National Guard Bureau asks for review of Kansas National Guard at request of adjutant general

January 13, 2017

Jonathan Shorman

jonathan.shorman@cjonline.com

The National Guard Bureau will review the Kansas National Guard, the state organization said Friday, after disclosure of evidence of “toxic leadership” within the state guard.

Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, who leads the Kansas Guard as adjutant general, asked for the review following a story on Sunday in The Topeka Capital-Journal that revealed a sweeping internal investigation that found evidence of leadership problems. Documents from the inquiry confirmed instances of enlistment document forgery, racist comments about blacks, sexual abuse and harassment, and manipulation of promotions and job assignments.

Tafanelli’s request asks for a review of the investigation. The Kansas National Guard released a memorandum from Tafanelli containing the request for the review after the Senate’s top Democrat on Friday accused Gov. Sam Brownback of being in a “state of denial” over problems within the Kansas National Guard and urged the governor to investigate.

“General Tafanelli has requested the National Guard Bureau review the investigation conducted and actions taken by the Kansas National Guard in this matter. Until such time the National Guard Bureau completes their review, the Kansas National Guard cannot comment further on this issue,” the adjutant general’s office said in a statement.

The memo, signed by Tafanelli and dated Wednesday, says he believes a third-party review of these investigations, inspector general material related to the investigations and personnel actions taken and not taken is “prudent and necessary.” Tafanelli says in the memo he is confident in the quality, integrity and commitment of the Kansas Guard’s personnel.

The memo indicates Tafanelli spoke on Tuesday with staff for Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, and asked for an assessment of whether the actions taken by the Kansas National Guard were consistent with policy and regulation.

“I take these allegations very seriously. As you are also aware, we have conducted repeated and extensive investigations beginning in 2013 through 2015 into the allegations alleged to have occurred between 2006 and 2014 as referred to in the article published by The Topeka Capital-Journal,” the memo says.

Earlier on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said legislative committees should look at the situation in-depth as more information emerges and lawmakers compile as much detail as they can. Former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also weighed in on Friday, saying she never had doubts about the leadership of the Kansas Guard during her time as commander-in-chief and that it would be a “tragedy” if the culture had changed.

The Air Guard one-star general and Army Guard lieutenant colonel who led the internal investigation separately concluded the Kansas Guard was suffering from “toxic” leadership. They urged Tafanelli to end a management culture protective of wrongdoers.

Hensley voiced support for a legislative investigation of the Kansas Guard if Brownback doesn’t act.

“This story is not going to go away. There’s more to it than even we now know and consequently, as the story evolves, I think what we need to do probably is step back and try to compile as much information as we can and at some point have the appropriate committees really look into it in depth,” Hensley said. “I think that would be a worthwhile investigation.”

“And quite frankly, I think the governor ought to be doing that himself. Right now, he’s in a state of denial and I think there’s some serious problems with the Guard, and if the governor doesn’t want to look into it himself, then the Legislature should.”

Military veterans serving in the Legislature have said committee hearings may be necessary to examine reports of problems within the Kansas Guard. Rep. Les Osterman, chairman of the House veterans affairs committee, has said he plans to personally look into the controversy.

Brownback and the Kansas Guard have responded strongly. Tafanelli, the adjutant general, has issued multiple letters defending the organization. Brownback has called The Capital-Journal report “ill-informed” and voiced support for Tafanelli.

“Our troops perform their duties in a professional manner,” Tafanelli said in an opinion column. “Unfortunately, there are a few that will choose to act in an inappropriate manner and bring discredit to themselves and their service.”

“When this occurs,” he said in the column, “we work to thoroughly and impartially investigate those instances and take action to address these behaviors where necessary and when appropriate.”

In a brief interview, Sebelius praised Tod Bunting, who served as adjutant general during her time as governor and was replaced by Tafanelli, who was appointed by Brownback. Bunting has said Kansas Guard members and retirees who brought forward complaints faced retaliation by superiors and pressure to leave the Kansas Guard.

“I, never for a day, had any doubts in his leadership skills or what was going on with these incredible men and women who were stepping up to serve,” Sebelius said. “And I find it very disturbing if that culture has changed and certainly if the leadership is not instilling the same kind of character and culture in the Guard. That’s a terrible tragedy.”

This article was originally published on the Topeka Capital-Journal website, here.