Are there leadership problems or welfare issues for the troops of an Ohio National Guard brigade that saw two soldiers arrested on separate domestic terrorism charges in less than a month? Apparently the Guard doesn't know, because it has failed to conduct a key piece of mandatory oversight that's meant to help leaders spot issues.
Leaders of the Ohio National Guard's 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have seemingly not conducted command climate surveys, or properly maintained those documents for at least four years, according to the state's Freedom of Information Act manager.
The surveys are meant to provide a health check for commands as a way for troops to provide feedback outside of lodging official complaints. The Ohio National Guard and the National Guard Bureau did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls for clarification on whether the state ever does command climate surveys.
Last year, Military.com filed a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request for all of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's command climate surveys. Troops are routinely surveyed anonymously on their command's performance and the culture of the unit. These reviews can sometimes lead to commanders being fired if systemic issues of poor leadership or sexual harassment are found.
Commanders are supposed to have their soldiers conduct the congressionally mandated survey within 30 days of assuming command. That window extends to 120 days for the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, with an additional survey at the six-month period, and annually thereafter, according to the Army's regulation on the matter.
Officials responded to the publication's May 2022 FOIA request Tuesday, saying the state has no records of any command climate surveys being conducted. The only exception was 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment, but the National Guard has yet to share those documents.
"No documents were found that would be responsive to your request," Chief Warrant Officer Four Janet Blain, the state's FOIA manager, told Military.com. "The FOIA applies only to existing records, and there is no requirement to create a record to respond to a FOIA request."
The 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is currently deployed to Iraq and Syria, making it one of the Army's only conventional units operating in a combat environment. They have units at Erbil Air Base, Iraq, and the Al Shaddadi region of Syria, where Guardsmen have been training Syrian forces.
Thomas Develin, a former corporal, who was assigned to the Ohio Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 174th Air Defense Regiment, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison last year. His charges centered on his efforts to manufacture and sell illegal weapons, but court records show he regularly talked about attacking Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and a Jewish school in the state.
Another soldier in Develin's unit, James Meade II, was also charged last year with making terrorist threats. Meade was sentenced to three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine after pleading guilty to threats he made to fly a plane into an Anheuser-Busch beer plant in Columbus. Both Develin and Meade were in the same Discord chat group exchanging racist, misogynist and anti-semitic jokes and radical statements, according to court records.
The 37th is overseen by Maj. Gen. John Harris Jr., an aviation officer, who is the state's adjutant general. He recently made national headlines after getting into a physical confrontation with a reporter. In March, Harris grabbed and shoved a NewsNation reporter while in uniform and acting in his capacity as head of the state's Guard contingent. An Ohio state trooper grabbed the general and pulled him away from the reporter.
Despite a public scolding from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Harris was allowed to keep his job.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.