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Col. Frank Zachar, commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade

Col. Frank Zachar, commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Four out of six battalion commanders and four out of five command sergeants major in the 172nd Infantry Brigade believed that ousted commander Col. Frank Zachar had a “negative leadership style,” according to a U.S. Army Europe report obtained Thursday by Stars and Stripes.

The Dec. 27 report authored by Brig. Gen. Jimmie Jaye Wells, which details an “investigation into the command climate within the 172nd Infantry Brigade,” recommended Zachar be relieved of command, an action that was taken Jan. 3. Zachar’s ousting came at a critical time for the 172nd. The unit, with its 3,500 soldiers in Grafenwöhr and Schweinfurt, Germany, is training for deployment to Afghanistan this summer.

While the report does not criticize the 172nd’s top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert French was reassigned as a result of the decision to relieve Zachar.

In the report, with most names and a significant amount of other information redacted, Wells writes: “There have been ongoing issues within the brigade that started … after Col. Zachar became the Brigade Commander in May of 2010.”

Attempts Thursday to reach Zachar for comment were unsuccessful.

In a sworn statement, Zachar described himself as “… a deliberate, passionate leader who looks for and believes that a respectful climate is necessary, asks for pushback and feedback … not a yeller.”

However, the report includes numerous statements from subordinates who are critical of Zachar’s leadership style.

One described it as “… leadership by intimidation” while another said it was, “… very negative, caustic, vindictive and disingenuous.”

One stated that Zachar marginalized his command sergeants major and treated battalion commanders like company commanders. Another said Zachar used “subterfuge and fear to bring about an outcome.”

Others described the ousted commander as “paranoid, manipulative, disingenuous, caustic, abrasive and threatening.”

Zachar also is said to have publicly chastised a subordinate during a staff ride, told subordinates that their wives must attend every event that his wife attended, and put a resiliency program, relationships with local German communities and self-promotion ahead of his soldiers’ combat training.

A few had positive things to say about Zachar; one said his style was “… traditional, older Army with the colonel giving guidance and lieutenant colonels executing that guidance.”

But Wells found that Zachar’s leadership style demonstrated “… arrogance, deception and threatening behavior … [and did] not foster a positive command climate.”

The majority of senior leaders within the 172nd Infantry Brigade concluded that Zachar was disingenuous, he said, adding that there had been many incidents of Zachar threatening subordinate leadership.

“Command relationships are abysmal and fractured beyond repair between most, but not all of the six assigned battalion commanders. ... At best I gauge two of the relationships as ambivalent,” he said.

The command climate under Zachar was “at best ineffective” and “at worst toxic,” he said.

“The great majority of the Brigade’s senior leadership has lost trust and confidence in Col. Zachar to lead them,” Wells said. “Col. Zachar’s threatening manner and his unclear guidance has resulted in his Battalion Commanders avoiding interaction with him unless forced to or absolutely necessary.”

Under Zachar, the 172nd became six disparate units that were part of the same organization in name only, he said.

“I find the command climate within the 172nd BCT to be toxic … (Zachar) refuses to accept responsibility for his failings and instead blames subordinates ... He has not been contrite nor appeared to reach out to mend broken relationships. The lack of self-awareness and personal accountability suggests that nothing less than relief will solve the toxic command climate within the brigade.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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