Guard Leadership Sends Employment Termination Paperwork to ER Via Courier as She Lay Semi-conscious in Hospital
by Ben Banchs
Mountain View, CA (May 14, 2013) - Master Sergeant Jessica Brown, an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) member of the 129th Rescue Wing (RQW) based at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, attempted suicide last Thursday, May 9th, after apparently finding out that a technicality may have derailed a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) process she had been waiting on for over 18 months. The information is based on an email LIUNA was ‘courtesey-copied’ on that was sent to General Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, by another member of the 129th RQW and fellow whistleblower, Major Connie Wong. The email’s subject line read ‘Unfit to Command, Lead, or Supervise…’
Both Brown and Wong were part of a group of current and former California Army and Air National Guard employees that came forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, racial harassment and discrimination, and retaliation for their attempts to shed light on what they feel are gross examples of civil rights violations being perpetrated and condoned by CA National Guard leaders. The two women, along with other whistleblowers, have been the subject of several investigative reports conducted by local NBC affiliates in LA and San Francisco. Jessica came public and bravely stood up to her chain-of-command to help expose the corruption that’s been festering for years behind the gates of the 129th RQW, and the abuse she’s taken at the hands of those who are supposed to protect her. They have failed her, once again.
|At approximately 12:30pm last Thursday Jessica texted Maj. Wong a suicide note (shown below). According to Maj. Wong, this was not Jessica’s first suicide attempt, but Maj. Wong immediately felt the situation was more seriousbecause it was the first time Jessica composed a suicide note. Maj. Wong began “frantically” calling and texting Jessica without success. After failing to make positive contact, Maj. Wong reported the situation to 129th RQW Security Forces and 911 to try and find Jessica. “I was scared to death; I was in tears, my chest was tight, I could not breathe, and I was lightheaded,” wrote Maj. Wong in the lengthy email she sent Gen. Grass. It took Maj. Wong about an hour to get a location on Jessica, which she then relayed to the police. The police found Jessica in her car “overdosed on OTC and prescription drugs.” She had also “self-mutilated herself.” Emergency personnel were able to get Jessica to the hospital in time to save her life.
The US Military has been dealing with a disturbing spike in suicides over the last 14 years. The statistics are very sobering. According to a study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs that covers the time period between 1999 and 2010, a Veteran commits suicide “every 65 minutes, on average.” As a result, the military has implemented many tools to educate on the causes and signs of distress and depression, and help prevent suicide. In 2007 the Air National Guard created the Wingman Project ”as a collaborative solution, including chaplains, family support, medical community, and safety, for all Airmen and their families to address suicide intervention.” The website offers training materials, ’1-800′ hotlines available 24/7, videos, and even a smartphone app. One of the center pieces of the program is the ACE Suicide Intervention Model, which stands for ‘Ask, Care, and Escort.’ ACE is required training for all personnel. The California National Guard also hosts a separate suicide prevention web site titled Resilience, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention (R3SP). This web site provides even more 1-800-type numbers and resources for suicide prevention unique to the State of California, and also has resources for military commanders and leaders to help enhance suicide prevention awareness.
Clearly, the military’s focus when it comes to suicide is to prevent, and to help military members and their families recover from these traumatic situations, and they place a huge responsibility for implementation of these programs on leaders at all levels of the command chain. Sadly, in spite of all the money that has been invested into prevention programs, and despite the emphasis that commanders be aware of warning signs and take affirmative action, the suicide rate has not declined, and those in charge bear the brunt of the blame. Jessica’s story demonstrates how those in charge don’t practice what they preach, and, instead, exacerbate already volatile situations.
When suicide prevention fails and a military member attempts suicide, their chain of command is required to take deliberate action to ensure the member and their family is taken care of, to help the member recover, and attempt to address whatever the issue(s) are that may have pushed the member to try and take their own life. Unfortunately for Jessica and her family, that is not what happened last Thursday.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the story, Jessica is a member of the 129th RQW, commanded by Colonel Steven J. Butow; Vice-Wing Commander is Col. Jeffrey W. Magram; and, the Senior Enlisted Advisor is Command Chief Master Sergeant Jason E. Red. You may remember CMSgt Red from a previous article. Not one of these senior leaders showed-up to the hospital or attempted to make contact with Jessica and her family. It could be argued that they were not immediately aware of Jessica’s situation, but that was not the case. Not only were they aware of Jessica’s situation, but rather than make a trip to the hospital to check on a fallen troop, 129th RQW leadership decided instead that it would be a better idea to hire a private courier/process server to present Jessica with employment termination paperwork (AGR Tour Curtailment orders). So, as Jessica lay semi-conscious in her hospital bed with her parents and friends at her side trying to make sense of her suicide attempt, the courier breached hospital security and entered her room without permission and without the hospital’s knowledge. He then tried to leave the paperwork by her bedside in the ER, but when a nurse challenged him, the server attempted to serve Jessica’s mother.
It is hard to comprehend how supposedly experienced and educated leaders can make such ill-advised decision. How can a commander in the military, a “full-bird” colonel, whose number one priority is to ensure the welfare of those under his command, decide that instead of paying Jessica a visit to check on the state of her physical and mental well-being, he is going to cut ties with her at the lowest point in her life. What’s even more puzzling is that, in light of their boss’ obvious absence of tact or decency, those advising him don’t have the integrity, themselves, to point out the obvious and let him know what the right thing to do is in that situation. In our opinion, not only are the actions of 129th RQW leadership truly offensive, they reflect a dereliction of duty on the part of Col. Butow and the rest of the senior leaders. Col. Butow is falling way short of fulfilling the unit’s motto “These Things We Do…That Others May Live.” The question now is whether the California National Guard’s top officer, Major General David Baldwin, will take any action, whatsoever, to address the leadership-void at Moffett. At this point we continue to have serious doubts about his ability to do any of the things he said he would do to garner our endorsement of his appointment as Adjutant General.
We contacted the California National Guard Public Affairs Office (PAO) at Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) in Sacramento to ask for their comment. A representative by the name of Lt. Sweeny referred us to the 129th RQW’s PAO. We then contacted the 129th RQW and spoke with a Capt. LeBlanc who found it “interesting” that the JFHQ’s PAO punted our questions over to their office, and then indicated they had no comment regarding Jessica’s case because it was still under investigation.