part 2 of 2
One of the so-called "good deal" trips took Guard members to Europe, where they had taken Air Force Academy cadets for training in over-water navigation. During a stop in Berlin, says Dewett, he, Colonel Rosson and several other officers and enlisted men attended a live-sex show at a local nightclub. According to Pohanic, the show's highlight came when two couples engaged in oral sex inside a giant clam shell. Rosson did not respond to requests for comment.
Assignments on the coveted good deal trips generally were staffed by handpicked crew members, says plaintiff Schaiterer, as opposed to those who needed the flight time to keep current with Guard regulations. Technical Sergeant Terri Bruch was aboard in December 1991 when the 200th picked up members of the U.S. Army War College (which teaches war strategy to senior military officers) at its base in Pennsylvania and took them on a seventeen-day trip to confer with military experts all over South America.
The crew had at least one and a half days of downtime at each stop to see the sights. In Rio, claims Sergeant Dewett, crew members stayed at the five-star Caesar's Park Hotel, which sits on Ipanema beach. Ocean-view rooms at the hotel come complete with mini-bars and average about $280 for a double. "Right around the corner," says Dewett, "was a hotel where the embassy guards and other people were staying for $50 a night."
Bruch, says Ruttenberg, made the reservations at Caesar's Park at the instruction of her supervisor. Guard members are reimbursed for their hotel expenses. Their expense vouchers would have to have been approved by the commander and signed by the finance office, Ruttenberg says. Guard spokesman Schultz denied Westword's request to examine the expense reports.
During another trip, when another group of Army War College members stayed in Panama, the Guard crew got another perquisite, Bruch and Dewett say. "They didn't have billeting in Panama," says Dewett, "so we jumped on our airplane and went to Grand Cayman. Then we came back and picked up the War College.
"It's Club Med when you're in the know out there," he adds. "You couldn't wish for a better place to work. If the light's shining on you, if you're one of their fair-haired boys or girls, everything is handed to you."
But, says Bruch, there was a price for the fun: constant lewd remarks and requests for sex. "Once the plane lands," she says, "the officers forget they're officers, and they figure that the IPSs are there at their beck and call. It's a crew concept. The crew has to stay together. There's a saying, `Those who fly together, sleep together.'"
At times, Bruch says, she felt pressured to have sex with supervisors because they held the reins to her job. She claims to have had affairs with two senior officers, neither of whom responded to Westword's requests for comment. Bruch later filed a sexual harassment charge against one of the men, only to withdraw it later because "I was worried for my job."
Haluska says she also engaged in fraternization, specifically a long-term affair with an officer. That man also did not respond to questions from Westword.
According to the complaint, in 1989, about four years after the affair was over, Haluska heard that her former boyfriend had become involved with another woman at the base. "Others had complained that he was rubbing up against her in the office," Haluska says. "I asked [the woman] to keep her actions out of the workplace." The woman responded, Haluska says, by telling her to mind her own business. So Haluska took her complaints to a supervisor.
"He said I disrupted the workplace," Haluska says. "I only spoke to her in the hallway, and she was lower ranking than I was, so I didn't feel I was out of line. But I was told by [Lieutenant Colonel Terry Thompson] to apologize, or else a reprimand would be placed in my personnel folder." Haluska wrote letters of apology to the woman and to the woman's co-workers.
Jesus Quinonez enlisted in the Guard in 1980. He first worked as a crew chief, turning aircraft around on the tarmac, fueling them, checking the hydraulics and performing minor maintenance. "I wanted eventually to fly," he says, "and the Guard program offered tuition assistance to get through school." Two years after joining the Guard, he began flight training.
By 1984 Quinonez was working for the Guard as a part-time pilot, flying A-7s. After the Guard added the new 737s to its fleet, Quinonez saw it as an opportunity to get some "heavy flying time" and gain experience that would enable him to become a commercial airline pilot. He went full-time with the Guard in 1986, committing to a two-year stint. (He now flies for Northwest Airlines and works for the Guard part-time.)
Quinonez had a long-standing problem with Jeffrey Schjodt, partly, he says, because he'd heard rumors that Schjodt once had referred to him as a "nigger." (Schjodt did not respond to Westword's requests for comment.) The two avoided working the same flights, says Quinonez, and tried to avoid each other in the office.
