Spinning Out of Control: Another Beale Commander Claims Senior Officer Abuse

When Lance Annicelli took command of the 9th Physiological Support Squadron, he had no idea he was embarking on his professional finis flight. How and why his career was put into a death spiral is important, not just as a matter of individual dignity and fairness, but as a matter of institutional health.
When Lance Annicelli (pictured) took command of the 9th Physiological Support Squadron, he had no idea he was embarking on his professional finis flight. How and why his career was put into a death spiral is important, not just as a matter of individual dignity and fairness, but as a matter of institutional health.

I’ve shared with you over the past month the unfolding ruin of Lt. Col. Lance Annicelli’s formerly promising career, his progress stopped cold and his prospects obliterated after relief from command under specious circumstances. 

If you haven’t already digested these, I recommend the following articles, listed in the order they were published. They illustrate a debilitating problem the Air Force refuses to meaningfully confront.

Fire, Ready, Aim: The Sacking of Lt. Col. Lance Annicelli
Sidestepping Evidence, General Dismisses Fired Commander’s Appeal
Something About This Firing Doesn’t Add Up

In the most recent article, I proposed a number of theories that might explain how a commander whose squadron was getting superb mission results and had markedly improved during his tenure could find himself suddenly and inexplicably ousted.

One of those theories was that Annicelli’s boss, in over her head and furnished some (as yet unexplained) cause for concern, temporarily benched him to investigate further … only to have her decision made permanent by an impulsive and/or power-drunk wing commander looking to flex his authority.

This theory contends that, for reasons reflecting his desire to demonstrate the reach and totality of his power, Col. Douglas Lee decided Annicelli would never again set foot in his former squadron. He then took the administrative and investigative steps necessary to legitimize the decision, irrespective of what the facts actually showed.

While this may sound far-fetched to the uninitiated, it is sadly commonplace and accepted conduct among certain of today’s Air Force senior officer corps. The idea that it represents what happened in this case just got a little more support. An Inspector General (IG) complaint recently lodged by another Beale commander reinforces the notion that Lee fired Annicelli himself, and that once his decision was made, there was no going back — even if it meant lying.

Consider the following excerpts from the IG complaint, obtained by JQP on the condition of anonymity:

On Friday, 13 Feb 2015, at approximately 1400 hrs, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Commander, Colonel Doug Lee, called a meeting with 9 RW  squadron commanders and announced that after careful consideration, he made the decision to remove Lt Col Lance Annicelli from command of the 9th Physiological Support Squadron.  He made clear during the meeting that it was his decision.  He did not provide a reason for his removal other than expressing concerns about “toxic leadership.”   

On 3 Aug 2015, an article published in the John Q. Public blog, “Sidestepping Evidence, General Dismisses Fired Commander’s Appeal” included a copy of a letter signed by the 25th AF/CC, Maj Gen John Shanahan stating that Col Lee had not wronged Lt Col Annicelli because he was removed from command by his Group Commander, Col Jody Ocker.

The information in Maj Gen Shanahan’s letter is incorrect.  Colonel Lee made it clear … that it was his decision to fire Lt Col Annicelli. 

It appears Col Lee lied to Maj Gen Shanahan about who made the decision to fire Lt Col Annicelli to avoid violating Article 37 of the UCMJ (undue command influence).  Col Lee told the members of the 9 PSPTS and later the squadron commanders that he made the decision to fire Lt Col Annicelli prior to the [Command Directed Investigation] … [it seems this] could have influenced the outcome of the investigation. 

It also appears Col Lee may have violated Article 107 for providing false/and or misleading official statements as to his involvement in the firing of Lt Col Annicelli.

I am asking the Inspector General to investigate for possible violations of Air Force standards (AFI 1-1 and AFI 1-2) as well as possible Article 37 and Article 107 violations during the firing of Lt Col Lance Annicelli.  

Given that this complaint implicates senior officer misconduct, applicable instructions require that it be handled by the Secretary of the Air Force’s Inspector General office (SAF/IG). This helps insulate the investigation against cronyism and conflicts of interest. Whether the complaint has been received or acted upon by SAF/IG is not yet known. The Secretary’s office was unresponsive to a request for verification.

If the allegations in the complaint are accurate, several damning things are true.

First, the investigation into Lt. Col. Annicelli would be exposed as not only fundamentally compromised by command influence, but nothing more than a pro forma cover tactic for a decision already finalized. This would implicate Lee in abuse of authority and make Annicelli’s immediate supervisor, Col. Ocker, culpable in failing her ethical duty to secure a fair process for her subordinate.

Col. Lee appointing one of his subordinates to evaluate the legal sufficiency of a decision he’d already made … is not an arrangement that can be reasonably expected to produce a just outcome. On this foundation, the investigation into Annicelli should be nullified and re-accomplished.

Second, it would mean Annicelli did not receive a fair appeal process given that the appellate authority had been misled by statements from Col. Lee. If this is the case, Annicelli’s appeal should be resurrected and reviewed by the Secretary of the Air Force. 

Finally, to the extent any of the complaint has merit, it demonstrates a toxic command climate where lying is accepted as a necessary expedient in the ruin of a marked subordinate. This should alarm senior Air Force officials, who should understand by now that the organization over which they’re presiding is riddled with ethical and moral rot and badly in need of a systemic reset on matters of legal and administrative authority.

Then again, senior Air Force officials have shown little appetite for meaningfully addressing leadership failures in the senior ranks, choosing instead to protect wing commanders and above while treating others as disposable commodities. For the sake of American defense, let’s hope the growing stack of official complaints from Beale and elsewhere will finally burn through the veil of purposeful ignorance and awaken senior leaders to a problem that could ruin the entire institution if left unaddressed.

There are additional, disturbing allegations about senior officer misconduct at Beale. Stay tuned.

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