The Army has launched an investigation into the culture and climate at its School of Advanced Military Studies, Army Times has learned.

SAMS is one of four advanced schools that make up the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The investigation came following an internal survey and an Army University survey that “savaged” the school’s director, Col. Brian Payne, according to a SAMS employee.

Payne has faced criticism from students and faculty regarding his leadership style and a rapid, rocky rollout of a new SAMS curriculum during the pandemic, said the employee, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak with media. New courses lacked quality control, said the employee, and students were frustrated by constant last-minute changes to what they felt were incomplete courses.

Maj. Gen. Donn Hill, provost of Army University, ordered the investigation in June.

When reached by Army Times, officials insisted that the investigation is not into Payne, and his name doesn’t appear in the investigator’s questions, which were reviewed by Army Times.

But the Army has specific surveys for routine evaluations of climate and culture, and Army Regulation 15-6 investigations result when these routine measures have identified potential issues. Payne has been in charge of the school for the entire period of the investigation.

“The investigation was initiated to assess the health of the culture and climate in SAMS from Jan. 1, 2020 to now, that includes highlighting strengths and weaknesses and determining if personnel treat one another and students with dignity and respect,” said Maj. Ashley Bain, a spokesperson for Army University. “There are no named respondents [in the investigation].”

Payne assumed duties as the school’s director in July 2019.

The investigating officer, Col. Paul Callahan, asked the school’s faculty — which includes a large number of civilian academics — and employees to provide sworn statements answering 17 questions on strengths and weaknesses of the culture at SAMS.

Callahan also asked whether respondents were treated with “dignity and respect,” and if the school was meeting its mandate of molding agile, intellectual leaders to fill key battle staff and strategic planning positions throughout the force.

The SAMS employee who spoke with Army Times disputed the investigation’s generic form.

“How bland can you get?” asked the employee.

Bain, the Army University spokesperson, declined to provide information about the investigation’s timeline, saying that its “scope and complexity” will drive how long Callahan takes.

The investigation comes amid a period of leadership upheaval for the Army’s educational institutions.

In February, the Army suspended Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commandant of the Army War College, due to an investigation into allegations he had abusive sexual contact with an Army civilian.

And on June 15, Col. Scott Green, director of the service’s Command and General Staff School, died alone in his office.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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