WASHINGTON – A retired three-star general was suspended from a $92-an-hour contract consulting with the Army and is under investigation after posting a tweet that appeared to mock First Lady Jill Biden on a hot social issue, according to the Army.
Retired Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, a former Army chief spokesman and recipient of the Silver Star for bravery in Iraq, had been a “senior mentor,” mentoring senior military officers, staff, and students participating in war games and other military activities. Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin, commander of the Combined Arms Center, suspended Volesky pending the outcome of the investigation, Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman, told USA TODAY.
The 24th of June, Jill Biden posted a tweet condemning the Supreme Court decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion, which read in part: “For nearly 50 years, women have had the right to make our own decisions about our bodies. Today, that right was stolen.”
Volesky responded with her own tweet: “Glad to see you finally know what a woman is.”
His response represents a breach of decorum for a retired military officer and a foray into partisan politics by an official on the Pentagon payroll, who is supposed to avoid such matters, experts say. His tweet has been deleted.
Volesky’s post seemed to echo an exchange in March between Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown at the justice confirmation hearing, during which Blackburn pressed the judge for a definition of the word “woman” in the context of transgender rights.
Volesky did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Jill Biden, Michael LaRosa, declined to comment.
It is not the first time that Volesky has published a tweet with political overtones. In July 2021, she responded to a tweet from Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, in which she wrote, “I am honored to be on the January 6 Select Committee. Our oath to the Constitution must be above the law.” partisan politics.”
Volesky replied, “This is all about partisan politics.” He was apparently criticizing the committee’s January 6 investigation into the violent assault on the US Capitol, in which supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Volesky was hired under a Pentagon program as an expert with the experience and skills to bring “enlightened thinking” to the military, according to the Pentagon program description. He was paid $50,046 for his work from November 2020 to August 2021, and $18,952 from September 2021 to June 2022, according to the Army.
High-ranking uniformed officers strive to avoid the appearance of participating in politics, and civilian control of the military is central to the American government. That principle has come under increasing stress.
After January 6, 2021, insurrection, Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent an extraordinary memorandum to troops reminding them of their oath to the Constitution. In 2020, Milley himself apologized for appearing with then-President Donald Trump after peaceful protesters were forcibly evicted from Lafayette Square so the president could have his photo taken.
Volesky’s tweets represent a different rift in civil-military relations: that of recently retired senior officers taking political stands. In 2016, retired Marine General John Allen endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn led the “lock her up” cheer on Clinton during that campaign; He was later fired as Trump’s national security adviser for lying to federal investigators in 2017 and has become an increasingly partisan figure.
During the Trump administration, several senior retired officials, including Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and General Stanley McChrystal, who led the war in Afghanistan, criticized Trump in terms blunt. McRaven accused Trump of “actively working to undermine every major institution in this country.” in a Washington Post op-ed.
Andrew Bacevich, a professor emeritus of history at Boston University and a retired Army colonel, was baffled that Volesky would risk the military’s reputation on Twitter.
“What’s hard to understand is why he or any other senior retired officer would undermine the military’s reputation of being above politics just to score cheap partisan points on social media,” Bacevich said.
If the comments by McRaven and McChrystal crossed the line and became political commentary, Volesky’s “mocking” went further, said Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University and an expert on military-civilian relations. Volesky’s tweet in response to the first lady’s message is nowhere near, he said.
“Military retirees have the right to express their opinions and tweet whatever they want, but that doesn’t make it right,” Feaver said. be.”
Senior retired officials can make “useful contributions” when they weigh in on policy issues in their area of professional expertise, he said.
“But when they stray from their core competency areas to deliver raucous partisan taunts, they violate the norms of their profession and make the job of today’s military leaders that much harder,” Feaver added.
Volesky, a highly decorated infantry officer, was a star in the Army and nearing the top of the service. The key to his rise was his bravery in leading a rescue mission in Iraq in 2004, in which he led an armored column under fire to recover soldiers and their damaged Bradley fighting vehicle.
Subsequently, the Army named him its main spokesperson, heading its public affairs office. He assumed command of the Army’s fabled 101st Airborne Division, a portion of which he led to Africa in response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
Volesky earned his third star and became commander of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. That command had him overseeing more than 40,000 soldiers, including bases in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.
After retiring, Volesky signed a contract with the Army as a “senior mentor,” mentoring active duty officers.
The senior mentor program had flourished at the Pentagon with little scrutiny. until a USA TODAY investigation in 2009 showed that most of the 158 retired generals and admirals under contract also worked for defense contractors, even as they billed taxpayers more than $300 an hour while collecting government pensions.
Congress directed the Pentagon to establish rules for the mentoring program, including the salary cap and the requirement that retired officers file financial disclosure forms. In 2010, the Pentagon listed 355 senior mentors. In 2011, the year after the salary cap and conflict-of-interest safeguards went into effect, that number dropped to three.
The Pentagon has unique authority in the federal government to hire retired senior officers like Volesky, whom it refers to as “Highly Qualified Senior Mentors.” They possess “unusual and special knowledge, skills, and experience in an occupational field; and a judgment that is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public,” according to the Pentagon’s program description. They’re hired “to bring enlightened thinking and innovation,” the description says.
Senior mentors are held to a higher standard than other retired officers, Feaver said. They are needed to teach active duty officers how to navigate serving during a politically polarized time.
“They are hired not only for their military experience but also for their character and upholding professional standards,” he said.
Active-duty leaders Volesky had mentored as a primary mentor may have a harder time doing their jobs because of his tweet, said Kori Schake, an expert on civil-military relations and director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. . Volesky is entitled to free speech as a civilian, but his retired high-ranking officer status links him to the military in the public eye, she said.
“It reduces the respect that the public has for the military as an institution,” he said.
The tweet also puts the Army in a bind, Schake said.
“It is certainly unseemly to have someone so involved in the political commentary that guides active duty leaders,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s hard for the Army — to fire him for engaging in protected political speech. He’s an American citizen expressing his constitutionally protected views.”
Volesky’s tweeted response to Biden was an apparent reference to legal questions about transgender rights. Blackburn, the Republican from Tennessee, had pressed Jackson on the matter during her confirmation hearing.
“Can you give a definition of the word ‘woman’?” Blackburn asked, an apparent reference to legal questions about transgender rights.
“I can’t. Not in this context,” Jackson replied. “I’m not a biologist.”
“The meaning of the word ‘woman’ is so confusing and controversial that you can’t give me a definition?” Blackburn said.
Feaver had some advice for military leaders, active duty or retired, on how to make political commentary.
“If it feels good, don’t do it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Army suspends retired general’s contract for tweet about Jill Biden