During a change of command and retirement ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in July, according to USA Today, Vice Adm. Mike Miller was ending a four-year tour as academy superintendent and retiring with honors after a 40-year career.
When the festivities ended, Miller wasn’t allowed to leave the service. Even though his official online biography reads “retired,” he’s still being carried on the Navy’s active-duty rolls — at a reduced two-star level. And although he has no specific job, he counts against the service’s allocated total of 219 admirals.
Defense officials said Miller is one of an estimated three dozen admirals under federal investigation for potential wrongdoing in the Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) case, also known as the “Fat Leonard” affair, after the nickname of the company’s leader, Leonard Glenn Francis.
Francis is in federal custody in San Diego and has admitted to numerous instances of bribery, influence peddling and corruption attempts. A number of naval officers and civilians already have been charged and some convicted, and the investigation, announced in mid-2013, is — by all accounts — showing no signs of slowing down.
Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the head of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the director of intelligence operations are also caught up in the scandal. Both officers were suspended by the Navy on Nov. 8, 2013, pending the outcome of the investigations.
Until investigations by the Department of Justice and the Navy are concluded, none of the officers under scrutiny can move on, either to resume their jobs or take up new ones. Replacements can’t take over, either.
However, the pyramidal U.S. military personnel system is predicated on an “up or out” structure, with active-duty personnel holding a specific job only for a certain period of time — usually 18 to 36 months. After that, it’s time for whomever has that job to move on and for someone else to move in.
As officers move up the pyramid, fewer and fewer jobs are available, and only a few blockages can have effects far beyond that specific position.
In March 2014, Vice Admiral John Miller was named to become the next deputy chief of naval operations for Plans, Policy, and Operations at the Pentagon, and should have been relieved by now. But his replacement has not arrived — not even been announced — because that person is under investigation by the Justice Department in connection with GDMA.
“Others are in the same situation,” a defense official said Feb. 5.
A number of officers such as Mike Miller were planning to retire over the past year or more, but are being held over pending the results of the investigation.
“It becomes a lot more complicated to deal with folks once they’re outside the military,” said the defense official, explaining why Mike Miller is being held over. “The ability to handle it is a lot easier keeping them in uniform.”
The admirals affected break down into three groups, according to the official.
“There’s a group that have left jobs thinking they were going to retire and are waiting. There’s a group that are in jobs they would like to leave and move on to retirement, and a group that thought they were going to other jobs but because they’re somehow being reviewed they’re unable to do that.”
The Justice Department is not sharing many details of its investigation with the Navy, and the service is not clear precisely how many officers are under scrutiny.
“Folks don’t know if they’re not being moved because they’re under investigation or because they’re part of the daisy chain,” the defense official said.
GDMA is a “husbanding” company, a firm that handles a variety of arrangements for visiting ships — piloting and docking services, taxis and catering, customs and legal services, food and fueling arrangements and more.
Dozens of U.S. Navy warships and commands made arrangements with GDMA, along with most other navies operating in Asia.
It’s also clear the investigation goes back nearly a decade.
It appears an individual doesn’t necessarily have to be accused of wrongdoing to trigger an investigation into their behavior, defense officials said. Rather, simply having dealings with GDMA could start a probe.
In Mike Miller’s case, and potentially others as well, his initial reduction in rank and paygrade is not tied to the investigation but to Navy rules.
“The law required Vice Adm. Miller revert to his permanent grade of Rear Adm. (upper half) after 60 days from the date he was relieved as the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy,” said Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, chief of naval information.
Simply put, she said, if a three-star or four-star admiral isn’t approved for another appointment at the same or higher grade, or if the retirement at the senior level isn’t approved, the person drops back to the two-star level.
Miller’s retirement request, she added, “is under review.”