Army strips star from former adjutant general of Oklahoma National Guard over relationship
By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: April 11, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Army has stripped the former adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard of one star in retirement after an investigation substantiated allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate officer and improperly accepting gifts, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.
Brig. Gen. Robbie Asher had been serving as Oklahoma's adjutant general, the senior commander for the National Guard in the state. Before his forced retirement in 2017 and demotion in 2018, he had been a two-star officer. The reasons for his dismissal and discipline had not been reported.
Asher, in an interview with USA TODAY, denied having a sexual affair with the subordinate officer, a lieutenant colonel. The Army inspector general's investigation substantiated allegations that Asher had been involved in an "inappropriate relationship" with the fellow officer, and had improperly accepted gifts from her by boarding his horses at her family's ranch for free. However, the Army stopped short of concluding Asher engaged in any sexual misconduct.
Asher was appointed to the Guard post in Oklahoma in 2015. In 2017, then-Gov. Mary Fallin abruptly replaced him and issued a terse announcement that did not cite the Army's ongoing investigation, which had begun in June 2016. There are about 9,000 troops in the Oklahoma National Guard.
USA TODAY received through the Freedom of Information Act a redacted copy of the inspector general's report, and memos that reprimanded and demoted Asher.
"Your actions lead me to question your judgment as a senior leader," Gen. James McConville, the Army's No. 2 officer, wrote in a January 2018 memo to Asher. "Not only did you choose to engage in this inappropriate relationship, but, after allegations arose, you responded by expressing your love for the subordinate officer to multiple people. Your actions brought significant discredit to you, the (Oklahoma National Guard), and the Army as an institution."
The report also indicates there was a belief among some in the Oklahoma National Guard that having sex with superior officers was key to advancement. "Success in the OKNG was dependent on who you knew," a co-worker and acquaintance of Asher and the lieutenant colonel told investigators.
"The adage in the Oklahoma Army National Guard is, is, you know, the only way you're gonna get anywhere is you gotta hitch your wagon to the right person," the woman said in the report. "And you probably need to be sleeping with somebody because that's how you're going to get ahead in the Oklahoma National Guard," according to her statement to the Army.
Asher joins a list of senior officers in recent years who have been disciplined for misconduct, many of them for improper relationships with women.
The number of complaints against senior generals, admirals and civilian officials has climbed from 395 in 2008 to 803 complaints in 2017, according to data from the Pentagon inspector general. However, the number of complaints substantiated by investigators dropped from 167 in 2013 to 58 in 2017.
In Asher's case, the Army's inspector general reviewed more than 300 voicemails and messages between Asher and the lieutenant colonel and determined they had been involved in an "inappropriate relationship." The Oklahoma National Guard's inspector general turned the investigation over to the Army at the Pentagon after receiving a complaint that Asher had an affair with the subordinate officer and the woman's husband's "attempts to break up the relationship failed."
Army policy prohibits relationships between soldiers of different ranks for a number of reasons, including those that compromise or appear to comprise supervisory authority or the chain of command. Military law prohibits extramarital affairs.
Kate Germano, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and author who has written about gender bias in the military, said the allegations of favoritism based on intimate relationships corrodes trust.
"If there is even a whiff of women being treated to double standard, men will resent that and wonder why women are being promoted," said Germano, author of, Fight Like a Girl. "That has a negative effect on not just women but men, too."
All the names except for Asher, a public figure because he is a general officer, are blacked out in the documents.
The Army's report found no direct evidence to conclude their "relationship was sexual in nature" but still found the relationship problematic.
"The extremely personal nature of their relationship, ambiguously worded text messages and interactions that led mutual friends, family and past and present members of the (Oklahoma National Guard) to suspect they had a sexual relationship were inconsistent" with Army policy, according to the inspector general's report.
Asher had made "two separate declarations of love" for the woman in text messages, the report noted. He told investigators it was common to make such statements for troops he commanded.
"I'm not going to deny that we were good friends," Asher said.
The other substantiated allegation involved Asher boarding his horses at the ranch owned by the subordinate officer and her husband. Federal ethics regulations prohibit accepting gifts from employees who make less money.
Asher admitted he had boarded two horses at the ranch, but said, like others who used the ranch, he had provided labor and materials to offset the cost. Asher estimated his labor and contributions, such as an $800 pure-bred dog, had totaled $7,600. That offset the cost of boarding his horses, he said.
The inspector general disagreed, saying investigators estimated the boarding cost was $10,122.50. Investigators concluded "it was clear that the value of goods received by Maj. Gen. Asher was greater than he gave."
Asher disagreed with the inspector general's findings but chose to resign because he was getting divorced and caring for a grandchild, he said.
Army Secretary Mark Esper demoted Asher to brigadier general, the last rank he had served "satisfactorily," according to a memo sent to the National Guard Bureau.
"Maj. Gen. Robbie L. Asher was retired at the rank of brigadier general after an investigation by the inspector general of the United States Army determined that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship," Army spokesman Michael Brady said. "We believe that appropriate action was taken, and consider the matter closed."
©2019 USA Today
Visit USA Today at www.usatoday.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.