A groundbreaking female fighter pilot was fired from her current job as director of the Defense Department’s Special Access Programs Central Office — which manages and oversees some of the military’s most secretive classified programs — and is under several inspector general investigations.
Maj. Gen. Dawn Dunlop is no longer running SAPCO, and is now serving as a special assistant to Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Seve Wilson, DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews confirmed in an emailed statement to Air Force Times, .
Air Force Times has also learned from a knowledgeable source that multiple ongoing IG investigations convinced Pentagon leadership that Dunlop needed to be removed. Dunlop also may be considering retirement.
It is not apparent exactly what Dunlop is being investigated for, and she was not available for comment by press time.
But another source with knowledge of the office, who asked not to be identified, said Dunlop fostered a toxic work environment. Dunlop would call senior leaders from the services “idiots,” he said, and would directly call people from the Army and Air Force and scream at them on the phone.
The source said that things reached a boiling point May 31, when Dunlop lost her temper in a meeting with senior Air Force civilians. An Air Force civilian immediately told Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, about the situation in the office, the source said, and Lord walked over to the SAPCO office and removed Dunlop.
In a May 31 email obtained by Air Force Times, Lord told top Pentagon, Air Force and Army leaders — including Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist and Gen. Wilson — that she had made a change in the office. Air Force Col. Bruce Monroe is now taking on leadership roles in the office on a temporary basis, according to the email.
Special access programs are among the military’s most closely guarded secrets, and are classified at some of the highest levels of the U.S. government. The office Dunlop directed until recently managed and oversaw those programs.
Dunlop is a groundbreaking Air Force fighter pilot. She has more than 3,500 flight hours flying the F-15, F-16, F-22 and other aircraft, and is currently the highest-ranking female fighter pilot in the Air Force.
She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988. She was the top graduate in her class at Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1997. She was the first woman to become a fighter test pilot, fly an F-22, and command a test wing when she took over the 412th Test Wing.
Dunlop flew combat missions as part of Operation Provide Comfort, which immediately followed the Gulf War and sought to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to Kurds after the failed uprising against Saddam Hussein.
In February, Dunlop was one of more than 80 female aviators who filmed a recruiting ad at Edwards Air Force Base in California, timed to coincide with the release of the superhero movie “Captain Marvel.”
The Air Force also fired another two-star general, Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, from his leadership role days after Dunlop was removed. Gersten was relieved of command of the Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada June 2 over allegations of an unprofessional relationship.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the year Dunlop graduated from test pilot school, and to indicate Col. Bruce Monroe is in the Air Force.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.