WASHINGTON − When Maj. Gen. Eric Little, a senior National Guard official, was told about troubling behavior toward the women in his office, he dismissed the concerns, according to a government investigation. “Air Force women are emotional,” he said. “I know this because all of my best friends are women.”
Little has been fired from his job as the National Guard’s top general for personnel after an investigation by the Army’s inspector general, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY. The complaint against Little, as the guard’s top human resources officer, concludes that he led an office that was the center of “a toxic cacophony of misconduct.”
The personnel chief oversees sexual assault prevention and equal opportunity programs. Little’s firing comes the military continues to struggle with sexual assault in the ranks. Scrutiny of the problem from Capitol Hill has forced major reforms on an often reluctant senior brass. Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that was the final step in stripping commanders of the authority to prosecute sexual assault cases, a move the Pentagon had resisted for years. Meanwhile, sexual assault in the military reached an all-time high in 2021, according to Pentagon data.
The allegations against Little amount to “frat house” behavior that can lead to sexual assault, said Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor for the Air Force now in private practice at the Solomon law firm.
The allegations include “outright sexism” and date to Little’s previous job as a senior officer in the guard’s budget office, according to a complaint filed against him. The inspector general substantiated complaints against Little, according to the Army. The Army declined to detail the allegations or findings.
The documents obtained by USA TODAY say he was fired for demonstrating “counterproductive leadership.”
One of the complaints was filed against Little in October 2020, days before he was promoted to two-star general. That same month, Little took charge of the guard’s personnel office, which oversees sexual assault prevention and equal opportunity programs for 450,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard troops. His role was part of the agency, called the National Guard Bureau, that oversees state guard units. Its top officer is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, in 2021 found that reports of sexual assault in National Guard units more than tripled when comparing 2009 figures with 2019 when more than 600 sex crimes were reported.
The guard also has seen disturbing racist incidents that have taken years to resolve. In one case, a Black guard member in Maryland saw his complaint about being forced to wear chain as discipline languish for years.
In a statement, an Army spokesperson said the military has taken appropriate action against Little. “The United States Army Inspector General Agency has concluded its investigations into allegations against Maj. Gen. Eric K. Little with several substantiated findings,” Cynthia Smith said. “Maj. Gen. Little received appropriate administrative action and is now currently serving as the Special Assistant to the Chief, National Guard Bureau. We consider this matter closed.”
The Army declined to detail the administrative action taken against Little. General officers forced from their jobs are often placed in special assistant positions while they await retirement. Little did not respond to a request for comment.
The complaint against Little states that the budget office where he worked before being promoted was the “epicenter of a work environment counter to professional military conduct – a toxic cacophony of misconduct that systematically fosters dissonance, defamation of (National Guard) leadership, favoritism, sexism, lack of cohesion and wanton misappropriation of authority.”
Christensen, the former Air Force chief prosecutor, said Little’s case illustrates how the military has been slow to respond to concerns over sexual harassment and assault.
“I don’t how the military continues to be so bad at this,” Christensen said. “They have acknowledged over and over that workplace culture is linked to sexual harassment and assault, yet they are slow to respond and slow to hold those accountable who facilitate toxic cultures.”