Soldier Fears Retaliation for Civil Rights Complaint

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(APN) ATLANTA–A US soldier stationed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) says he is being retaliated against for complaining when his superiors failed to fly the American Flag at half-mast in remembrance of civil rights leader Mrs. Coretta Scott King, ignoring a Presidential Executive Order, according to emails and testimony obtained exclusively by Atlanta Progressive News.

Staff Sergeant (SSgt.) John M. Estes, in The United States Air Force Reserves with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, claims he has received undue harsh treatment, including being yelled at, and has been forced to end his deployment sooner than planned, as a result of his complaint.

“SMSgt Hennis and MSgt Owens were using rank intimidation and thought I would not say anything,” Estes wrote in an email prepared for Atlanta Progressive News.

“I was [originally] told that I would be sent home on March 7, 2006, not the end of February 2006. Nothing should happen to me once I return to the USA. Yes, this is a part retaliation for speaking out about the American flag not being lowered in Honor Of Mrs. King. They did not like what I wrote in email to them. They feel I am outspoken and they need to get me out of here before this conduct rubs off on others. I had the courage to speak out on something that was right and most Americans would agree,” Estes wrote [grammar edited for clarity in all email citations].

SSgt. Estes has recently been stationed in the Middle East, but is originally from the Atlanta, Georgia, area, and says his family is a good friend of the King Family. US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s (D-GA) Office has been following the issue since being notified right away what was going on regarding their constituent.

GO SEE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

SSgt Estes was troubled when he first noticed that his command post failed to fly the flag at half mast at the base of the 380th on the evening of February 7, 2006.

“The entire base fail [sic] to give honor and respect to Mrs. Coretta Scott King by placing the American flag at half staff. Two days later there is no one talking about the wrong that was given to… Mrs. Coretta Scott King at the 380th… It’s hard to hold back the tears trying not to believe in the year 2006 that things like this [are] still going on… unequal treatment and disregard,” Estes wrote in an email to his unit on February 9, 2006.

“I was taught very earlier in my military career to give honor and respect to others and so was everyone else… How did the leadership allow this to happen? Mrs. Coretta Scott King was for the advancement of people and doing what was right for the entire human race. She deserves better treatment from the members of the 380th…” Estes wrote.

SSgt. Estes immediately went to his superior, TSgt Ulyssia A. Guerrier Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Vehicle Operations Night Supervisor, on the night of the 7th.

Guerrier failed to take immediate action, instead referring him to file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Office, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

A COMPLAINT FIRST DEFLECTED

Estes wrote Capt. Shoffstall of Equal Opportunity at 3am on February 8, 2006. “President Bush ordered on Tuesday February 7, 2006, all American flags every where to be lowered to half mast for the late Coretta Scott King and the flag at the 380th was not lowered. This is a big disappointment for all Americans serving in the 380th.”

An email reply from Shoffstall appeared not to address the issue, stating that the base would have had to have permission from the UAE to fly their flag at half-mast. However, Estes wasn’t talking about the UAE flag.

“SSgt Estes, this is the response I received from the MEO at Al Udeid regarding your question. Hope this helps… Permission must be obtained from a nation before its flag is flown at half-staff. Therefore, unless permission is granted in each case (for each flag that flies over your installation), it is recommended that flags of other nations not be flown when the flag of the United States is at half-staff. I would imagine that your installation commander would also have to get permission not to fly the other countries flag during the period of our half-staff honors. This sounds like a lot of red tape and probably could not be approved quick enough,” Shoffstall wrote at 2pm on the 8th.

Yet, Estes persevered. “Sir, did any in the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing communicate with the host nation to see if the flag could have been flown at half staff? Sir how can this situation be prevented in the future?” Estes replied to Shoffstall at 5am on Thursday the 9th.

AN ERROR ADMITTED BY HIGHER-UPS

In his next reply, Capt. Shoffstall of Equal Opportunity appears to have made headway on addressing the problem, after discussing it with a higher-up, Chief Morris.

“Chief Morris responded to my e-mail inquiring about this and here is his response: Sir–Thanks for providing me this info. I must apologize that we didn’t make this happen. But please rest assured the leadership in the wing was not made aware of this…had we been, without a doubt we would have complied with the President’s order. I honestly don’t believe this information was delivered to our wing through official channels. Again, it is my apology,” Shoffstall later wrote to Estes.

