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California National Guard
129th RQW Troubles Continue; Officer with DUI Conviction Fills High Profile Positions, Awaits Promotion

Appointment of Same Officer to Fulfill the Role of Both SARC and PAO is Glaring Conflict of Interest
by Ben Banchs

Mountain View, CA (June 9, 2013) - The troubles continue to mount for the leadership of the 129th Rescue Wing (RQW) based at Moffett Field in Mountain View California, and for Major General David Baldwin who continues to sit on the sidelines pretending everything is fine.
 
On the heels of Master Sergeant Jessica Brown's suicide attempt, and the subsequent gross mishandling of the response to her incident, it appears that the person assigned as the 129th's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) may also occupy a simultaneous position as Public Affairs Officer (PAO), or at the very least serves in a Public Affairs capacity within the Wing.  

When Jessica's story first broke 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. Donnie 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.

That the Public Affairs section of the Wing would have no comment is not surprising. In cases like these you rarely receive any commentary from within an organization like the 129th RQW, and that's understandable. All we wanted to do was give them an opportunity to weigh in on our report. Usually, this would be the end of our story. However, as seems to be the case lately with anything involving the California National Guard, there is more, and what we discovered after we did Jessica's story is disturbing.

Most people are familiar with the role that a military Public Affairs office fulfills. They are there to tell the "feel good" stories of what our men and women in uniform are doing to serve their community, their state, and their Nation. You would be hard pressed to ever hear a bad news report come out of the Public Affairs office. They are there to be the commander's mouthpiece. In fact, some might even say that their job is more propaganda than news. 

Most people are a lot less familiar with the role of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). Even in the current state of affairs, when military sexual assault is the hot button topic, the public has a very limited knowledge of how the military handles sexually-based complaints or concerns. In a nut shell, the military employs the use of SARCs throughout all the branches of service to be the first point of contact for victims of sexual crimes. According to the 129th RQW's own web site, the SARC "reinforces the National Guard Bureau commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through a comprehensive policy that centers on awareness, prevention, education, and victim advocacy." Pay attention to the very last requirement...victim advocacy.

Looking at the roles and duties of both positions it would be safe to say that the duties of the PAO couldn't be any more different than those of the SARC. In fact, one could easily envision a situation where the duties of the PAO would pit them directly against the duties of a SARC, especially in the area of victim advocacy because if a SARC is required to call local authorities to report a sexual assault, for example, a PAO's job is the complete opposite. A PAO is there to minimize the amount of damage and negative exposure that such a "story" could cause the organization. However, at the 129th RQW, apparently such conflicts of interest do not prevent Wing leadership from appointing the same person as both PAO and SARC.  

Lets go back to Jessica's story. As we mentioned earlier, when we called the CNG HQ Public Affairs office in Sacramento for comment on Jessica's suicide attempt they referred us to the 129th RQW PAO and the point of contact that I was given was Capt. Donnie Leblanc. The problem is that, based on this screenshot of the 129th RQW's SARC page taken on June 2nd of this year, Capt. LeBlanc is also assigned as the SARC.

This is a huge conflict of interest that doesn't need explanation. You cannot be a SARC who is supposed to be a confidential and "independent" entity, and a victim's advocate, and also serve as the Public Affairs Officer who's role is to be the Wing Commander's mouthpiece to the public and is never supposed to report negative information. The appointment of the same person as SARC and PAO is yet one more in a long line of leadership failures by the Wing Commander, Colonel Steven Butow. There's just no way to defend these simultaneous assignments, and it cannot be dismissed as accident or oversight because the organization is too small for a person like Capt. LeBlanc to just get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention that the SARC and PAO positions are very high visibility, so the appointment of Capt. LeBlanc has to be labeled deliberate. Not only is this situation detrimental to the integrity of the SARC program, it is almost the perfect scenario if Wing leadership is intent on suppressing the truth. In lay terms, the guy in charge of propaganda is also in charge of the program that victims are supposed to use if/when they are assaulted. One could easily see how this would be a problem.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. As it turns out, Capt. LeBlanc should not be in the SARC position to begin with. The person assigned as SARC should be someone of impeccable moral character and standards considering the type of cases and situations that they will possibly be dealing with. Because of this high standard, Capt. Donnie LeBlanc should have been the last person considered for the job. That's because in October of 2011 Capt. LeBlanc plead no contest to a charge of DUI (see court decision page 1 and page 2). On September 9, 2011, LeBlanc was arrested for driving his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. His blood alcohol level at the time of his arrest was 0.24, three times the legal limit. The fact that LeBlanc is not only still an officer in good standing within the California National Guard, but that he also occupies two very high profile positions, highlights a glaring double standard, and demonstrates that discipline and accountability is not applied equally throughout the ranks.

Earlier this year the Union represented another member of the California National Guard who was merely a passenger in a vehicle, the driver of which was arrested for being under the influence. Even thought he was a passenger, and was not charged with any type of criminal violation by civilian authorities, the California National Guard wanted to initially suspend him without pay for a period of 75 days. We got involved and managed to lower the punishment to 30 days. Using that standard, it would be safe to say that Capt. LeBlanc should have been fired. On the contrary, not only is he still in good standing and occupying two very high profile positions, but he is also awaiting promotion to the rank of Major, this month.

This story continues to highlight a complete disregard for common sense, and a lack of respect for the Sexual Assault Response process within the California National Guard. It also demonstrates a clear double standard between those considered "good ole boys" and those that aren't. Capt. LeBlanc has a DUI conviction, yet is allowed to be promoted and have his career flourish by being assigned two positions of trust and high visibility. However, those seeking redress like Jessica Brown, or those demanding that their leaders do the right thing, like Maj. Connie Wong, are retaliated against and raked over the coals because they blew the whistle on the shenanigans that are perpetrated by those in charge - because they didn't toe the line and cover for "the boys" and all their misgivings.

If the Adjutant General had any real interest in cleaning up the corruption within his organization, this would be a good place to start. For one, he should immediately demand that Capt. LeBlanc be dismissed from his assignment as SARC. He should also halt LeBlanc's promotion to Major for his DUI conviction. Lastly, he should recognize that the 129th RQW is in dire need of new management, and summarily fire Col. Butow and the rest of his ineffective cadre of so-called leaders. It's time for Major General Baldwin to stop playing games with the lives of the soldiers and airmen of the California National Guard, and start doing the job he was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to do...clean up this corrupt organization, now.



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