Another “Colonel Gresham” Adventure
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) sets forth Congressional instructions for the governance of criminal and civil laws and penalties for all Armed Forces of the United States. However, each military department is empowered to implement these laws according to the peculiar needs of their services. In the Navy and Marine Corps, the Manual of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy governs administrative and investigatory actions.
As one might imagine, there are several such processes and proceedings. One of these proceedings involves command investigations, also referred to as Fact-Finding Investigation. Before a Commanding Officer/Convening Authority can determine an appropriate course of legal action, he or she must review the facts surrounding an incident. Hence a command investigation may be appropriate.
Command investigations are appropriate whenever an event or series of events might result in disciplinary action or later become the basis for a claim against the United States Government. In any case, such an investigation materially assists commanding officers in determining how best to proceed in such matters.
Fact-finding investigations begin when a convening authority appoints an officer or NCO to conduct one. It is usual for a convening authority to direct the investigating officer to provide “findings of fact, opinions, and recommendations.” Opinions, of course, must be logically inferred from the facts presented.
As it happened, there was a regrettable incident at the command’s annual officer Christmas party. There was a “gift exchange,” where people picked names out of a hat and were instructed to pick up a small gift costing no more than $10.00 for opening at the Christmas party. The gathering was a mandatory social event; every officer assigned to the command element would participate. Someone harbored resentment of being forced to exchange gifts. The victim, in this case, was the person whose name the disgruntled person pulled out of the hat.
The Commanding General’s civilian executive secretary (I’ll call her Miss Smith) was a spinster lady of around forty years old at the time. She was an introvert, ill-at-ease around others, exacerbated by a speech impediment — but by every account, she was a fast typist and a skilled record keeper. Miss Smith was of medium height, slender build, and wore her hair the same every day — it was a sort of throw-back hairstyle to the early 1900s — a bun configuration on top of her head. Despite her eccentricities, Miss Smith was a lovely lady whom the general wished to include in the command’s social gatherings.
The Christmas party was held at a local country club a few days before the beginning of the official holiday break — on a Friday evening, of course. It was a coat and tie affair — somewhat typical for an officer’s social gathering. Officers and their wives mixed with one or another group and made their manners to the Commanding General and his lady. After a few hours of this sort of thing and several table servings of hors d’oeuvre (Marine officers never pass up free food — even if it is ‘beanie weenies’), it came time to exchange gifts. This slavish duty fell upon the general’s aide-de-camp and his lady. After opening presents, the officer/recipient would offer an inane comment, such as, “Oh wow … I’ve always wanted a pair of pink earmuffs.”
When the aide called for Miss Smith, she very self-consciously went up to the aide to receive her gift and then withdrew away from everyone as best she could … but of course, everyone waited for her to open the present and add to the growing list of inane comments. The general and his lady stood nearby; they seemed pleased that Miss Smith had been able to join in the fun.
Miss Smith unwrapped her gift, found a box, which she opened to reveal a tube of lipstick. And what do most ladies do when they look at lipstick? They twist it open. That’s what Miss Smith did, as well. In sum, it was a foolish prank — particularly when one considers how fragile a person Miss Smith was. The lipstick took the form of a phallic symbol. The General was not happy to see his executive secretary being escorted out to her car, crying.
Sometime before the end of the evening, which occurred soon afterward, the CG turned to Colonel Gresham, his Chief of Staff, and said, “I want an investigation to find out who did this …” I can’t say that I blame him; the prank was obviously the work of one of our officers, and it was hardly an act “becoming” of an officer. Worse, it was unkind. Gresham replied, “Yes, sir … I’ll get someone on it first thing Monday.”
“No,” said the CG … “I want you to do it.”
Handing this assignment to Gresham was probably an error in judgment. Nevertheless, at promptly 08:00 on the following Monday, Colonel Gresham directed his trusty staff secretary, Major Karl Bueller, to (a) cancel the morning staff meeting, and (b) call the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), Lieutenant Colonel Abrams (not his real name), and have him report immediately to the Chief of Staff. The SJA was the command’s legal officer.
The first problem was that Abrams never arrived at work before 09:00. Second, the word “immediately” wasn’t in Abrams’s vocabulary. If Colonel Gresham was even partly aware of the habits of his staff, he would have known this. By the time Abrams finally appeared in Gresham’s office, it was already 09:15, and the colonel was fuming.
Gresham was a loudmouth, someone who loved to hear the roar of his own voice. People wondered about that. No one likes being yelled at or spoken down to, but that was Gresham’s modus operandi. So, everyone within earshot heard Gresham busting Abrams’s chops, and Gresham suffered under the misconception that Abrams gave a damn what Gresham thought. Abrams was getting ready to retire anyway.
Getting down to business, Gresham filled Abrams in on what had happened the previous Friday evening, adding that the CG wanted someone to investigate the incident. Abrams said, “Well, Colonel, let me talk to the General … this isn’t something …”
Gresham interrupted him. “I’m not asking for your opinion, Abrams. The decision has already been made. I’m asking for your help.”
It had been twenty years since Gresham had conducted a fact-finding investigation. He wanted Abrams to tutor him about how to proceed. An hour later, Abrams returned to his office to gather the instructional materials Gresham would need to conduct his investigation. He had one of his captains deliver to Gresham a copy of the JAG Manual, with appropriate sections paper clipped, a copy of the standard Miranda warning, numerous copies of statements forms, and a formal letter of appointment (which the CG duly signed). After reading through these voluminous materials, Gresham was still a little confused, so he called down to the Abrams’s office to ask further questions. Since Abrams usually went to lunch at around 11:00, Gresham would have to wait another two hours for his answers.
