An Army two-star general who is under investigation for retaliating against Green Berets under his command is being forcibly retired from the Army, according to two sources.
Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, the commander of the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS), the school that trains and graduates Green Berets, was notified several weeks ago that he would not be assigned another command, according to the two sources.
“Just Google his name,” one of the sources told Breitbart News as to why Sonntag was being forcibly retired. But the source added that the forced retirement was over “a lot of things.”
They alleged Sonntag wrongfully retaliated against instructors who expressed concern over his lowering of standards for the Special Forces Qualification Course, punished instructors seen as too tough on students, and is a toxic leader who created a climate of fear at SWCS.
“He’s a horrible man. He’s an egotistical, horrible man,” said one Green Beret who wished to remain anonymous out of fear Sonntag would retaliate against him and his family.
Sonntag has commanded SWCS for almost two years, a typical assignment length. He had asked to stay for another year, but that request was denied and he was advised to retire, according to several sources. He was allegedly up for a third star, but that was also deep-sixed, according to a third source.
Indeed, the Army recently announced that Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson, the current commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, would take over for Sonntag this summer. But Sonntag’s name was conspicuously missing among Fort Bragg generals who received new assignments in a recent Fayetteville Observer report.
Maj. Gen. Miguel A. Correa was first chosen to take over for Sonntag, but Correa allegedly turned it down because he “didn’t want to take on the sh-tshow that Sonntag created,” the first source said.
Just weeks before Sonntag was told to retire, he and aides allegedly arranged for a female news reporter from a national news outlet to come to SWCS as part of an alleged attempt to whitewash and counteract Breitbart News’s reporting, according to two additional sources.
The sources said the visit was carefully orchestrated so that the reporter did not speak to anyone who could stray from carefully planned talking points.
But while Sonntag will be allowed to quietly retire, his career-wrecking punishments are set to remain. At least two Green Berets will be discharged from the military in just weeks, due to punishments from Sonntag.
“He needs to correct the things he did wrong,” said Guy Womack, a military and federal attorney and retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
Those who feel they were wrongfully retaliated against want those punishments to be placed on hold until an investigation can determine what happened.
“Place all the punishments on hold. Do a true investigation and actually have an outcome,” one Green Beret said. “If they’re removing [Sonntag] just to remove him, that’s not good enough.”
The Pentagon inspector general is looking into the matter, but it could take months for the investigation to conclude. At least three senators and one congressman have looked into allegations against Sonntag, but it is not clear what action they may take.
The saga leading up to Sonntag’s forced retirement began when he took command at SWCS in May 2017. He immediately embarked on an ambitious plan to retool and shorten the training pipeline at SWCS, one that shifted away from candidates failing over physical standards and towards producing higher numbers of Green Beret graduates.
Sonntag’s changes were met with pushback from the instructors, who mostly consist of active-duty senior-enlisted Green Berets who spend a year or two teaching new candidates before returning to their operational units.
They also felt Sonntag’s policies were directly in violation of the “SOF Truth” that Special Forces cannot be mass produced, a core tenet of being a Green Beret. They also feared it was a danger to their brothers back in the field, who would have to deploy with weaker graduates.
Instructors also suspected Sonntag wanted to get the first female Green Beret through the Q-Course in order to cement his own legacy.
When the instructors expressed their concerns to Sonntag and his top aides during internal town halls about the lowered standards, they said they were rebuffed. One Green Beret instructor was asked, “What are you, a f-cking choir boy?”
Just four months after Sonntag took command, one Green Beret instructor penned a nearly 6,400-word anonymous screed detailing what Sonntag was doing and sent it out to the entire Special Forces community. The email was republished and reported on by a number of news outlets. The Army pledged to look into it.
However, as reported by Breitbart News, Sonntag first challenged the anonymous author to step forward and fight him. He then launched an investigation into who wrote the email. He seized computers and email records and narrowed the “suspects” down to seven at one battalion’s Alpha Company.
