Leon Alligood pens an disturbing story in Sunday’s Tennessean. He tells of a local Naval officer whose career is near an early end because he stood up to point out that an offical Navy enlistment policy was illegal. Please take the opportunity to read the whole story and the accompanying documents.
One of the disturbing conclusions of this story is that “Whistle Blower Protection” laws offer little protection to military whistle blowers.
Lt. Jason Hudson was a successful young Naval officer who was already excelling in one of the Navy’s toughest assignments: recruiting. But Hudson witnessed something that caused him to speak out and endanger his career.
The Navy issued a policy that limited the number of minority enlistees who could enter certain career fields. Hudson was so incredulous when he saw the new directive that he read it three times just to make sure that he was reading it right. Clearly, he thought, the Navy wasn’t seriously advocating this position? They were, and when he complained to his boss and his boss’ boss, they both told him to, in effect, “Shut up and follow orders.”
So Lt. Hudson did exactly what every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine is trained to do when he witnesses blatant racial discrimination: he reported it. Hudson filed a complaint with the Navy’s Equal Opportunity office. Three days after he filed his report, the Navy rescinded the policy, a policy which the service later admitted was “legally indefensible”.
Vindication for Hudson, right? Wrong.
On the same day that the Navy, tacitly admitted that Lt. Hudson was right by ending the illegal policy, Hudson was relieved from his position and given a negative evaluation report. You see, Hudson committed the unpardonable sin of pointing out that a superior officer had issued an illegal order.
The whistle blower’s act is supposed to prevent such reprisals. That’s why he never got a letter of reprimand in his official file. However, a letter of reprimand is not the only way to end an officer’s career. A simpler, less blatant, but equally effective way to curtail a career is to give someone a bad evaluation report.
Today’s military is up-or-out for officers. If you are not promoted, you are required to leave. A randomly-selected board of officers from across the service usually meets for a couple weeks once a year to read over the entire record of thousands of officers who are eligible for promotion. Most officers will get promoted–at least to this rank. So, what is supposed to be a process of selecting people for promotion, in effect turns into selecting those NOT to be promoted. Or rather, NOT allowed to stay in the Navy.
This is why a negative evaluation report is an effective, and easy way of purposefully killing an officer’s career. The selection board only has time to pick out those items that stand out. And negative evaluations stand out.
Hudson’s fitness reports, with one exception, are impeccable. His evaluation before he took the recruiting assignment in question had this to say about Lt. Hudson:
“I am so sure that he will be a great department head that I have selected him to relieve my current Enlisted Recruiting Programs Officer.”
In the assignment after, his reporting senior officer said that Lt. Hudson ranked “among the top 5% of the 105 [lieutenants] in this joint command.” Even in a military officer evaluation system that is notoriously full of positive hyperbole, that’s a comment that stands out.
Clearly, Jason Hudson is an exceptionally talented officer.
It’s the Fitness Report during the period in question that is a strange anomaly.
“His methods of implementing process improvements within his department often caused conflict with the command’s senior enlisted leadership, negatively impacting my command’s climate of good order and discipline. He has been the recipient of close personal counseling and mentorship on several occasions, but has been unwilling or unable to apply those lessons to his day to day dealings with the personnel in my command.”
There are two points to keep in mind here. The first is to remember that Hudson was moved into this position to relieve the previous officer who held the billet. He was supposed to bring change to what his boss thought was a dysfunctional unit. The complaint against him is that he upset the command climate. Change, apparently, was not very welcome in the organization. (It is also worth noting that the rating senior officer for both fit reps was the same position, but was two different people. The first officer who brought him over to the Enlisted Recruiting office had moved on at the same time that Hudson moved over. The second rating officer had been the previous executive officer.)
The second item of note is that his rating officer said that Hudson was the recipient of “close personal counseling” on “several occasions”. There is no evidence of that. The only counseling report that Hudson received was the required mid-term counseling, and it matched the glowing reports that bookend this bad one.
Hudson’s executive officer later produced privately filed memorandums that outlined Hudson’s alleged transgressions, but these documents were never discussed with Hudson, nor were they shown to anyone contemporaneously. Furthermore, I have never heard of any officer or NCO keeping secret counseling records like these. I don’t know about the Navy, but in the Army, at least, that’s a procedure that is a violation of regulations since every Soldier is entitled to have access to all of his personnel and counseling records. There is even a line on the counseling form for the recipient to sign acknowledging that he has seen the document.
What I see in this story is a good officer who embarrassed his chain of command because they wouldn’t stand up to an illegal order. Lt. Hudson did stand up. The order was rescinded. But a couple of petty egos above him retaliated against him.
The military is supposed to follow the same whistle blower’s protection act that applies to other federal agencies. However, in the military, where it is more important that subordinates quickly follow orders than it is in most federal agencies, offering whistle blower protection is harder to implement. That’s why it’s even more important to do it right.
Never should a junior officer fear reprisal when reporting a complaint–particularly one like this where the Equal Opportunity grievance was shown to be well-founded.
Neither should senior officers fear questioning by their subordinates. . . at least they shouldn’t if they don’t have anything to hide.
If this example of reprisal against a whistle-blower, along with the three-year cover-up, is indicative of how the Navy treats officers who complain when complaint is warranted, what does this say to less senior Sailors when they consider filing an equal opportunity report?
Hudson’s case sets a dangerous course for the Navy.
(Note: In the Tennessean’s comment section you will find a couple corroborating stories from people assigned to the Navy’s recruiting command with Lt. Hudson.)