Monday, February 1, 2010

Jenio firing update

John Ramsey of the Fayetteville Observer is all over this story. As the initial speculation indicated, this isn't an operational issue. Here's the news as of Saturday:

A racially offensive PowerPoint slide meant as a joke led to the removal of two 82nd Airborne Division leaders from their positions in Afghanistan this month, an Army official has confirmed.

Lt. Col. Frank Jenio and Command Sgt. Maj. Bert Puckett were in charge of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 82nd's 4th Brigade Combat Team. The team has been in Afghanistan since August.

Jenio and Puckett were relieved of command on Jan. 13 after an investigation that was prompted by a slide shown during a command briefing, according to an Army source with knowledge of the investigation and to a friend of Puckett. The two spoke independently and on condition of anonymity.

The slide - a parody of ubiquitous motivational posters - shows a picture of Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo with his arm wrapped around point guard Mateen Cleaves. Izzo is white; Cleaves is black. The text below the photos reads, "Slavery Reinstated," with smaller letters adding, "Catch yourself a strong one."

According to the Army source, the decision to remove Puckett and Jenio came from the top of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti.

To be honest, I'm not that interested in this story now that it's clearly about something that's more about Army politics than operational effectiveness. (That's not to say that I don't think this is a fireable offense, or that this isn't a big deal, or that it's just "PC nonsense," or anything like that. I just don't want to spend a whole lot of time going round and round with people on the subject of political correctness, because it's boring. And also not gonna change, no matter what you or Bill O'Reilly wants.) So I offer this as a sort of administrative update to the original story rather than a meaningful contribution to the discussion about Afghanistan.

My one substantive comment is that this ought to remind us that we'll all be a little bit better at our jobs (and a lot less fireable) if we remember four simple words: don't be an idiot.

32 comments:

  1. Doesn't it seem kind of bizarre that the first battalion commander to be relieved in the Afghan war (I'm 90 percent sure this is in fact the first, eight years in) is a guy with generally rave reviews who's relieved over a PowerPoint, not a bad field commander who's relieved over tactics or results?

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  2. I kind of thought the same thing Tintin, but I am so ignorant of these matters....

    We probably don't have the whole story and maybe it's appropriate that we don't. I don't know. It sounds weird: if he had nothing to do with the PowerPoint and reprimanded the person who did put the PP slide in, then what is the problem? The offender not reprimanded, the slides a symptom of an entire climate? See, this is the problem with online speculating. It's just speculating and sometimes, plain old bad gossip.

    Anyway, I thought the same Tintin.

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  3. My impression is that the investigation found that the command group had created and/or fostered an environment in which the battalion's personnel felt that things like the questionable slide were just not a big deal, and that MG Scaparotti had a problem with that. (That, obviously, is what they mean by "command climate.") IF it was determined that the leadership team encouraged an atmosphere in which black soldiers were made to feel marginalized, discriminated against, or whatever -- even if you say "none of them cared!" -- then you can easily see how one could consider a ruling of inconsistency with Army Values.

    Tintin, more to your point, remember Yingling: "a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war." Right or wrong (and pretty sure it's wrong, whatever you want to argue about incentivizing risk-taking), this is still the reality several years down the line.

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  4. "the command group had created and/or fostered an environment in which the battalion's personnel felt that things like the questionable slide were just not a big deal"

    In light of the fact that this battalion is facing a difficult tour- one CO killed and three soldiers captured in a sister unit, I don't think a ppt slide is a big deal.

    Humor, even wicked/devious/sick humor, is a coping mechanism for dealing with the brutalities of war. I've seen it in every unit (Armor, Airborne, and SF) that I've been associated with. In 2005 in Iraq, the Corps Commander would open up his briefings with Monty Python sketches that I could have called borderline racist and sexist.

    Was the slide distasteful? Probably, but so what. Would it be borderline racist if I posted "You might be a redneck if" jokes to make fun of my background?

    Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail for this unit. I can't imagine what the climate is like right now while they're trying to conduct their mission and all their dirty laundry is being aired nationally.

