By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
He had been standing at the podium, answering a question from the Senate Government Committee chairman, when he tailed off into incoherence. He fell silent, lifted his glasses and felt for his pale eyes. His left hand drifted to his forehead. Abruptly, he turned and left the hearing room, as the chairman called for a five-minute recess.
After six hours of testimony, the general wept.
At the instant his composure crumbled, the general thought about how he had tried to help his soldiers. He remembered a sergeant who had been injured, who had no money and whose family was being evicted. He had helped that sergeant by making a telephone call to Washington, D.C., a call that resulted in putting cash in the sergeant's pocket. He had always tried to help his people, but didn't they understand that he could not suspend the rules?
How could they think he cared more for his career than his duty, that he favored some of his soldiers over others? After all, the general had not always been a general, with two stars on each shoulder and five ranks of ribbons on his left breast. When he joined the Arizona National Guard 40 years before, he had been a private, then a lieutenant. Unlike most people who join the National Guard--and unlike any previous adjutant general--he had never held a "civilian" position. On weekdays he had been a civil service employee of the Guard, a technician maintaining its airplanes; on weekends he had donned his uniform and flown the planes. He had followed orders and risen through the ranks until Governor Bruce Babbitt appointed him head of the Guard in 1983. Since then three other governors had seen fit to retain him.
Now, just two years from retirement, he was compelled to submit to a political procedure that permitted his enemies to attack him publicly. During most of the day, the hearing room had been filled, the general's allies on one side of the aisle, his detractors on the other, and many harsh things had been said about him.
When the chairman asked him why it appeared that the rules and regulations were selectively enforced under the general's command, it was all too much.
That was what Major General Donald Owens says he thought during the five minutes he took to compose himself on January 30. He had expected criticism when Governor Fife Symington asked him to remain as head of the Arizona National Guard. Because of a 1989 law that required the governor's appointee to be confirmed by the senate, Owens would be the first adjutant general required to undergo senate confirmation hearings. He expected the process would be grueling.
Such hearings were inevitably political skirmishes, but over the years Owens had developed a reputation for political astuteness. A Democratic governor had first tapped him for the position, and now a Republican governor--one who a few weeks earlier had given him a 25 percent pay raise--wanted him to stay. In between there had been Evan Mecham, who at first wanted to install someone else as adjutant general, but who had reappointed Owens after meeting with him. And after Mecham, of course, was Owens' good friend Rose Mofford, who earlier that day had testified in support of Owens for former governors Babbitt, Raul Castro, Jack Williams and Paul Fannin. She told the senate committee that during her years as governor and secretary of state, she "never heard one word of criticism about General Owens."
But there was criticism now.
Both Curtis Jennings, a Phoenix attorney who retired from the Arizona National Guard as a brigadier general, and Jack T. Brasher, a retired major general and former Guard commander, spent nearly 30 minutes urging the senators not to support Owens' confirmation.
"The only reason General Jackson Bogle and I are involved in this groundswell of opposition is because there have been many people who have called us and asked us to do whatever we could to oppose the nomination of General Owens," Brasher said. "They have asked that I not use their names, they've trusted me not to use their names. . . . [They] are fearful for their jobs. I suspect that if all the people that are in the Guard or associated with the Guard who are opposed to this nomination felt free to come forward to speak their mind, this room would be far too small to hold them."
In the weeks before the hearing, a coterie of former Guardsmen, including Jennings, Brasher, Bogle, five other generals and eight colonels, had sent letters to the governor and to Senate President Peter Rios asking that Owens not be reappointed to his post. They charged that Owens had surrounded himself with a general staff comprised of "yes men," and that he had systematically eliminated "those who presented candid professional viewpoints contrary to his own." They accused him of ruining careers for petty reasons, of loving too well the ceremonial component of his job and of making inappropriate use of "scarce flying time and instructor pilot hours" to restore his own flying status for his own "enjoyment." They alleged that during his eight years as adjutant general, morale and combat readiness in the Guard had declined.