Two top-ranking Alaska National Guard officers were fired Thursday by their commander and then re-hired the next day over concerns that their dismissal could appear improper, officials said Sunday.
"I initiated some leadership changes without consulting with the governor's office, which I rescinded within 24 hours," Brigadier Gen. Mike Bridges, the Alaska National Guard's top acting official in Alaska, said Sunday. "My fault."
Bridges, who is acting as the leader of the Alaska National Guard after the ouster of Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, had applied for the same leadership job as the two officers he fired, said Gov. Sean Parnell's spokeswoman Sharon Leighow on Sunday.
One of the officers fired, Brigadier Gen. Catherine Jorgensen, made history a little more than a year ago when she became the first woman promoted to general within the Army Alaska National Guard.
The Alaska National Guard has been under scrutiny after years of allegations related to sexual assault, fraud and other misconduct. A federal investigation ordered by Parnell and released Sept. 4 found instances of fraud, ethical misconduct and other problems within the guard.
Parnell vowed to remove top players in the chain of command. On Sept. 4, the governor asked for the resignations of Katkus, who was until then the the highest-ranking official in the guard, as adjutant general. He also fired McHugh Pierre, the civilian deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Katkus' top civilian aide.
At a Thursday morning news conference last week, Parnell said three more guard officials would be fired but declined to give their names or ranks, citing personnel laws.
The same day, Bridges, who is serving as acting commissioner while officials mull a replacement for adjutant general, asked Jorgensen and Col. Edie Grunwald to resign, he said Sunday. Jorgenson is director of the joint staff of the Alaska National Guard and is chief of staff for the Army National Guard. Grunwald is "senior advisor on manpower/personnel matters" within the guard, according to the state's website.
"Governor Parnell was unaware that General Bridges was going to take action against General Jorgensen," wrote Leighow, the governor's spokeswoman, in an email Sunday. "He was also unaware that General Jorgensen and Colonel Grunwald had either expressed interest in, or had applied for the adjutant general position. To avoid any appearance of impropriety on behalf of General Bridges, who has also applied for the adjutant general position, he directed General Bridges to rescind the terminations. This occurred on Friday."
The firings were rescinded Friday, Bridges said. He declined to explain why he asked Jorgensen and Grunwald to resign.
"I made a premature decision on a couple personnel moves," he said.
The Alaska Democratic Party seized on the situation Sunday, saying Jorgensen, the director of the joint staff for the Alaska National Guard, was a "central player in the chain of command that allowed sexual assault perpetrators and fraudsters to operate with impunity in the Alaska National Guard" and calling on Parnell to explain her re-hire.
The three people Parnell was referring to firing at the news conference Thursday are Col. Grunwald, Col. Susan Bailar and "a senior NCO (non-commissioned officer)," Leighow wrote. Parnell was unaware that Bridges was going to take action against Jorgenson, Leighow wrote.
Bailar "submitted retirement paperwork several weeks ago and will be retiring as of Dec. 31," said Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, the head of public affairs for the Alaska National Guard.
Bailar is an attorney for the Alaska National Guard. The exact circumstances under which she is leaving are unclear. On Sunday, Leighow wrote that she believed Bailar had been "removed from her position."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgenson was the first woman promoted to general within the Alaska National Guard. She was the first woman to be promoted to general within the Alaska Army National Guard.