    Mike

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  5. Mike -- In light of the fact that this battalion is facing a difficult tour- one CO killed and three soldiers captured in a sister unit, I don't think a ppt slide is a big deal.

    I feel you here, but to play devil's advocate, is it helping anybody out with their difficult tour if the soldiers feel like their command doesn't respect human rights, doesn't value them as individuals, and makes light of their (non-war related; social and cultural, maybe) difficulties?

    I'm speculating here, but I'd guess that the division commander thinks that a command climate that endorses idiotic racist humor isn't conducive to high morale or good order and discipline. Now, he may be wrong, and LTC Jenio might have his fingers on the pulse in a way that a two-star can't. But it's not impossible for me to believe that that's Scaparotti's rationale.

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  6. To continue the argument, based on "what ifs" because I don't know the situation, what would have been wrong with pulling LTC Jenio aside and saying, "hey knock it off with that stuff, huh?" and he goes to everyone else, "hey guys, maybe this stuff isn't such a good idea," and everyone adjusts.

    Sorry, as an outsider, it still seems odd. Unless, as Gulliver says, there is a whole lot more going on the the "command climate" than one PowerPoint.

    Okay, enough with the internet gossip, I say to myself....

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  7. Oh, and I am not endorsing that stupid slide, by the way.

    Even if some of the others said it didn't bother them, it still might have. I always say all the "guy" stuff doesn't bother me over at Abu M - where, sadly, the trolls now play freely - but it does. When it gets too out there, it does.

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  8. Gulliver/Madhu,

    Good points. I guess I'm just playing devil's advocate to the political correctness. Combat arms units are a different breed. The men that serve in them are often hard, rough men, and I don't want us to lose sight of that to start over-analyze what is appropriate in humor and discourse.

    Mike

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  9. MikeF -

    I shudder to think what outsiders would make of some of the jokes docs - especially pathologists like me! - make when we are by ourselves. The best, and most dedicated, physician might still sound like a total jerk. Picking up that scalpel to start with the old Y shaped incision is just so outside the realm of what most people do. Let's be honest - it's weird.

    That war should engender dark and sometimes "out there" humor doesn't surprise me at all.

    I bet there is something more that "just a PowerPoint," going on. On that note, I really and truly will shut up - for the time being.

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  10. Well, it seems that a healthy skpticism is still around. The best insight into this situation may have been in a posting that suggested this was a shot-across-the-bow to other CDRs (far and wide), perhaps to put the Chain-of-Cmd first and to leave interpretation of COIN and other doctrine to those further removed from the mountainsides. I may have collected more intel on this than most of us that live far from the war and Bragg, although the posts at Rick's blog seem to include Bragg insiders. In any case, here is my somewhat informed reflection on this matter.
    The 82nd has managed to escape this as a press issue; only two serious sites of posted commentary, with only the FTVL-OBSVR and ArmyTimes press picking up on this, an intro and an ending each, ( not much more coverage on the Stryker 1-17 event either). Informed observers understand that Patraeus and McChrystal both have an uncanny grasp of theater indicator-events and can name the officers who have actually been creative in their COIN and operational solutions down to the LTC level in Afghanistan and Iraq ( ? including 4BCT BN CDRs ? ). The Generals were surely briefed, if not initially, at least after the dismissal. (Which, as was suggested, was a "rare" event.) Note however that the mainstream press did pick up on the NATO friendly-fire deaths of Afghan police and ANA when COL Drinkwine's 508 soldiers were "lost", but not a single blink at these Arghandab CDR dismissal events. In summary, one must now discern facts by their resonance with one's instincts since sources are cloaked and still buy into the necessity to remain so. ( By the way, according to NCOs, the 4BCT FRG did an "amazing job" during the "search" for the lost men, and that did not get much press either. )
    The clever layers of PAO defense that have functioned well ( although hard to believe originated at a BCT level)
    1) Army Values 2) Maintain Good Order 3) NCOs propagated CDRs ill-advised style 4) E-O issue 5) Racial issue ... (That last sure shuts down the critics and hot-wires the matter to a "third rail" ) The Official release comes first from the BN, then from the BCT, followed by the "friends" without attribution, "no comments" from those fired, with McChrystal and Helmick likely not approachable.

