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franklin county times

Coerced early retirement' corrected

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Oct. 23, 2004
A former KC-135 pilot at the 186th Air Refueling Wing who fell out of favor with the unit's top brass when he helped investigators pin down allegations of corruption has won an appeal of his "coerced early retirement."
The Meridian Star has learned that the military records of then-Capt. Leonard R. Kelly Jr., who left the 186th ARW in 1997, have been corrected in his favor. A Sept. 9 Department of the Air Force memo directing the action is the first official correction of military records since allegations of wrongdoing surfaced at the 186th ARW nearly five years ago.
Col. Joe H. Bryant Jr., USAFR Retired, a former unit officer who first blew the whistle on the 186th, said Kelly's case could be only the first in line. Bryant contends that at least six others have also suffered reprisals for cooperating with investigators; still others were victims of a "good old boy" network that selectively punished or rewarded unit members, largely dependent on the whims of top officers.
According to the Sept. 9 memo, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. directed that Kelly, who now lives in Tennessee and is a pilot for FedEx, receive four years back pay, promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel and other considerations. The action came after he filed an appeal in 2003.
Col. Erik Hearon, the current 186th ARW wing commander who Bryant said opposed the correction of Kelly's records, was contacted Friday and asked whether he tried to intervene in Kelly's case before the review board. Kelly was not in the 186th when Hearon took command.
Bryant, however, said there have been several reprisals against whistleblowers.
Meanwhile, as reported in The Meridian Star on Friday, a follow-on investigation ordered by the Air Guard and conducted by Col. Ken Emanuel, a staff judge advocate in the Florida Air Guard, substantiated 35 of 44 allegations against current and former senior leadership at the 186th ARW.
The confirmed charges include fraud and misuse of government property, falsifying training and readiness records, pay vouchers and other official military records, racial and sexual harassment, cheating on official tests and operating an on-base liquor store at Key Field in violation of federal and state tax laws and Air Force regulations.
One 186th ARW officer who remains on duty was found to have kept graphic, pornographic materials on his computer. And, the unit's staff judge advocate, a Meridian attorney who also remains on duty, was found to have made false or misleading statements to an Air Force Inspector General's investigator.
Illegally coerced
The Air Force Board for Correction of Military records, which is made up of civilians, apparently accepted Kelly's contention that the 186th ARW's top officers in 1996 "illegally coerced" him into early retirement in 1997.
The review board was told that senior leadership of the 186th ARW at the time including then-Wing Commander Col. Fred Feinstein and then-Operations Group Commander Lt. Col. David L. Weaver "continually abused their rank and position for their own personal gain and to the detriment of many of their subordinate officers."
Bryant said Kelly was given the option of a good performance review and retirement, or a poor review and being allowed to remain in the unit, where his future promotion prospects were not promising. Kelly opted to retire.
Kelly said he was "powerless to overcome the systemic ingrained corruption of the leadership of the 186th ARW."
Kelly had relayed his story to Col. David Berthoff, whose investigation for the Inspector General of the Air Force initially substantiated 17 of 42 allegations against some of the 186th's senior leadership, including Weaver. In Kelly's case, according to a summary of Berthoff's investigation obtained by The Star, Weaver abused his authority in 1994-95 by manipulating a performance evaluation system to force Kelly's resignation. Weaver, who later was promoted to colonel and became the 186th's wing commander, has since retired.
Kelly's appeal to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records was supported by Bryant and two other officers who served with him in the 186th ARW, along with Berthoff, the investigator for the Air Force Inspector General.

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