Using a variety of measures at his discretion, he allegedly unleashed a slew of career-ending punishments against everyone he suspected of being involved, as well as their commanders.
When the author eventually admitted to writing the email, Sonntag revoked his Special Forces tab — one of the worst disgraces to befall a Green Beret. But he also punished two additional Green Beret instructors he suspected of being involved.
Sonntag first issued them both Article 15 non-judicial punishments, but when they requested to fight them in a military court, he rescinded the Article 15 punishments and chose to issue them General Order of Memorandum of Reprimands (GOMORs) instead — which generals can issue for whatever they want and cannot be fought.
Those GOMORs triggered separation from the military for Green Berets Sergeant First Class Micah Robertson, 33, and Sergeant First Class Michael Squires, 31, who have both served in the military for more than ten years, with multiple combat deployments each to the Middle East and Africa. They are facing the ends of their careers this month.
“That’s not fair if what [Sonntag’s] basing it on is false. So that needs to be corrected,” Womack said.
The retribution has not stopped there.
Robertson and Squires have allegedly been denied the ability to interview for jobs in the civilian world in the meantime. When Squires took leave for several days to interview for a job, he was told he would be considered an “active shooter” for leaving. Now Sonntag is allegedly trying to take away his Special Forces tab.
Sonntag also destroyed other Green Berets’ careers for other things. In one case, Sonntag punished a Green Beret who informed his commanders of allegations that a female cadre at SWCS was involved in several extramarital affairs, including with Sonntag’s son, a student at SWCS at the time.
Sonntag also punished a Green Beret chaplain who declined to conduct a marital retreat for a same-sex couple based on his denominational authority, even though he arranged for another chaplain to do so. Sonntag also punished the chaplain’s assistant, causing her to lose a college scholarship. Both faced potential prison time.
After the chaplain and his assistant sought legal assistance and five members of Congress intervened, Sonntag dropped the charges, but Breitbart News learned that he still punished the chaplain with a GOMOR. With his career ruined, the chaplain plans to leave the Army later this year.
Sonntag also drew congressional and Army scrutiny on another matter involving standards for a Senior Leader Course, according to a source. He approved changes to the standards without going through U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) that resulted in more than two dozen Green Berets getting negative officer evaluation reports. The negative reports were all overturned, with command directives to promotion boards to disregard them.
Some, like Robertson and Squires, want to fight Sonntag’s punishments but are terrified of speaking up even if they are no longer under Sonntag’s command. Sonntag allegedly has looked into getting the Special Forces tabs revoked for retired Green Berets who have tried to help.
“I ran like hell away from that place,” one Green Beret said. “Everybody there are pretty much still horrified by that man. They don’t want to talk, they don’t want to say anything because they feel like he’s going to destroy their careers.”
“That man scares the sh*t out of me. I think he’s that vindictive,” he added.
When some who were punished by Sonntag tried to seek other jobs at Fort Bragg, they found they were “blacklisted,” according to a source. One Green Beret with special needs children who were receiving extra care at Bragg was told he and his family could not stay there. “It was a kind of a shot in the face to him,” the source said.
Others have accepted their fates and are getting out of the military. One commander, who had a promising career in the Special Forces — and had nothing to do with the anonymous email — has had his military career destroyed, the source said.
“His last thoughts of the military are, I hate this place. That’s sad,” the source said. “They’ve worked their butt off in the military to do what’s right for the country, and they’re getting screwed.”
Those targeted by Sonntag say the experience has had a lasting effect on their lives.
“I’ve got five, six deployments behind me at this point in time. If I would’ve known now what I know, I literally would not be doing this, I would have gotten out years ago,” one source said.
“The military, I thought, was something that I could depend on, and now it’s — a job. That’s about it. It’s completely changed all of our perceptions on the military and life. That’s sad.”
Kristina Wong is the Pentagon correspondent for Breitbart News. You can find her at @kristina_wong and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.