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Special Ops commander reprimanded for repeated public intoxication

Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, South speaks at a ceremony after assuming command in 2012. (U.S. Dept. of Defense photo/Army Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea)

The commander of U.S. Special Operations forces in Central and South America was removed from his post last year after he repeatedly became intoxicated in public, including during a deployment to Peru, documents show.

Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, who oversaw U.S. commandos on counternarcotics missions and training assignments in the region, also got into altercations with civilians on two occasions last year after drinking at a golf club bar near his Florida headquarters, according to military records.

Mulholland, 55, was removed as commander in August. At the time, military officials said in a statement that he was “retiring for health and personal reasons,” but they withheld the fact that he had been investigated and reprimanded for misconduct.

A copy of Mulholland’s official reprimand and other documents describing the circumstances surrounding his removal were obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

The armed forces have been dogged in recent years by a series of cases in which senior commanders have gotten into trouble for personal misconduct or have become embroiled in ethics scandals. The subject is a sensitive one at the Pentagon, where leaders have vowed to crack down but at the same time have been reluctant to discuss specific cases.

Mulholland is the fourth U.S. general in two years to lose his job or be cited for alcohol-related misbehavior.

A two-star Air Force general in charge of nuclear weapons was relieved of command for drinking too much and hanging out with suspicious women during an official trip to Moscow. An Army major general in charge of a counterterrorism task force in Africa was fired for excessive drinking. And an Air Force brigadier general was cited by investigators for repeatedly drinking on duty and keeping a vodka bottle in his desk.

In a brief telephone interview, Mulholland said he had been affected by “some medical issues,” including post-traumatic stress disorder and a moderate case of traumatic brain injury. He said his actions were triggered by a lack of sleep, but he declined to comment further about the incidents.

“I’m not in favor of your printing any of this, truly,” he said. “I don’t need this harassment. . . . I just want to be left alone.”

According to his biography, Mulholland served multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia during his career. He was appointed commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South in October 2012.

Mulholland’s alcohol-related misconduct was revealed in a formal written reprimand that he received in July 2014 from Adm. William H. McRaven, then commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Citing the results of an internal investigation, McRaven reprimanded Mulholland for failing “to exercise restraint in the consumption of alcohol” while on duty in Lima, Peru, in May 2013. The Army commander was also cited for two incidents in the spring of 2014 at a golf club and bar in Homestead, Fla., near the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command South.

In the first incident at the Keys Gate Golf Course bar, Mulholland got into an alcohol-fueled argument with a civilian “that culminated in physical contact in front of civilians and enlisted personnel,” according to the letter of reprimand. In the second, he drank and got into “a verbal altercation” with three civilian women that “required others to intervene.”

In his reprimand, McRaven called Mulholland’s behavior “unacceptable,” adding that it “demonstrates a failure of personal and professional judgment and embarrasses the command.”

The Post filed a separate Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the internal investigative report that would describe Mulholland’s actions in greater detail. The Special Operations Command estimated that it would take five to seven months to process the request because of a backlog of ­public-records cases, determining that there was no “compelling need” to consider it before then.

Kenneth McGraw, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command, said McRaven made the decision to remove Mulholland from command after consulting with Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, and Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, who as head of U.S. Southern Command oversees all U.S. military operations in Central and South America.

A spokeswoman for Kelly declined to comment. In a statement, the Army said Mulholland retired from the service May 1 but was stripped of a star and demoted to colonel after a review overseen by Army Secretary John McHugh.

The decision "underscores the Army's commitment to holding senior leaders accountable and
is consistent with Secretary McHugh's treatment of similar cases," the statement said.

Mulholland has since taken a job in the private sector. He works as vice president of strategic development for Emerging Technology Support LLC, a North Carolina-based defense contractor.