Three generals at Joint Base Lewis-McChord offer their thoughts on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's call for an ethics review after several misconduct cases among senior military officers.

Share story

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas once served as a surgeon under the command of Gen. David Petraeus and was shocked to hear the news that the former Army commander was admitting to an extramarital affair and stepping down from his post as CIA director.

“I never thought I would hear the words ‘sex scandal’ and ‘David Petraeus’ in the same sentence,” Thomas said. “But he is human, too.”

Thomas, who heads up the Western Regional Medical Command, was one of three Lewis-McChord generals to meet with reporters Friday for a dining-hall breakfast.

It’s been a tough month for military brass, with high-profile investigations dogging a number of current and former leaders.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for a rushed review to figure out “how to better foster a culture of stewardship among our most senior military officers.”

That review is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 1, and will form the basis of a report to President Obama.

In addition to the well-publicized examinations of the behavior of ex-CIA chief and former Gen. David Petraeus and of Gen. John Allen, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, the Army announced the results of an investigation into the lavish travel spending by Army Gen. Kip Ward, the former head of the U.S. Africa Command who received a demotion to a three-star rank of lieutenant general.

There also has been an inquiry into charges of sexual misconduct facing Army Brig. General Jeffrey Sinclair, who once served as deputy commander of the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of NATO, was cleared of personal misconduct but cautioned to exercise better oversight of his staff’s travel and expenses, after revelations of a trip to France for a wine dinner.

In their meeting with reporters, the three Lewis-McChord generals — Thomas, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan and Lt. Gen. Robert Brown — said the great majority of their peers are living up to Army values that include honor, loyalty and duty.

But they acknowledged this has been a painful time for leaders, and they support Panetta’s call for the review.

“I have been in the Army now for 30 years. My son is in Afghanistan right now. So the reaction I have is that it hurts. Because I love the Army, and I always have,” said Buchanan, who serves as deputy commander of I Corps at Lewis-McChord. “And I applaud the secretary to go after any sort of behavior that is in contrast with our values.”

Thomas said there are always going to be outliers within the Army, and mistakes that get made. He compared the review to an after-action report that commanders use to figure out what went wrong, or right, after a battle.

“That is kind of what is going on right now,” Thomas said. “Take a look at ourselves across the services, and see where mistakes were made and where the gaps are, so we can move forward.”

At Lewis-McChord, the senior Army leader is Brown, who earlier this year took command of I Corps. Brown said he has “incredible respect” for many of the generals he met along the way in his 32-year career, and that those officers helped to keep him in the Army.

Brown is leading I Corps during a period of transition at Lewis-McChord.

For nearly a decade, the Western Washington base has been shuttling combat brigades off to war zones for lengthy deployments.

But that era largely ended earlier this fall with the deployment of the 4th Combat Stryker Brigade Team to Afghanistan.

Though some smaller Lewis-McChord units will continue to serve in Afghanistan, Brown said, the focus will be on the Pacific and working in partnerships and training exercises with Asian nations.

Information from The Associated Press is included.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or