Peace Time: March 18, 2002

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The South Carolina National Guard is unique in the US, in that the Adjutant General (the highest ranking member) is not appointed by the governor but is elected in a state-wide election. The current Adjutant General, Stan Spears, has been in office for two terms (four years each) and is running for a third. He actively solicits campaign donations from Guard members, raising serious questions of propriety, and not a few charges of corruption. After some officers complained that those who donated got promoted while those who did not didn't, the Charlotte Observer studied the careers of 354 field grade officers (majors and colonels). While National Guard promotions are usually fast in the lower ranks, once an officer reaches major, the competition gets fierce. South Carolina has 9,800 Army guard troops, of whom 1,200 are full time (they handle paperwork and maintain equipment) and the rest serve the usual one weekend a month and two weeks per summer. About 400 have been called to active duty. The South Carolina Guard has 212 majors, 94 lieutenant colonels, 34 colonels, and six generals. Of the 354 officers studied, 54 percent of those who donated to Spears got promoted, while only 24 percent of those who did not were promoted. Of the officers who contributed $2,000 or more, 72 percent were promoted, and of those who gave $4,800 or more, 100 percent were promoted. Spears raised $859,808 dollars since his first election, of which $409,169 came from field grade officers or their immediate families, and another $46,673 came from fund raisers where no records were kept. Critics regard this as proof of corruption, but Spears and his supporters reject the charges. They note that many officers who are not serious about their careers neither donate nor expect promotion. Promotions for field grade officers are made by the six generals, and Spears insists that he has never disapproved a name on their lists. Critics have been unable to identify any specific case in which an officer was told to donate money or forget being promoted, but at least one officer received an unwanted transfer after he refused to have his staff sell tickets to a fund-raiser for Spears. The sergeant major of the 218th Brigade said that he was disgusted with "an atmosphere of constant fund raising." Spears is opposed in the Republican primary by retired Brigadier General Earle Brown, who was fired by Spears from command of the 218th Brigade. Brown insists that he was fired because he refused to promise not to run against Spears, but Spears denies this and says Brown was fired because his brigade was unable to recruit its full strength of 4,300 troops. As the election of the Adjutant General is specified in the South Carolina constitution, it would take a constitutional amendment to change the system.--Stephen V Cole

 


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