US troops punished for contact with foreign women during White House trip, but not court-martialed

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: January 18, 2018

The Army and Air Force have punished U.S. servicemembers who were sent home from Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Panama last year after bringing foreign women into a secure area without registering them, but will not court-martial them, U.S. military officials said.

The Army elected to issue general officer memorandums of reprimand to the three soldiers involved, said Adrienne Combs, an Army spokeswoman. The reprimands will not have an immediate impact on the soldiers' careers, but can affect their chances of promotion, re-enlistment or retirement, she said.

The Air Force also administratively punished at least one airman who was involved, said Ann Stefanek, a service spokeswoman. She did not say what the discipline included.

The services' handling the issue administratively effectively limits public information about the cases, including the servicemembers' names and additional specifics about what happened. The decision appears to bring to a close an embarrassing incident for the White House Communications Agency, a military unit that provides secure communications equipment for the president, vice president, Secret Service and other officials while they are traveling outside Washington.

The U.S. troops, all enlisted noncommissioned officers, were sent home before Pence arrived in Panama and stripped of their White House assignments pending the results of an investigation.

Combs said the Army is still investigating a second incident that took place in Vietnam as U.S. troops prepared for President Donald Trump's arrival there in November. In that case, three noncommissioned officers in the Army broke curfew in an incident involving foreign women, officials familiar with the situation said. Combs said an investigating officer with the Army's Military District of Washington should complete his report by the end of the month for more senior officers to review.

The White House Communications Agency is part of the larger White House Military Office, and has the duty of preventing surveillance of presidential communications and ensuring that White House officials can be reached securely at all times while traveling. The communications agency has about 1,200 staff members drawn from all branches of the military, with many in four-year assignments.

Service members with high-level security clearances are expected to report contacts with foreign individuals to ensure that their interactions do not compromise national security.

The misconduct on back-to-back White House trips last year came five years after an incident that led to 10 Secret Service members losing their jobs for behavior in Cartagena, Colombia. In that case, they were accused of taking prostitutes to hotel rooms in April 2012 while preparing for President Barack Obama's arrival for an economic summit.

The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.

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