Before he was forced to retire last year, the head of Georgia’s National Guard was accused of maintaining an “improper” personal relationship with the Guard’s No. 2 ranking general, the first female head of Georgia’s Army National Guard.
The charge that the two had developed a bond “recognized and feared” within the Guard was leveled last August by the force’s No. 4 ranking officer, Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney.
Three weeks later, with personnel scattered across the globe, amid hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gov. Nathan Deal began an overhaul of National Guard leadership.
Dudney alleged that the relationship compromised the authority of the top two commanders of a statewide organization where structure, rank and trust are essential to the job of directing 14,000 personnel. It also harmed morale and fostered the “perception of favoritism and unfairness throughout the leadership ranks of the Georgia National Guard,” according to the complaint filed with the inspector general’s office of U.S. Department of Defense.
Adjutant General Terry Nesbitt, appointed four years earlier, was relieved of command last fall, replaced by former state Sen. Jim Butterworth, a former captain in the Air National Guard.
Major Gen. Maria Britt, who headed the largest and most powerful component of Georgia’s Guard, was required to retire from her command at the same time.
The two retired generals on Thursday dismissed Dudney’s complaint as spurious. “The lies and half-truth contained therein amount to defamation of character,” wrote Nesbitt in an e-mailed response.
Britt, a West Point graduate, called the allegations of an improper relationship “ludicrous.”
“I earned every promotion that I received,” said Britt, who is now associate vice president of operations for Kennesaw State University. She acknowledged Nesbitt as a rare mentor in a male-dominated profession, and attributed the complaint to “professional jealousy” in “an organization that has some small-minded people in it.”
Through a request filed under the state Open Records Act, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has obtained a copy of the seven-page complaint filed by Dudney.
Nesbitt and Britt “have maintained a long-standing personal relationship that has compromised or appears to have compromised the integrity of their supervisory authority and chain of command,” according to the complaint. “This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Generals Nesbitt and Britt have traveled on numerous occasions together, and reportedly shared adjoining hotel rooms. On many occasions, [Britt’s] need to accompany [Nesbitt] was questionable.”
The complaint alleges that previous Army investigations “have failed to substantiate a sexual relationship.” Even so, the Dudney complaint states, “on several occasions, Generals Nesbitt and Britt have been seen by senior Georgia Army National Guard [non-commissioned officers] in questionable social situations that have resulted in a loss of confidence and respect for these senior leaders.”
The U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office declined to comment on any complaint or investigation involving the National Guard in Georgia, as did a spokesman for the state Department of Defense. Britt said she had not been contacted by investigators. Both Britt and Nesbitt said they hadn’t seen a copy of the complaint until given a copy by a reporter.
According to state records, Nesbitt earned $189,671 in fiscal year 2011 and Britt $177,373. They oversaw a $630 million-a-year budget and billions more in military assets.
After Nesbitt’s Sept. 4 announcement that he would give up command at the end of the month, the exiting adjutant general fired Dudney, who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state, charging that he was dismissed in retaliation for his complaint.
In an interview Thursday, Dudney acknowledged that he couldn’t personally vouch for every allegation in his memo. “This was a collaborative effort between me and several other officers,” he said. Although Army investigators accept anonymous complaints, Dudley said he considered it a matter of duty to put his name to the document.
“Something was wrong,” he said.
The complaint levels a number of other charges against both generals. Nesbitt is accused of making false statements to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, which coordinates state militia operations, in order to secure increased funding. Britt is accused of covering up an incident in which the son of a member of her staff was caught with drugs. Britt denies the allegation.
The governor’s office has insisted that Nesbitt’s retirement in September was required by a statute cutting off service at age 65 — the age Nesbitt would reach in October.
Britt said she was dismissed without any explanation, and Chris Riley, the governor’s chief of staff, agrees. But Riley said that talk about troubles within Georgia’s National Guard operation had been bubbling for months.
“There was enough verbal communication to raise a level of suspicion,” Riley said. “That was not a decision point, but the governor wanted a clean start.” Both positions serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Riley said the first indication he received of concern within the Georgia Guard came on April 15 last year. His phone log of that day shows that he received a call from the National Guard Bureau to discuss the “General Nesbitt issue” — a reference to a separate complaint that pre-dated the one lodged by Dudney.
Riley said neither he nor Deal saw a copy of Dudney’s detailed allegations until November, a full month after command of the Guard had changed hands. However, the chief of staff said the contents reinforced the governor’s belief that the Guard leadership needed a shake-up directed by outsiders he could personally trust.
In addition to Butterworth, a political ally, Deal appointed as the Guard’s No. 2 commander the son of a former law partner. Joe Jarrard is a retired Army lieutenant colonel with 20 years’ experience.
Military critics have pointed to Butterworth’s low rank â€“ the U.S. military has officially designated him a major. Jarrard’s appointment required an act of the Legislature this month. State law had required an assistant adjutant general to have five years’ Guard experience. Jarrard has none.
The House and Senate recently passed H.B. 800, which amended the qualifications for the job, to include five years’ service in the active military.
Staff writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this article.
Updated at 8:05 a.m.: Commenting is now open. Please keep it clean, people.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider