Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the candidate's office.
Lt. Col. James Breazeale knows how the Army National Guard recruiting scandal worked and what measures are needed to ensure the long-running military scheme, possibly involving 87 soldiers from Georgia and South Carolina, never happens again.
If elected South Carolina’s adjutant general in June’s Republican primary, Breazeale, 45, said he wants to initiate a merger of the state’s Army and Air Force reserves into each of the service’s respective National Guard units.
The Army reserve officer said that as the only state-elected two-star general, he plans to use his authority to bring in an outside auditor to do a thorough review of South Carolina’s military forces and reassign any soldiers who might have formed self-serving fraternities.
“We have to look for win-wins,” Breazeale, a commercial airline pilot with 24 years of military experience, said during an interview at The Augusta Chronicle last week. “We need a better system of checks and balances.”
Gen. Frank Grass, the National Guard Bureau chief, said during a meeting with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., last month that about 200 agents have begun a review of all 106,364 people who might have received up to $100 million in fraudulent payments from the Army National Guard’s Recruiting Assistance Program.
McCaskill’s oversight subcommittee and Army investigators first revealed pervasive fraud and potential waste in February in the program that pays National Guard members, retirees and civilians taxable bonuses to persuade friends and family to join the military.
Twenty-three recruiters and 64 assistants from Georgia and South Carolina have been connected to the program that was established at the height of the Iraq war in 2005 to help the Guard achieve its recruiting goals.
“The Army National Guard is full of hardworking men and women, fighting to protect and serve our nation,” McCaskill, the chairwoman of the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, said in a statement updating the investigation. “That’s why it’s so important that we get this right. We need to restore the integrity of the recruiting and contracting process, and make sure these criminals are held accountable for their actions, to start erasing this stain on our National Guard.”
Breazeale has made the recruiting program’s lack of safeguards and controls a major platform of his campaign to unseat current adjutant general Bob Livingston.
Breazeale said the way the program worked was full-time recruiters who were not eligible to collect bonuses would sign up recruits under assistants’ names and split the commission.
The fraud was not limited to enlisted soldiers. More than 200 officers, including several generals and colonels, are under investigation. Department of Justice records show 27 soldiers in Texas and New Mexico have already been indicted or pleaded guilty.
It is estimated that the top five recipients of fraudulent money were each paid more than $100,000. The top recipient, who received $274,500, is being criminally prosecuted. The third-highest recipient, who received $208,500 in payments, pleaded guilty.
“The National Guard has become a government-run agency with fraud built into the system,” said Breazeale, who acknowledged rightly receiving a $2,000 bonus for recruiting a friend to the reserves.
Breazeale said he first witnessed corruption when he joined the National Guard in 1994 in his hometown of Easley, S.C. Fresh out of the Army, he said he was given a $200 invoice and told to donate the money to the campaign of then Adjutant General Eston Marchant or else he wouldn’t be promoted.
Breazeale said he refused to comply, and that he will not give in in this campaign either, which he plans to use to lobby for four-year terms. The colonel has bonded his net worth and promised to donate it to charity if he runs for re-election.
“Because of the culture of corruption that has occurred, I said if I ever had the chance to institute positive change, I would,” he said. “This is my chance. Give me one four-year term and then I’ll resume my life.”