Fort Bragg colonel removed over accusations of lip-kissing spouses, poor leadership
(Tribune Content Agency) — As Congress wrangled with the growing clamor over sexual misconduct in the military in 2013, a Fort Bragg, N.C., commander made it a practice to give the wives of subordinates unwelcome kisses on the lips at public events.
After an anonymous letter was sent to the commander's superiors, a subsequent investigation led to his removal from his job. But he stayed in the military and was allowed to quietly retire in April 2015 — more than two years after the initial complaint about his conduct.
An Army investigation — triggered by an anonymous letter to Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at the time — reveals that Col. Chad McRee, former commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade, violated five of eight core expectations for Army leaders, made inappropriate remarks toward officers and noncommissioned officers and was unfairly authoritative toward Family Readiness Group members, officers and noncommissioned officers.
Criminal charges were never filed against McRee.
When asked what steps the Army has taken to ensure this type of conduct is not repeated, Col. Holly Silkman, a spokeswoman for the 18th Airborne Corps, said Army leadership continues to build on improving leader development.
The Army's leadership emphasizes leader development in its schools and assignments, she said. The Army consistently evaluates personal conduct of its leaders through the Command Climate survey, Officer or Noncommissioned Officer Performance Report and "360-degree" evaluations, which target an individual's peers and subordinates for feedback.
"The Army recognizes that all leaders must be role models and lead by example," she said.
The investigation includes the anonymous letter of allegations against McRee, witness statements and a rebuttal from McRee. The Army released the investigation to The Fayetteville Observer on June 3 under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
Attempts to reach McRee were unsuccessful.
In 2013, McRee was suspended amid numerous allegations, then reinstated for the purpose of relinquishing command.
He was moved to serve as a special assistant to the 18th Airborne Corps Headquarters. He went on leave in December 2014 and retired in April 2015, according to Tom McCollum, a spokesman for Fort Bragg.
McRee denies allegations
In his rebuttal, McRee defended his actions.
"I do not believe I created a negative organizational climate within the 16th Military Police Brigade," he said.
Rather, McRee said any negative feelings were triggered by organizational changes within clusters of the 503rd Military Police Battalion, not the entire brigade.
McRee took command of the brigade on Oct. 1, 2010.
Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps at the time, called McRee "a perfect fit" for the job.
In February 2013, a group sent a letter asking Allyn to handle allegations against McRee. The letter, dated Feb. 20, 2013, is signed from "Concerned leaders and soldiers, 16th Military Police Brigade."
"All (allegations) of which we feel are truly not acceptable for a brigade commander nor any leader in the U.S. Army," the letter states. "Please understand that there have been continuous efforts to address issues with (redacted) by numerous senior leaders and they have been demoralized and even threaten on several occasions."
The following month, McRee created the Women in Uniform Mentorship Program, which pairs soldiers in the rank of private through staff sergeant and lieutenants with mentors at the sergeant first class level and higher. The program, complementary to the unit's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program, was designed to teach new soldiers to be observant to the warning signs of sexual harassment and assault and how to avoid becoming a victim, according to a 2013 news release from Fort Bragg.
In April 2013, Allyn sent a memorandum to McRee to temporarily suspend him from brigade command, according to the report.
Allyn tells McRee he has reviewed the circumstances and report of the Army's investigation that substantiated allegations against him.
"I have lost trust and confidence in your ability to properly discharge your command duties," Allyn said in the memorandum.
Two months later, McRee was required to testify during the court-martial for now retired Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair, who was accused of violations of military ethics and sexual assault.
The scope of McRee's testimony was to deny he was pressured to prosecute Sinclair, who eventually pleaded guilty to adultery and other charges in March 2014.
Over objections of the prosecution, McRee revealed that he was temporarily suspended from his duties as a commander. No one in the courtroom would say why he was suspended.
In a statement issued later that day, a Fort Bragg spokesman declined to comment on the suspension other than to say it was not related to the Sinclair case.
Less than a month later, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt, acting commander at the time, issued a memorandum to McRee directing his reinstatement into command "for only the express purpose of the relinquishment of command and the completion of certain pending evaluations."
The investigation was ordered by the 18th Airborne Corps chief of staff in March 2013.
The following month, Allyn sent McRee the letter notifying him that he was temporarily suspended. He also signed a General Officer of Memorandum of Reprimand on April 25, 2013.
In May 2013, McRee's defense counsel, whose name is redacted, asked for an extension to submit rebuttal matters. McRee's 11-page rebuttal letter is dated March 22, 2013.
In June, Colt issued a letter to McRee notifying him that he would be reinstated in command for "limited purposes."
The following allegations lodged by the group were substantiated:
The investigator found McRee violated five of eight core leadership expectations: failing to lead others, failing to lead by example, failing to communicate, failing to create a positive organizational clime and failing to prepare himself.
The investigator found that McRee made inappropriate remarks toward his officers and NCOs and found incidents of him commanding through intimidation, according to the report.
