As it stands now, military law is managed more akin to a criminal syndicate, “serving” a purpose of providing political hit jobs for the top brass, than existing as entities interested in the pursuit of military justice.
We here at Save Our Heroes continue to receive information from some of our “On-Scene Leaders” and are bringing to light more details of “The Case of CDR Benjamin Strickland”
CDR Strickland was once a highly respected officer in the U.S. Coast Guard with a promising career ahead of him; all of which came to an abrupt halt when a young Sailor reported to him that she had been sexually assaulted. Despite working in an environment that expected commanders to cover-up allegations of sexual assault at the time, CDR Strickland made the morally courageous decision to support her. He not only initiated an investigation by Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) into the nature of the allegations, but personally ensured that the young woman got the help she needed from the local Base Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. CDR Strickland’s Unrestricted Report of a potential sexual assault quickly put him in his leadership’s crosshairs. He himself soon became the victim of a military witch-hunt.
The unlawful targeting of CDR Strickland was a clear instance of USCG Pacific Area abusing its authority in an attempt to retaliate against a leader who refused to tow the company line. Such abuse and retaliation was made possible with the willing assistance of a few “useful idiots” in the form of incompetent, rogue agents (Woods, Scholtz, Sturgis, and Marzolff) and corrupt JAGs on the Pacific Area staff (CDR Matthew Braden and LT Joel Coito).
During the investigation, S/A Aaron W. Woods’ own words (specifically verbal and written statements) revealed his confirmation bias. There is evidence that Woods knowingly falsified official criminal investigation reports when he wrote that USCGC MUNRO was unable to respond to a Search and Rescue case because the crew was too intoxicated. This was a blatantly false official statement on the part of S/A Woods. MUNRO could not get underway immediately because the ship was in a 12-hour standby status and also needed time to onload an Emergency Towing cable. While MUNRO was coordinating the onload of this equipment she was released by the District 17 Commander after the vessel in distress, the M/V BANGKOK BRIDGE, self-corrected its mechanical issues. Furthermore, the District 17 logs which Agent Woods reviewed, as well as sworn statements from MUNRO’s Operations Officer support this. In short, the District official logs contradict the false narrative that Agent Woods knowingly put into an official CGIS investigation report.
Additionally, there were several reports by MUNRO crewmembers who participated in the investigation as witnesses of other misconduct by S/A Woods to include threats as well as providing misleading and inaccurate summaries of interviews. In many cases, the witnesses stated that the answers they provided orally did not match the version of events written in the official summaries by S/A Woods.
If these issues had been known at the time of the confirmation hearings for Admiral Zukunft (then USCG Pacific Area Commander and now USCG Commandant), perhaps the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee might have asked him if he had actually read these investigation authored by S/A Woods. If he had, what did he think of the obviously false comments by S/A Woods? Did he accept S/A Woods dubious allegations as fact? Or, did it strike ADM Zukunft as a slanted and biased view without corroboration? Did he ask additional questions? Any Admiral worth his/her salt would certainly have questioned such a loaded, and frankly false, allegation such as that being presented. He/she would’ve told his/her legal staff to figure out what is really going on. Woods’ allegations that MUNRO’s crew had been too intoxicated to conduct a SAR mission is—at best—an unsubstantiated subjective opinion. Furthermore, neither CDR Strickland nor the CO (CAPT Cawthorn) saw a need to make an assessment regarding the fitness of the crew on the night in question; per Coast Guard policy, there is a process to make that happen. Ultimately, it was the CO’s decision as to whether the ship would get underway or not. Additionally, no CGIS investigator or Pacific Area staff member ever asked CAPT Cawthorn or CDR Strickland why USCGC MUNRO did not get underway. The answer to that question lay with the USCG District 17 Command Center, which keeps official logs of all such cases; that is where the “facts” are, and evidence shows that S/A not only reviewed these facts, but then knowingly disregarded that the logs contradicted his biased assertion.
It is probable that ADM Zunkunft never read the investigation. It’s likely that his JAGs (CDR Braden/LT Coito) and Chief of Staff (CAPT Matthew J. Bell Jr.) reviewed it, prior to briefing him on the findings. Still, his legal staff had an obligation to ensure that reports of investigations were being conducted in a fair and truthful manner. Given that Admiral Zukunft has now been promoted to USCG service chief, can the public truly have faith that ADM Zukunft is ensuring his staffs and CGIS agents are adhering to the highest possible legal and ethical standards?
At the very least, evidence shows S/A Woods allegation to be an untrue statement. What was S/A Woods trying to accomplish by this? It appears his intent was to slander and disparage both CDR Strickland and CAPT Cawthorn. Is he really the sort of criminal investigator we the public can trust to “seek the truth” in order to prove or disprove allegations against military members and civilians? S/A Woods made a blatantly false statement in an official report (one that any reasonably seasoned investigator would have disputed). Irrespective of his participation in whistleblower retaliation against CDR Strickland, S/A Woods should have been held accountable for his dereliction of duty, yet he never was. In fact, he was permitted (likely encouraged) to continue digging into CDR Strickland’s background (to include communications from two years previous) until he found something months later that he felt he could use to have CDR Strickland removed from duty. CDR Strickland was accused of “core values violations” for complaining to his professional network about incompetence and mismanagement of individuals such as S/A Woods. Who committed the greater sin?
Read more on the Case of CDR Strickland: