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For Kansas National Guard officers, fates diverge as discipline unfurls

Capt. Daniel Beach can follow the demise of his military career like a tracer round to a pair of menacing decisions by commanders in the Kansas National Guard. A close examination of inventory documents in 2009 revealed more than 50 bayonets, several close-combat gun sights and some night-vision goggles were found to be missing from the National Guard armory in Kansas City, Kan. Instead of focusing on recovery of AWOL war-fighting gear, Beach said, he was pressured to sign falsified documents attesting to a clean-count inventory and instructed not to conduct an inquiry into the thefts. Two enlisted men were eventually implicated in the crime, but Beach said a man who went on to become a two-star general and Kansas adjutant general, Lee Tafanelli, brought a hammer down on him for failing to shield others who could be embarrassed by the heist. Beach said he tried to explain how he was boxed in.

RELATED: Internal investigation of Kansas Guard pinpoints toxic leadership[1]

He cut me off, Beach said. He chewed my butt off for how irresponsible I had been, because I wouldn t take the hit for everybody. Just ripped me. I m not a team player because I didn t cover it up.

Beach said he again experienced good-ol -boy etiquette amid preparations for deployment to the Horn of Africa with a battalion commander, Lt. Col. Gregory Mittman, who demanded loyalty from junior officers. When it became evident Beach wouldn t be adequately pliable, Mittman dedicated himself to building a case for kicking the captain out of the Kansas Guard. After returning from Africa, following 18 months of delays, Mittman brought formal charges.

In my personal opinion and professional opinion, I think he failed to do his duty, Mittman said while testifying at Beach s ouster hearing in Topeka. He has a problem with judgment and I don t believe that he was very loyal to his organization. Other testimony in the case against Beach, which he survived, appeared to substantiate claims the captain was singled out for punishment by Mittman. The career intersection of Beach and Mittman both men landed in hot water halfway around the world, but experienced a different fate back home helped expose a secretive side of the Kansas Guard.

If it relates to investigations or personnel actions, I m just not going to go down that road and discuss it, Tafanelli said during a brief conversation at the Capitol.

The Mittman-Beach dynamic touched threads of a story published by The Topeka Capital-Journal in January[2] based on evidence that members of the Kansas Guard engaged in enlistment fraud, racism, sexual assaults, impermissible fraternization, manipulation of promotions, retaliation against troops and subterfuge of internal investigations. Kansas Guard officers who conducted that investigation urged Tafanelli to confront toxic leadership, but the adjutant general pushed back[3] on behalf of the organization he had led for six years since being appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Tafanelli pledged to share evidence[4] proving the Kansas Guard acted appropriately, but he instead asked the National Guard Bureau[5] in Washington, D.C., to review the state s handling of alleged misconduct. A Kansas Guard official said initial feedback from the ongoing external assessment was positive, but noted an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act as justification for not commenting publicly about personnel matters. On Tuesday, the Kansas Guard made available Brig. Gen. Anthony Mohatt, commander of the Kansas Army Guard, to answer broad questions about administration of justice in the organization but not to speak about specific incidents or individuals. He said the Kansas Guard was part of the world s premier fighting force that couldn t effectively deploy overseas or respond to natural disasters in Kansas if poorly led.

We follow the Army values. We re proud of it, said Mohatt, who acknowledged some individuals engage in misconduct. I want to make sure it s known that you re dealing with a very small number that belong to that category. They get their due process and, ultimately, the decisions are made.

Marked for death

During a Kansas Guard deployment to the Republic of Djibouti in 2010 and 2011, Beach and Mittman found multiple points of conflict. Mittman was commanding officer of Beach and 500 other soldiers in Kansas 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment. They were sent to the Islamic country adjacent to strategic shipping lanes and within drone range of hostilities. Beach s role in the 2/137th was to supervise security at Camp Lemonnier s front gate and, later, to serve in the battalion s command operations center. Mittman testified the battalion s overall morale suffered when boots hit the ground in Djibouti. He said soldiers from Kansas wanted to chase an enemy rather than pull guard duty on an austere base in a scorching land bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Red Sea.

They were doing a mission that many of them felt was beneath them, he said. I would say that their morale was lower than it had been when we were stateside.

Mittman said his working relationship with Beach deteriorated to the point he was convinced Beach s flaws made him a burden to any commander at any level. He initiated the quasi-legal process to strip Beach of his federal authorization to serve in the Kansas Guard. Officers on the military review board that conducted the 2012 inquiry didn t find sufficient evidence to accept Mittman s script for driving him out. Hundreds of pages of documents tied to the case did raise questions about whether the Kansas Guard tried to distort justice. One of Beach s defense attorneys, former U.S. Army Reserve officer Joseph DeWoskin, said the charges against Beach reflected a personal vendetta. Protagonists were Mittman and two subordinates Maj. Kevin Braun and Capt. Brent Buckley.

Lt. Col. Mittman and, meaning no disrespect, but I m going to say it anyway, and his two minions, did what they could to attack this officer and kick him the heck out of this Army, DeWoskin said. Beyond these three officers, the government was unable to produce one soldier, one other officer, who could come in and say that Captain Beach was a terrible commander, was a terrible officer, did something illegal, immoral or otherwise.

Beach, who had a 14-year break between U.S. Army service and appointment to the Kansas Guard, admitted his military demeanor created friction within a cliquish Kansas Guard culture that knew how to play favorites. He also detected animus among some in the Kansas Guard toward those who, like himself, were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

By showing up and doing my job, I totally upset their apple cart, said Beach, who teaches at a parochial school in northwest Missouri. That marked me for death. The other thing was, I hadn t made any bones by hiding things. If you don t play and cover up the skeletons, they ll get you.

Armenian connection

One of those skeletons in the closet related to whether Mittman was shielded from proportionate scrutiny amid allegations of unprofessional conduct in 2012 while on assignment in Armenia. Mittman had been dispatched to serve as an adviser to soldiers preparing for a NATO peacekeeping assignment and to build upon an alliance forged in 2003 between Kansas and Armenia. Five current and former Kansas Guard members said Mittman triggered scandal by getting drunk at a diplomatic event in Armenia. Mittman shouted bitch at a female Kansas Guard officer, the sources said. Mittman was allegedly escorted from the venue by colleagues from Kansas. After stopping at a store, sources said, Mittman asked a boy on the street how much it would cost to buy his sister. Within hours, Mittman was on a plane streaking back to Kansas.

The former and current Kansas Guard members said Mittman was placed on a glide path to retirement without exposure to the level of scrutiny he compelled Beach to endure. Mittman left the Kansas Guard in mid-2013 and still works as principal of Valley Center Middle School.

I regret some of my actions in 2012 while serving in Armenia and that those actions offended those with which I served, Mittman said in a statement Tuesday. I alone am responsible and any connection between my actions and former leadership would be inappropriate. Retired Kansas Guard Col. Michael Dittamo, who served 34 months as a deployed commander, said Beach possessed requisite skills to be an Army officer. Dittamo, called as a defense witness for Beach, said he wasn t sure Mittman fully dedicated himself to soldiers.

That doesn t mean he loves them to the extent that he babies them and they can t do their mission, because you ve got to get the mission done, Dittamo said. But does he really, genuinely give a damn? I don t know if Mittman does or not. During the Horn of Africa deployment, Mittman gave Beach an unsatisfactory job performance review, which Beach asserted contained misleading information. Mittman blamed Beach for granting approval for a civilian contractor to be strip-searched at the camp s entrance after security monitors detected the possibility of something hidden near the man s groin.

However, Daniel Mitchell, who was a sergeant deployed with the 2/137th in Djibouti, said he authorized the search.

It was my call, and I believe I did the right thing, Mitchell said. If we would have found a bomb, we would have been heroes. Alarms sounded again when Mittman accused Beach of permitting a sergeant to improperly work back-channel connections in Kansas to secure overdue promotions and proper pay raises for two dozen enlisted personnel serving in Djibouti. Jeffrey Beam, a sergeant first class assigned to Beach, said the battalion fumbled promotion orders for months so he ran pretty autonomously to complete the promotions, which were later rescinded and then affirmed.

