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Unceremonious end to Army career

Outspoken general fights demotion

May 29, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Among Riggs' accomplishments with the First Army was the largest rotation of part-time troops since World War II, when the Guard's 29th Infantry Division, which includes troops from Maryland and Virginia, deployed to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission in 2001.

In 2001, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's top officer, asked Riggs to take over the Army's transformation task force. The group was organized to create an Army for the 21st century, centered on the Future Combat System, a series of armored vehicles, drone aircraft and sensors that would give soldiers greater control over future battlefields.

Those who worked with Riggs, as well as his endorsement letters, say the general worked hard at trying to turn the Army into a high-tech force.

The December 2002 Scientific American magazine singled him out as one of the country's top 50 technology leaders for his work. Riggs, the magazine said, was "leading the often contentious, even acrimonious debate among military planners about how to transform today's ground divisions into high-tech fighting units of the future."

But documents and interviews reveal that some of those who worked with Riggs chafed at the constant pace of work and the authority he gave to private contractors, whom he said he relied on heavily.

Riggs himself and investigation documents say he was the subject of anonymous allegations that he was violating the Pentagon's contracting regulations and having an affair with one of the contractors.

The Army inspector general's office opened a probe in the spring of 2003. At the same time, a criminal investigation also looking at the issue of contractors was launched by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.

Only the inspector general came back with findings of fault. An October 2003 letter from Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, the inspector general, found two violations of contracting rules but concluded that the allegation of "an adulterous affair with a female contractor was not substantiated."

Memo of `concern'

The report prompted Gen. John M. Keane, the Army's No. 2 officer, to write a disciplinary "memorandum of concern" to Riggs. The memo found that a female contractor was allowed to draft congressional testimony, respond to congressional correspondence and communicate with Capitol Hill staffers.

Allowing a contractor to perform functions that should have been undertaken only by government employees was improper, Keane wrote.

Also, since the contractor was serving in a role similar to that of a deputy director or executive officer, that amounted to an improper "personal services contract" that should have been filled by a government employee. Riggs was put on notice "to comply with all regulatory requirements," but Keane wrote that the memo would not be filed in Riggs' personnel records.

Riggs was also questioned in the related criminal investigation, he and his attorney said. It produced no charges and, said Rigg's attorney, Army Lt. Col. Vic Hansen, "The investigation's dead, and it's not going anywhere."

A spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said he could not comment on the status of any investigation.

Now retired, Keane said demoting Riggs based on a penalty that represents the "minimum administrative punishment" at his disposal was a "tragic mistake."

"It is outrageous that John Riggs was reduced in rank for such a minor offense, which should never outweigh his 30-plus years of exemplary service to the Army and the nation," Keane wrote in a letter to Army officials supporting Riggs' restoration as a lieutenant general.

Keane said the Army was partly to blame for Riggs' predicament because the service downsized its support personnel and forced officers to hire private contractors. "I believe we blurred the lines of contractors and department employees, so much so that many of the supervisors just saw it as one team," Keane wrote. "While John Riggs did blur those lines, we, the Army, contributed directly to that without a clear policy and clear command guidelines."

Candid assessments

Riggs, long known for offering blunt, unvarnished opinion, wasn't chastened by the contractor probe.

He stepped on the toes of other generals in pressing for a modernized Army and advocated the planned Comanche helicopter, which he viewed as vital to the future Army. Riggs was instructed by the Army not to make a speech supporting the Comanche, which the Army decided to kill to save money.

"John Riggs had the moral courage to stand and be counted on the tough issues concerning [the Army's modernization efforts] when his contemporaries took the easy approach of agreeing with their seniors," wrote retired Army Gen. Larry Ellis, a Morgan State graduate who is supporting Riggs' return to three-star rank.

In a January 2004 interview with The Sun, Riggs said the Army was too small to meet its global commitments and must be substantially increased.

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