Senator asks Air Force head to halt whistleblower discharge

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked the head of the Air Force on Friday to halt discharge proceedings against a Wisconsin Air National Guard whistleblower until investigators determine whether his commanders are retaliating against him for complaining about sexual assaults in his unit.

Master Sgt. Jay Ellis complained to Baldwin last year about sexual assaults and harassment within his 115th Fighter Wing squadron, spurring two federal investigations that are still ongoing. Ellis filed a separate complaint in May alleging that his superiors are trying to discharge him on medical grounds and deny him retirement benefits in retaliation. The Wisconsin National Guard’s inspector general is investigating those allegations, but the discharge process is still moving forward.

Baldwin sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett asking her to put a hold on the discharge process until the reprisal investigation is complete. She said it’s “unacceptable” that the discharge process is proceeding despite the ongoing investigation into Ellis’ accusations and that it could discourage potential witnesses from coming forward in the sexual assault probes.

“The timing and nature of this (discharge) process has the alarming appearance of retribution and retaliation against ... Ellis,” Baldwin wrote.

Barrett’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the Wisconsin senator’s request.

Baldwin has been working to protect Ellis since a medical evaluation board at Scott Air Force Base recommended on Nov. 6 that he be discharged. She wrote a letter to Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, the Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander, and Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8 asking them to halt the process.

Dunbar wrote back this week saying he lacked the authority to stop the process, but that he wouldn’t finalize Ellis’ discharge until the reprisal investigation was complete. He added that Ellis wouldn’t lose any benefits. Ellis said he wouldn’t lose any benefits linked to the Guard, but he would lose his federal benefits from the Air Force worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Baldwin said in her letter to Barrett on Friday that Lengyel’s staff has indicated that Barrett has the authority to halt the process.

Ellis is appealing the discharge decision from the Scott Air Force Base evaluation board. He is scheduled to appear before another evaluation board at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas on Dec. 3.

___

Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter: https://twitter.com/trichmond