It was with some dismay, then, that Quinonez realized that Schjodt had been assigned to conduct his 1990 check ride and flight evaluation. Despite their personality conflict, Quinonez says he felt that the check ride went pretty smoothly. He expected to receive a satisfactory rating, with recommendations for additional training in some areas.
But when the plane returned to base, Quinonez says, Schjodt summoned Rick Gowthrop, Quinonez's superior officer, to sit in on the debriefing, which usually indicates a failure. (Actually, as Quinonez later would learn, he would have passed had he not lost his temper.) Midway through the debriefing, says Quinonez, he swore at Schjodt, who stormed from the room. And when Quinonez swore at Gowthrop, Gowthrop responded by ordering Quinonez off the base.
Lieutenant Colonel William Lowrey, a former fighter pilot and part-time guardsman who works as a pilot for Continental Airlines, was in the area when he heard the commotion. "I won't say that it was a shouting match," says Lowrey, "because Quinonez wasn't shouting. Gowthrop was shouting. Every time Gowthrop would say something, Quinonez--not in a loud voice, but in a voice you could hear--was verbally coming back at everything, saying, `Fuck you.' He was like a punctuation mark to everything Gowthrop said."
Quinonez retreated to the flight-planning room, where he began packing up his gear. Gowthrop followed, and the two had more words. According to Lowrey and other witnesses, Gowthrop grabbed Quinonez by the front of his flight suit and propelled him out of the room with such force that the metal door slammed against the wall.
Gowthrop pitched Quinonez onto the landing above the stairs and then tried to throw him down the steep metal staircase, Lowrey says. Quinonez "grabbed the rail and was bending backwards trying to hang on while Gowthrop tried to pry his hands off." Lowrey says he told the men to calm down, and Gowthrop backed off. Lowrey stayed with Gowthrop as Quinonez left the hangar and drove away. "I told Gowthrop that I was afraid he was going to throw Quinonez down the stairs," Lowrey says. "And [Gowthrop] looks straight at me and says, `That's exactly what I was trying to do.'"
A few days after the incident, Lowrey was called in to see Colonel Rosson, Gowthrop's commander. "He tells me that what he thinks I really saw was a senior officer trying to subdue or control an insubordinate officer," Lowrey says. "I knew what direction he was going in. I told him, `Colonel, I was as close to them as I am to you, and I know what I saw.'" He says he also told the colonel about Gowthrop's intention to throw Quinonez down the stairs.
"I provided Rosson with a written statement," he says. "That's the last time I was ever talked to about it."
Rosson also debriefed Pohanic, another witness to the alleged assault. Pohanic provided the colonel with a written report that he'd typed on his computer minutes after the incident.
Both Pohanic and Lowrey say they expected Gowthrop to be fired. Rosson apparently didn't agree. Quinonez was effectively banned from the base for two months. Gowthrop, according to the lawsuit, was not punished in any way. Quinonez, Pohanic and Updyke (who also witnessed the assault) all would be ousted from the Guard within two and a half years of the alleged assault.
Nothing came of Quinonez's report to the Buckley security police about the assault or of his complaint to the Guard's Social Actions Office, which is supposed to conduct inquiries regarding equal opportunity issues.
But he did get some feedback: In January 1991 Quinonez received a poor performance rating, based on the fact that he had "verbally abused a senior ranking officer and then directly disobeyed an order" from Gowthrop. Quinonez later filed another complaint, this time with the Guard's Inspector General's office, which is charged with investigating allegations of wrongdoing.
Two and a half years after the incident, Gowthrop was removed from his position as Director of Operations for the 200th. In a recent letter to Ruttenberg, General France noted that Gowthrop had reacted "innappropriately" to Quinonez's "insubordinate conduct." However, the plaintiffs contend that, despite losing the director's job, Gowthrop retained his same rank and salary.
