By Donna Leinwand | USA Today
Some members of the Civil Air Patrol say one message from the top has become perfectly clear: If you give the leaders turbulence, they will take your wings.
Rank-and-file CAP volunteers who criticize the federally funded Air Force Auxiliary may find themselves quietly dismissed.
“When I started complaining, they said ‘bye, bye,'” said Lt Col George Metz of Orlando, FL, a former CAP member who got kicked out after he aired his grievance in a CAP email forum. “People are scared to death. If they want to stay in the Civil Air Patrol, they keep their mouths shut.”
The trap door is Civil Air Patrol regulation 2B, which allows a CAP officer to put a black mark beside the name of a member without much explanation. When the membership comes due for annual renewal, the application will be stamped for rejection.
“The possibilities for abuse are as broad as the number of people in charge of CAP,” said Lt Col Jay Lewis, an attorney and CAP member from Montgomery, AL, who has represented former CAP employees in labor discrimination lawsuits against the group. “If two people have a personality conflict and one happens to be in a leadership position, he can resolve his conflict fairly easily by ousting the other.”
CAP leaders did not return phone messages or declined comment regarding these accusations. National Commander Gen Jay Bobick of Colorado said, “We’re not making any more comments. You cannot quote me. CAP public relations director Mary Nell Crowe said: “I’m not going to comment. We have regulations that govern membership. We feel that you’ve been very, very unfair. We’ve made a corporate decision not to answer your questions.”
The organization’s top commanders have been sparring with the Air Force for several months over control of CAP, known for its cadet program and search-and-rescue missions. The Air Force, after several investigations, accused CAP of mismanaging its federal funds, lavish spending on first-class trips, losing track of government equipment and retaliating against whistle blowers.
The Air Force has asked Congress for more oversight of the organization.
Congress is unlikely to decide who will control CAP until the Government Accounting Office and the Department of Defense inspector general investigate CAP operations later this year. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, AL, is exploring possible criminal charges.
Some members and former members of the group said they notified top CAP brass of financial, safety and leadership problems long ago, only to be rebuffed, ignored and belittled by the people in charge. In the end, some whistle blowers lost their memberships.
Lt Col Metz complained to his commanders about unnecessary airplane flights charged to Florida accounts. Then Lt Col Metz posted an email about mismanagement on an Internet forum called CAP Florida. The wing commander ordered him to stop.
“We’re supposed to be able to express our views on this email list,” Lt Col Metz said. “The order to cease and desist was so that I would not bring up things against the wing staff and commander. Basically, as long as I would bow and nod appropriately, everything would be cool.”
Lt Col Metz, 55, a technical writer for a computer company, obeyed the order. That was the last he heard of the matter, until headquarters rejected his annual membership renewal.
“I’ve never had a hearing on this thing where I could present evidence,” Lt Col Metz said. “I think that stinks.”
The wing commander, Col Andrew Skiba of Fort Myers, FL, did not return a phone message left at his home about Lt Col Metz’s case.
An Air Force inspector general, Col Gregory Florey, reviewed Lt Col Metz’ case and concluded CAP took his membership without due process. “If the circumstances were the same in the active Air Force, we would no doubt launch a full-scale investigation for reprisal,” Florey wrote in an internal memo to his Air Force superiors.Following six graphs could work as optional trim or breakout box.
Col Jim Cantrell of Bardstown, KY, got demoted as wing commander after he and the Air Force liaison officer assigned to the wing attempted to curb what they considered excessive travel expenses and unauthorized flights. Col Cantrell, an artist and gallery owner, said the evidence he gathered implicated his boss, region commander Col Denzil Allen. He reported the problems to Gen Bobick.
Several months later, Col Allen, still in command, demoted Col Cantrell. Eventually, CAP’s inspector general found reason to believe Col Allen had violated regulations. Gen Bobick suspended Col Allen but did not reinstate Col Cantrell as wing commander.
“Definitely retaliation. I feel it was,” Col Cantrell said. “I speculate that it’s because I stood up for the Air Force side of the house. I was removed illegally.”
Col Cantrell had no way to fight it.
“There is no due process,” Col Cantrell said. “If your commander says ‘I don’t like the way you part your hair. I don’t want you around,’ you’re gone.”
Col Allen did not return phone messages left at his office.
Lt Col George Sexton pointed out what he considered to be safety violations that reflected badly on a region commander and led the campaign to get a beloved squadron commander, Lt Col Don Vosseller, reinstated. But he’s not sure whether one, the other or both irked the CAP brass. The pilot and 10-year veteran from Cranford, NJ, got booted in April.
“Wing commanders can use the 2-B to punish people,” Lt Col Sexton said. “A wing commander threatened me – ‘I can terminate a membership with the stroke of a pen.’ They don’t even try to hide the fact they’re using this as a weapon.”
Plane logbooks showed evidence that wing and region commanders had let the aircraft go too long without required inspections, a violation of both federal aviation and CAP rules, Lt Col Sexton said. So Lt Col Sexton bypassed his bosses and sent the evidence up the chain of command to Gen Bobick. Gen Bobick did not respond to him.
So Lt Col Sexton called Sen John McCain, R-Arizona, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen McCain’s office forwarded his complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration, Sen McCain’s press secretary said.
“No one ever came back saying it was a frivolous or malicious complaint,” Lt Col Sexton said. But six months later, he received his membership non-renewal notice.
Lt Col Vosseller, a CAP member for 45 years, said he retired from the group rather than suffer the slap of a non-renewal.
“The upper echelons of CAP answer to no one but themselves,” said Vosseller, a flight instructor and retired schoolteacher from Basking Ridge, NJ. “I gave up two months ago in disgust. They throw people like Lt Col George Sexton out because he tells them things they don’t want to hear.”
Lt Col Vosseller, then a squadron commander, ran afoul of a group commander after arguing with him over which personnel form to use during a squadron inspection.
Col Joseph A. “Skip” Guimond, the region commander who oversaw Vosseller’s squad, declined to comment. He referred all questions to CAP headquarters.
“There certainly is a freedom of speech problem,” Lt Col Vosseller said. “What some of these little martinets don’t realize is that this is not the military. I think we have a lot of frustrated generals.”