The Kansas National Guard has many dedicated personnel who serve our state and country with honor and integrity. But according to its own internal investigation, the Kansas Guard also has “toxic leadership” that failed to properly deal with serious problems, including racism, bullying, fraud and sexual assault.
Almost as troubling was Gov. Sam Brownback’s dismissal of a news report about these problems as an “ill-informed attack.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal obtained reports from a Kansas Guard internal investigation performed from 2013 to 2015. The investigation found “evidence of racism, enlistment fraud, sexual assault, retaliation against troops, promotion manipulation and subterfuge of the investigation,” the newspaper reported.
For example, the investigation found that “Kansas Guard recruiters were pressured by superiors to forge documents to clear unqualified applicants or speed processing of paperwork,” the Capital-Journal reported. There also was evidence that Kansas Guard members conspired to interfere in the investigation and orchestrated reprisals against personnel involved in the case.
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The investigation also detailed offensive comments that Kansas National Guard Lt. Col. Barry Thomas reportedly made to or about National Guard personnel who were African-American. It also said that Thomas held “little regard for soldiers under his care.”
The investigation urged Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli, whom Brownback appointed in 2011, to abandon “a management style devoted to advancing careers or shielding favored Kansas Guard personnel from accountability,” the Capital-Journal reported. It also recommended that Thomas and four other Kansas Guard members either be dismissed from military service, demoted or relieved from assigned duties.
“Toxic leadership does not have a place in our ranks,” a report said. “It only destroys the foundation of the organization.”
But Thomas and several others were promoted or retained prestigious assignments, the Capital-Journal reported. It’s unclear what, if any, disciplinary measures were taken.
Even though the Capital-Journal’s reporting was based directly on the Kansas Guard’s own investigation, Brownback criticized it as “ill informed.” He also said in a statement that he would “maintain full support” for Tafanelli.
Tafanelli and his staff deflected repeated interview requests, the Capital-Journal reported. A Kansas Guard spokeswoman finally released a brief statement attributed to Tafanelli saying that “we take every allegation seriously, investigate it thoroughly and respond accordingly.”
A Brownback spokeswoman also issued a letter by Tafanelli expressing pride in the service of the more than 7,000 soldiers and airmen in the Kansas Guard.
There is no doubt about the good work and honorable service done by Kansas Guard personnel. But can the same be said about some of their leaders?