Abrams returned Gresham’s phone call at 13:30. Gresham didn’t understand the Miranda Warning. The answer to Gresham’s question was, “No, sir. You only give the Miranda warning to someone you suspect of an offense, misconduct, or improper performance of duty. If you suspect that one or more persons committed a crime or is guilty of misconduct, you should not interview them until last. If you give a Miranda warning, it must be given before you conduct your interview or ask them to make a statement.
Gresham spent the rest of the day organizing himself for the inquiry. Bueller noted that Gresham’s organizational strategy was to stack his materials at one location on his desk and then move them to another site. It was clear that Gresham didn’t want to conduct the investigation; Bueller opined, “He’s out of his depth.”
“Major Bueller,” roared Gresham, “get me a copy of the command officer personnel roster. Line out anyone who was not present at the social gathering.” The roster became Gresham’s “list of usual suspects.”
At promptly 08:00 on Tuesday morning, Colonel Gresham directed Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, to telephone LtCol Abrams and immediately report to the Chief of Staff. As it happened, Abrams’s name was the first to appear on the personnel roster — because the roster was sorted alphabetically.
However, since Abrams didn’t arrive at work until a few minutes before or after 09:00, Gresham had to wait about an hour for Abrams’ appearance. As before, Gresham was in no easy frame of mind when Abrams finally appeared. The conversation on Tuesday began quite similarly to the one on the previous day. Gresham loudly chastised Abrams: Abrams shrugged it off with a perfunctory “Yes, sir.”
With that out of the way, Colonel Gresham cleared his throat, sat down behind his desk, asked Abrams to take a seat. Gresham then spent a few extra moments attending to the organization of his desk. Bueller later opined, “He didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
The Chief of Staff then looked intently at Abrams and said, “My name is Colonel George Gresham. I am investigating an incident on (date) at the (name of country club) where the command’s executive secretary received a sexually explicit gift as part of the gift exchange program. While you are not suspected of any wrongdoing at this time, it is my duty to inform you that you have certain rights. You have the right to remain silent during my questioning; you are not obligated to answer any questions that might tend to incriminate you. If you decide to answer questions, you must be aware that anything you do say will be taken down and used against you during a formal legal proceeding. Also, if you decide to answer my questions now or make a statement regarding the subject of this investigation, you may stop answering questions at any time to consult with an attorney; if you desire to speak with an attorney, you may do so at the government’s expense, or if you choose, you may consult with a civilian attorney at your own expense.”
Gresham stopped speaking. A long silence prevailed inside his office until he proceeded by asking, “Do you understanding these rights as I have explained them to you?”
LtCol Abrams, the command lawyer, replied, “Yes, sir.”
“Do you wish to make a statement now or answer my questions?” Gresham asked.
Abrams answered, “No, sir.”
Gresham’s mouth fell open. “What?”
Abrams: “I beg your pardon, sir?”
Gresham: “I said, ‘What’ … you don’t want to make a statement?”
Abrams: “That is correct; I do not wish to make a statement.”
Gresham: “Why not?”
Abrams: “Why not what, sir?”
Gresham: “Why do you not wish to make a statement?”
Abrams: “Oh. Well, you aren’t allowed to ask me that, Colonel.”
Gresham: “Why not?”
Abrams: “Well, to begin with, the continuation of your line of questioning after I already informed you that I do not wish to answer any of your questions, including your question ‘Why not,’ would seem to contravene the entire purpose of the Miranda warning.”
Gresham: “I see. Well, in that case, would you care to make a statement to the effect that you do not wish to make a statement?”
Abrams: “No, I would not.”
Gresham: “Very well, you are dismissed.”
Major Bueller later reported that as Abrams departed Gresham’s office, he was shaking his head and chuckling to himself.
Colonel Gresham continued with his investigation … down the list of suspects he went. Not even Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, wanted to make a statement. It took Grisham several days to get through seven colonels, twenty-two lieutenant colonels, twenty-five majors, fifteen or so captains, and two lieutenants.
Not a single officer agreed to make a statement or answer any of Gresham’s questions. Well, out of the entire staff of the headquarters element, only one person was “guilty” of conduct unbecoming, which means that everyone else was very likely insulted to have been questioned at all.
I would have narrowed the suspect list down to only a few, beginning with the Division Inspector, whom everyone called “Boss Hogg” on account of that’s who he looked like, and because he was known for his perversions in local New Orleans bars, and maybe one or two of the captains who routinely exhibited immature behavior.
Whoever played the mean prank on Miss Smith was never identified. To my knowledge, there was never another Christmas party “gift exchange.” No one knows what the CG might have said to his Chief of Staff when the official shoulder-shrug took place.
Lieutenant Colonel Abrams never did arrive at work on time; Colonel Gresham never again made that an issue. Major Bueller continued to wonder how Gresham ever made it to full colonel.
As did we all.
 A Miranda warning is an advisory statement provided by police officials or lawful military authority to an accused or a suspect who is in police custody which reminds them of their right to silence, the right to refuse to answer questions or provide information to investigators. It protects an accused/suspect from coerced self-incrimination.