When I read the June 15 front-page article “Still a colonel: Johnson sentenced to reprimand, fine for fraud, adultery, bigamy,” I was more than dumbfounded. Here’s Col. James H. Johnson III, a former commander, a West Point graduate, a “rising star” who violated more articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice than can be imagined. He walked away from a general court-martial with a virtual slap on the wrist.
OK, $300,000 is a big fine, but this officer is probably still making close to $10,000 a month. And, he’s probably smart enough to have invested well. I wouldn’t doubt he has the money.
How many development courses did this officer attend that contained ethics segments? How many required ethics briefings did he have to sit through? Every course I ever attended, from basic training through the Infantry NCO Advance Course and the Sergeants Major Academy, contained ethics training. Our command lawyers through the years briefed the subject, I believe, at least once each year. In recent years such briefings have been annual requirements.
This person has attended the Infantry Officers’ Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College, the War College, and pre-command courses. I know each of the pre-command courses had attorneys from the Judge Advocate General’s Office tell the officers attending what they could and couldn’t do, and laid out violation consequences. Col. Johnson knew right from wrong and still unashamedly committed some of the most grievous offenses, moral and monetary, known to people in uniform.
I spent three decades in the Army and witnessed the UCMJ administered more times than I care to count. From Articles 15 to general courts-martial, I saw it all. I saw soldiers reduced, fined and sent off to jail. Some I felt were treated too harshly — others too leniently. This case takes the cake for the latter.
I’ve also known senior people whose careers terminated over things they knew very well they should not have done but did anyway. Most of them got what they deserved. However, none of the offenses, as I recall, were as serious or numerous as Col. Johnson’s. I have always believed and preached that the military justice system was the fairest our nation could offer. Is it still?
Somehow fairness and justice escape my reasoning when an experienced senior officer walks away convicted of a list of charges and specifications that could fill volumes.
One could use the argument, “He’s got a federal conviction on his record. He’s finished.” However, he is going to finish his career with a pension. Probably finding a job will be a tough task and his ex-wife will get half of his pension. Oh well, he will live with his choices. But he will not live with the consequences from inside a federal prison.