A Whistle-Blower's Story: He Feels Navy Did Him Wrong For Doing Right

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Nashville Tennessean
November 19, 2006
Officer saw recruitment policy as unfair, and said so
By Leon Alligood, Staff Writer
On a fall day in October 2002, Jason Hudson read the new recruiting instructions several times — but he still could not believe what Navy recruiters across the country were being told to do.
Hudson, then a lieutenant based in Nashville and head of enlisted recruiting for parts of five states, read the document several more times to make certain he was not mistaken.
He was not.
On page three was a new nationwide policy that, Hudson believed, broke federal law, including the Civil Rights Act, in no fewer than a half-dozen ways. Not to mention that it placed his recruiters in a very tough spot, making decisions that ran counter to the American system of equal opportunity.
The policy set a limit on the number of minorities admitted into the Navy whose scores on a standardized test classified them as "lower mental groups."
Hudson's objection to that was so strong it led him to take on a role he had never pondered: whistle-blower. Today, four years later, he feels he's still suffering consequences for that act of conscience.
A scenario came to his mind: two would-be sailors — one black, the other white — are in a recruiting office. They score the same on the battery of aptitude tests given to every military applicant. They appear to be equally eligible to become members of the United States Navy.
The recruiter tells the white applicant, "Welcome."
But, under the new instructions, the black recruit is told, "Try us next month."
That was not the Navy way, not the Navy that Hudson had served proudly as an officer since 1997.
The lieutenant understood on that day in October 2002 that Directive 1133.8B was trouble. He also knew he would speak out against it, a risky business for a young officer. Orders were to be followed, not questioned, but this order angered him.
His Navy, the Navy he loved, the Navy he wanted to serve for his entire career, was about equal opportunity, not discrimination.
So in fall 2002, Hudson complained.
The recruiting policy he disliked was rescinded after five and a half weeks. After years of wrangling, the Navy has since admitted the rule was "legally indefensible."
But four years after he complained, Hudson said he is still paying the price for speaking out. Next year he may be forced out of the military. Meanwhile, his effort to steer the behemoth bureaucracy of the United States Navy to ask how a discriminatory policy had been adopted has failed.
"I've never gotten an answer," he said.
All about numbers
Recruiting is not for the fainthearted. If all goes smoothly, wave after wave of recruits head for boot camp. But if something goes awry, if monthly quotas are not met, the chewing-out begins at the top and trickles down.
"It's a tough business," said Hudson, 35, a native of upper East Tennessee. "If (a recruiter) is successful it can enhance a career, and if they're not, it can kill a career."
Hudson came to recruiting after an enlisted stint during the Gulf War, followed by four years at Vanderbilt, where he had received a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship.
In 2001, Hudson became an officer recruiter. A year later, in the spring, he was promoted to Nashville, where he became the leader of 133 recruiters who signed up sailors from Kentucky to Georgia. By fall 2002, Nashville's enlisted program was ranked fourth best in the nation.
"He was somebody I would go to sea with any day. I told the same to investigators," said Rob Stewart of Nashville, a former Navy petty officer first class who worked under Hudson.
Then came the directive from Rear Adm. George Voelker, at the time head of the Navy's recruiting efforts. Now retired and working for a defense contractor in California, the former admiral declined to be interviewed for this story.
Before then, Hudson said, recruiters had received goals for different ethnic groups, "but it never came out as explicit as this instruction made it."
The Navy's desire to enhance its minority numbers was nothing new. It also wanted to attract more "upper mental group" applicants — those who scored 50 or above on the test known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
There were valid reasons the Navy wanted smarter recruits, Hudson said. Meanwhile, "all the services are looking for diversity, just like every Fortune 500 company is looking for diversity."
By November 2002, the lieutenant had taken his concern to the head of the Nashville recruiting district, who told him to follow the policy as given. However, a later investigation would reveal that he and other commanders had expressed the same concerns as Hudson about the new rule.
Hudson said the policy "was just so blatantly wrong. I couldn't do it."
Stewart, too, said the policy was discriminatory to minorities and was a "major contributing factor" to his leaving the Navy after nine years. He said Hudson, his former boss, did the right thing in objecting: "That just blows my mind, the irony of a WASPy guy from Vanderbilt trying to protect the rights of minorities."