Estes says that Chief Morris is the highest ranked on base.

MISTREATMENT AT THE BASE

“MSgt Kevin E. Owens and SMSgt Tami L. Hennis chewed me out for not using my chain of command,” Estes replied to Shoffstall. Estes claims, however, that he was following the advice of his immediate supervisor on the night of the 7th, Mrs. Guerrier.

“[Equal Opportunity] is for any one with a complaint. It was my right to contact you about Mrs. Coretta Scott King or do we live in a society that we can’t do this? I will like to file a complaint against MSgt Kevin E. Owens and SMSgt Tami L. Hennis on their actions and treatment of me. Sir I need to bring this to your attention while I was being chewed up and down about emailing you (Captain Troy L. Shoffstall), MSgt Kevin E. Owens allowed me leave his office so I could get some supporting documents. I left his office and email him the documents and went and found my shift supervisor TSgt Ulyssia A. Guerrier and brought her up to the MSgt Kevin E. Owens where… Guerrier was told by… Hennis to leave, for what I don’t know. I’m upset that I brought this matter to your attention for all this back lash,” Estes wrote.

Estes also says that MSgt. Owens tried to deny there was an Executive Order to lower the flag in the first place, saying he didn’t see it on the WhiteHouse.gov website. That is, it’s not on the website and therefore it must not be true? Atlanta Progressive News has verified the Executive Order exists.

“SMSgt Hennis and MSgt Owens made me feel shallow and empty because of the way they expressed their concerns and also by their body language,” Estes told Atlanta Progressive News.

“SSgt Estes, we definitely need to meet to discuss this issue. I can tell you that Col Palmby is looking into how the guidance was not received by the 380th to lower the flag. He is genuinely concerned and so is Chief Morris. Let me know when you are available to meet,” Shoffstall replied to Estes.

Estes says he later met with Shoffstall at 6pm on the 11th. In this meeting, Shoffstall said he wanted Estes to give his superiors time to correct the problem. Estes met with his supervisors but was unsatisfied with his response and later said he wanted still to file a complaint.

WHAT NEXT?

Estes will return home to the US on February 29, 2006. He says a change in procedures may result from his complaint and he is glad he spoke up. However, he feels uncomfortable in his current environment, is upset by the mistreatment by his superiors, and worries about an overall climate of repression.

About the writer:

Matthew Cardinale is Editor and National Correspondent for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

Syndication policy:

This article may be reprinted in full where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

One comment

  • My name is Daniel Bowles, a former Airman under the direct supervision of the above mentioned MSgt. Kevin E. Owens. He was a military training leader (MTL), 333RD MTS, Keesler Air Force Base, MS.

    During my time of service under the leadership of the (then) Tsgt. Owens, I found him to be fair, honest, and impartial. Whether it was a training matter, or one of a personal nature, Kevin Owens was always there to listen. I never felt intimidated by the stripes on his arm, or by any gestures made by he or his staff. He made it clear that he was there for ALL of his troops, not just a select few.

    Never did he shirk his duties as a supervisor, nor was he ever unprofessional in any way. A man among men, and a credit to the United States Air Force.

    I am proud to have served under his guidance and direction, and am appalled at these associations levied against him.

    I drive past our beloved banner of freedom every morning, and give pause to the men and women who have sacrificed for its very survival. It is a symbol of freedom that should not be used to create dissension within the very fighting force that defends it, nor to further a political agenda.

    While the entire DOD has an open door policy regarding complaint resolution, we have a chain of command in place for a reason. You, SSgt. Estes have been blessed with a senior NCO in the person of MSgt. Kevin E. Owens, that would gladly entertain any complaint you may have and work towards its successful resolution, even if it meant fielding such a complaint up the chain of command.

    May I suggest utilizing your resources within your local chain of command before shooting off your mouth without giving them the opportunity to reconcile any issue you may have.

    And, MSgt. Owens, if you’re reading this, it was my distinct honor to serve not just under you, but with you, Sir.

    May God bless you, Kevin.

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