The Georgia Army National Guard has suspended one of its brigade commanders while the state weighs the results of a toxic leadership investigation and completes a second investigation into allegations that brigade leaders retaliated against soldiers who provided statements in the first, Army Times has learned.

A Georgia National Guard spokesman confirmed that Col. Brian Ellis is suspended from his duties as the commander of the state’s 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, which is headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia. Ellis assumed command in May 2020, according to the Georgia National Guard’s 2020 annual report.

But the state has not suspended other key leaders in the brigade who were scrutinized in the first investigation and now face a second investigation for alleged retaliation.

The 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade has more than 1,700 soldiers, and it oversees one of the six security force assistance battalions in the National Guard — 1st Battalion, 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade.

“The Georgia Department of Defense is unable to comment about details of ongoing investigations,” said Air Force Maj. Pamela Stauffer, a spokesperson for the Georgia National Guard. “COL Ellis was suspended from command pending the completion of the process. We remain focused on a prompt resolution while providing all parties the due process to which they are entitled.”

His suspension began in mid-May during the first investigation, according to a soldier familiar with the investigations. The soldier spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from state leadership.

Ellis and key full-time members of the brigade staff, including deputy commander Lt. Col. Henry Mullins and executive officer Maj. Keri McGregor, faced allegations of counterproductive leadership that led to a broad investigation conducted by Col. Steven Shepherd, an officer from the Alabama National Guard. Shepherd is a former police detective with a law degree, according to his LinkedIn page.

Lt. Col. Ronald McBay, an attorney for Ellis, strongly denied all allegations against his client.

“COL Ellis, as Commander of the 648th MEB, conducted himself in a lawful, dignified manner that comported with the Army Values,” McBay said.

McGregor provided Army Times with a statement denying allegations of wrongdoing.

“I expressly deny any allegations of misconduct or violation of any rules, regulations or statutes,” McGregor said. “I have served the Army and the Georgia National Guard honorably for over 18 years, and my service record is exemplary. I look forward to the completion of the investigations and being able to fulfill my duties in service to my country and state.”

Army Times reached Mullins via phone, but he declined to comment.

Stauffer, the Georgia Guard spokesperson, refused to provide specific information about the allegations.

Alleged retaliation and suspensions

During the first investigation, the state suspended Ellis only from his part-time command role. He was not suspended from his full-time role leading the state’s joint strategy and plans directorate. According to the soldier familiar to the investigation, Mullins, the deputy brigade commander and its senior full-time officer, and Maj. Keri McGregor, who is full-time as the executive officer, remained in their key leadership roles in the brigade while the investigating officer conducted interviews and gathered evidence.

And as that broad command climate investigation unfolded, Ellis, Mullins and McGregor allegedly retaliated against soldiers who had provided statements — leading the state to launch a second investigation to evaluate allegations of reprisal by the three officers, according to the soldier familiar with the investigation. That investigation is ongoing, Ellis’ attorney confirmed.

The soldier familiar with the investigations told Army Times that despite the reprisal allegations being serious enough to merit a second investigation, the state has not suspended Mullins or McGregor from their roles in the brigade. The two officers supervise and write performance evaluations for soldiers that have been interviewed for the investigations, the soldier said.

Georgia National Guard officials did not immediately respond to follow-up questions regarding the status of Mullins and McGregor.

Speaking on behalf of Ellis, McBay said the first investigation left out key evidence.

“COL Ellis recently responded to a referral of derogatory information that resulted from an ongoing investigation,” McBay told Army Times. “In addition to arguments related to significant procedural errors, COL Ellis’ response included statements from witnesses that the investigating officer chose not to interview and relevant, objective, documentary evidence that the investigating officer did not include in his report to the approval authority.”

“The response provides credible material that directly refutes the allegations against COL Ellis,” argued McBay.

Stauffer said the state took steps to ensure the investigations are fair.

“We appointed an investigator from outside of the state to avoid any potential for bias and to ensure fairness,” Stauffer said.

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.

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