The Army has launched a sweeping review of the health of its general officer corps after the suicide this summer of a two-star general who was just days away from a promotion and new command.
The review also comes on the heels of a series of high-profile misconduct cases involving general officers that have tarnished the Army's reputation.
Army Secretary Eric Fanning has tasked Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, who most recently led Army Cyber Command, with looking at the overall health of the general officer corps after 15 years of war.
"It's not because we felt we had some burgeoning, endemic problem," Fanning told Army Times Jan. 4. "It's because one is too many, and it's always good to take a knee, take a breath, and see if there's something new or that has developed because something's changed."
The number of allegations and subsequent investigations against senior officials – which includes promotable colonels, general officers and senior executive service civilians – decreased in fiscal year 2016, according to data from the Army inspector general.
This includes a decrease in the number of senior officials with substantiated misconduct. In 2016, the Army recorded 30 senior officials with at least one substantiated allegation, compared with 39 in 2015.
The only category where the numbers went up in 2016 was sexual misconduct/inappropriate relationships, according to the Army IG.
Seven allegations of sexual misconduct, inappropriate relationships and sexual harassment were substantiated in 2016, compared with two in 2015.
The Army takes seriously all allegations of misconduct, Fanning said, adding that he's "proud that we're investigating more, and yet substantiating less. The trends are all in the right direction, but like anything, like sexual assault, suicide, we need to get to zero."
Maj. Gen. John Rossi, 55, died July 31 in his on-post home at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, just days before taking command of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
The Army in October announced that his death was a suicide, a rare instance that sent shock waves across the force.
Army officials have not said what may have led Rossi to take his own life, except to say he was not accused or suspected of any misconduct.
Fanning said he hopes Cardon’s review can take a hard look at how the Army is preparing and taking care of its top leaders.
"It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a general officer commit suicide, and it’s worth looking at and seeing if there’s anything we’re not recognizing that we’re not getting at," Fanning said. "This is something we need to do force-wide. We’ve been deploying, repeatedly, the Army for 15 years. We need to understand how it’s affecting our soldiers and their families."
The Army needs to understand the impact of combat and repeated deployments on its soldiers, Fanning said.
"We need a better understanding of how that impacts those who volunteer to serve, making sure we recognize it, treat it, and then understand any behavior and consequences from those, essentially, invisible wounds that we’ve been trying to understand. We have a lot more to do."
Cardon’s review also will include several headline-grabbing cases of general officer misconduct, including Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who was Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s former senior military aide.
Lewis used his government credit card at strip clubs or gentlemen’s clubs in Rome and Seoul, drank in excess and had "improper interactions" with women during business travel with Carter, according to a report released in October by the Defense Department inspector general.
As recently as December, the Army busted down Maj. Gen. David Haight to the rank of lieutenant colonel after he was revealed to have conducted a decade-long extramarital affair and lived a "swinger lifestyle," according to USA Today.
"Yes, there was a wave of them," Fanning said about the recent spate of high-profile misconduct cases. "In some ways, the wave is exaggerated because these take a while to investigate and a while to adjudicate. It’s not that they’re happening at the same time."
But it also is important to look at these types of waves and ask the difficult questions, he said.
"It always makes you stop and wonder, ‘do we have a problem?’" Fanning said. "There could be a bad weekend with suicides. There could be a bad weekend with accidental deaths. It always causes you to step back and go, ‘is there a problem here?’ ‘Is there a trend problem?’"
Fanning said he does not believe the Army has a trend problem when it comes to general officer misconduct.
"We have the lowest numbers we’ve had in a while. Things are getting better," he said. "But as with anything else like this, one is too many, and we want to understand why."
In addition to the review, the Army has already made some changes.
One is making sure that when the service is investigating allegations of general officer misconduct, it is immediately also reviewing that officer’s security clearance.
This issue came to light in the case of Haight, where it was learned that his security clearance remained in place for months after he had been fired from a top job at U.S. European Command, USA Today reported.
"What we uncovered was that determination was taking place too late in the process, in part because there’s a queue for getting clearances," Fanning said. "We made a change to move these up to the front of the queue."
Fanning said he’s proud of the Army’s generals.
"When you consider what general officers are asked to do, what anybody in uniform, for that matter, is asked to do, particularly for the last 15 years [with] multiple deployments, away from families, in combat, having lost a number of troops under their command, I think it’s pretty remarkable how strong our general officer corps is," he said.
Cardon is expected to provide a preliminary briefing to Fanning before the civilian leader leaves office Jan. 20 with the Obama administration. The review is expected to be completed by the spring.
Fanning said he hopes it helps prompt a larger study of post-traumatic stress.
"We need to do more as a military in understanding the effects of PTS, because anyone who volunteers to serve and is injured in any way because of that service deserves to have those wounds diagnosed and treated," he said. "And we need to understand if those wounds are causing other types of behaviors and we’re not seeing the linkage."
Post-traumatic stress is a complicated issue, Fanning said.
"There are a number of people, and I’m one of them, who accept that if you go into combat, you are going to have PTS, that 100 percent of people are going to have PTS," he said. "It’s pure biology. Some people find their way out of it, others don’t. It’s not a sign of strength. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s biology."
The military asks its service members to "do things that go against how our bodies are hardwired," Fanning said.
"We’ve worked very hard at trying to make care more accessible, to try and take the stigma away by embedding it at the operational level, by embedding it in schools," he said. "That’s great, but we need to change the paradigm. Care is going to be really easy to find if you need it. It should be you’re going to need it, and it’s going to be part of what you do when you leave, when you return, and when you’re serving. It should be an expectation."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.