'System had broken down'
On Nov. 18, 2002, the lieutenant filed a formal complaint with a Navy equal opportunity adviser, the equivalent of a civilian-sector Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator.
Three days later, on Nov. 21, Hudson was relieved as head of enlisted recruiting in the Nashville district.
Ironically, on the same day, Voelker's staff rescinded the controversial directive. It remains unclear today how many minority applicants were affected by the policy during its short time in effect.
As superiors took him to task for "going outside the chain of command," Hudson called a Vanderbilt classmate, Ross Booher, a former Navy attorney now with Bass Berry and Sims law firm in Nashville. He took the case without charge.
"To me it was evident that the system had broken down. Here was a man who recognized the Navy, an organization he greatly admired, had adopted a flawed policy. He wanted the organization to change, even at the peril of his own welfare," Booher said.
The attorney asked the inspector general at Navy Recruiting Command, the headquarters of the Navy's recruiting efforts, to conduct an investigation. In the military, inspector generals are akin to internal affairs investigators of a police department. They investigate claims of wrongdoing by the parent agency.
On Feb. 12, 2003, the same day Hudson was instructed to meet with inspectors general outside Memphis, he was given a negative job evaluation, which the Navy calls an "adverse fitness report."
In his entire 14-year Navy career, this is the only poor evaluation Hudson ever received. To him, the unfavorable "fitrep" was reprisal for complaining.
Two months later, the IG said Hudson's claims were unsubstantiated. The Navy transferred Hudson to Illinois, but assigned him an administrative job normally handled by an officer one rank higher than him. It didn't give him the new rank, or the pay raise that would have come with that job.
"That was strange to me. I mean, if I'm a screw-up like my adverse fitness report stated, why was I being given a job of a rank above me?" Hudson asked. A year later, his supervisors honored him as their "Officer of the Year."
Hudson and his lawyer went higher and higher up the military chain. In 2003, the Navy concluded that there had been no reprisals.
On whether the policy was discriminatory, the military contradicted itself.
In April 2005, a Pentagon report acknowledged that discrimination occurred but said it was justified: "Lt. Hudson does not seem to understand or recognize the difference between 'lawful' and 'unlawful' discrimination." It said discrimination was lawful if it was "institutional discrimination," in other words, if the policy were applied to all minority recruits.
But one month later, the Naval IG's office concluded the directive was "not legally defensible," and said the Navy should have investigated whether the new rule discriminated against minorities. But the IG said it would not order a new investigation.
On principle
Officially, Hudson's case is closed, but he has appealed to the Defense Department, arguing that the policy's discriminatory nature should still be investigated and that his adverse fitness report should be scrapped. The appeal is under review.
"It looks as if the Pentagon is stonewalling us," said U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has argued on Hudson's behalf.
He commended the young officer for "having the guts to spot a problem and get it changed."
The congressman said he hopes the lieutenant's case points out the need to protect military whistle-blowers. "We need an environment in our military in which junior officers and enlisted men can spot problems and report them to their superiors without fear," he said.
Last August, Hudson was passed over for promotion to lieutenant commander despite his Officer of the Year award and annual evaluations that praised his job performance.
"The only thing that's against me is that one adverse fitness report," he said.
"As long as that is there, I doubt I'll ever be promoted."
If Hudson is passed over a second time, the Navy will force him to leave, a prospect he does not savor.
The lieutenant is aware some of his peers believe he should not have made a big deal of 1133.8B.
They point to how the Navy transferred him to a new job in Illinois with greater responsibilities, how the service rewarded his good work with an award, how last summer he was given a full scholarship to get a master's degree in business from the University of Tennessee, where he is currently enrolled.
To Hudson, the matter remains one of principle.
"It's a shame anyone is prevented from the opportunity of serving because of some artificial goal set out by some policy. Or to be told to come back next month, and thinking that justifies it.
I look at it this way, if everyone can do it then it lowers the value. If everyone graduated from Ranger school would being a Ranger still be so covetted? So the Navy was being proactive in singling out smart recruits. They screwed up by tying it to race.