Skip to main Content

3 National Guard officers fired, 2 for second time

Two weeks after they were fired and almost immediately unfired, the Alaska National Guard announced that two officers have been fired again, along with a third.

In a statement sent to reporters at 6:30 p.m. Monday, the guard said that Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgensen was removed from her post as Army Guard chief of staff and that Col. Edith Grunwald lost her job as director of human resources for the Alaska National Guard, the second time their departures were announced this month.

An Air Guard general, Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, lost his job as commander of the 176th Wing, the guard said.

Spokeswoman Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead said in an email that the three commissioned officers were still in the Alaska National Guard, but she wouldn't elaborate on whether they would be leaving and if so, under what circumstances.

In the statement, the guard said the "transitions in senior leadership" were made Monday at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell as a direct result of the National Guard Bureau investigation report last month that described a leadership crisis in the Alaska National Guard.

The firings, designed "to help restore trust and foster faith and confidence in the leadership of the Alaska National Guard," were carried out by the guard's chief officer, Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges, the acting adjutant general, the statement said.

Two weeks ago, Bridges said he had fired Jorgensen and Grunwald on Oct. 2, but then canceled the job action the next day.

"I initiated some leadership changes without consulting with the governor's office, which I rescinded within 24 hours," Bridges said at the time. The firings were particularly awkward because both had expressed interest in applying for the adjutant general job -- a job Bridges was also seeking.

Bridges took the place of Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, fired by Parnell on Sept. 4 when the Guard Bureau report was released.

The governor's office released the names of applicants for Katkus' job Friday. Jorgensen, Wenke, Grunwald and Bridges were among the two-dozen-plus applicants.

The removal of Jorgensen, Wenke and Grunwald comes one day after Parnell met with guard members in a closed door, town-hall style meeting at the guard armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Sunday afternoon. Parnell refused to let reporters attend the meeting, but a recording provided by an attendee showed that several guard members pressed for answers about when more leadership changes would take place.

Answering a question about whether soldiers could trust they will be safe from retaliation, Parnell said, "Your leadership is now on notice that I am watching everything they are doing."

Several questions concerned protections that Parnell could offer whistleblowers and how he would insulate them from possible retaliation of leaders still in power.

The Guard Bureau report said soldiers feared retaliation for speaking up.

Some of the soldiers at the town hall expressed frustration over the firing and next-day rehiring of Jorgensen and Grunwald. How is it Parnell could have faith in the decisions of Bridges, yet reverse Bridges' decision to remove two top leaders in addition to accepting their applications to be the next adjutant general?

"Gen. Bridges had reasons for what he did in making those initial movements," Parnell told soldiers Sunday, adding that when it comes to personnel actions, "in every case the merits are visited and revisited."

At the time Bridges took action, Parnell said, he hadn't yet had a chance to review the merits of complaints against Jorgenson and Grunwald. All he knew, he said, was that they'd wanted to be the next adjutant general, along with Bridges, and that it was crucial that the selection process appear untainted by conflict of interest.

Parnell asked guard members to be patient and assured them that changes will continue.

"I will to the best of my abilities support and defend you -- now I am asking you to trust me that I am working my ass off," Parnell said, using the language from a question posed earlier. "I am working it off to make sure that you get the kind of support in leadership that you need, and you will get it."

The statement from the guard named Col. John Woyte as acting chief of staff in place of Jorgensen. Col. Blake Gettys will replace Wenke as the commander of the Air Guard's 176th Wing. Lt. Col. Emma Thyen was named acting director of human resources, replacing Grunwald.