Originally created 05/31/97

Probe may end general's career



Misconduct allegations against Fort Gordon's one-star general likely will mean the end of his military career, military experts said.

Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis, 48, commander of 370bed Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center since December 1995, was relieved of duties Thursday by Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck, the Army's top medical officer. Lt. Gen. Blanck had temporarily suspended Brig. Gen. Xenakis on May 12, pending an internal investigation into "unspecified and unsubstantiated allegations."

Brig. Gen. Xenakis has not been charged with a criminal offense unlike drill instructors at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn, who was given a general discharge rather than face court-martial on charges of committing adultery and lying about it.

It is possible, however, that the general faced nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 15 punishment can include extra duty, a reduction in pay or restriction to quarters, imposed by the soldier's commander - in this case Lt. Gen. Blanck. Such punishment is considered administrative and is protected by the Privacy Act, said Fort Gordon spokesman James Hudgins.

Employees can give prior, written consent to release the information, but Brig. Gen. Xenakis has not done so, Army officials said.

The Army has also refused to release any additional information about the allegations against Brig. Gen. Xenakis.

Quoting unnamed Congressional and military officials, The New York Times reported in a front-page story Friday that the investigation of Brig. Gen. Xenakis began Jan. 26, 1996, after Fort Gordon's commander received an anonymous letter accusing the hospital commander of misconduct with a civilian nurse who was caring for his gravely ill, cancer-stricken wife.

Investigators did not prove the general and the nurse had an adulterous affair but concluded that Brig. Gen. Xenakis appeared to have engaged in "an improper relationship," the newspaper reported. Adultery is a crime under military law.

"There was at least a perception of an improper relationship, his car was seen at her house, and he was in a senior leadership position," an unnamed Congressional official told the Times.

Brig. Gen. Xenakis has challenged the sexual misconduct allegations, but he has not outright denied them.

"I'd tell them not to make any assumptions about that," he told The Augusta Chronicle after his suspension. "In fairness to me, and particularly to Eisenhower hospital and all the people there, it would be best to just minimize speculation."

Brig. Gen. Xenakis did not return two telephone messages left at his home Friday.

Even if Brig. Gen. Xenakis is completely exonerated of the allegations against him, his 25year Army career is likely over, said Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Mich.

"Since he's been removed from command, even if the internal investigation exonerates him from serious wrongdoing, this element of the appearance of improper relationship, that is part of what the fraternization rules are all about," said Ms. Donnelly, who studies military personnel issues.

More than any other soldiers, generals are held to high standards of conduct, Ms. Donnelly said.

"It's important because if people look to their commanders and they see what appears to be less than honorable behavior, then it becomes hypocritical for those same officers to talk about what the military talks about all the time - honor, courage, commitment," she said. "The discipline that's meted out to someone in a higher rank is going to be more than someone in a lower rank.

"It's the greater responsibility."

Brig. Gen. Xenakis has said he has not decided whether he will retire or seek assignment elsewhere. So far, the Army has taken no steps to reassign him to another medical center.

"It depends on many factors. One is what his wishes are," said Virginia C. Stephanakis, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gen. Blanck, the Army surgeon general. "He could be reassigned temporarily pending final disposition. But right now, we don't know what will happen."

The Army also has not chosen a permanent replacement for him.

In the meantime, Col. Walt Moore will serve as acting hospital commander and Col. George Masi as acting southeast regional medical commander.

"Assignment of general officers is done in coordination with the chief of staff's office and that is a sometimes lengthy process," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Harkey said.

"Because (Brig. Gen. Xenakis) is a medical doctor, as opposed to a regular general, that may also add some time to" the search, he said. "So there's really no way of telling when there's apt to be a replacement in."

Lt. Col. Harkey and Ms. Stephanakis said it's "unlikely" the general would be reassigned to Eisenhower, even if cleared of misconduct allegations.

Georgia officials expressed regret at the general's dismissal, but didn't feel his absence would hurt the medical center.

Ted Stafford, director of Georgia's Military Affairs Coordinating Committee said the general's dismissal would have "zero" effect on Eisenhower's vulnerability during a future round of military base closings.

Defense officials have suggested another round of base closings may be necessary to trim military defense waste. During the last round of base closings in 1995, Eisenhower was threatened by closure. Since then, the medical center has gained new missions from other hospitals targeted for closure.

"What if he had been walking across the street and got hit by a bus?" Mr. Stafford said. "That has nothing to do with operating efficiency, needs of the department of defense. It's an unfortunate, personal situation that has zero mission impact."

As head of the Army's southeast medical command, Brig. Gen. Xenakis also oversaw six other Army medical centers in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.