    The Blog comments blur this further: 1) these were outstanding soldiers, stars, BTZ, connected 2) poor climate in BCT Rear/D FRG 3) Drinkwine had two "rare" events in 10 weeks 4) Scaparroti did the firing 5) Lawyers can't help 6) Chain-of-command "confusing" 7) the press is/isnt investigating 8) It is/isnt Political 9) Naylor always has the answers 10) Unavoidable 11) The wife fired them 12) Concept 2016 - Army ill-prepared 13) dirty laundry 14) FRGs are known for this 15) 2-508 does/doesnt feel the loss 16) A "slip-up" 17) 15-6s are ongoing 18) not JAG actionable 19) the LTC could still advance 20) Best for all Concerned

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  11. Continuing ( ? limits on length of post )
    A) So, was CSM Puckett caught up in supporting a CDR who had poor judgement --- or one who puts mission first?
    B) Did LTC Jenio disrespect COL Drinkwine and MG Scaparroti, or pick up bad habits from GEN McChrystal at JSOC?
    C) And the other 5 BN CDRs in 4BCT ? either keeping low to weather the storm, or pushed as far as "ready to resign"?
    D) Did Mr Naylor asked the right "Ops" questions only to be PAO stonewalled ? did he know who/who-not to ask?
    E) Where were XOs and others, and what, if any, guidance was provided on what obviously was a developing situation?
    F) Was COL Drinkwine's command climate such that this matter spun out-of-hand? Does anyone know or care?
    G) Were there other internal 82nd command chain issues since MG Scaparroti took over? involving a heavy hand as well?
    H) Is this over, or will LTG Helmick take further action? and, if so, will it ever become public?
    I) Will more "rare" events ( "Fallujah bridge" merely ? "Iconic") spinoff from the 4BCT and will the press buy a clue ?
    J) And for those of you in Rio-Linda: Who does LTC Jenio report to now and what and where is his current assignment?
    ( The answer to that last may be obtainable by almost anyone in short order and might reveal a whole heck of alot.)

    Mull this over, but from the grapevine ( not the blogs) all of this looks to be true to some extent, likely it isnt over, the longer term issues remain and if events like these fall into the black hole of SOP, then raising the Army to new personnel and operational standards will remain an elusive goal. Supporting soldiers can be accomplished by ensuring and demanding high values; all values at all levels! God Bless and Keep our soldiers of the USA.

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  12. In reading comments here, do I detect a suggestion that PowerPoint is less important than mission accomplishment? State that too loudly in some places and you can be forced to drink hemlock.

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  13. I'm a bit bemused that a blogger here wrote something like 10,000 words speculating on all the nefarious COINtastic reasons that the BC and his CSM got yanked, and it came down to a randy PowerPoint slide.

    Maybe sometimes it's best to just wait for the real reason. Army Times, ibid.

    SNLII

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  14. I'm a bit bemused that a blogger here wrote something like 10,000 words speculating on all the nefarious COINtastic reasons that the BC and his CSM got yanked, and it came down to a randy PowerPoint slide.

    I'd love to see an excerpt from the original post that was even remotely suggestive of a belief that Jenio's firing had anything at all to do with "all the nefarious COINtastic reasons." I mean, seriously. Because otherwise I figure you're just being snide for the sake of it.

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  15. Let me come back to someone else's question:

    "was Canadian task force commander BGen Menard consulted on the Americans' decision to fire his immediate subordinate? Did he request it himself?"

    http://toyoufromfailinghands.blogspot.com/2010/01/command-problems-for-us-army-in.html

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  16. Bottom line, EO is taken very seriously in the Army. Commanders are responsible for everthing their unit does or fails to do. Regardless of where the unit was located or what they were doing, comments that hint at racism/sexism/singling out any individual is not going to be tolerated, especially if reported. obviously someone did not like the slide. All it takes is one (COO and EO classes emntion this several times)

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  17. These men are wonderful leaders a power point should not have sent them home. If any of you knew the missions/jobs that the 2/508 were tasked with and the many casualties they have had and the way they handeled themselves through this you would be praising these men. On Christmas Day LTC Jenio called one of the widows to see how her and her chidren were handeling the recent loss of her husband. Now that says a lot about his character.

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  18. Word also is it was a black staff officer who put the slide into the presentation. You can draw your own conclusions as to the tastefulness of the picture, but was it really a relievable offense of a battalion commander AND command sergeant major? Considering Scaporotti is a former Commandant of Cadets at West Point (which is the home of political correctness in the Army), and issues with Drinkwine's command climate (and a spouse who thinks of herself as more than that), it certainly stands to reason why they were relieved. The fact he was COL Steele's S3 has nothing to do with Jenio's ability to command a battalion. To think otherwise is complete and utter stupidity.

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  19. First of all you are all idiots. It wasent just a power point slide. There were racial remarks made by both LTC Jenio and CSM Pucket regarding there black BDE CSM Flowers. Not only that but a command climate was taken and yes the LTC bommed it. There were other acts of racism, and sexism made not just by the subordinates but by LTC Jenio and CSM Pucket themselves. So feel sorry for them, say how they were awesome leaders and soldiers. I realy dont care but they were not what was best for this BN. This BN is good because of the Soldiers and NCO's not the command. It is us that wins wars. Everything will come out when we get back because we were told not to talk about it. But im tired of hearing how its everyone elses fault. LTC Jenio has made inappropriate remarks even before we deployed and everyone looked the other way. Not just about blacks either. So continue to specualte, but from a soldier in the BN and an NCO you can take what i say or leave it but they deserved to get fired. Fury From The Sky.

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  20. Anon @ 0025 -- Thanks for your comments, aside from the first. I think most of us are well aware that we don't have all the details, and that any speculation about the backstory on all this would be exactly that: speculation.

    There's always a lot of politics involved in stuff like this, and I don't mean politics in the DC sense -- I mean interpersonal politics, family politicking, factionalism in units, etc etc. I don't expect to get the full, straight story all in one place. (I don't really expect there to be ONE "full, straight story," to be honest.)

    But again, thanks for your input.

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  21. I would love too have someone verifiy that CSM Puckett ever made a disparageing or racial remark in reference to any member of the command in this case ...or better yet in his entire military career.

    the story is so convoluted and twisted that only the people involved will ever know the truth of the matter.....bottom line a mistake was made and the punishment didnt fit the crime.

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  22. Once again you are all idiots. I just told you what happend. There is no specualation, or politics about it. I have personaly heard remarks made by CSM Pucket so once again feel bad for him. Like Warren Buffet said " It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and 5 min to ruin it". Keep posting how awesome he was or is, good for you.

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  23. No I can pretty much promise you havent heard CSM Puckett make any such comment....WHY do I know that ...cause I am CSM Puckett. Stop lieing.

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  24. Hideing behind "anonymous" speaks volumes. correcting minor spelling errors ...petty.

    Lying is foul.

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  25. CSM Puckett -- Could you shoot me an email if you get a second at gulliver.inkspots@gmail.com? Thanks.

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  26. You shouldn't post your email like that. Web crawlers pick it up and inundate you with spam.

    But good for you in scoring a gmail account with your name. I was a bit slow on the draw and had to settle for [first].[last]8 [at] gmail.com, which kind of sucks.

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  27. You shouldn't post your email like that. Web crawlers pick it up and inundate you with spam.

    Yeah, I've heard that, but I've got to be honest with you: if gulliver dot inkspots gets spammed, it's not going to be the end of my world.

    But good for you in scoring a gmail account with your name. I was a bit slow on the draw and had to settle for [first].[last]8 [at] gmail.com, which kind of sucks.

    Believe it or not, in real-identity land I actually scored my real name, too (or at least a combo of initials and surname). Sometimes it helps to be obscure.

