4/23 update: The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.
Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.
The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.
“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”
From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.
In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.
On 4/12 , the Times reported that a third high-ranking officer in the Guard has been removed from his position in connection with the case. Earlier this month, the paper reported that the head of the California Air National Guard and one of its commanders had been removed in connection with the case.
Friday’s report on the latest news said:
Col. Victor Sikora was relieved of command after engaging in “conduct unbecoming of an officer” by addressing a gathering of Guard members in a manner some found intimidating and humiliating, according to a report released Friday.
An internal inquiry also determined that Sikora improperly “excoriated” a retired pilot for speaking to The Times, the report said.
The Times reported that Sikora was suspended as the wing’s Operations Group leader in December. Three days later he called a mandatory meeting of his subordinates to discuss his suspension.
At least one person recorded the briefing, where Sikora said anyone filing complaints was causing problems for the wing, according to the report.
“The vast majority of you are good people who are killing it in a high ops tempo year, you’re very honorable, red-blooded Americans,” Sikora said at the meeting, according to the report. “The vast majority means all of you, except for a couple of you, and they know who they are so we don’t need to call them out. But everybody else.”
Several Guard members took Sikora’s remarks as a criticism of people who had filed complaints with the inspector general.