The Maryland Army National Guard's recruitment chief was stripped of his command and about a dozen other recruiters were punished after an investigation revealed misuse of government money, fraudulent enlistments and improper relationships among Guard members.
The internal probe, made public yesterday, uncovered at least two instances in which recruits were signed up even though they were not qualified to join the reserve force, said 1st Lt. Wayde Minami, a spokesman for the Maryland Guard. It also cited two instances of fraternization and cases of recruiters who attended out-of-state training missions that involved little training. Recruiters are being asked to reimburse the organization for nearly $40,000 in travel expenses for two trips.
"We take this type of thing very seriously," Minami said.
The Guard also announced it will require more ethics training and shorten recruiting assignments, allowing no more than three- to four-year tours. Officials determined that "homesteading," a term used to describe extended assignments, "contributed to the culture of cutting corners that probably contributed to a long-term problem" that evolved over a number of years, Minami said. "A culture had grown up in this one area that people cut corners where they shouldn't have."
The investigation grew out of stories that appeared in Baltimore's City Paper in December and alleged deceptive recruiting practices aimed at meeting quotas. The allegations included recruiting unqualified candidates, falsified paperwork for recruits, recruitment of people with too many young dependents and sexual entanglements with a recruit.
Minami said the Guard found little to substantiate the initial allegations, but other incidents reported on the newspaper's blog led to this week's disciplinary action.
Minami did not release the names of recruiters involved. Maj. Travis Rambert, who took command in early November of statewide recruitment for the Guard and is paid $83,000 a year for the full-time position, confirmed yesterday that he was removed from his post and reassigned to a unit in Reistertown. He declined to comment further.
Lt. Col. Kevin Preston, who had been head of the recruiting command until November and on whose watch most of the alleged improprieties would have occurred, also was reassigned.
Other members of the 80-member statewide recruiting command were reassigned and given letters of reprimand. At least one was told to repay $2,000 for an out-of-state training trip that did not include the required six hours of training; another was ordered to repay $1,500, and was fined $200.
"This was a complete shock to all of us," said a soldier in the unit who did not want to be named because Guard officials had warned unit members to refrain from talking to the news media.
The disciplinary action extended to five officers, seven noncommissioned officers and two junior enlisted soldiers. Pending a resolution of the appeal process, one is facing possible discharge; others could receive a reduction in rank, a reprimand or reassignment, Minami said.
Last year was one of the best years for Guard recruiting, Minami said, with the Guard ending up with more than 400 additional members, despite wartime demands. Five members of the Maryland Army National Guard have died in Iraq, he said.
Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said that the governor and some of his senior aides were briefed on the situation Wednesday.
"The governor is confident that the National Guard is taking correction action to remedy the situation," Abbruzzese said. "The governor is pleased that the National Guard is moving quickly."