STUTTGART, Germany — More than a year after turning over the leadership of U.S. Africa Command, former four-star Gen. William E. Ward remains on active duty pending the outcome of an inspector general’s probe, serving as a special assistant at a reduced rank, Army officials say.
Army spokesman George Wright declined to disclose the nature of the Department of Defense inspector general’s investigation. The agency is responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste and abuse.
“Any actions related to those findings and recommendations will be determined by the Army,” Wright said.
Through a spokesman, Ward declined to comment on the probe.
Ward served as the first commander of AFRICOM, which became fully operational in 2008 as the military’s sixth geographic combatant command. He was replaced by Gen. Carter F. Ham in March 2011, shortly before the launch of AFRICOM’s first combat mission in Libya.
Ward, 62, was honored during an April 2011 ceremony at Fort Myer, Va., that had all the pageantry of a farewell and left the impression that Ward’s career was over.
“There was a retirement ceremony, but he had not reached his official retirement date at that time,” Wright said.
Since then, Ward’s service has been kept quiet.
He is serving as a special assistant to the Army’s vice chief of staff, reporting to work at military facilities in the Washington area, Wright said.
“Gen. Ward will remain on active until the investigation is complete,” Wright said in response to a query from Stars and Stripes.
It is unclear when the inspector general’s probe will end. “It should be soon,” Wright said. “I don’t know if it is days, weeks or months.”
Wright said Army officials delayed Ward’s retirement until the probe is finished — an action Wright described as rare but not unprecedented. “As a rule, a general officer may not retire until these matters are finalized.”
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said the gravity of the investigation could account for the Army’s decision to keep a general on active duty rather than retire him.
“For them to be holding him this way, it may portend military justice action,” Fidell said. “Their life (the military’s) would certainly be easier if he were on active duty. That’s better than having to recall him.”
Because Ward is serving as a special assistant, he no longer qualifies to serve in a four-star capacity, Wright said. Wright said the downgrade is not a demotion.
“Appointments to lieutenant general and general are temporary, and if an officer is not filling a position designated by the president . . . the officer reverts to his last permanent grade,” Wright said in a statement. “General Ward’s last permanent grade is major general.”
According to Army regulations governing officer grade determinations, “An officer is not automatically entitled to retire in the highest grade served on active duty. Instead, an officer is retired in the highest grade served on active duty satisfactorily, as determined by the SA (secretary of the Army) or the secretary’s designee.”
When the investigation is done and Ward retires, he could be returned to four-star status.
“Retired rank for officers who have served as lieutenant general and General are determined by the secretary of Defense,” Wright said. “I can’t say what may happen in the future.”