The trouble really began raining down on the 200th in late 1992, after Pohanic, pursuing his case as per regulation, appealed a mediocre performance evaluation report he'd been given. He filed a report with the Inspector General giving his account of the alleged assault against Quinonez and suggested that he was being punished by Rosson and Gowthrop for having witnessed the incident. Before any action was taken on his evaluation, however, Pohanic was called on the carpet for smoking on an airplane. A captain had complained to commanders that Pohanic and a technical sergeant had been lighting up during a flight.
The other sergeant was given a reprimand, the lawsuit says. But Rosson recommended that Pohanic be fired.
Although smoking is prohibited aboard Guard planes (with exceptions made for VIPs), the plaintiffs say the regulation is selectively enforced. They provide in the lawsuit a list of senior officers, including a brigadier general, who were known either to have smoked on board or to have turned a blind eye when it occurred.
When Terri Bruch heard that Pohanic was in trouble, she leapt to his defense and signed an affidavit stating that she, too, sometimes smoked aboard the aircraft, and that she'd seen others do so as well. (One other Guard member signed a similar affidavit but later withdrew it.)
So the commanders went after Bruch. The following month, she says, she was told she would not be allowed to re-enlist because she had submitted the affidavit. Later, according to Bruch, her superior officers said she would not be allowed to re-enlist because she had "lied" on her re-enlistment application. Bruch, however, claims she never intentionally misrepresented her background.
Bruch had been arrested for driving under the influence during her previous hitch, a fact of which commanders were aware. She also had successfully completed an outpatient alcohol-education program, which her superior officers had approved. She revealed her arrest on her re-enlistment application but answered "no" when asked if she'd attended an alcohol rehabilitation program. She believed that to be the correct answer, she says, because Guard commanders had nixed an in-hospital program for her.
When Pohanic began having problems with the Guard about his performance evaluation, he went to see one of the three staff Judge Advocate Generals (or JAG attorneys) assigned to Buckley. That JAG was Ruttenberg. She listened to Pohanic and offered to help.
"All of a sudden," says Ruttenberg, "six or seven people came to me with complaints." Pohanic. Quinonez. Bruch. Haluska. Updyke, who claimed Gowthrop had actively sought, and sometimes even bullied, a series of negative performance complaints about him from other pilots. She'd already been helping Ken Schaiterer, who says that after complaining about the "good-time" trips, he was told he would not be allowed to re-enlist past a certain date. One at a time, the Guard members outlined complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, fraud and retaliation.
Ruttenberg was all too familiar with sexual harassment. Over the years, she'd filed complaints about officers who told her that a woman's place was in the home, who'd treated her like their personal secretary, or who introduced her in meetings as "the pretty one." At Buckley, she says, she'd had to attend official meetings held at Hooters restaurants, where the waitresses are known for their skimpy costumes, and she'd had to put up with posters in the office claiming that "sexual harassment will be graded."
And she'd gotten the same kind of discouraging replies from commanders that the other Guard members had received. She was told that complaining could hurt her career, she says, and was told to lighten up.
But Ruttenberg says she was determined to help the people who'd come to her as clients. Her job, after all, was to provide the Guard members with legal advice. She plunged forward.
In early 1993, the attorney helped the Guard members file formal Complaints of Wrongs, a military procedure designed to allow soldiers to appeal alleged misconduct by their superior officers. The complaints, when they finally were turned over to Commander-in-Chief Romer, were lobbed back to France, even though he was part of the problem, says Ruttenberg. In addition, Pohanic and Quinonez asked for Inspector General investigations.
Instead, at the urging of Smethills, she says, Ruttenberg herself was investigated. She was accused by her superiors of breaking the chain of command by passing along the complaints. According to the plaintiffs' suit, Ruttenberg was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The military outlines a lengthy procedure for complainants to follow, and by midsummer, Ruttenberg and the others had done almost everything that was required of them. The group heard that the IG's report on Quinonez's and Pohanic's complaints had been completed but say they were not advised of its contents. They waited for their Complaints of Wrongs to be considered. If that failed, there was only one more step to take--an appeal to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records.
By late that summer, however, Ruttenberg's little band was shrinking. Pohanic was fired in August. Bruch was told in early September that she would not be allowed to re-enlist, and Ruttenberg's job was also on the line. The group filed another Inspector General complaint, this time asking that the Department of Defense investigate what they viewed as retaliation. (That investigation has not yet been concluded.)