McRee told investigators any disparaging remarks he made had a purpose:
"I am certain that after almost 30 months in brigade command, I have made inappropriate remarks about subordinates, but not in public and only in private," he said. "If I have done so, it was done in confidence and it was done with the intention of making a learning point."
In addition to inappropriate remarks, McRee was accused of going after jumps.
He preached to his officers that it was "selfish" to go after jumps, yet he deliberately went out chasing jumps, according to the report. McRee was attempting to earn the Master Parachutist Badge, according to the report.
His jump log, which is included in the report, indicates that sometimes McRee would complete up to four jumps on the same day.
McRee also admitted he failed to attend mandatory sustained airborne training. When he missed the mandatory training, McRee said he conducted it himself or asked a subordinate jump master to conduct private training for him.
"This has been due to my schedule and the responsibilities as brigade commander and director of emergency services," he said. "This is not a course of habit, and happens only when I am jumping with my own unit and only when I simply do not have the time due to calendar conflicts."
Kissing spouses on the lips
McRee admitted that he kissed selective spouses on the lips, which the investigator said "created a negative organizational command climate."
"I do kiss spouses depending on our familiarity with one another and depending on the circumstances regarding the event," he said. "I am careful to read body language, and I try in all instances to avoid ever making someone feel uncomfortable or vulnerable."
Finally, the investigator found that McRee was unfairly authoritative toward Family Readiness Group members, officers and NCOs, which contributed to a negative organizational climate.
Some witness statements indicate McRee did not create a negative organizational environment.
One person, whose name and rank are redacted, called it a "perception issue."
McRee "is very much a black-and-white person," according to the statement. "There is no gray with him. If the Army says this is what is supposed to occur, then he expects that to occur. Some leaders, who may have been allowed to operate in the gray area, do not relate to (McRee) and his style. I'm not saying that (McRee) is right or wrong, that is just his nature."
Another person, who is identified only as a battalion commander, called McRee an "engaged officer that truly cares for his formation and their families."
"All guidance from (McRee) has been on point, on target and very clear; focusing upon realistic training expectations, measurable metrics that focus all soldiers becoming training experts while remaining focused on family readiness and preparedness concurrently," according to the statement.
McRee spends more time "building the team" than any other brigade commander that I have worked for, according to one statement.
Others, however, reveal senior leaders feared reprisal if their spouses failed to attend brigade FRG meetings or if their spouses attempted to avoid social functions in which McRee would be present. The investigator also found soldiers were reprimanded if they didn't participate in FRG events led by McRee's wife and FRG members were treated unfairly.
One soldier, whose name is redacted in the report, said he was reprimanded when McRee's wife was upset at his wife.
"I personally have experienced negative counseling (verbal) for things that his wife was upset about pertaining to my wife," according to the report.
Complaints from FRG
The soldier also said McRee's wife held a noticeable air of superiority over FRG members and complained to her husband if she felt members sabotaged her events.
In one instance, the soldier said McRee's wife asked his wife to run a brigade Breakfast with Santa event, then became upset because she felt left out. The soldier said he was reprimanded shortly after.
"She treats spouses according to the rank of their husbands," according to the report. "I have personally been reprimanded by (McRee) for things that I have done that upset his wife."
A woman, who is identified as the wife of the 503rd Military Police battalion commander, called McRee's wife a "sneaky bully."
"Leaders from the brigade and battalion have named her 'the General' for the way she talked to commanders and their spouses," according to the report. "She really thinks she is above all of us. She bullies spouses, but goes through her husband to do the damage."
Another soldier, identified as an S3 for the brigade, said McRee has kissed several spouses — including his wife — on the lips. He said he witnessed McRee kiss the spouse of a soldier in front of the entire formation during her husband's retirement ceremony.
McRee "has made multiple spouses uncomfortable (inappropriate touching and explicit language)," according to the report. "Some of these incidents resulted in spouses leaving in embarrassment and in tears."
The soldier learned McRee kissed his wife during a brigade memorial ceremony. Another wife told his wife that she was the seventh in the line of spouses that McRee had kissed that day.
Another soldier, identified as first sergeant for the 118th Military Police Company, said McRee kissed his wife multiple times.
"The first time that he kissed my wife, she thought it was an accidental mistake until it happened at the next event that she attended," according to the report. "She has to purposely turn her head to the side so that he does not kiss her on the mouth. She thought it was not on purpose in the beginning, but now thinks that he tries to kiss her on purpose now."
In another instance, a spouse said McRee allowed two soldiers, who may have contributed to the suicide of a specialist, to have a prominent position in his memorial service despite objections.
Knowing that the specialist's mother blamed one of the soldiers for her son's death, the woman's husband urged McRee not to place that soldier in the forefront of the service. McRee disagreed and allowed that soldier to speak at the service, according to the report.
"After the formal portion of the service, the grieving mother unleashed her anger on my husband, blaming him for putting the soldier in the service," according to the report. "My husband took the mother's anger and never put blame on (McRee). I found this very disheartening. This is not the only instance of this type of situation, but it is the one that stuck with me the most."
©2015 The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.