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The Daily Need

Investigating corruption in the California National Guard

The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed an unprecedented strain on our nation’s National Guard forces, shifting the Guard from a domestic reserve force to an active part of combat operations. So-called “weekend warriors” – men and women with homes, jobs and families who enlisted in the Guard as reservists – have found themselves deployed for extended tours of duty overseas. The National Guard’s new combat role has increased the Guard’s need for new members at the same time as it has discouraged “weekend warrior” types from joining up and sparked debate on what, exactly, the Guard’s purpose should be.

Air National Guard members on a mission passing over the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Tech Sgt. Ray Aquino

Adding to these nationwide stresses, Guard officials in California have been accused of lining their own pockets with money meant to provide incentives toward enlistment and re-enlistment. Federal auditor Capt. Ronald S. Clark alleges that $100 million intended for student-loan payments and cash bonuses was improperly distributed to officers, recruiters and staff by Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, manager of California National Guard incentive programs from 1986 until 2009.

Sacramento Bee reporter Charles Piller told Need to Know that he was alerted to the possibility of corruption within the incentives program last July, when he received a tip from “a confidential source inside the Guard,” an “extremely authoritative person, someone who had the means to know and understand the extent of the corruption that was alleged and someone who had access to detailed info associated with that corruption.” The results of Piller’s subsequent investigation into the matter, aided by Capt. Clark, were published in an October Bee expose.

“California’s incentives program was operated as a slush fund, doled out improperly to hundreds of soldiers with fabricated paperwork, scant supervision and little regard for the law,” the article concluded, adding that evidence of corruption in the system was “overlooked or ignored by recruiters and officers up the chain of command.”

The California Guard’s incentive programs are currently under federal investigation; this story is the subject of a piece in this week’s episode of Need to Know.

Charles Piller’s continued investigations into misconduct in the California National Guard exposed another scandal in December. Piller’s reporting revealed that Fresno-based pilots from the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard were receiving full pay for regular shifts of “alert duty,” in which pilots remain on call in case of emergency, performed after the pilots had concluded their regular workdays. According to the Bee investigation,

“They wait for the call in a ready room near their jets, surfing the Web, working out, eating, talking with colleagues, watching TV or sleeping.”

Air National Guard pilots called it “dozing for dollars,” and used it to swell their salaries by tens of thousands of dollars. It was an easy way to make extra money after work. But earning two paydays on one calendar day, known as “double dipping,” is prohibited by federal and military regulations, and to work alert shifts, pilots were violating the “crew rest” rules meant to ensure that they are adequately rested and capable of performing their duties safely. Pilots were also earning standby pay for time spent at home and even on vacation provided that they could reach the base within 12 hours.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has already begun a criminal probe into the case. Though they declined to provide details of the probe for Piller’s article, it appears that this is another case of corruption among officers. “All the pilots under investigation,” Piller notes, including the Fresno unit’s ex-commander, Col. Gary Taylor, “are officers with a rank of at least captain.”

According to Col. John Crocker, governmental and public affairs director for the Guard, all suspicious payments have stopped.

Piller says that dozens of Guard members have thanked him for his coverage. “These are folks who feel strongly that the Guard is a vital institution that needs to be improved and cleaned up,” he said. “This kind of public interest reporting is vital because so often these problems get swept under the rug because people in positions of power have a vested interest in minimizing the damage to their own organization and their own careers.”

Read Piller’s original stories, as well as several follow-up pieces, at the Sacramento Bee.

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  • Lawrence Shotland

    This is one of the lamest non-stories I’ve ever seen. In a time when
    investigative reporting resources are so rare and their are so many serious
    scandals to investigate, this is a ridiculous waste. First off, one needs to
    know the plight of National Guard volunteers. They used to only serve in
    times of great emergency and go to summer camp once a year. They
    get little of the compensation received by regular Army people – no
    retirement at 50, no on-base housing for their families, no discounted
    shopping at a PX. National Guard people have regular jobs, expensive
    mortgages (especially in California), and families. In the Iraq War of
    Choice, many were called back 3 and 4 times plus extended tours
    (“backdoor draft”). It ruined their careers and made them strangers to
    their families – even during the Vietnam War, National Guard rarely
    went overseas, at most for one tour for one year. National Guard will
    be needed if there is a big earthquake or a riot in Los Angeles. The
    Bush misuse of the National Guard threatened its existence. Patriotic
    people could not afford the unprecedented sacrifice. So, here a
    patriotic woman bent the rules to keep these families afloat. And she
    herself did not get any money – she was a Robin Hood trying to keep
    the National Guard and its people alive – we might need them. The
    total amount of money involved would be a tenth of one days’
    money stolen in Iraq (where $100 billion was unaccounted for
    and much more stolen by contractors and Iraqi partners – 1,000
    times as much money). The amount in question is a tenth of a
    year’s bonus by one crooked hedge fund manager. It’s much less
    than the annual bonus of an executive at one crooked TARP
    recipient. With all the terrible scandals out there and so few
    investigative reporters still around, why did the San Francisco
    Bee waste resources on this story? Obviously, it fell in their
    lap. But why does the only surviving PBS investigative report
    waste time on such a small non-story? Need to Know is like
    drinking dishwater compared to NOW’s black coffee. Where
    is Bill Moyers and crew when we need them so badly?

  • sam

    and they need to keep going on the investigation. look into the transportation of goods in the military. Look into the contracts. look into the supplies on stock. if you do you will find billions in misappropriation, theft, fraud etc.. I know cause i seen it.

  • Jimbjordan

    stealing is still stealing …

  • tosh.0

    I like turtles

  • Chest Rockwell

    that money should be re-couped and put into a combatives program.

  • Johndoe

    Nice way to try to minimize theft and improper use of Guard funds.
    You’d make a great politician. I’m sure your using a fake name and you sympathize with the plight of everyone’s monetary needs. Get a life.

  • korg

    This story is interesting in that the duty Guard pilots were performing was an alert duty where they were standing by close to their jets restricted from traveling, seeing their families, and consuming any alcohol. They did additional duty after their work day (on duty for 24 hours) and received additional compensation–just like any other job. This reporter presented the information in an accusatory manner to get his name in the news. So far, no criminal charges have been filed (no surprise).

  • Rrrr

    Your statement is inaccurate. Military personnel are paid to be on duty 24 hours a day for one day of pay. A pilot in Afghanistan is paid one day of pay for one day of work. A pilot in California is entitled to no more than any other pilot on the Air Force. They’re actions were, at the least, unethical and likely criminal.

  • Jason

    If you want to investigate a bigger Guard corruption story line, you should see the abuse of “Official Time” by federal employees in the Ohio Air National Guard conducting union business on the tax payers dime.

  • Anonymous

    Great to see someone looking into the Air National Guard….Finally!!!

  • Dan

    We have the same scandal going on in the Arizona guard right now, its not new news. The Arizona Army guard side has been plague with drama for years and still is.