HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Army recently asked 45 of its soldiers in the highest enlisted rank to retire for substandard performance, past criminal convictions, problems with alcohol, fraternization or sexual harassment in their recent pasts.

Of the 45 sergeants major whose records were flagged under the newly reinstituted Qualitative Management Program, 28 complied, putting in their retirement paperwork and quietly fading away.

But 15 fought it, arguing that they were valuable Army assets despite any previous incidents. A panel of their peers usually agreed: 12 of the 15 were allowed to remain on active duty. The remaining three were forced to retire, however.

Two of the original 45 cases that were flagged were deferred because investigations were still under way.

Lt. Col. Robert Yost, chief of the Army’s enlisted professional development, which deals with promotion, separation and retention policy, said that not all past problems, especially those that were singular events in a long career, deserved forced retirement.

"They might have received a letter of reprimand, say, eight years ago," he said. "The board, they might have seen a very stellar performance since then.

"No, it’s not a zero-tolerance Army. Folks might trip," Yost said. Most of the misconduct or poor performance evaluations took place four to seven years ago, he said.

The result seems to contrast with what officials said in August when they announced that after seven years of suspension during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the QMP program was back.

Officials said then that although affected soldiers could make their arguments to the central promotions board deciding their cases, it wasn’t recommended. "The time to learn and grow from your mistakes has kind of passed," said Gerald Purcell, a retired sergeant major who helped devise the program.

Yost declined to describe what sorts of misconduct or bad performances were involved in the three cases of the sergeants major forced to retire.

But he said that overall, those flagged usually had more than one negative item in their files, a combination of a general officer letter of reprimand or an Article 15, along with a poor performance evaluation or a relief for cause — sometimes for more than one incident, sometimes for the same one. Failing certain leadership courses was also among the things that would flag a file, but if the sole deficiency was a failure to meet weight standards, the file was not flagged.

The E-9s whose records were flagged were culled from a total of 3,511 that came under review. All had between 20 and 30 years of service and were eligible to retire, and the missteps had occurred while they were E-9s.

All 45 were entitled to an honorable discharge as well as their retirement, medical and other benefits.

Results from last month’s review of the records of some 9,000 master sergeants will be publicly released in three months. After that, 7,000 E-7s, sergeants first class, will undergo the same drill.

The program was brought back, officials said, because it had become increasingly clear that marginal NCOs who previously would have retired to avoid a QMP were no longer doing so without the program in place.

"We know it because the sergeant major of the Army gets notes about incidents and scenarios with senior leaders, incidents of misconduct," Purcell said. "It’s become more frequent."

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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