Vindman Abruptly Retiring from Army

The soldier who became a national figure for testifying against President Trump has had enough.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, whose promotion to full colonel has reportedly been help up by politics, has announced his retirement.

CNN (“Exclusive: Vindman to retire from military. His lawyer blames White House ‘campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation’“):

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, is retiring from the US Army after more than 21 years of military service because he determined that his future in the armed forces “will forever be limited” due to political retaliation by the President and his allies, his lawyer told CNN Wednesday.

Vindman has endured a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” spearheaded by the President following his testimony in the impeachment inquiry last year, according to his attorney, Amb. David Pressman.

News of Vindman’s retirement marks the culmination of a months-long saga dating back to his public testimony in November.

Trump fired Vindman as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council in February and also ousted his twin brother who also played a key role in impeachment proceedings while serving at the White House as an NSC lawyer.

In recent weeks, the controversy has centered around allegations that the White House was attempting to block Vindman’s upcoming military promotion to the rank of colonel.

“The President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” Pressman said in a statement to CNN.

“These are choices that no one in the United States should confront, especially one who has dedicated his life to serving it,” he added, noting that Vindman “did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”

Top Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have insisted that Vindman is not being targeted for political reasons, but a source familiar with his decision said military officials have communicated to Vindman that the White House has sought to become involved in the promotion process.

[…]

Ultimately, Vindman decided to retire from the military rather than attending the National War College, which was his next planned assignment, after speaking with senior Army officials who made clear that there were forces working against his advancement within the military.

Specifically, Vindman was told by senior Army officials that he would no longer be deployable in his area of expertise, which includes Ukraine, the source familiar with the situation told CNN.

He was also told by senior officers he would need a “rehabilitative assignment” even if he had opted to attend the National War College, an option he had been considering before Wednesday’s announcement, the source added.

In one case, a senior officer quipped about sending him to “man a radar station in Alaska,” the source said.

Granting that Vindman’s attorney has a penchant for the dramatic and that all of this seems to be from a single source, the situation is disturbing.

One would hope that, by the time Vindman graduated from the war college next summer, we’ll have a new Commander-in-Chief who’s more hospitable. Still, the source is likely right: even absent retaliation from remaining Trump supporters, it would be difficult, indeed, for Vindman to carry on as a Ukraine foreign area officer.

The bottom line is that the Army tends to like its lieutenant colonels to be anonymous. Even though I happen to think Vindman did his duty with tremendous courage, there will forever be a large contingent who believes he was playing politics, testifying against a President who had rejected his favored course of action.

It stinks, but this was likely the inevitable end game.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    A real hero pays the price of the Republican party’s contempt for the truth.

    14
  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    It’s shameful that a promising career was brought to an end this way. LTCOL Vindman deserved better. A true patriot …

    13
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Everything trump touches dies, including the United States Army.

    8
  4. JohnMcC says:

    His immigrant father worried about his future if he testified, as I recall. And LtCol Vindman reassured his dad that it would be fine. “This is America,” he said.

    9
  5. drj says:

    The bottom line is that the Army tends to like its lieutenant colonels to be anonymous.

    I agree. There was nothing to be done. It is simply what you get for rocking the boat.

    1
  6. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    There was nothing to be done. It is simply what you get for rocking the boat.

    Sigh. I’ve written at least a half dozen posts about this.

    Trump’s actions have been unconscionable. But impeachment failed, empowering him. Still, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army stood behind Vindman. Senator Duckworth was going to force Vindman’s promotion through. Vindman was going to go to the most prestigious of the top level schools in the military.

    But he was still of the view that his career was at a dead end. I don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to do about that.

    7
  7. Monala says:

    I wonder if Vindman was thinking that he no longer wants his circumstances to be a cause for conflict or division in the service. If so, he is once more proving that he is a patriot who puts our country above his own career.

    5
  8. James Joyner says:

    @Monala:

    I wonder if Vindman was thinking that he no longer wants his circumstances to be a cause for conflict or division in the service. If so, he is once more proving that he is a patriot who puts our country above his own career.

    It may be a small factor. Duckworth says she will hold up a Senate vote on the entire promotion list if Vindman’s name isn’t on it. That puts him in a rather awkward position.

    But we really don’t have the whole story. His attorney has done him no favors, in that it has his mouthpiece ridiculing the Commander-in-Chief. He may just be tired of the whole thing.

    It’s really a shame. If he was in fact selected for colonel, I’d like to see him pin on the eagles and continue to serve. But I understand why he wants to get out.

    2
  9. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to do about that.

    You are right. Vindman should have taken the “rehabilitative assignment.” It is a total mystery what else the Army could do under these circumstances.

