HELENA, Mont. — An adverse Army 2010 report on U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh’s actions while head of the Montana National Guard blocked his promotion to the rank of general, he confirmed Saturday — a rank all other Montana National Guard heads have achieved the past 25 years.
Walsh, the state’s current lieutenant governor and head of the Montana National Guard from September 2008 to March 2012, never obtained a “federally recognized” rank of general while he was adjutant general of the Guard.
Walsh left the Montana National Guard in 2012 as a federally recognized colonel, the same rank he had when Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed him head of the Guard.
Since the late 1980s, all other Montana National Guard commanders have retired from the Guard as a major general or brigadier general, gaining federal promotion while head of the Guard.
Yet Walsh — the leading Democratic candidate for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat this year — said Saturday he doesn’t consider the lack of promotion a punishment stemming from the 2010 Army inspector general report.
The report, made public late last month, said Walsh improperly used his position as adjutant general to promote the National Guard Association, a private, nongovernmental group that supports the National Guard.
Walsh said Saturday he didn’t personally benefit from his actions promoting the association and that he was trying only to help the National Guard — and that his immediate boss, Gov. Schweitzer, had no problem with his actions.
“I’d always been up front with Gov. Schweitzer about the complaint (that led to the report), telling him this is what I did and why I did it,” he said.
The August 2010 adverse report, from the Army inspector general, and an official reprimand from the vice chief of staff the Army, came from officials “who aren’t even in my chain of command,” and who had no direct oversight of his duties, Walsh said.
Schweitzer also wrote a letter in September 2010 to the general who issued the reprimand, praising Walsh as “vital member of my cabinet” and “true team player,” and said Walsh should be promoted to brigadier general and major general.
The Montana Television Network reported in late December on the inspector general report.
The August 2010 report said Walsh improperly used his government email to solicit officers to join the National Guard Association and bolster his candidacy as an officer for the private group.
Walsh, in an interview with the The Gazette State Bureau on Dec. 28, said he was not disciplined after the report.
However, MTN reported on Friday that Walsh received a formal reprimand signed by Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army. The memorandum said it did not constitute “punishment,” MTN reported, but Chiarelli said Walsh’s action “causes me to question your ability to lead.”
On Saturday, Walsh again noted that his immediate supervisor, the governor, imposed no discipline. Schweitzer has called the report “much ado about nothing,” and said Walsh didn’t do anything improper to benefit himself.
Walsh said the National Guard Association is becoming more important to helping preserve the Guard, because as federal budgets are squeezed, the Guard will be competing with the regular Armed Forces for taxpayer money. The association is a lobbying force to help maintain the Guard, he said.
Walsh, a 33-year veteran of the National Guard, was an Army colonel when he was appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in mid-2008 to be commander and adjutant general of the Montana National Guard.
Adjutant generals of the Montana Guard are often a colonel or lieutenant colonel when they’re appointed and then generally apply to be promoted to brigadier general — a one-star general — and later to major general, a two-star general.
Upon his appointment as adjutant general, Walsh received a “brevet” promotion to brigadier general, which is a temporary promotion from the governor, allowing him to hold the rank but not be paid at that level or recognized federally.
At the same time, Walsh applied for his federally recognized promotion to the same rank. The federal promotion must be granted by an Army review board and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“It’s a very, very careful and methodical vetting process,” said Joel Cusker, who was acting adjutant general of the Montana National Guard for five weeks after Walsh left his post to run for lieutenant governor. “There can be a lot of reasons why your federal recognition doesn’t happen.”
Walsh said his promotion got held up because of the Inspector General investigation into his actions on the National Guard Association, and eventually blocked by the adverse report. He said he did not resubmit his application and that once he left the Guard in 2012, it became a moot point.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint from a single Montana National Guard officer who didn’t like how Walsh was attempting to promote membership in the National Guard Association, Walsh said.