Last year, the four-star Army general once in charge of all U.S. military operations in Africa was quietly reduced in rank for unexplained reasons. Now we know why William “Kip” Ward’s career ended in disgrace.
Ward was the first commanding general of U.S. Africa Command, the youngest of the military’s prestigious regional commands. According to an inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general, Ward — who is now a major general — used his official U.S. military aircraft for personal travel; ferried his wife on trips “that were not unquestionably official”; had his aides escort Mrs. Ward on errands “to a spa and a department store”; and accepted “complimentary meals and Broadway show tickets” to a Denzel Washington play from a “prohibited source with multiple DoD [Department of Defense] contracts.”
According to the report, acquired by Danger Room through a Freedom of Information Act request, many of Ward’s 79 official trips to Europe, Africa or the United States involved extracurricular or personal excursions at taxpayer expense. The report also portrays him as profligate and self-promotional: Ward “wasted Government funds” by printing a book glorifying his palatial Stuttgart residence, known as the Clay Haus.
Yet Ward is not accused of performing his military tasks improperly. The inspector general did not question his competence as a general. Instead, the report that effectively ended Ward’s career in disgrace — rare for a senior officer — finds Ward kept bad official records of his travel expenses and extended trips funded by taxpayer money for personal reasons.
The downfall of one of the Army’s most senior generals, one in charge of a distinguished and powerful command, has attracted wide notice in Pentagon circles. In May, Stars & Stripes reported that Ward had been downgraded in rank and kept on active duty while the Army awaited the completion of an investigation into unspecified charges of waste, fraud and abuse. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the Pentagon watchdog was looking into financial improprieties.
Yet the Pentagon didn’t find that Ward wasted hefty sums of money or improperly executed his military responsibilities. At one point, the report criticizes Ward for allowing his wife to ask a military subordinate to buy “a bag of dark chocolate Snickers” for her to snack on. “Kip will give you a couple of dollars,” Mrs. Ward emailed an unnamed military official.
More seriously, Ward dissembled to investigators about the purpose of his travel. Asked about a trip to Washington in the spring of 2011, during the Libya war, he said he spent time “at agencies talking about potential mission, potential direction,” and making “outcalls on the Hill.” Investigators found no record that any such official activities occurred.
In July 2010, Ward met in New York City with an unnamed “prohibited source” who runs an unnamed “construction management, engineering, technology and energy services company” with over $4 million in military contracts. Ward emailed him about “the show” that the two men and their families planned to see on Broadway. “All is set in New York” the contractor emailed Ward. “At 1900 the play starts we should be there by 1830 [sic]. HOOAH.” (The show appears to be Fences, as the Wards met backstage with the show’s star, Denzel Washington.)
Asked to explain the official business conducted with the contractor on Broadway, Ward replied, “We could have talked about being an effective leader, some of my lessons learned, some of my anecdotes, some of the things I have done as a leader.” The report does not accuse Ward of steering Africa Command business to the contractor.
For this, Ward has lost two of his stars and is disgraced. Generals who have botched wars and spent billions of dollars on unsuccessful weapons have not faced any similar disciplinary measures. Army Gen. George Casey, one of Ward’s contemporaries, didn’t face official reprisal for presiding over the deterioration of the Iraq war — he was made the Army’s chief of staff. (The Navy has more experience than the Army at relieving senior officers for improprieties.) Many senior commanders have ordered their subordinates to help with personal chores. And many three- and four-star generals regularly enjoy pomp and cushy treatment that can sometimes have the feel of a royal court instead of a military posting.
Ward defended himself against the charges to the investigators. He said that his travel helped promote the military’s newest command — one often treated like a redheaded stepchild — and that he often brought his wife to speaking engagements about Africa Command because “she could address that aspect from the well being of families.” He added that he “accept[s] responsibility for the fact that the team would occasionally pick up items they knew we were in search of if they were also shopping; thus the candy bars.”
An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Laurel Devine, tells Danger Room that Ward, now a major general, remains on active duty as a special assistant to Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Army’s vice chief of staff. Yet Ward’s military career has effectively ended in disgrace.