Last week, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the appointment of a new adjutant general to lead the 14,000 men and women who make up the Georgia National Guard.
State Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia, a Delta Air Lines pilot who once flew B-1 bombers for the Georgia Air National Guard, will replace Major Gen. Terry Nesbitt, who has headed up the state Department of Defense and its $630 million-a-year budget for four years.
Whether the governor intended it or not, Butterworth’s appointment has resulted in an unadvertised purging of the Guard’s top ranks.
Three days after her commanding officer was informed he would be replaced, Major Gen. Maria Britt — commander of Georgia’s Army National Guard and the highest-ranking woman in its history — let her troops know that she would be leaving, too.
“In the very near future, I will step down as your Commander and the Governor will select a replacement,” her communiqué stated last Friday.
We do not know precisely why the governor decided to sack Nesbitt, a 40-year man whose career dates back to Vietnam and the Special Forces.
The general’s retirement and Butterworth’s appointment were presented as a cause-and-effect package. However, immediately after he learned he was to be replaced, Nesbitt turned and dismissed Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney, director of the joint staff — one of the points at which army and air units come together.
Say what you will, that’s not the act of a two-star general making a voluntary exit.
Judging from the comments on various blogs, Dudney is a well-respected, home-grown product — with degrees from Georgia Southern University, and Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. Combat deployments include Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Dudney was at the Pentagon when the hijacked jet struck the building — and was cited for his participation in the rescue. Only last week, a fired Dudney was the featured speaker at Robins Air Force Base, in a ceremony marking the arrival of a portion of the Pentagon’s west wall.
In a first interview on Wednesday, Butterworth acknowledged the turmoil and sought to reassure Georgia’s reservists. But the state senator — he’ll assume command of the Guard on Sept. 30 — indicated that he wasn’t inclined to reverse Dudney’s dismissal.
“This is a decision that my predecessor has made. Not being overly familiar with the history, and the different points that got him to that decision, I don’t really know that it’s my place to step in and change that,” Butterworth said.
“There will be some challenges here, but the main perspective that I have is that there are some very, very good people here that are committed to defending their country. The approach that I have is that I’m working for them,” he said.
Butterworth has served since 2009 in the Senate, but was the governor’s floor leader this year — and carried Deal’s HOPE scholarship legislation. A resident of Habersham County, where he was once the commission chairman, Butterworth says he intends to commute to Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Marietta via his private plane — a 25-minute ride.
Butterworth says he’s already assembled a transition team to make sure that troop readiness remains unaffected. It is his primary responsibility, especially with Iraq and Afghanistan still looming over Georgia’s units.
One hurdle Butterworth will face will be that of rank. He left the Georgia Air National Guard as a captain. Deal has jumped him six spots — to lieutenant general, a three-star grade. Butterworth says that, in Georgia, he’ll wear the uniform of a major general — with two stars.
A spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States said Butterworth’s situation isn’t unheard of. In most states, the leader of the state militia is a political appointment by the governor. (In South Carolina, the adjutant general is elected statewide for a four-year term. Like a state insurance commissioner.)
But gulf of rank does create certain diplomatic twists. In the Pentagon’s eyes, and as far as his pay grade is concerned, Butterworth will be considered a mere major on paper. “As I understand it, there are plenty of adjutant generals that show up [at the Pentagon] in a suit. That would be my intention,” Butterworth said.
Far more daunting is the steep learning curve that waits for Butterworth, who said he plans to pursue promotions that the Pentagon will recognize. That means a heavy dose of schooling, sure to last years, while he keeps his new day job.
But he’s not shy about his ability to handle it. “I believe I’m in the right place,” Butterworth said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider