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Commander relieved of duties

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 08:20 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Several questions remain in the sudden reassignment of U.S. Army Col. Steven T. McGugan, relieved of his command duties Friday at the Corps of Engineers' Huntington District amid an investigation into allegations that he committed unspecified acts of officer misconduct.

McGugan, who became the district's top officer in July 2012, received orders to relinquish command Friday, according to Army representatives near Washington. The directive came with a temporary reassignment to Washington for yet-to-be-determined duties at the Corps of Engineers' national headquarters.

Those taking lunch break at the Huntington office, located at 8th Street and 5th Avenue, were mum Wednesday. The downtown workers mentioned having received orders to make no comment on the issue and referred all questions to the Corps' local public information representatives, who referred questions to an Army official near Washington.

That spokesman, Col. David Patterson, refused to discuss the nature of the alleged misconduct or what it might involve. He repeatedly cited personnel privacy and the ongoing nature of the investigation, saying such a release of information could jeopardize the investigation's integrity.

Patterson also refuted any idea of a cover-up, saying the Army initiated an investigation and removed McGugan from his post pending a final determination of what transpired.

"I'm comfortable with the Army system and our due process," he said. "Once the results of the investigation are revealed, then all of these questions will be answered.

"I don't think it does you or the public any good for me to speculate on what they're investigating, the facts of the allegations and what they're taking a look at. Because until they sort all of that out to say, 'Here's what we found based on the allegations,' it does it no good," Patterson added.

Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, Patterson's colleague, said the directive relieving McGugan was ordered by Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham, commander of the Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. A spokeswoman at the Division's Cincinnati headquarters said Burcham was unavailable for comment Wednesday and referred questions to Patterson.

Conway further described the McGugan allegations as "general misconduct." She said she was unaware if they were of a personal or a professional nature. She and Patterson, generally speaking, said possible sanctions for misconduct range from a letter of concern to court martial, some of which could also include termination depending upon circumstances.

"We do take allegations of officer misconduct seriously," Conway said. "We place great importance on the professional and personal conduct of our officer corps 24 hours a day. The importance of that conduct is even greater when it involves our senior leadership and those put in positions of authority."

If the investigation determines the allegations to be unfounded, Patterson generally said there is a process for returning an accused officer to his or her post.

Conway said McGugan has been temporarily succeeded by Lt. Col. William Reding, the District's deputy commander. A local spokesman said Reding was out of the office Wednesday touring a levy system in Zoar, Ohio, an event also attended by U.S. Rep. Bill Gibbs, R-Ohio. The Congressman's communication director said Gibbs was unaware of McGugan's reassignment and the topic was not discussed at the Zoar event.

Burcham was on hand in mid July 2012 when McGugan assumed command of the Huntington District. She described him as well qualified to lead the district's more than 500 employees and voiced little doubt that she would be touting McGugan's success.

McGugan, a 1989 graduate of North Carolina State University, moved to Huntington from Washington, where had been chief of staff for a special mission unit on the Joint Special Operations Command. He had a wife and two daughters when he assumed command in Huntington.

McGugan's awards include the Humanitarian Service Medal; the Southwest Asia Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars; the Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal with two Bronze Stars; the Operation Enduring Freedom Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service Medals, the Saudi Arabian and Kuwait Liberation Medals, among many others.

The Corps of Engineers' Huntington District encompasses 45,000 square miles in parts of five states, including West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina and is responsible for 311 navigable miles along the Ohio River. The district, which employs more than 900 people altogether, operates and maintains nine locks and dams on the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers and 35 flood damage reduction projects.

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