Military Mentors Discreetly Hired, Fired

The Pentagon's Joint Forces Command fired a former top U.S. commander in Iraq from his role as paid adviser to the military after he publicly criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war, according to interviews with command officials and e-mails.

Retired lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez, who led U.S. forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, became a senior mentor for the Joint Forces Command in 2006. Sanchez worked 18 days as a mentor in 2007, according to the command. At the current rate of about $1,600 per day, his pay would have totaled $28,800.

Sanchez's ouster underscores how military mentors are hired and fired outside of public scrutiny. They typically are retained by the military through contracts with third parties, which means their names don't often surface in public records. Joint Forces Command uses a contractor because it is more efficient than negotiating individual contracts for each training mission, spokeswoman Kathleen Jabs said.

In an investigation published last month, USA TODAY reported that the military employs at least 158 senior mentors, about 80 percent of whom also have connections to various defense contractors. The revelations prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to order a Pentagon review last week. The Senate Homeland Security Committee also has begun an investigation, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Sanchez was the U.S. commander in Iraq in April 2004 when a scandal erupted over the treatment of Iraqi detainees by troops at the Abu Ghraib prison. After his Iraq service, Sanchez led the Army's V Corps, based in Germany, though Sanchez has said Abu Ghraib effectively ended his career. In an Oct. 12, 2007, speech in Washington, about a year after he began working as a military mentor, Sanchez blamed the Bush administration for what he called the "nightmare" then unfolding in Iraq.

"There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetence in strategic leadership among our national leaders," Sanchez said. "They have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty. In my profession, these types of leaders would be immediately relieved or court-martialed."

Shortly thereafter, Sanchez was dismissed as a senior mentor, though the decision was never announced. USA TODAY learned of his firing from an April 29, 2008, e-mail from a Joint Forces Command official to four colleagues. The newspaper obtained the e-mail through a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

In the e-mail, Douglas Deets, a Joint Forces Command civilian employee, listed the mentors available for exercises and training sessions the command runs each year. A group of mentors provided under a contract with Virginia's Old Dominion University, he wrote, was "one short since ODU cut Gen. Sanchez loose after the disparaging remarks he made about President Bush."

Maj. Gen. David Edgington, the command's chief of staff, said the decision to drop Sanchez was made by the command, not the university. The command "respects ... Sanchez's choice to take a public stand on past issues, but senior mentors must remain focused solely on operational art," Edgington said.

"To do otherwise has the potential to distract from the intended learning," Edgington said. "Based on this, in the fall of 2007, (the command) made the decision not to retain (Lt. Gen.) Sanchez as a senior mentor for future exercises."

Sanchez published memoirs about his career, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, last year. He wrote that politics prevented him from earning a promotion. Sanchez did not respond to a request for comment through his book publisher.

Joint Forces Command pays for mentors through contracts with the university and three defense firms -- General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton. The command picks the mentors, who are then paid by the university through a pass-through deal with the Pentagon, said John Sokolowski, head of Old Dominion's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. That office handles the mentor program. Only the Marines pay mentors directly, USA TODAY found.