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Panetta Believes Dover Punishment Appropriate

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta believes the punishment of supervisors accused of retaliating against whistleblowers at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base was appropriate, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

Whistleblowers at the military mortuary in Delaware, which handles the remains of American service members who are killed or die overseas, pointed to problems at the facility in how some remains were disposed. The whistleblowers said that management at the mortuary retaliated against them.

The independent Office of Special Counsel investigated the allegations and found that supervisors did retaliate. The investigators found that Air Force Col. Robert Edmondson, Trevor Dean, and Quinton Keel engaged in reprisals. Air Force leaders reviewed the findings, conducted supplemental investigations and disciplined the men.

The Air Force offered Edmondson non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he accepted. After a hearing and appeal, the final punishment was a reprimand and forfeiture of $7,000.

Dean received a 20-day suspension without pay.

Keel resigned from his position before action could be initiated. Still, the service issued him a letter of censure after his resignation. Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley reviewed the final disciplinary actions and considers them appropriate, Air Force officials said.

“The issues at Dover Port Mortuary are issues that the secretary of defense, indeed, the entire department -- we never want to see them happen again,” Little told reporters during a news conference. “Our fallen heroes deserve the highest honor and respect. And we are committed to taking steps to ensure that lapses do not occur in the future.”

The Office of Special Counsel commended the Air Force for rendering its decisions on disciplinary actions, Little said, and he pointed to the “very thorough and extensive process to review not just the lapses at Dover, but also the disciplinary actions that were levied. And the secretary is satisfied with that process.”

Panetta was briefed on the whole process, and “he has faith in the process that the Air Force undertook, absolutely,” Little said.

The punishment for the three supervisors for retaliation is in addition to other penalties imposed for gross mismanagement. Edmondson received a letter of reprimand and was denied further command opportunity. Keel received an involuntary downgrade to a nonsupervisory position outside the mortuary. Dean voluntarily took a downgrade to a nonsupervisory position within organization, but outside the Port Mortuary.

“Looking forward, Air Force leadership is reviewing instructional materials used to train supervisors and employees to ensure military members and civilian employees alike understand the rights of all employees to express important concerns in the workplace,” said an Air Force spokesman. “We are committed to a workplace climate that makes individuals feel confident that they can raise any concerns they may have, that those concerns will be taken seriously, and that those raising the concerns will be treated with respect and appreciation.”

Defense officials stressed that the whistleblowers performed an important service to the Air Force and the nation.

“These individuals continue in their positions at AFMAO; the Air Force has taken appropriate actions, including correcting their records to eliminate any negative information that resulted from any prohibited personnel practices committed,” the Air Force spokesman said.

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