WASHINGTON — The Army has suspended the two-star commander of its forces in Africa after revelations about suggestive texts he sent to the wife of an enlisted soldier.
USA TODAY reported on Thursday that the flirty messages, which the paper had obtained, prompted the Army to launch an inspector general's investigation into Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington's activities. Harrington is based in Italy, where U.S. Army Africa is posted.
"Harrington has been suspended from his duties as the Commander of United States Army Africa's Southern European Task Force pending the completion of an investigation by the Army's inspector general," Army Col. Pat Seiber said in a statement. "Given that the matter is under investigation, we can provide no further comment at this time."
Through a spokesman, Harrington released a brief statement: "I look forward to the completion of the investigation." The soldier is not under Harrington's command, but they serve at the same military installation in Europe, according to Lt. Col. Armando Hernandez, a spokesman for Harrington.
The flirty Facebook messages include Harrington's referring to the woman as a "HOTTIE," inquiring about the whereabouts of the woman's husband and asking her to delete the messages.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Friday said the case involving Harrington shows the Pentagon's talk about rooting out sexual assault and harassment in the ranks is belied by the actions of its leaders.
“This is unfortunately just another example of an utter lack of good order and discipline from a top general who is supposed to be in charge of stemming the tide of this boorish behavior in the first place," said Gillibrand, the New York Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee. "For over 20 years, top brass has been pledging zero tolerance for this type of inappropriate behavior -- yet on an all too often basis we see these are empty promises."
Harrington's actions, according to experts, could violate military law about the proper conduct of officers and also undermine discipline essential in the ranks.
"It's disturbing that it took a report in USA TODAY for the Army to suspend Harrington," said Don Christensen, a former top prosecutor for the Air Force and president of Protect our Defenders, a group that advocates for victims of sexual assault in the military. "I hope now that the Army knows it's being watched they will do a thorough and complete investigation of the general."
The woman, who has requested anonymity because she fears retaliation against her husband, provided USA TODAY with dozens of the messages. Her relationship with Harrington began as friendly and related to business, but crossed the line into the personal and intimate, she said.
Harrington, in a series of messages, appeared smitten with the woman, who described herself as far younger than the general.
"I knew u were worth worshipping!" he wrote in one exchange. When she replied that the weather was cold in Italy, he responded: "I heard but you know how to raise the temp!"
The Army and the other armed services have been compiling a roster of senior officers found to have engaged in inappropriate relationships.
In June, the Army has stripped a disgraced former division commander of one star and forced him to retire for having an inappropriate relationship with a female captain on his staff. Wayne Grigsby was demoted to brigadier general after being fired as commander of the First Infantry Division in September 2016. Grigsby had been weeks from deploying to Iraq when the Army recalled him to Washington. He became the first division commander to be relieved in more than 45 years.
The Navy, meanwhile, has been dealing with a sprawling scandal in Asia named for contractor “Fat Leonard” Francis, the former chief of Glenn Defense Marine Asia. Francis bribed sailors with cash, prostitutes and opulent dinners and drinks in exchange for information he used to gouge the Navy for servicing its ships, federal prosecutors say.