The Army’s top enlisted leader says he is steadfast in his commitment to his promise of crafting a more inclusive environment for women as the service has been rocked over a watchdog investigation that reportedly criticizes a senior officer for rebuking attacks on servicewomen.
On Wednesday, Task & Purpose was first to disclose the details of an Inspector General investigation on Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, an armor officer, that reportedly found his use of Twitter to be inappropriate when he blasted a segment from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson attacking the Army for allowing pregnant women to serve, and proceeded to disagree with various commentators on social media. Donahoe intended to retire in July but has been assigned as a special assistant to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
“Intentionally or not, this whole thing showed women that we are not worth defending,” one noncommissioned officer told Military.com. “If he can get slapped for this, why would anyone defend women in public?”
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Army officials haven’t decided Donahoe’s fate, which could include a reduction in rank. But the launch of the investigation in and of itself was seen as a gut punch to those who have advocated supporting female soldiers. To some, scrutinizing Donahoe’s defense of women online is being seen as the service bending the knee to right-wing media.
“Why would any women want to serve now?” an Army general said to Military.com on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation.
“The Army gave a hunting permit to radical partisans. … The Army has gone full MAGA,” the general said, referencing former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
It was in response to that uproar that Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston delivered a message on Twitter on Thursday seemingly subtweeting the swirling controversy.
“Let me be absolutely clear: I stand with our women in uniform,” he wrote. “Your Leaders and I will continue to defend our People vigorously and thank you all for choosing to serve in a time where many do not. You are our greatest strength and most strategic advantage.”
News of the investigation comes as some of the challenges that have long faced female troops are getting attention and as women, including Army Secretary Chrstine Wormuth, increasingly take leadership roles.
That includes a series of new efforts designed to boost the quality of life for female soldiers, including a total revamp of parenthood policies, such as making it easier for women to pump breast milk on duty, and relaxing grooming standards to allow them to have ponytails and braids.
Those efforts were largely led by mid-ranking women in the service, a signal that top leaders are listening to their concerns.
The controversy for Donahoe originated in March 2021 when Carlson blasted the Defense Department for efforts to make service more appealing and accommodating to women, such as developing maternity uniforms. That segment served as a flashpoint for right-wing attacks on the military, labeling the armed services as “woke,” or so fixated on diversity and inclusion that they had abandoned their warfighting priorities.
It’s an accusation, without evidence, that has often surfaced since President Joe Biden took office.
“While China’s military becomes more masculine as it assembles the world’s largest Navy, our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine — whatever feminine means anymore, since men and women no longer exist,” Carlson said in the March 2021 segment.
Carlson was likely referencing an International Women’s Day speech by Biden that same month in which he referenced key female leaders in the military, including Gen. Laura Richardson, who had been recently nominated to head U.S. Southern Command, although the president did not suggest that the military needed to be more “feminine,” nor did he use the word during the address.
In response, Donahoe shared a video on Twitter of him conducting a reenlistment ceremony on a tank for a female noncommissioned officer, saying “just as a reminder that Tucker Carlson couldn’t be more wrong.” Other Army leaders backed the sentiment, including Grinston, who said on Twitter, “Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate any future battlefield we’re called to fight on. Tucker Carlson’s words are divisive, don’t reflect our values.”
Grinston is seemingly not under any investigation, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. He is set to retire in roughly a year.
But those tweets, especially from Donahoe, captured the ire of partisan show hosts on Fox News, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Army investigators said Donahoe’s behavior on Twitter “exhibited poor judgment,” according to Task & Purpose’s reporting.
Donahoe was an avid user of social media at a time when most military leaders were wary of some of the risks of being active in the military community online. At an Army conference in 2019, he argued the risks were overblown and that being communicative is critical to building relationships with soldiers, journalists and other stakeholders.
“The richness of the discussion outweighs the risks,” Donahoe said. “The nature of politics is they’re always looking for someone to go [after].”
Donahoe’s clash with Fox News, and the ensuing investigation, might make it even more difficult for leaders in the service to communicate online in the future, but in the short term, the controversy is creating confusion, according to Katherine Kuzminski, senior fellow and director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“There is unclear policy and guidance on social media use,” she said. “Among the general officer corps, there tend to be different expectations.”
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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