In mid-September, they filed suit. "We had no choice," says Ruttenberg. "People were losing their jobs." The group asked for back pay and reinstatement. And they contended that the commanders' actions and the appearance of collusion made the officers subject to racketeering charges.
As part of the suit, the plaintiffs also asked for copies of the lengthy IG report that Quinonez's and Pohanic's complaints had spurred. The Guard finally did turn it over--but only after demanding and receiving a court order sealing it from the public. The plaintiffs are not allowed to discuss the report under threat of contempt of court, Ruttenberg says.
Days after the suit was filed, Ruttenberg received a letter from General France informing her that he was removing her from her position as a JAG attorney and reassigning her to an engineering unit. "Your actions have been disruptive of the mission at Buckley Air National Guard Base and affect unit morale," he wrote.
Since then, Haluska has retired--under pressure, she claims--and Quinonez has been informed that his job has been eliminated as part of the unit's reduction in force. The two contend that they have solid performance ratings, and that less-qualified people are being kept on. Updyke recently was fired from his full-time Guard job and told that his part-time weekend job with the Guard would be eliminated due to military downsizing.
Ruttenberg had been approved for a promotion to major on May 1. However, in a letter dated April 15, General France informed Ruttenberg that he was removing her name from the promotion list. Among other things, France accused Ruttenberg of making "misstatements of fact," showing disrespect to superior officers and committing "ethical violations."
Last fall, the plaintiffs' attorney requested a preliminary injunction that would prevent the Guard from ousting any more members of their group. Thus far, Judge Matsch has not responded to that request. The judge also has yet to rule on a motion for dismissal filed earlier this month by defense attorneys. That motion claims that the federal court lacks jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs--because they have not yet gone before the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records--have failed to complete the military's formal complaint process. (Ruttenberg says an appeal to that board would be futile, because it has no power to order that a person be re-enlisted or rehired.)
The defense motion is based on a long list of court cases. Court after court around the country has declared that judges must be careful not to entertain suits that could disrupt relationships between enlisted military personnel and their superiors. In fact, the Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have long recognized two systems of justice--one for military personnel and one for everybody else.
But just in case those arguments don't prove fruitful, the Guard made a stab at ensuring that its members remain immune from future lawsuits. Guard officers wrote and lobbied for Colorado House Bill 1227, which was introduced this legislative session. The bill, if it had passed as originally written, would have immunized officers and enlisted personnel from being held liable for either civil or criminal acts, so long as the acts were performed in "good faith" and within the scope of state or federal duty.
The bill drew criticism from State Senator Joan Johnson, a Democrat from Adams County. With Ruttenberg's assistance, Johnson drafted an amendment stating that Guard members would not be immune from liability if, in performing the act, they violated state or federal statutes. The amendment was approved but turned out to be a moot point when the Senate killed the bill.
State Senator Jim Roberts, a Republican from Larimer County who co-sponsored the original bill, says he believes the Guard simply wanted the immunity to protect it from possible legal actions when it set up a temporary medical outpost in Denver's inner city earlier this year. Johnson, however, is skeptical. Although she acknowledges that the bill would not have protected the Guard from the lawsuit Ruttenberg and the others already had filed, she says the suit "certainly might have been on the minds of the people who proposed" the legislation. Adds the senator, who serves on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee, "I don't trust the Department of Military Affairs."
Johnson says she believes the military must be put on a tighter leash. "They continue to operate under different rules," she says. And if re-elected this fall, Johnson says she hopes to revamp the statute regulating the Colorado National Guard to ensure that commanders are made more accountable.
The majority of the defendants have not yet filed a formal answer to the plaintiffs' complaint. Only attorneys for the Air Force have responded. In their answer, the government lawyers acknowledge that the Air Force should have--but did not--respond to Freedom of Information requests filed by the plaintiffs, some of which were made almost two years ago.
The ball is now in Matsch's court.
Despite everything that's happened, Jesus Quinonez says he still likes the Guard. In fact, he says, he doesn't want to leave. "What has changed is my attitude toward leaders," he says. "I tried to work all my complaints in-house, and all they did was sweep them under the rug. I'm dismayed."
end of part 2
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