DEFENDING AMERICA
By David H. Hackworth
4 October1999

"DOES THE MAFIA RUN THE WYOMING GUARD?"

I've soldiered a fair bit with Wyoming cowboys and have always found them to be straight shooters who stood tall and did the right thing. But like the corruption inside Washington these days, the Beltway Sleaze has now infected the great state of Wyoming's top National Guard brass.

A Pentagon Inspector General's report says the problems in the Wyoming Guard come down to outright corruption and a form of arrogance from the governor on down that may cut it in a Third World country, but not in the U.S. taxpayer-funded military.

According to the report, the Wyoming Guard is run more like the Mafia than a U.S. military outfit. The following horror story is a textbook example of what happens when there's a breakdown in top leadership -- and where cronyism and crookedness take primacy over integrity and the fine people in uniform who serve this country and that state.

The commander in chief of the Wyoming Guard is Republican Gov. Jim Geringer. He was told by the Pentagon that his adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Ed Boenisch, and a squad of senior Guard officers are bad dudes. Yet the governor -- who "talks the talk" with a lot of public moralizing -- has yet to take any action.

Among the abuses cited in the Pentagon report:

* Last year, Army Guard Lt. Col. Gary Kelly was passed over by Washington for promotion. As the personnel officer of the Wyoming Guard, Kelly -- with the full knowledge of General Boenisch -- got around this normally career-ending event by "crooking the books" and promoting himself to full colonel. Somehow, he even managed to scarf up $10,000 in "back pay." The Pentagon report clearly substantiates the collusion of Boenisch.

* Gallant Guard legal officers Lt. Col. Gordon Schukei and Maj. John Scorsine recommended that the perps -- their bosses Boenisch and Kelly -- be court-martialed for their hanky-panky. But instead of getting the Whistle-Blower Medal First-Class, Schukei and Scorsine have been shunned and harassed. After reporting his findings to the FBI, Schukei left his job because, as he says, "a pattern of misconduct, lack of ethical behavior and abuse of power" existed there. Scorsine, whose boss, Kelly, is breathing hard down his neck, will soon be another casualty.

* Lt. Col. Roger Nyberg charged that Col. Robert Rodekohr was guilty of doing a Bill Clinton when it comes to chasing Air Force subordinates' skirts. Not only did Rodekohr go unpunished, but Nyberg was dismissed from the Guard and his constitutional rights were trampled on and then shredded. For example, Boenisch's crony, Col. Bruce Asay, removed an Army lawyer from the case who found Nyberg had been subjected to unlawful command influence. Then Asay, an obedient lap dog, was rewarded by being promoted to a top Guard job.

* A lieutenant colonel improperly transferred equipment from troop-training sites to the officers club. When this was proven, the action Boenisch took was to make the lieutenant colonel a unit commander.

* Wyoming has a law that Guard members be "qualified electors" in that state -- a law that apparently didn't mean much to Boenisch when he appointed Army and Air assistant adjutant generals from Colorado. Wyoming-based Col. Joe Michaels courageously stood tall and said this was wrong. The Pentagon report backed him up and found that the way Michaels has been treated since then both shameful and unlawful.

* A lieutenant colonel falsified documents that he'd destroyed classified material. Boenisch looked the other way and then attempted to promote the sinner to colonel. Recently this guy, who breached national security, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by Boenisch.

* A major rewarded his troops and their gal pals by using taxpayer dollars for a Disney World holiday in Florida. Again, the action Boenisch took was more Mafia than G.I. -- he tried to promote the major to lieutenant colonel.

* Boenisch, despite repeated legal counsel against his using federal funds for his "pet" project -- a tuition endowment for Guard members -- continues to thumb his nose at the law and misuse your tax dollars for his baby.

Since the Pentagon can't demand that the accused be court-martialed because it's state business, and since the governor won't do his duty, the $54 million that the Wyoming Guard gets from the feds each year should be put on hold. No point in we-the-taxpayers funding the Wyoming Mafia.