A two-star Army general’s alleged wrongful retaliation against soldiers under his command resulted in one Green Beret and his family having to leave Fort Bragg — where one of his children was receiving specialized health care — and move into a moldy home at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where her health conditions have worsened, according to two sources.
Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, commander of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg, fired the Green Beret, an Army major and well-liked commander of a company at SWCS, after an instructor under his command wrote a scathing email blasting Sonntag for lowering standards for the prestigious Q-course, which Green Beret candidates must pass.
After the email was leaked and received widespread media attention, the Army said they would look into the matter. Instead, Sonntag, launched an investigation to find and punish the author of the email, as Breitbart News first reported. During this time, Sonntag purged a number of commanders and instructors at SWCS who had nothing to do with the email in the spring of 2018, according to more than half a dozen Green Berets.
Sonntag first cut the Green Beret major’s command assignment early. But before the major’s shortened command assignment came to an end, he was abruptly called into an office by his immediate commander, Army Col. Michael Kornburger, who told him he was being fired immediately, according to an official document obtained by Breitbart News, who is withholding the major’s name for privacy reasons.
An Army public affairs officer for U.S. Army Special Operations Command denied that the major was fired from command.
“Major [last name] was not fired from his position as the commander for Company A, 4th Battalion, Special Warfare Training Group. He was in his permanent change of station window following his time in Command. Human Resources Command determines assignments and would be better-equipped to discuss the reasoning behind his current assignment,” Army Lt. Col. Loren Bymer said in an email Monday.
However, the official document obtained by Breitbart News, a developmental counseling form dated April 20, 2018, states: “Effective immediately, IAW AR 600-20, the CDR, USAJFKSWCS has approved your removal from command of A Co, 4th BN, 1st SWTG (A),” the form stated. CDR is an acronym for “commander,” which is Sonntag.
It said, “Your performance led me lose confidence in your ability to command due to poor judgment and ineffective execution of your duties, which degraded the good order and discipline within A Company and adversely affected the success of Soldiers conducting Special Forces training within USAJFKSWCS.”
Just four days after that form was issued, on April 24, 2018, the major received orders to leave Fort Bragg and move to MacDill.
When the major tried to obtain another job at Fort Bragg in order to stay in the area, since his daughter was receiving specialized care at Fort Bragg and the University of North Carolina, he was told he was blacklisted due to Sonntag’s firing, according to the two sources.
The family was forced to leave Fort Bragg on June 10, 2018, and relocate in July 2018 to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
There, they faced another nightmare — a military base home filled with toxic mold.
This is the first time the link between Sonntag’s firing of the major and their ordeal with housing has been reported. His wife has spoken publicly to the media and testified to Congress about the ordeal her family and others have faced with moldy and decrepit on-base housing, but never before about what precipitated their move. The wife’s attorney asked Breitbart News to withhold her name.
Attorney Natalie Khawam represents dozens of military families suffering from mold found in various military bases. “One of the military families that moved from Ft. Bragg unfortunately ended up getting extremely ill from toxic mold exposure when they relocated to MacDill Air Force Base,” she said in a statement.
In a phone interview, the major’s wife told Breitbart News that after her husband’s firing, they had only “weeks” to leave Fort Bragg.
“It was crazy. Our four-year-old at the time was really, really sick, and just two months prior to the move had been diagnosed with throat disease, and we had a whole team of doctors for her at Bragg and UNC — she got better,” she said. “So it just destroyed our lives.”
She said the move to MacDill came so quickly that she did not have time to enroll her family in the Exceptional Family Member Program, which provides support for families with special needs. In addition, they had just had their fourth child.
She said her husband’s firing came as a shock to both of them, especially since he had been asked to stay another year by Kornburger because he was “doing such a great job.”
She recalled she was checking out at Target when her husband called her, “freaking out.” “He’s like, ‘I’m fired. I’m done,'” she said.
She said her husband later specifically asked why he was being fired and they could not give him a reason. “I think Sonntag was on a rampage,” she said. “They didn’t even do a change of command ceremony, it was literally like, ‘You’re fired. Get out of your office.'”
She said her husband went around “all over Bragg asking, ‘Can I just stay here, I got a sick kid, she’s doing really good, we have doctors here, can you give me job?’ And no one would give him anything. Even his mentors, and friends — he had been blacklisted.”
She said after her family moved into their new home at MacDill, her children began getting sick within a month. Her newborn was taken to the emergency room twice with breathing problems, and her three-year-old came down with pneumonia.
She suspected mold and asked the company managing on-base housing at MacDill, Harbor Bay, to check. After mold was found, their family had to move to a nearby hotel for months while the mold was being sanded away. However, the contractor hired to sand down the mold did not cover their furniture or belongings, and left everything covered in toxic mold spores.
