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IG: Air Force general caused 'mental suffering' to subordinates

Jan. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt
Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt (Air Force)
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Retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Schmidt was an abusive leader who caused his subordinates to suffer “metal suffering” by screaming and swearing at them, an Air Force Inspector General’s Office report found.

“Maj. Gen. Schmidt failed to treat his front office subordinates with dignity and respect, and failed to demonstrate the underlying leadership principles that inspire motivation, confidence, enthusiasm and trust in subordinates and foster a healthy command climate,” according to the March 2013 report, which the Air Force provided to Air Force Times.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday about the report’s findings, which also conclude that Schmidt improperly took a part from a NATO aircraft; he did not follow travel procedures when he visited his mother; he did not properly keep track of bottles of wine that he gave as gifts; and he did not provide formal feedback to people he was tasked with evaluating.

Schmidt received a letter of reprimand over the report’s findings, according to the Air Force. He had planned to retire prior to the investigation, but he was assigned as a special assistant to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander pending the conclusion of the punishment phase of the proceedings. Schmidt retired last week.

The investigation covers the time when Schmidt served as the commander of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force Command in Casteau, Belgium. Witnesses described Schmidt as verbally abusive who created “a repressive environment,” the report says. One witness called Schmidt “downright mean.”

Two officers who worked for Schmidt decided to leave the Air Force as a result of the problems they had with him, the report says. Both officers’ names were redacted from the report. One claimed that the abuse he suffered under Schmidt harmed his health and his marriage.

Witnesses described how Schmidt would berate them in private, the report says. One major told investigators that Schmidt would scream at him and call him an idiot on a daily basis. In one incident, when an officer handed Schmidt a printout of a power point presentation, Schmidt crumpled it up and tossed it back at him. While Schmidt said he would never do such a thing, investigators believed the officer.

In response to complaints that he swore, Schmidt told an investigating officer that his subordinates used similar language and added “there’s a totally different standard over here in Europe,” the report says.

“On occasion, I did use profanity for emphasis, even some times out of frustration, as did other members of my staff,” the report quotes Schmidt as saying. “But if I did use profanity, it was usually just one word, in private, in my office, with the door closed, and it was not derogatory, or directed at anyone. As an example, I have said things like, ‘What the hell is going on?’”

Another complaint leveled against Schmidt was that he forced subordinates to take orders from his wife. The word “wife” is redacted from most, but not all of the report, so it is clear from the context that one officer complained that Schmidt had his wife arrange his travel plans and allowed her to send bullying emails to Schmidt’s subordinates.

“She was very rude, demanding and authoritarian, and the front office staff did not like the power that was delegated to her by Maj. Gen. Schmidt,” an unnamed officer is quoted in the report as saying.

Schmidt said he never required subordinates to take orders from his wife, but an investigator noted that “his testimony seemed contradictory.” It is one of several instances in the report where the investigator does not lend much credence to Schmidt’s explanations.

One month after being interviewed for the report, Schmidt sent the inspector general’s office a 65-page written statement that blamed the complaints against him on his subordinates and accused them of “hearsay, complete fabrication of the truth and a lack of competence,” the report says.

“Based on consistent witness testimony that all conflicted with the above viewpoint, the [investigating officer] found Maj. Gen. Schmidt’s written assertion not to be credible,” the report says.

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