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The massive staffs and countless perks routinely provided to general and flag officers are under scrutiny after a recent string of ethical lapses in the senior brass ranks.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, singled out the vast web of "support" that accompanies the Pentagon's top billets after he was asked to review ethics training provided to top officials.
"Gen Dempsey believes we must look at the level and type of support that senior leaders receive in the execution of their duties to ensure that it is necessary and to ensure that we are being consistent, sensible and efficient," Pentagon spokesman George Little said Friday.
Dempsey's recommendation was forwarded to President Obama several days ago, Little said. Dempsey also suggested that ethics training should begin earlier and occur more frequently throughout officers' careers.
Little declined to say whether Dempsey believes the potentially excessive staffs and support may be contributing to the rise in misconduct reported among senior military officers.
It is also too early to say whether the Pentagon will conduct a comprehensive review of senior officer perks, Little said, adding that Dempsey "hasn't gotten to that level of detail yet."
Dempsey and his staff have been studying ethics issues for the past year as part of the chairman's broader focus on emphasizing the "profession of arms," officials say.
In November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked Dempsey to review "how to better foster a culture of stewardship among our most senior military officers" in response to senior officer misconduct that was drawing public attention.
Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus resigned as director of Central Intelligence on Nov. 9 because he had an extramarital affair, a scandal that also ensnared Marine. Gen. John Allen, commander of the Afghanistan war, who is under investigation for trading allegedly improper emails with a 37-year-old Tampa socialite.
Other senior officers also have been cited recently for improper use of travel privileges and the staffs attached to their offices.
The Pentagon announced Nov. 13 that the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. William "Kip" Ward, was stripped of a star and ordered to repay taxpayers some $82,000 for abusing his travel privileges and expense accounts.
In January 2011, Ward and his 12-person entourage made an 11-day trip to Washington and Atlanta, where he conducted less than three days of official business. The trip cost taxpayers nearly $130,000, according to the Defense Department Inspector General's office. Ward told his staff to refuel in Bermuda, where he and his wife stayed in a $750-a-night hotel suite.
Days before the announcement about Ward, the IG released a report Nov. 8 that found another four-star officer had abused military travel privileges.
Adm. James Stavridis, the top-ranking U.S. and NATO military officer in Europe, was rebuked for telling his staff to fire up a military Gulfstream jet so he, his wife and several staffers could fly from their duty station in Belgium to a vineyard in France for dinner. They joined a crowd of wealthy French power brokers at a winery in Burgundy. The French defense minister attended, but for Stavridis to claim that trip as official business was a stretch, according to the IG, which concluded he "improperly used MilAir for unofficial travel without approval."
Ultimately, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus did not discipline Stavridis. But the investigation's mere existence took him off the short list for several top Pentagon jobs. He had previously been mentioned as a possible chief of naval operations or chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The IG substantiates complaints against senior military officials about once a week, on average. The IG office has seen a spike in complaints of misconduct by senior officials over the past five years and is adding dozens of new staffers to handle the increased workload.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a rare public appearance Nov. 15, raised the issue of senior officer perks. "There is a temptation to take all these perks to the next level," Gates was quoted as saying at an investor's conference in Chicago. "There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews people's judgment."
Gates recalled serving as the civilian defense secretary and living on a military base in Washington next to retired Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
"I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time," Gates said, adding that he would tell his wife: "Mullen's got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I'm shoving something into the microwave — and I'm his boss."