Brig. Gen. Jose Monteagudo, one of the top leaders in U.S. Air Forces Central Command, “dishonored and disgraced” himself by engaging in a years-long “inappropriate relationship” with his executive officer when he commanded a fighter wing, the Air Force’s inspector general said in a report completed early last year.
It appears the wing exec’s husband was also an airman under then-Col. Monteagudo’s command at the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The relationship ― which was noticed by many people around the wing, acccording to the IG ― caused turmoil within the 944th, especially when the subordinate received what were perceived to be perks, such as TDYs to Hawaii and Italy, and an unusually generous telework arrangement. This raised concerns about favoritism for many in the wing, the IG said in the March 2017 report, obtained by Air Force Times via the Freedom of Information Act.
In a statement to Air Force Times Thursday, Air Force Reserve Command spokesman Lt. Col. Chad Gibson said Monteagudo received a letter of counseling from AFRC Commander Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller for the actions identified in the report. Monteagudo is not currently performing any duty, Gibson said, and his retirement is pending the outcome of an officer grade determination.
He was served the letter of counseling in May 2017, Gibson said, but due to the adjudication process, it was finalized on March 1. His last duty was in March, Gibson said.
Monteagudo had been serving as mobilization assistant to AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian since July 2015. His official biography says he advised AFCENT leadership on policies and programs regarding the Air Force Reserve, and helped develop contingency plans and conduct air operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The airman with whom Monteagudo had the relationship is now retired, and her name is redacted throughout the report. Air Force wing executive officers are typically captains who handle administrative duties and other organizational tasks to help run the wing.
Their relationship not only violated Air Force Instruction 36-2909, which forbids unprofessional relationships, but Monteagudo’s failure to end it after being warned several times that wing members knew their relationship had become inappropriate ― and after learning that an IG complaint had been filed against him ― violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s rules barring conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, the IG said.
“Brig. Gen. Monteagudo did little to change his behavior and continued to engage inappropriately with [redacted], bringing discredit upon himself,” the report said. “Brig. Gen. Monteagudo’s standing as an officer and a gentleman in the wing was seriously compromised when he engaged in an unprofessional and inappropriate relationship with his executive officer, which continued after his departure as the wing commander.”
Monteagudo was nominated to receive his first star in November 2013, and was promoted in May 2014, years after the relationship began. However, while complaints seem to have been filed before his promotion to brigadier general, this IG report ― the findings of which could have scuttled his promotion ― was completed years afterward.
Retired Marine Col. Scott Jensen, CEO of Protect Our Defenders, an organization focused on ending sexual assault and harassment in the military, said in an interview Thursday that the Air Force’s years-long failure to look into the matter earlier and put a stop to it likely amounts to a failure of leadership and a tacit acceptance of such behavior.
During the first five months that Monteagudo served as assistant to the commander of AFCENT at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., beginning in July 2015, he also served as commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a transitional period for the prison. An F-16 fighter pilot with more than 4,000 flight hours, including 380 combat hours, he is a pilot for American Airlines when he is not on reserve duty.
Breakfasts, bike rides, and fuzzy pink slippers
Monteagudo’s alleged relationship with his wing exec began around the spring of 2011, shortly after he assumed command of the 944th, the report said. He was married at the time, and later divorced in 2015, the IG said.
Witnesses told investigators that about two or three weeks after Monteagudo arrived, his wing exec often began to bring him breakfast, and sometimes lunch as well, which witnesses said she did not do for others in the wing.
Monteagudo’s alleged bicycle-riding habits with the wing exec also raised eyebrows for some. Several airmen at the wing regularly rode bicycles together to exercise. Monteagudo sometimes joined the group, which at times included his wing exec and, he later testified, her husband. But Monteagudo told the IG investigator he never rode exclusively with her, the report said.
A witness told the investigator that “they had their own language” and had an “energy” between them, which made others feel like a “third wheel” in the office.
Monteagudo also told the investigator that he stored his bike at the subordinate’s residence because it was nearer to the base than his own home. The IG concluded that this meant “it is reasonable to assume” Monteagudo and the subordinate often met alone at her home, and that their routine bike-riding amounted to a “shared activity” that demonstrated a friendship between the two.
The IG concluded that the subordinate’s habit of bringing Monteagudo meals, and riding bikes and exercising with him “contributed to a perception among the staff that [their relationship] had moved past professional.”
Witnesses expressed concern about “almost daily” closed-door meetings between Monteagudo and his subordinate ― sometimes lasting an hour, and occasionally happening multiple times in a single day. One witness said “the situation” made her so uncomfortable she began to leave the office early to avoid it.
