THE GENERAL'S LAST CAMPAIGN

DESERT STORM WAS ONE THING. BUT BATTLING THE SOLDIERS OF THE ARIZONA NATIONAL GUARD WAS THE WAR OF GENERAL OWENS' CAREER.

A notebook containing 45 letters and statements from commissioned and enlisted members of the Guard opposed to Owens' reappointment as adjutant general was presented to the senators and Governor Symington. Many of the letters argued that Owens was more politician than leader, and many questioned his integrity.

"One of the criticisms against him was that he was a 'hail-fellow-well-met,'" Curtis Jennings says. "That he spent more time with the political and ceremonial side of the job than the military, that he's not really interested in the job so much as the position. He's always ready to escort the governor or to go to a meeting [with politicians]."
There were other complaints from rank-and-file Guard members. A pair of self-described "fat" sergeants complained that military regulations regarding weight were unevenly applied. They claimed they were denied due process when their military careers were terminated, unlike other "favored" soldiers. There were also allegations that Hispanic troops were not accorded equal treatment in the Guard.

Staff Sergeant Terry Soke, a woman who had been activated and sent to Spain to support air missions flown during the Gulf War, said her allegations of sexual harassment had been ignored by Owens and other top officers in the Guard. Soke says her efforts to file a sexual harassment complaint were frustrated to avoid embarrassing the Guard.

Others at the hearing claimed Owens wrecked the careers of those whom he considered to be his rivals for the Guard's top spot.

Richard Morris was a colonel in the Guard and a member of Owens' general staff until he resigned in 1986. He claims he resigned under duress after making comments about one day wanting to become adjutant general. Morris described his resignation in a letter to the senate committee:

"Owens, standing behind his desk, directly in front of me, read a prepared statement. . .[indicating] I had placed my personal goals ahead of those of the Arizona Army National Guard for personal gain. I was then directed to sign a letter of resignation which he placed in front of me.

"I totally underestimated the situation and the ruthlessness of the Adjutant General."
Owens says these "accusations" are not fresh, that each has been investigated and that the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., has cleared him of any wrongdoing. He offers a letter of endorsement from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in his defense.

Owens claims he brought to the hearings the "baggage" of eight previous years as the Guard's commander. But while he admits making enemies, Owens did not expect the attacks to be so vicious, so mean-spirited, so personal. "He's gone through an extremely stressful period," Senator Stan Furman, the chairman of the Senate Government Committee, told the press at the time. "He's human. He gained control of himself very quickly. He's not a machine."

On January 30, Owens gathered himself and returned to the hearing room. Furman told the audience that the eight senators on the committee would not be voting that day on whether to recommend that the full senate confirm Owens' reappointment. Instead, the hearing was to be reconvened at 8 a.m. on February 1, a Saturday, so the senators could have time to evaluate the testimony and investigate some of the allegations made against the general.

Before the meeting was adjourned, Owens was given a chance to address the senators and his audience. The still-shaky general asked that the committee move swiftly to decide his fate. "One commander once told me. . .a good deed never goes unpunished," he said. "I have rules to follow and [my critics] have protected rights. I can give you documents--there is nothing that we can cover up that I know of."

He knew that no matter what happened, he would be required by law to retire on April 13, 1994, his 64th birthday. He told the senators that two more years as top officer was not "personally important" to him, but he thought it was "very important to the National Guard."

Two days later, when General Owens returned to the hearing room, someone had placed a box of tissues on the podium. But any doubts committee members may have held about Owens had been resolved. All eight senators--even Jan Brewer, who had been especially tough on the general two days before--voted to recommend that the full senate confirm him. Once again the general's political skills served him well.

Chairman Furman scolded Al Rodriguez, a retired Army colonel and Mecham crony, who claimed to have documented evidence of criminal wrongdoing within the Guard. Furman called Rodriguez's charges "scurrilous," his behavior "indecent" and, when Rodriguez rose to speak, had him escorted from the room by security officers. "In my opinion, none of [Rodriguez's] documents have any merit," Furman said.

"The general feeling was there was some kind of orchestrated attempt to get General Owens," said a senate staffer who followed the confirmation hearing. "A lot of the people who testified against him had very serious grievances, but I don't think the senators were sure that Owens was directly culpable--they'd had problems with the National Guard and he was the top man in the National Guard, so naturally they went after him. But I think Owens convinced the senators that, even if there were problems in the Guard, that he wasn't the source of these problems. Once he talked to them, I think he was able to clear up a lot of questions."
The general conceded that he bore ultimate accountability. It was a concession that served him well with the committee.

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