  10. Scott says:

    Even though I happen to think Vindman did his duty with tremendous courage, there will forever be a large contingent who believes he was playing politics, testifying against a President who had rejected his favored course of action.

    Can you be more explicit on who you think this “large contingent” are? In DoD? Army? Political appointees? Do we have a permanent problem in DoD itself?

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Scott:

    Can you be more explicit on who you think this “large contingent” are? In DoD? Army? Political appointees? Do we have a permanent problem in DoD itself?

    Army officers, like everyone else, are people. Vindman already has a strike against him as a Foreign Area Officer (although the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger tab, and Purple Heart mitigate that quite a bit). While I think most officers will view Vindman’s testimony as I do, his duty to the country, there will some significant number who view him as a Deep State staffer who went rogue.

    Even under a President Biden, it would be awkward as hell to send him back to Ukraine. And he’s going to have a tough time working with Republicans on the Hill in any sort of NSC or other colonel-level staff billet.

    I hadn’t really anticipated any of this before but, once it was laid out, it really makes perfectly good sense. Even though he did his duty, he’s now politicized in a way that makes it hard for him to be just a colonel.

    5
  12. Scott says:

    @James Joyner: That is just damn depressing.

    I’m going to have to put on Sam’s speech at the end of Two Towers.

    4
  13. wr says:

    @James Joyner: ” I don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to do about that.”

    “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald

    5
  14. gVOR08 says:

    Furthering @James Joyner: comment, I read somewhere that it’s unusual for a Foreign Area officer to make full Colonel and that putting him on the promotion list was an effort by some superiors to compensate for his treatment. He has apparently made the twenty and out full retirement. Hopefully he has a good civilian job offer in hand. And he’s free to testify or publish as he wishes. Wishing him a fulfilling second career.

    4
  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    Hopefully he has a good civilian job offer in hand.

    Likely he has an offer in hand from a think-tank and he’ll be in demand as a cable news analyst.

    Too bad crap happens to heroes.

  16. flat earth luddite says:

    I’ve seen this happen to too many officers from the 60’s on. Thank you for your service, sir.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    It is simply what you get for rocking the boat.

    Good grief, how much sleaze are military/government officials supposed to overlook before they “rock the boat”? I suppose the Saturday Night Massacre was appropriate because those who resigned and were fired were rocking the boat…

    1
  18. Jax says:

    Can somebody explain to me why his “Foreign Service” is apparently a demerit of some sort? I don’t understand.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jax: To the extent that I understand, it carries the stigma of “not being a real soldier.” (A real soldier being one who serves in combat capacities.) It seems to me to be a variation on having been told at various times that because I didn’t have tenure, I wasn’t really a teacher.

    All you military guys out there, please feel free to tell me I’m wrong and why. I’ll be interested in knowing. Especially given Dr. Joyner’s comment

    Vindman already has a strike against him as a Foreign Area Officer (although the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger tab, and Purple Heart mitigate that quite a bit).

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jax:

    FAOs spend the bulk of their careers in non-combatant command roles, ie they’re regarded as think tank soldiers. Apparatchiks, if you will. Once they’re on that track, they tend to stay there, as opposed to crossing over to combatant / ground commands. Simple version is the two worlds don’t cross pollinate much, if at all, and there are an extremely limited number of COL level billets in the FAO world. I’ve never heard of a FAO gaining a star, although I’m sure it’s possible. For them it tends to be their terminal rank.

    Colonel is regarded as the breeding ground for general staff leadership. It’s where you either progress to gaining your first star or your career gracefully ends in retirement. The vast majority of colonels are therefore those who rose up through the combatant commands, and are the pool from which the next generation of generals will come. At the risk of oversimplifying it, it’s a closed club and the FAOs don’t belong.

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    To the extent that I understand, it carries the stigma of “not being a real soldier.” (A real soldier being one who serves in combat capacities.

    Pretty much.

    Were I in today’s Army, I would have aspired to become either a Strategist (Functional Area 59) or a Foreign Area Officer (FA 48). But it’s pretty much understood that specializing in one of those fields means you’ll probably never make it past lieutenant colonel and thus be forced out after 27 years of commissioned service. (But, then, even most Infantry or Armor officers never make it past LTC.)

    The combat arms are the core of the Army and have the most opportunities for high rank. But you can be a four-star logistician, because it’s a huge enterprise that’s highly visible and vital to sustaining combat operations. FAOs mostly serve away from the “real” Army, in embassies, geographic combatant command staffs, the Pentagon, and the like. One of those tours is great–it’s considered “broadening.” But then you’re supposed to get back to getting your boots muddy and leading soldiers.