The bullet

It was an intense exchange between Mittman and Beach while the battalion was transitioning home through Fort McCoy, Wis., that fully exposed the end game. Beach was called on the carpet for having in his possession a solitary 5.56 mm cartridge. Beach told Mittman the M-4 cartridge was part of an investigation of a firearm incident involving one of the state s enlisted soldiers. Beach said U.S. Navy personnel in charge of the East Africa base signed out the bullet so he could maintain chain of custody.

I said, You re some piece of work, Beach, Mittman recalled during testimony at Beach s disciplinary hearing. At some point, I believe, I said, Why don t you just (obscenity) go away? Beach wasn t about to quit, but at that moment on the post in western Wisconsin, he asked Mittman three times to take a break. Mittman ignited, so Beach exited the room with Mittman still talking. Beach promised to return when Mittman regained composure. Mittman called Beach s conduct gross insubordination.

I said, Beach, get back here before me. You ll stand at attention. Beach, you re disobeying a direct order. Get back here, Mittman said, according to a transcript of the tribunal. I lost my temper. I let him know that I was very upset with him. Beach s defiance of that stand-at-attention order and alleged mishandling of the munition were among issues raised by Kansas Guard prosecutors to justify filing a case to withdraw Beach s federal authority to serve as an officer. Mittman s case against Beach also featured charges of moral and professional dereliction, failure to exercise leadership, inability to appropriately carry out assignments, display of a defective attitude, inappropriate field promotions and conveying to enlisted personnel that an officer was a liar.

The prosecutor who handled the case, Kansas Guard officer Jeremy Hart, said the decision to proceed wasn t reached wantonly.

All deployments are tough, and I imagine that this deployment s no different, Hart said. I understand, however, that officers should not be insubordinate in carrying out their mission. Being a good soldier is not enough. Beach, who held burden of proof during this tribunal, was found by a panel of senior officers to have engaged in unprofessional conduct by ignoring Mittman s order to stand at attention, but that act did not warrant withdrawal of federal recognition. Beach said a couple of members of the military board afterward shook his hand and advised him not to anger lieutenant colonels. DeWoskin, one of Beach s defense lawyers, said Mittman marked Beach for failure during pre-deployment drills in Salina and Fort Lewis, Wash., and pressed the case while stationed in Djibouti.

They put him into a position whereby he had no hope of success. A toxic environment is what was going on in this unit in Djibouti, DeWoskin said.

Evidence emerged at Beach s hearing that Mittman advised his subordinates not to provide required mentor counseling to Beach. An enlisted soldier, Michael Leo, testified Buckley pressured him to sign a sworn statement about Beach.

He tried to coerce me to make a statement, said Leo, a now-retired sergeant who deployed to the Horn of Africa with the 2/137th. DeWoskin said a written evaluation of Beach s performance contained nearly identical language from Buckley and Maj. Richard Eaton.

If you re trying to infer, Mittman said, that I influenced Capt. Buckley to go with Maj. Eaton s rating, I can tell you unequivocally I did not do that. In fact, I specifically told Capt. Buckley, I m not putting pressure on you.

It s almost verbatim, DeWoskin replied.

People have a tendency to use the same verbiage if the situation fits, Mittman said.

Radioactive

Beach said he reluctantly agreed not to take the stand on advice of legal counsel, but about a dozen people testified on his behalf. Members of the military panel Col. Dino Sarracino, Lt. Col. Erich Campbell, Maj. Damon Frizzel and Lt. Col. Roger Aeschliman had plenty of questions for witnesses. Sarracino, the president of the panel, pushed Buckley to explain why he orally characterized Beach s performance in Africa as comparable to peers but recommended in writing against promoting Beach.

Capt. Buckley, did somebody tell you to put that or did you do that of your own volition?

I did that on my own, Buckley said.

Picking up that thread, Campbell asked Buckley whether Mittman set out to destroy Beach s career.

I don t think he was out to get him, said Buckley, a former El Dorado police officer.

Could it be perceived that he was out to get him? Campbell asked.

