The vice commander of the Air Force's 12th Flying Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph has been relieved after investigators learned he exchanged emails with the wife of a subordinate officer.
The messages were sent in 2007 while Col. James Gifford Jr. served at Vance AFB in Oklahoma, where he was director of operations with the 8th Flying Training Squadron. A major at the time, he rose to lieutenant colonel in October of that year and was the squadron's commander from 2009 to 2010.
He left the base to become military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“The internal investigation found no evidence of a sexual relationship between the two people involved,” the Air Education and Training Command said in a statement. “However, the correspondence sent between them was determined to be unprofessional and Colonel Gifford showed poor judgment as an Air Force member, leading to his commander's decision to remove him from his post.”
The Air Force said the 12th Flying Training Wing's commander, Col. Gerald Goodfellow, relieved Gifford, a fighter and tanker pilot with more than 3,500 hours in the air, on March 24.
The action was taken because of a “loss of confidence in his ability to lead” the wing, but the statement did not explain how the emails were unprofessional. The Air Force did not elaborate after the San Antonio Express-News sent a list of questions asking about the nature of the messages, citing “privacy rights and concerns.”
The Air Force also wouldn't say how many messages were exchanged and said it has not been determined why the email relationship ended. An AETC spokeswoman, Amy Bartholomew, did say that Gifford did not review the officer's performance evaluations.
Gifford was reassigned to AETC's headquarters. His abrupt exit apparently marks the first time a vice commander at the wing has been relieved. Bartholomew said she did not know of an incident like it.
A relationship involving commanders and the wives of their subordinates - even by electronic mail — would be highly unusual and strictly prohibited.
“Unprofessional relationships, particularly by Air Force leaders, stand to undermine our entire team, damage good order and discipline, and threaten the trust people have in us,” the AETC statement said. “They simply aren't tolerated.”
A graduate of Rutgers University, Gifford came to the 12th Flying Training Wing in June 2012 after graduating from the Marine Corps War College, where he was honored for submitting the best thesis.
The Randolph-based wing, with 1,456 military and civilian workers, trains instructor pilots, combat systems officers and those who will fly drone aircraft. It also screens Air Force officers who enter pilot, combat systems and drone aircraft training, and has an average of 745 students a day.