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  28. Why it REALLY happened:

    Bragg colonel's wife barred from 4th Brigade functions
    By John Ramsey

    Staff writer
    The commander of Fort Bragg has barred the wife of an 82nd Airborne Division colonel from nearly all interaction with her husband's brigade and the unit's families after an investigation found her influence "detrimental to the morale and well-being of both." Sworn statements from the investigation, ordered in January by Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, accuse Col. Brian Drinkwine's wife, Leslie Drinkwine, of using her husband's position as leverage to repeatedly harass and threaten soldiers and their families. The statements say the harassment and threats began almost as soon as Col. Drinkwine took command of the 4th Brigade Combat Team in 2008.

    Col. Drinkwine wrote in his sworn statement that he never let personal issues creep into his professional evaluations of soldiers. But two battalion commanders - Lt. Col Frank Jenio and Lt. Col. David Oclander - told Spillman they believe disputes with Dr. Drinkwine were an unstated cause for professional retaliation. Jenio, who was in charge of 800 troops operating just outside Kandahar, was relieved of command in Afghanistan along with his top enlisted adviser, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Bert Puckett, on Jan. 13. Dr. Drinkwine and Jenio's wife, Sherri, were often at odds, according to multiple statements. Frank Jenio said in his statement that during one heated phone conversation last year, Dr. Drinkwine threatened to have him fired. Jenio said Col. Drinkwine failed to address the problems his wife was causing and stayed isolated from his subordinates. Dr. Drinkwine would often use the threat of "telling Brian" when she had a disagreement with a family member or soldier, he said, and Col. Drinkwine made matters worse by giving the impression that she had influence over him. Jenio said in his statement that the need to deal with the FRG challenges nearly every other day took away valuable time he could have been using to focus on the war. Dr. Drinkwine sometimes used a pseudonym on the website Fortbragglife.com. She told Spillman she "lurked" on the site to get a pulse of the issues and to benefit the brigade. Once, she became an online friend of a soldier's wife who worried that her husband was cheating on her, according to the report. In the same e-mail, Oclander wrote that since Jenio's dismissal, "I feel as though I have been indirectly threatened 2-3 times to keep me quiet or my command will be in jeopardy next."

    Helmick, who took command of Fort Bragg in November, said he was told that the former Fort Bragg commander, Gen. Lloyd Austin, had told Col. Drinkwine before the deployment to take care of the issues. But the situation festered. Helmick, in a letter addressed to Dr. Drinkwine, wrote, "even though (Lt. Gen. Austin) and (Maj. Gen. Scaparrotti) have discussed the command climate within the 4th Brigade Combat Team with your husband, the actions that he took have not been sufficient." Helmick's order bans Dr. Drinkwine from holding any leadership position, directly or indirectly, in the 4th Brigade or its FRG; participation in any activity or function of the 4th BCT or its FRG, except for attendance at memorial services; being present in any 4th BCT building, including barracks and headquarters buildings; and contacting any member of the 4th BCT leadership or FRG leadership except contact with her husband. The order remains in effect until Col. Drinkwine no longer commands the 4th BCT or until the Drinkwines leave Fort Bragg, whichever happens later. "

    Staff writer John Ramsey can be reached at ramseyj@fayobserver.com or 486-3574.

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  29. Anonymous, you are a pussy

    I served with both Col Drinkwine and CSM Puckett in A Co 2/75 RANGER Bn. Drinkwine was the XO and Puckett was a team leader. Drinkwine was a spineless jellyfish and an idiot...the perfect example of a ticket puncher with no leadership qualities whatsoever...the men he was charged with leading were the least of his concerns and everybody knew it. I have no problem believing that as a full bird colonel his wife leads him around by the dick. Bert Puckett on the other hand was and is a true professional, an outstanding NCO, who had the respect of every member of that Ranger company. Drinkwine was laughed at...he was a weak leader and a kiss ass. Again, you are a pussy and your opinion is worthless as you lack the courage to identify yourself and stand in front of your statements. Also,if you are going to correct someone's spelling, you better make sure yours is perfect, RETARD..

    Scott Swiniarski
    rngrski@yahoo.com

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  30. CSM Pucket would never pull that BS he is a stand up guy. so anonomous your just a turd.

    Semper fi
    Doc C

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  31. Jenio was a rock star. When I served with him I saw him as a General Officer in waiting. He was the top 1%.

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