Yes, Buckley said. In the end, Beach said, he may have won a battle against Mittman, but he lost the broader conflict that prematurely ended his career in uniform. Beach, who graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, applied for a full-time Kansas Guard job, but was informed leadership considered him radioactive. He was passed over for promotion a couple of times. He retired in 2015, partly because of medical complications, with 21 years of service.

He said the U.S. Department of Defense ought to stabilize the Kansas Guard with infusion of consistent, honest leadership at the top. He was skeptical such a silver bullet would hit the mark in Kansas.

Big Army needs to come in and clean house, Beach said. Until you get a true leader rather than a political powermonger into the seat, it won t change. No one is protecting the soldiers. That is what is important to me.

References

  1. ^ Internal investigation of Kansas Guard pinpoints toxic leadership (cjonline.com)
  2. ^ a story published by The Topeka Capital-Journal in January (cjonline.com)
  3. ^ the adjutant general pushed back (cjonline.com)
  4. ^ Tafanelli pledged to share evidence (cjonline.com)
  5. ^ he instead asked the National Guard Bureau (cjonline.com)

Report warns that Beijing’s military bases in South China Sea are ready for use

Major construction at three of China s large man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea is wrapping up, allowing Beijing to deploy fighter jets and mobile missile launchers to the area at any time, a think tank said Monday. The building of military and dual-use infrastructure on the so-called Big 3 islands in the contested Spratly chain Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross reefs is in the final stages, with the naval, air, radar and defensive facilities largely complete, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). All three islands boast hangers that can accommodate 24 fighter jets and four larger planes, including surveillance, transport, refueling or bomber aircraft. Hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers have also been built on the islands.

China has also constructed significant radar and sensor arrays on all three islands, positioning them close to point defense structures to provide protection against air or missile strikes. The think tank s analysis of satellite images offers some of the most conclusive evidence that, contrary to Beijing s assertions, China has continued to militarize the waters as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims. China has built seven man-made islets in the hotly contested Spratlys, with three boasting military-grade airfields despite a 2015 pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to further militarize them.

China s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracels will allow Chinese military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea, AMTI said in the report. The same is true of China s radar coverage, made possible by advanced surveillance/early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere.

China has maintained HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island in the South China Sea s Paracel chain for more than a year and has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles to the island on at least one occasion, the report noted. Experts have said that deployment could be a blueprint for how China will proceed with its Spratly facilities.

Building a network of outposts in the South China Sea is a strategically assertive way to tilt the regional military balance in China s favor, according to a report released last year by Australia s Lowy Institute think tank entitled Shifting Waters: China s New Passive Assertiveness in Asian Maritime Security.

These strategic outposts will permit Beijing to enhance its power projection capabilities and establish anti-access zones right across the South China Sea, the report said. China will be able to extend the range and endurance of military and coast guard patrols; forward deploy air force, navy, and coast guard assets; and conduct aerial patrols over disputed waters, possibly in support of a future ADIZ (aid defense identification zone). The same report also said that a combination of ground-based radar facilities, air defenses, anti-ship missiles and forward-based fighter jets would facilitate the development of mini-denial zones extending southward from China s Hainan Island that it could use to effectively chase the U.S. Navy out of the waterway.

Monday s revelations of the near-complete construction at the three islands in the Spratlys comes ahead of plans by Japan to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May.

IS Claims Responsibility for Britain Parliament Attack

LONDON

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack near the British Parliament in London, which killed three people and ended when an officer shot dead the attacker. A statement posted on IS’s news agency said the attacker was a “soldier of Islamic State.” But IS did not indicate that it assisted in the planning or execution of the attack, saying the man had responded to the terror group’s call to attack civilians and the military in countries allied with the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS. One police officer and an American tourist, Kurt Cochran from Utah, have been identified among those killed. The officer was killed on the premises when he was stabbed by the attacker. Cochran succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. His wife was also badly injured in the attack.

Prime Minister Theresa May, in comments to Parliament about the attack, said the man responsible was born in Britain and was once investigated by the country’s MI-5 intelligence agency “in relation to concerns about violent extremism.” But she said he was not part of what she called the “current intelligence picture,” and that there was no prior intelligence on this plot or his motives. She reiterated that the working assumption of investigators is that he was “inspired by Islamist ideology.”