A witness told investigators that the wing exec was seen “walking into Brig. Gen. Monteagudo’s office in ‘pink, fuzzy slippers’ and exiting [his] office with one side of her blue uniform shirt hanging out.” Several witnesses also said they saw her sleeping in his office.
Another witness felt their relationship had “a really super familiarity with one another” that was “total ... casualness” and “not military.”
‘Oh my God, people are talking about us’
Monteagudo and his wing exec were also seen together at several social gatherings, behaving in ways that reinforced the perception that they had an unprofessional relationship, the IG said.
A witness became very uncomfortable after seeing them drinking, talking and engaging in “an inordinate amount of touching” at a 2011 Oktoberfest celebration.
“It just made me so mad that I had to call ‘knock it off,’” the witness told investigators.
Even after moving on from the 944th in the beginning of 2013, Monteagudo showed up at his former wing exec’s 40th birthday party at an unidentified date. The investigator concluded that this “demonstrated an enduring friendship that remained even after” he continued to his next assignment.
Another witness who saw the two at a celebration event after a 2014 change of command ceremony elsewhere said that they weren’t groping or engaging in lewd contact. But the way they lingered when touching each others arms was “like you would do with your wife or husband,” she said, and it made her so uncomfortable she left. That witness had arrived at the 944th well after Monteagudo left, but had still heard the rumors about them ever since her assignment began.
Protect Our Defenders’ Jensen found that behavior ― and the lack of consequences that followed ― troubling.
“It tells you how pervasive that culture can be, if you can be that open about it and so many people know about it, and yet you’re not afraid of there being repercussions,” Jensen said.
Monteagudo told the investigator that he knew his former wing exec was at that event, but denied socializing with her “in a private manner,” the report said. The investigator found his answer “to be deflecting and defensive,” and lessened his credibility, the report said.
The IG said several witnesses testified that Monteagudo and his wing exec knew there was a perception in the wing that their relationship was inappropriate. At one point, Monteagudo was told an anonymous complaint about the relationship had been filed against him and it “kind of took his breath away,” a witness said. After that, the witness said the two were not as casual in their actions together in front of other staffers.
But another witness said the wing exec’s response when finding out about IG complaints was to say, “People are just so jealous of me.”
Another witness said on one occasion, Monteagudo and his wing exec shut the door to talk, the report said, and she was heard saying “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God ... people are talking about us.”
In March or April 2011, another witness remarked to Monteagudo that it looked like he and his wing exec were getting “really close.” Monteagudo “responded by giving him a look, like, ‘yeah, you don’t need to mention it again.’”
The investigator concluded Monteagudo felt he didn’t feel he was doing anything wrong, and that he didn’t significantly change his behavior or his relationship, even though several people raised concerns.
The report includes a long, rambling passage from Monteagudo’s testimony in which he dismissed one person who had concerns as being “infamous for starting rumors,” said he only “trust[ed] about three people [at] every job I’ve ever had,” said no one ever told him morale was bad in his wing, and rhetorically asked if he should have fired his wing exec or stopped riding bikes with her, saying that her husband was also riding in that group most of the time.
At that point, Monteagudo also refers to her husband as “my [redacted],” suggesting he was in a position of authority over his wing exec’s husband.
Possible favoritism and strife in the wing
The wing exec also received benefits from Monteagudo that some felt amounted to favoritism.
The wing exec, who like Monteagudo was a reservist, had already been put on full-time orders several months about three months before he arrived. But her full-time status was continued through the end of April 2012.
“In the reserve component, the mere act of being put on long-term orders and performing service can be seen as a benefit,” the report said.
While she was on full-time orders, she was allowed to take what the IG concluded was “a liberal telework policy that was noticed by members of the wing, raising the perception of favoritism.” Some estimated she was in the office about half the time, or there about two or three hours a day.
“What she wanted, she got,” one witness said. “She was never here, but got paid. ... You’re gone all the time and you’re not being charged leave? That’s crazy.”
Monteagudo also gave her a “glowing” performance review, the IG said, which raised further concerns about possible favoritism.
She also accompanied Monteagudo on temporary duties to Hawaii, Aviano Air Base in Italy, and Washington, D.C. for the Airman of the Year Award ceremony as part of the Air Force Association’s annual conference. The IG found no evidence that they acted unprofessionally on those trips. But the fact that he authorized her attendance, though she had no official role, “fueled the perception of favoritism.”
Some witnesses agreed with Monteagudo’s perception that morale and discipline in the wing did not suffer as a result of the “distraction” caused by his relationship.
But the IG concluded that the evidence showed their relationship “negatively impacted the wing by eroding morale and respect for authority.”
The IG also said they continued their relationship and vacationed together on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in 2016. However, the IG said that by 2015 and 2016, there was no evidence suggesting their relationship was hurting morale or good order and discipline in the Air Force any longer.
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.