwin and his staff began to show signs that the change he was promising was never going to take place. While he certainly did fire or force some to retire, instead of appointing capable leaders to fill the now vacant positions, Baldwin merely replaced someone else’s ‘Good Ole Boys’ with his own. Our first encounter with Baldwin’s lack of sincerity came in regards to his request that the Union review CW4 Kathryn Lindberg’s claims of discrimination and retaliation, a matter which he testified to in front of the California Senate Rules Committee that he personally asked us to do. Lindberg confronted Baldwin on the record in front of the committee, publicly opposing his nomination as Adjutant General, and complaining that her discrimination case had been deliberately slow-played and mishandled. Baldwin promised her an unbiased review, and told her and the Rules Committee that he asked the Union for an independent look and opinion on the case. Not even a week after his testimony we began to encounter resistance to our requests for the case file, ultimately doing our case review based solely on the employee’s records because Baldwin's staff refused to release the case file. It's hard to understand how Baldwin wanted us to review Ms. Lindberg's case without having access to the file, but nevertheless we found clear evidence of discrimination and retaliation within the papers that Lindberg provided, a fact that we let Baldwin know in no uncertain terms. However, Baldwin and his staff chose to ignore the findings and eventually forced Lindberg to retire. This began a downward spiral of events that culminated in the Union all but retracting our endorsement of Baldwin during an on air interview with NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski. At this point it seems no one either inside or outside the California National Guard is prepared to take the steps necessary to end the corruption and fear. So long as that’s the case, the abuses will continue.      

If you have any information you feel is relevant to this story, or if you have an issue or concern that you are afraid to bring up to your leadership, please feel free to contact us.    

   


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