British police have arrested eight people in connection with the attack.

WATCH: May comments to parliament about terror attack

Investigation

Mark Rowley, head of counterterrorism efforts for London’s Metropolitan Police Service, said the arrests came from searches at six addresses, and that “inquiries” at locations in London, Birmingham and other parts of the country were continuing. He did not specify how those arrested were linked to Wednesday’s attack.

“It is still our belief, which continues to be born out by our investigation, that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism,” Rowley told reporters. He added that the attacker’s name should not be made public during what he called a “sensitive stage” of the investigation. The probe right now is focusing on the motives, preparations and associates of the attacker, who ran a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, then stabbed a security officer to death before himself being shot dead by another officer.

Rowley said 29 people have been hospitalized, seven of whom were in critical condition. Rowley earlier identified the security officer who died in the attack as 48-year-old Keith Palmer, a husband and father who had served in British law enforcement for 15 years.

IS Claims Responsibility For Britain Parliament Attack

Flowers and messages are left near the scene of an attack by a man driving a car and weilding a knife left five people dead and dozens injured, in London, Britain, March 23, 2017. May’s comments both Wednesday and her remarks to Parliament on Thursday have struck a defiant tone. As Parliament reopened for its normal meetings Thursday, May told lawmakers that what happened Wednesday “was an attack on free people everywhere.”

“Yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy, but today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism,” she said.

May thanked Britain’s friends and allies around the world “who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.” She said the victims include nationals of France, Romania, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Ireland, China, Italy, Greece and the United States. The United Nations Security Council in New York, currently in meetings chaired by British foreign minister Boris Johnson, held a moment of silence Thursday for the victims of the attack.

WATCH: Johnson on parliament attack

Thursday’s Parliament session began with a minute of silence to remember those killed in the attack. Police officers also marked the occasion, standing silently outside the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police nearby.

Extra security

London is under extra security with a boost in both armed and unarmed officers. A senior police officer told VOA it appears to have been “a three-staged attack.”

It began with an SUV being driven over Westminster Bridge right by the House of Commons. The SUV mounted the sidewalk and struck several pedestrians.

According to police sources, the vehicle struck some other pedestrians at the perimeter fence near the gates at Old Palace Yard.

The attacker then rushed the gates and struggled with a police guard who tried to stop him. The assailant stabbed him several times,” the senior police officer said. Other officers shot the attacker.”

The gunfire was heard at 2:38 p.m. London time inside the House of Commons as lawmakers were debating legislation on pension reform. Eyewitnesses said about a half-dozen shots were fired.

“It all happened within a minute,” witness Tawhid Tanim told VOA. “I came out of where I work and saw a car had pulled up and I heard, I just heard bang bang bang and people running everywhere.”

IS Claims Responsibility For Britain Parliament Attack

Tawhid Tanim, an eyewitness to the incident tells VOA It was quite loud. Three loud bang, bang, bang and then all of a sudden we could see on the road people started running like crazy. (Photo: R. James / VOA)

White House condemnation

In Washington, the White House said President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister May and was briefed on the situation in London.

“We obviously condemn today s attack in Westminster which the United Kingdom is treating as an act of terrorism, and we applaud the quick response that the British police and their first responders made to the situation,” spokesman Sean Spicer said. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it is in close contact with British authorities, but that the U.S. domestic security posture remains unchanged.

IS Claims Responsibility For Britain Parliament Attack

Police guard a cordon on the embankment with Britain’s Houses of Parliament, left, in London, March 23, 2017, after attacks in London Wednesday. As the attack unfolded, May was in a voting lobby adjacent to the chamber of the House of Commons. Her plainclothes bodyguards drew their weapons and one officer put his arm around the prime minister as they quickly escorted her out of the House of Commons, according to Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker.

If confirmed as a terrorist attack, it would be the first in Britain since May 2013 when an off-duty British Army soldier, Lee Rigby, was hacked to death on a London street by a self-proclaimed jihadist. It is the worst attack at the House of Commons since the IRA bombing in 1979, when Conservative politician Airey Neave, a confidant of Margaret Thatcher, was killed.

In Photos: Britain Parliament Attack

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