One day, she lugged all their furniture outside on their front lawn, along with a sign that read, “Harbor Bay’s negligence is at my expense #mold.” She posted the photo on social media sites and wrote to their base commander. He offered to help her throw everything out. When she declined, he arrived in his own car with some aides and moved everything to a dumpster.
She said later, a base lawyer called her husband’s commander, asking him to retrieve the family’s belongings from the dumpster and to throw it away themselves so the base commander would not get in trouble. They filed an Army inspector general complaint, but she said it found that the Army had done nothing wrong.
She said the family had to move again to off-base housing in December 2018, and now has tens of thousands of debt from hotel expenses, replacing their belongings that were thrown away, and renting an off-base home.
Now, she said her child with pre-existing conditions has arthritis and a working diagnosis of chronic inflammatory response syndrome, linked to a water-damaged and moldy home. She said her oldest child now has permanent lung damage and her husband now has to use an inhaler.
Bymer, the spokesman for USASOC, said in a statement responding to the allegations:
Families are the foundation on which the Army is built, and there are many systems in place to guarantee families are cared for and have a voice. With regard to health care access, a soldier with an exceptional family member on record is assigned a duty station by their branch manager only if the duty station can accommodate the care requirement.
Senior leaders across the Department of Defense have mobilized an effort to ensure housing conditions are acceptable and meet the needs of service members and their families.
The wife has indicated her faith in the military has already been broken.
“You serve, and you give your entire life to the military, and you sacrifice…we don’t want to sacrifice any more family, or basically anything for the military if this is way they’re going to treat their soldiers and families,” she said.
“One of the things [my husband] always said is that ‘the military is secure, I always know I’m going to have a paycheck.’ But that’s not really the case. At any point in time you can have someone like Sonntag that doesn’t like you and at the swipe of a pen they can destroy your career,” she said.
Hers is not the only family grappling with the aftermath of Sonntag’s actions.
As Breitbart News previously reported, Sonntag went after two senior enlisted instructors who were suspected of writing the email particularly hard — Sergeants First Class Micah Robertson, 33, and Michael Squires, 32.
Although the email author was eventually identified as the author and stripped of his Special Forces tab, Sonntag still went after Robertson and Squires, accusing them of having their students sign up for an app they were developing to connect veterans traveling overseas.
Sonntag first tried to give them both Article 15 punishments, but after they said they wanted to fight the accusation in a military court, he dropped the Article 15 punishments and gave them both General Order Memorandums of Reprimand (GOMOR) — which are given at a general’s discretion and cannot be fought.
The GOMORs triggered a process for both Robertson and Squires to be looked at for separation from the military.
Squires was indeed separated from the Army recently and stripped of his Special Forces tab. Robertson is at the end of the process and is expecting to hear any day now whether he will be separated from the Army.
Both served more than 10 years and on multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan and all over the world.
Rev. Jonathan Singleton, Robertson’s father-in-law and pastor of the Calvary United Methodist Church in Stockton, Illinois, said his son-in-law has put on a brave face, but knows that the whole ordeal has been difficult for him.
Singleton and his wife recently went to Fort Bragg to check on Robertson and their daughter. “We thought maybe that my daughter and the grandkids would all have to come back and stay with us [in Illinois],” the pastor said. He said it has put everybody on “pins and needles.”
“It really has stressed me,” he added.
Singleton said he has known Robertson since before he became a Green Beret. “There were dreams that he had, not just for becoming an instructor at JFK School of Warfare, but after that to go on to the next step, to maybe become Delta Force and warrant officer and all that. And to see all of those hopes be tabled…”
Singleton said he wanted to hire an attorney, but Robertson refused to let him. So now all he can do is pray for Micah, his daughter, and their children.
“It’s the kind of thing that I don’t think you can get through this without prayer and without some kind of a faith, and ultimately knowing that there is something bigger that is lying at the end of all of this,” he said.
Breitbart News reported in March that Sonntag was being investigated by the Pentagon inspector general, and in June that Sonntag’s command was being cut short at SWCS and he is being forced to retire from the Army. Green Berets he punished were cheered by the news. However, family members are still angry over what he put them and their loved ones through.
“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that he’ll be able to enjoy all the retired general benefits, while the rest of these brave and honorable Green Berets are left hopeless in the wake of Sonntag’s destruction,” the major’s wife said.
“It makes me sick to my stomach to think about what he did to all these families,” she said.
Khawam, who is representing military families affected by moldy housing, said that Sonntag could face repercussions even if he is retired.
“A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed the Department of Defense authority to use the Uniformed Code of Military Justice for retired members of the military.
“Sonntag is therefore still subject to UCMJ and could be held liable for his alleged abuse of power that ruined the lives of these military families,” she said.
Follow Kristina Wong at @kristina_wong or email her at kristinawong(at)protonmail.com.