Skip to comments.California National Guard's chief quits
Posted on 06/07/2005 7:50:39 AM PDT by SmithL
SACRAMENTO - The two-star general who commands California's 22,000 National Guard troops abruptly resigned late Monday amid allegations that he failed to properly prove his shooting skills for a visit to Iraq and helped line up a military flight for a Republican group planning to visit U.S. aerial defense headquarters in Colorado.
Major Gen. Thomas Eres was forced to step down by the Schwarzenegger administration after a two-week investigation by the Times Sacramento Bureau into accusations that the general failed to meet Pentagon requirements for taking a trip into a combat zone and intervened on behalf of a Lincoln Club group planning a trip to the North American Aerospace Defense Command center in Colorado.
Eres' resignation came just two days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thanked the 61-year-old general "for the great job you're doing" while the two welcomed troops home from the Middle East in Orange County. And it comes 15 months after the Republican governor appointed Eres by voicing confidence that Eres would "maintain the high standards and traditions" of the National Guard.
The shakeup creates an unexpected void at the top of the nation's largest National Guard force at a time when its soldiers are facing incredible strains and repeated tours of duty in Iraq. For the time being, day-to-day operations will be handled Brigadier Gen. John Alexander, the guard's second in command.
With 22,000 troops, 13 bases and more than 100 armories, the National Guard not only sends troops overseas, it is often called upon to help provide security during riots, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.
Eres did not respond to repeated requests for interviews Monday.
The allegations were first made in a complaint given to the Schwarzenegger administration in early May by critics within the state military who have long complained about the general's leadership.
At the heart of the general's resignation was an allegation that he failed to fulfill a Pentagon shooting requirement before traveling to visit California troops fighting in Iraq.
Interviews and documents obtained by the Times Sacramento Bureau indicate that Eres did not meet the requirements and that a top aide improperly informed Department of Defense officials that the general had proven his shooting skills.
Before traveling to Iraq, Eres was required to submit proof that he was qualified to use his 9-millimeter sidearm, something soldiers are generally required to do every year. As the trip approached, Eres had not taken time to go to a shooting range and complete the course.
Four days before he was scheduled to leave for the Middle East, interviews and documents obtained by the Times Sacramento Bureau, Eres went to a civilian shooting range outside Sacramento to fire his sidearm and an M-16 rifle.
But two National Guard officials who went with Eres to the range Aug. 27 said the general did not complete the complex qualifying course as suggested in the documents submitted for the Pentagon.
"MG Eres did not qualify his weapon," Capt. Peter Lewis, the general's aide de camp said in a May 31 e-mail obtained by the Times Sacramento Bureau. "There were no qualification iterations fired or anything that would resemble a military qualification performed. MG Eres, loaded, fired and cleared his weapon for familiarization purposes."
Col. Jack Hagan, who oversees homeland security exercise programs for California and serves in the State Military Reserve, also said that he did not qualify Eres that day.
"I don't qualify anybody," Hagan said Monday. "I was there to assist the general."
Hours before Eres resigned Monday, Lt. Col. Douglas Hart, director of public affairs for the National Guard, said the general had done what he needed to do to meet the trip requirements.
"The general is of the belief that he went through what he was supposed to go through to qualify," said Hart.
After Eres returned from the range, Lt. Col. Sonja Banowetz, the general's top administrative aide, filled out the required form and faxed it to Washington as part of his packet for the trip.
The form indicates that Eres qualified as a sharpshooter by hitting the targets 37 of 40 times he fired in four rounds while standing, kneeling, crouching and lying down.
In a short telephone interview Monday, Lewis said no one at the range was keeping track of the general's score and that others at the range fired at the same targets.
"No one scored him," said Lewis, who is preparing to be sent overseas. "He sat at a table and shot the weapons."
Banowetz said she was given a 3-by-5 card with the general's score that she transferred to the document submitted for the trip.
Although she was not at the range, Banowetz signed off as the officer to verify that the general had completed the shooting course -- an extremely unusual act.
"He qualified," Banowetz said Sunday in an interview at her Roseville home.
The course certification also contains the illegible scrawl of someone who scored the general at the range. Banowetz said she recognized the signature but could not recall the name of the person who signed the document. She also denied that she signed off as the scorer, as well as the officer in charge.
Although the August trip to the Middle East was postponed, Eres traveled to Iraq for an eight-day trip over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Eres also ruffled administration feathers by helping to set up a military flight for a Republican friend planning a trip last month to visit NORAD headquarters in Colorado, a tour that was canceled at the last minute after the governor's Cabinet secretary intervened.
The trip was organized by Herb Temple, president of the Coachella Valley Lincoln Club, a retired Army general and former chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington.
After getting approval from NORAD to bring his Republican group to Colorado, Temple said he received a call from Eres, who offered to put the group on a military training flight for the trip. Under military regulations, the National Guard can take civilian groups on flights as long as they are not all part of one organization or partisan party.
Two weeks before the trip, the National Guard Bureau in Washington rejected the request to put the group on a refueling tanker to Colorado.
When the request was rejected, Temple said, he called his old office in Washington and persuaded the bureau to reverse its decision and put the trip back on track. That failed to assuage top Schwarzenegger officials, who had been alerted to the concerns.
As the trip approached, an administration source confirmed, Schwarzenegger Cabinet Secretary Terry Tamminen contacted Eres and directed him to cancel the trip.
Although Temple said he organized the trip for the Lincoln Club members, he invited other community leaders and state officials to join him on the trip, ensuring that not all the members were from the Republican group.
"Had it been me I would not have canceled it," Temple said in a telephone interview Sunday from his Palm Desert home. "But there was some concern in the governor's office."
In his resignation letter, Eres said Monday that it was an "ideal time" to step down "so that my family and I can start to enjoy a much-anticipated retirement."
Schwarzenegger issued a brief statement thanking Eres for his service.
"He worked hard to ensure California did its part in fighting the global war on terror and keeping California secure," the governor said.
It's not really the qualifying (or lack of qualifying) that got him in trouble, it's the falsification of records by his subordinates that made him vulnerable.
Someone was out to take him down and he should have CYA'd himself.
From the sounds of it, someone who didn't like him taking mostly republicans with him on this trip...
But then again, someone who knew the inner workings of the army, his staff and his qualification was in on it.
Many years ago I worked at Army Selection Boards. The quickest way to ruin a career, especially as an officer, is to mishandle government funds or falsely sign an official document. Booze and having an affair take down many otherwise good folks, also.
So, why not schedule time at the range with some CANG unit?
This is really an odd story, unless he didn't want to go to Iraq.
Of course, noone would want to go to Iraq, but I suspect that it would be his duty as a General.
The side arm for generals used to be a pistol, and the shooting course for that is actually pretty simple.
My guess is General Eres had few friends and plenty of enemies waiting for him to screw up in what many saw as Monroe's office. Forget about M9 qualification at the range. Setting up political pals with a free roundtrip to NORAD in Colorado is potentially criminal. And to do it with his "Monroe" staff, definitely suicidal.
A CA ANG vet.
The MSM smear machine is working overtime and it sounds like Schwarzenegger pitched him overboard rather than stand up and fight. So what if he didn't qualifry. I imagine an Major General has a lot more important things to do than spend time at the range. When's the last time an American general had to fire his weapon in self defense anyway? I'll bet it was a hundred years ago or more.
As for the trip, the guy already said he invited other people so it wouldn't be a partisan group. If there's some kind of disaster in California in the next few months and the Guard isn't ready for it, the leftists and the MSM will be to blame.
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