Army general in charge of anti-ISIS training recalled after cronyism allegations

A top US general overseeing training of anti-Islamic State fighters in Iraq was recalled earlier this year amidst accusations of improper conduct. He was reprimanded for allegedly steering an energy contract at a Texas base to his West Point classmates.

Major General Dana J.H. Pittard oversaw the training missions for Iraqi government forces and sectarian militias opposing the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) headquarters in Kuwait since June 2013.

In an official reprimand, issued in February, the Army rebuked Pittard for showing “a gross lack of good judgment,” and “creating the perception of preferential treatment” in awarding a $492,000 renewable energy contract while in command of Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the result of a three-year investigation by the Army’s inspector general, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Though an Army spokeswoman said Pittard “completed his assignment” and that his return in April was not related to reports of misconduct, the official website still lists him as “Deputy Commanding General – Operations” at CFLCC.

Formerly a rising star in the Army, Pittard served multiple tours in Iraq and was a decorated combat veteran. As military aide to President Bill Clinton, he was responsible for the briefcase containing the atomic launch codes, also known as the “nuclear football,” the Post reported. He is now facing an Army review board and may be demoted before being allowed to retire later this year.

Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said in a statement that the reprimand and the investigation of Pittard “called into question his suitability for continued service and resulted in his request for retirement, effectively ending his career in the Army.”

Pittard issued a statement as well, describing his actions as taking initiative on behalf of a project the Army considered a priority.

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I invited a measure of risk with the contracting process,” he wrote. “Throughout my 34 years of service as an Army leader, I have always operated with an understanding that some risk is acceptable in taking action that will benefit our force.

If my example deters other senior Army leaders from taking bold risk in the future, that is unfortunate,” he added.

Arriving in Fort Bliss in 2010, Pittard promised to crack down on what he called “low-level corruption” in the contracting office, which was already under scrutiny by federal investigators.

We’ve got to make sure there is no cronyism. There are some gross examples of where we have paid way too much for certain things,” he said in a December 2010 interview with a local newspaper El Paso Inc. “...The idea of the ‘sweet deal’ that bordered on cronyism, we are just not going to put up with it anymore.”

Several months later, someone on Pittard’s staff sent an anonymous tip to Army investigators that the general was acting inappropriately by insisting an energy contract be awarded to a company run by two of his former classmates from the US Military Academy, known as West Point. The allegation prompted investigations by the Army’s inspector general and the Criminal Investigation Command, as well as the FBI.

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Pittard told the inspector general that he was not close to his former classmates, and did not even remember one of them until he introduced himself as a fellow West Pointer. The man in question, former Army Colonel Thomas Gregory Harris, would later be convicted of wire fraud and sentenced to two years in prison by a federal jury. His lawyer, Joel Androphy, criticized the Army for coming down on Pittard.

He didn’t do anything wrong in this case. Nobody did anything wrong,” Androphy told the Post. “Pittard has done very good stuff for our country, and he doesn’t deserve to be sanctioned by the United States.”

Former Congressman Pete Gallego, a Democrat whose district covered much of West Texas, told the the Post that the general was “getting a raw deal.”

It’s really disheartening to watch, because to me Pittard is one of the best things to ever happen to Fort Bliss,” Gallego said.