Army probe says infatuation drove former commander
By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 9, 2011
This story has been corrected.
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — An Army investigation of Col. James H. Johnson III alleges the former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade misused government resources, filed fraudulent travel vouchers and had “an inappropriate relationship” with the daughter of his "cultural adviser."
The investigator’s report, released to Stars and Stripes, paints a picture of a warrior infatuated with an Iraqi national who, besides being the daughter of his "cultural adviser," assisted him at times as a translator. Sections of the report, particularly names, were redacted for privacy and so as to not interfere with the investigation.
Army officials began investigating Johnson in January after his wife sent an email to authorities, claiming her husband was having “an adulterous affair with an Iraqi woman that he met while in Iraq” in 2005-06. A copy of the email was included in the report
In a nine-page rebuttal letter, Johnson referred to his “dysfunctional marriage.” Johnson also indicated the investigating officer, a colonel who was not identified, wasn’t objective in his review. The investigating officer, Johnson said, used his wife’s letter “as a checklist for ticking off” issues that she wrongly called into question.
Johnson was relieved of command of the brigade March 25. He and his wife are getting a divorce in New York, according to published reports.
“He’s in Heidelberg,” Col. Bryan Hilferty, the Army’s chief spokesman in Europe, said Thursday when asked about Johnson’s status. “He’s currently assigned to headquarters USAREUR.”
Included in what the Army calls a 15-6 report are copies of emails Johnson allegedly sent to the woman, whose name, like that of her husband, was redacted.
“This is my new email address for work in Afghanistan,” Johnson wrote. He goes on to tell her she is the first person to receive a message from this new email address. “I love you,” he writes in closing.
Johnson also is accused of misusing government resources and filing false travel vouchers to perpetuate the relationship. Of note were his frequent trips to the Netherlands, where the woman lives with her husband and family, the report said.
Being in command of the 173rd Airborne Brigade can be challenging. The brigade and its two infantry battalions are headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, and four other battalions are north of the Alps in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, Germany. Johnson, in his rebuttal letter, attributed his active travel schedule to the brigade being split, referring to them as “two separate brigades.”
“During my command, I made a great effort to be present at and involved in my unit activities in Germany,” he wrote. “This required movement and coordination to unit locations, training sites and allied partner locations.”
But brigade officials interviewed by Army investigators said the unit has no personnel or resources based in the Netherlands.
“Col. Johnson misused government resources for his frolic and detour into the Netherlands,” the investigating officer often repeated in his written report.
Of 26 travel vouchers Johnson filed since he took command of the brigade in October 2008, investigators found 18 to be fraudulent, the report stated. The investigating officer said the fraudulent travel also included visits to Paris, Brussels and Jordan.
The report also chronicled what it concluded was the misuse of government vehicles, cellphones, computers and personnel, including a doctor and lawyer. Reports of this type are routinely used as the basis for action against a soldier, punishment that could range from a reprimand to a court-martial.
“Due to the volume of evidence and time constraints, this memorandum does not contain the entire wealth of information included [in] the sworn statements of witnesses,” the report stated.
“A cursory review of these statements reveals that an in-depth analysis will provide further evidence of the severity of Col. Johnson’s misconduct.”
Johnson assumed command of the brigade in October 2008. He led it on a yearlong tour of Afghanistan, with the brigade returning to Europe late last year.
The Army suspended Johnson as commander Feb. 17. A month later, he was relieved of command.
CORRECTION: Stories on June 10, 2011, and May 22, 2012, about Col. James H. Johnson III misidentified the Iraqi woman as the wife of Johnson’s “cultural adviser.” The woman, with whom Johnson had an affair, is the man’s daughter. The error in the June 10 story was based on incomplete information available at the time. It was cited again in the May 22 story, as it was not known then that the information was incorrect.