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Pentagon ethics boss lauds Air Force Academy probe, calls for more accountability

October 5, 2014 Updated: October 5, 2014 at 10:42 pm
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photo - UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY: Official portrait Margaret D Klein mdklei2 RDMU
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY: Official portrait Margaret D Klein mdklei2 RDMU 

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's two-star ethics boss charged with addressing misconduct throughout the military voiced support last week for Air Force Academy efforts to fix its culture in the wake of ongoing woes in its athletic programs.

Rear Adm. Peg Klein endorsed academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson's efforts to examine the athletic department and the academy she commands to ensure officers and cadets are meeting standards.

Of Johnson's recent remarks that the academy needs to focus on its faculty and staff rather than fixating only on cadet character, Klein had a two word response:

"She's right," Klein said after a speaking engagement here last week.

The results of an Inspector General's review of the academy athletic department are due to Johnson Tuesday. Fifteen inspectors combed through the program to determine whether its teams, coaches and activities were compliant with the school's values.

Johnson ordered the review after a Gazette investigation in August detailed allegations that surfaced after a Dec. 2, 2011 party in Manitou Springs. A cadet confidential informant told agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that cadets, including a core group of football players, used drugged rum to incapacitate women for sex.

Those claims led to a wide-ranging probe of athlete conduct called "Operation Gridiron," which led to the court-martial convictions of three athletes - two football players and a women's basketball player. Five more cadets received administrative punishment that resulted in their dismissal - three basketball players and two football players. Another half-dozen cadets resigned. Three more cadets were kicked out for unrelated misconduct.

The review of athletics isn't final, but it has already yielded results. Last month, Johnson announced that a handful of members of the academy's men's gymnastics team would be punished for underage drinking and that a separate investigation was probing allegations of misconduct against a men's basketball staffer.

A former commandant of the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, Klein was brought to the Pentagon six months ago to quell misconduct in the Defense Department, including sexual assault, drunken generals and junior officers cheating on missile qualification tests.

Klein is in the first-ever senior advisor to the defense secretary on ethics and character in the ranks.

She said the military's three major service academies will play a key role in a fight to improve military training in ethics.

Each of the academies has character-focused programs with Air Force's Center for Character and Leadership Development noted as one of the best. But Klein said the character lessons cataloged and distilled at the academies aren't flowing out to the wider military.

"The good things that are happening there aren't being absorbed by our sister services," Klein said.

Klein outlined the early stages of a program to clean up military behavior.

One of the first steps is educating young officers and cadets on character.

"We're trying to make sure they know how to police themselves," Klein said. "I owe them some good ways to do that."

Klein is also trying to apply the latest in science and psychology to determine why people, especially top brass, commit misdeeds.

One issue she cited is "hubris syndrome" that sees ego-driven commanders lose track of their ethics.

"They see themselves as only responsible to history," she said.

Another key, she said, is something the Air Force Academy is working hard to implement: Instill institutional loyalty that's stronger than other social forces.

From basic training to Pentagon meeting rooms, friendships, subcultures and cliques can grow powerful enough that personal loyalty outweighs even patriotism. That means holding colleagues accountable to higher rules goes out the window.

To combat that and other issues, Klein is looking to some old military tools, including the command climate survey, and new ones borrowed from corporate America.

Klein said she's studying the use of personality tests and 360-degree surveys about individuals as part of a program that can identify problem officers and help others improve their management skills.

Klein said she demands accountability from those who step out of line.

But the former carrier officer knows a big ship like the Defense Department can be slow to turn on matters of culture.

"We do think there are nudges we can do," she said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter @xroederx

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