Center for Strategic Communication

Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward speaks at a Center for Strategic & International Studies forum on Africa, July 2010. Photo: Flickr/CSIS

What does Army Maj. Gen. William “Kip” Ward do for a living?

The Army doesn’t seem to know. It knows where Ward works: He’s an assistant to Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Army’s vice chief of staff. But substantively, the Army seems to have no idea what Ward does for his money. After a week of research, the Army’s public relations office couldn’t come up with an answer. “The Army declines to comment on what Gen. Ward’s duties are,” George Wright, the Army’s deputy director of media relations, tells Danger Room.

It’s an unlikely position for Ward, who 18 months ago commanded all U.S. troops in Africa. But Ward ran afoul of a Pentagon inspector general’s inquiry into misspent funds, which cost him two of his stars.

So if you’re working at the Pentagon, help Danger Room — and the Army — out. Please, tell us how this former military rock star, an officer with four decades of service to the country, earns his $200,000-plus annual salary.

It shouldn’t be difficult. Ward has a staff job, not a top-secret commando billet. Working for Austin seemed like a placeholder job to let Ward save face while under investigation, so he could quietly retire afterwards with dignity. But the inquiry has been over for months, and Ward is still in uniform. There are grumblings inside the Pentagon that Ward rarely shows up for work. Privately, Army officials say they don’t know how Ward, a man with four decades of service to the Army, spends his time.

Keeping Ward on in a nebulous position is a strange way to conclude a financial impropriety mess. The Army may not be saying what Ward’s doing. But that itself says a lot about the Army’s conception of accountability.

The Pentagon inspector general concluded in June that Ward grew irresponsible with the taxpayer money at his control, using some of it for questionable trips, some of them clearly personal. Even before the inquiry finished, the Army demoted Ward to a major general — “his last permanent grade of Major General by operation of law,” as the inspector general put it. According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, an officer of Ward’s rank, based in Washington, D.C., makes $217,603.47 annually, including benefits, for work that the Army says it can’t explain.

Yet the Army made it look like Ward actually retired last year. As Stars & Stripes reported, the Army feted Ward at an April 2011 ceremony at Fort Myer, Va. — while the inquiry was underway — “that had all the pageantry of a farewell and left the impression that Ward’s career was over.”

But it wasn’t. As former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks writes in a forthcoming book, once an Army officer becomes a general, he or she joins an elite club, one that looks out for its own. Rarely does the Army fire generals for cause — either for performance or for scandal. Not a single Army general who underperformed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars lost his command, with the arguable exception of George Casey, who presided over a deteriorating Iraq war from 2004 to 2006 before getting kicked upstairs, to become the Army’s Chief of Staff.

It was shocking when Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne, was brought up on “forcible sodomy” charges last week — not only because the accusations are so grave, but because also because so few generals face any discipline for anything at all. In his scathing book, Ricks looks at Army generalship and asks: “Why has accountability declined? And is it connected to the decline in the operational competence of American generals?”

Except Ward’s operational competence was never in question. As the first chief of Africa Command, a historic position, the infractions that cost him his career — and his final two stars — were minor. The Pentagon’s inspector general found that Ward’s sins were using government funds to go on personal trips; accepting Broadway tickets from a defense contractor whom he apparently did not steer contracts toward; and instructing his subordinates to run the occasional errand for his wife, such as picking up a bag of dark chocolate Snickers at the supermarket. To paraphrase an influential 2007 essay by the former Army colonel Paul Yingling, a general who loses a bag of candy suffers greater consequences than a general who loses a war.

So the Army doesn’t know what Ward does, or if or when Ward will retire. Until he does, Ward’s in a confounding position. Having lost his career due to a trivial financial scandal, the Army may have ensnared him in an ongoing one. And if you can shed light on what Ward actually does, please let us know.