Demoted: Ward stripped of fourth-star

In yet another scandal involving the military's top brass this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to demote Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the former four-star Africa Command commander whose 2011 retirement was derailed over allegations of extravagant spending on perks and travel.

Ward will retire as a three-star lieutenant general and has been informed by the Army he will be forced to pay back $82,000. The news leaked out of the Pentagon at time allowing it to fly well under the radar of the admitted sexual affair of retired Gen. David Petraeus and alleged extramarital "flirtations" involving Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen.

The move rejects the recommendation of Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who according to the Associated Press thought that Ward should be able to retire at the four-star level. Defense officials would not confirm the report. But if true, it appears in retiring Ward at the three-star level, that Panetta essentially ignored his chairman’s recommendation.

Ward has been working in Washington as a “special assistant” to the vice chief of staff of the Army, former Iraq war commander Gen. Lloyd Austin. A Pentagon spokesman said that DOD is expected to release a statement by Panetta, who is traveling in Asia, later Tuesday making Ward’s demotion effective immediately.

Ward likely will move into “terminal retirement,” the period when servicemembers have completed their official duties but are still being out-processed before separating from the military.

A Government Accountability Office report in August found Ward and his family members had used military vehicles for personal errands, and charged taxpayers for a $10,000 overnight stop in Bermuda for his staff, including a $750 hotel suite, and other trips.

Ward, who left the Africom job before the investigation against him was begun, has been serving in what some call “general officer purgatory” as a two-star as he awaited the outcome of the DOD Inspector General’s investigation and the Army and Defense secretaries’ decision on how he would retire.

Within the military, the highest permanent grade to which general officers are promoted is to the two-star level. Three- and four-star ranks are job-specific, meaning those promotions are uniquely tied to those jobs. When Ward was investigated, he automatically was dropped to the two-star level since he was already out of the job. As such, Panetta had the option to retire Ward at the two-star, three-star or four-star levels.

“My impression of Leon Panetta is that he believes very strongly in accountability and that there are consequences for one’s actions,” said a senior defense official. “In this particular case, I think there needed to be consequences for the actions and the misjudgments that took place during [Ward’s] tenure as Africom commander.”