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Article Published: Friday, July 11, 2003 - 12:00:00 AM MST

General blamed in scandal at academy


Dallager demoted by one star as he retires


By Mike Soraghan, Denver Post Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - The general in charge of the Air Force Academy when a sexual- assault scandal erupted there is being demoted as he retires because Air Force leaders say he failed to detect and stop the school's sexual-assault crisis.
Post / Helen Richardson
Lt. Gen. John Dallager's long career was marred by demotion over scandal.

The decision announced Thursday by Air Force Secretary James Roche represents the first time Pentagon officials have blamed an academy commander for the rapes and assaults, and the climate of fear that deterred cadets from reporting the crimes.

Lt. Gen. John Dallager, the former superintendent of the Colorado Springs school, is to retire Aug. 31 after 34 years. He will do so, Roche said Thursday, with one less star, as a two-star major general.

Roche concluded that Dallager "did not exercise the degree of leadership in this situation we expect of our commanders," the Air Force said in a statement late Thursday.

"He should have taken notice of the indicators of problems and he should have aggressively pursued solutions to them," the statement said.

The decision "sends a very clear statement to academy leadership," said Cari Davis, executive director of TESSA, a private rape-crisis center in Colorado Springs where some cadets turned for help.

"I hope that accountability for this issue will not be hung solely on Gen. Dallager but that the broader system is addressed."

The rebuke represents a reversal for Roche, who originally said Dallager and other academy leaders shouldn't be blamed for long-standing problems at the elite school.

Roche had recently shown more willingness to cast blame on the generals who ran the school, telling the Pentagon Review Panel last month in Washington: "We are moving forward and will go to the secretary of defense with recommendation on accountability."

Putting blame on Dallager could ease pressure from some in Congress who were angered that no commander had been held accountable for the worst scandal in the academy's history. That anger has cast a shadow on Roche's nomination to become secretary of the Army and, by extension, the Bush administration's plans for overhauling the military.

Roche has been guided in part by a more than 200-page report that presented findings of his own Air Force investigators.

The document, released in June, depicted Dallager as a leader concerned by sexual-assault problems at his school but unsuccessful in getting the information he needed to address them.

PENTAGON STATEMENT

This is the full statement released by Pentagon officials Thursday regarding the retirement of John Dallager, the general who recently was removed as superintendent of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs:

Lt. Gen. J.D. Dallager has served our nation with great honor, integrity and distinction for 34 years, and the Secretary and Chief of Staff thank him for his service. However, upon review of the issues concerning the deterrence of and response to incidents of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche determined that during General Dallager's tenure as Superintendent of the Academy, he should have taken notice of the indicators of problems and he should have aggressively pursued solutions to them. Dr. Roche concluded that General Dallager did not exercise the degree of leadership in this situation that we expect of our commanders, and consequently, could not support his retirement in the grade of lieutenant general. Dr. Roche approved General Dallager's retirement in his permanent grade of major general.

Dallager and Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, the former commandant of cadets, were "aware of little information from the sexual-assault program." Survey information on sexual assaults never reached Dallager, the report said.

And the senior staff at the academy was "not interacting well."

Matters were bad enough that in January 2003 Dallager convened a "family summit" in Gilbert's quarters. The senior academy leaders tried to resolve tensions that Dallager later said were "as bad as I've seen it in the time that I've been here," the report found.

The report added: "This lack of cooperation appeared to have a direct impact on the Sexual Assault Services Committee."

Gilbert recalled for investigators that Dallager and others told him for about three hours that "I wasn't playing well in the sand box."

The report also found sexual-assault problems well before Dallager became superintendent in June 2000.

The timing of the Thursday's announcement surprised some, as it came just before Dallager's scheduled appearance today in Colorado Springs before a committee looking into the sexual-assault scandal.

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., called the timing "unfortunate" but said the action against Dallager was "a good decision."

"I'm not surprised by it," Allard said. "We'll wait and see ... if there's anybody else who needs to be held accountable."

The panel meeting today in Colorado Springs is one of four investigations into accusations by dozens of female cadets and former cadets that they were mistreated by academy officials after reporting sexual assault or rape by male cadets.

Well before the scandal broke early this year, Dallager had been scheduled to retire this summer. But he was removed from the academy in March as Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper outlined changes for the school - changes that included new commanders to carry them out.

But at the time, Roche exonerated Dallager and Gilbert, saying the problems predated the leaders.

That enraged senators from both parties on the Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Roche's statements "some of the most incredible evasions of responsibility I've seen in 40 years of military oversight."

McCain could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Dallager said in April that he would finish his military career completing special projects for the Air Force chief of staff at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The demotion means that his retirement will be calculated using a major general's salary of $123,000, rather than a lieutenant general's salary of $136,000.

Dallager's predecessor also retired under a cloud, but was allowed to keep his third star. Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom's retirement was delayed by an investigation into questionable spending, but the Pentagon determined that his accomplishments at the academy outweighed the financial controversies.



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