Since the scandal over the handling of the nation’s war dead at Dover Air Force Base erupted, one man for the Air Force has been front and center: Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the service’s chief of staff.
Schwartz is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Tuesday, he fielded tough questions from reporters about the Dover mortuary. He was repeatedly challenged about how the Air Force handled whistleblower complaints, whether it really got to the bottom of things, and if it truly took the problems seriously. Schwartz was visibly unhappy with some of the queries, but he didn’t duck.
”There should be no misunderstanding about who is responsible,” he said. ”It’s Mike Donley and me. There’s no escaping it.”
Donley, the secretary of the Air Force and Schwartz’s civilian boss, has been tougher to find. He has not spoken to reporters or responded to requests for comment.
He did release an open letter Tuesday to Air Force personnel and their families. In it, he said the Air Force was committed to continuing “to ensure the highest standards are met to provide dignity, honor, respect and reverence for our fallen.”
Donley, however, never acknowledged that any problems had actually occurred at the Dover mortuary. The closest he came was when he wrote that the Air Force had conducted an investigation “that focused on allegations of mismanagement and accountability,” and that “corrective actions” had been taken. If he had any opinions about what Air Force investigators found at the mortuary — missing body parts, lax recordkeeping, untruthful supervisors — he did not share them.
In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates cleaned house at the Air Force after its leaders failed to take accountability for a series of blunders, including security lapses with the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. He appointed Donley and Schwartz to take over.
Shortly afterward, Donley and Schwartz dropped the hammer on six Air Force generals and nine colonels, disciplining each for their role in the nuclear program scandal.
At a press conference announcing the punishments, Donley said that he was making it a priority “to ensure that airmen at all levels hold themselves to the highest standards of performance and that all airmen therefore remain accountable for their areas of responsibilities.”
Added Schwartz: “America deserves the highest standards of service, of integrity and excellence. And we can accept nothing less.”