Days of Wine and…NATO

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Army photo / Sgt. Darron Salzer

Admiral James Stavridis

The top U.S. military officer in Europe lost his chance to run the U.S. Navy because of a trip he took aboard a U.S. military aircraft to attend an event sponsored by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an international society of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.


Admiral James Stavridis has long been a highly-regarded officer, and a favorite to become the chief of naval operations, the Navy’s top commander. That was until the Pentagon inspector general began poking around into the May 8, 2010, trip he took to Dijon, France, from his Belgian headquarters, based on an “anonymous complaint.” Stavridis has traveled some half-million miles since becoming Supreme Allied Command, Europe – SACEUR – in mid-2009.

In a report released Thursday, the IG concluded his trip to Dijon “was for unofficial purposes” and therefore didn’t warrant the use of a government C-37 jet. It was one of four trips of the more than 150 taken by Stavridis that the IG deemed “questionable.”

Key finding:

The IG report is replete with interesting facts to back up that finding. Excerpts:

— A C-37 is capable of transporting a flight crew, communications equipment, up to four passengers in his private cabin (DV cabin), and an additional eight passengers;

— Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin translates from French to English as “The Brotherhood of Knights of Wine Tasting Cups.”  Its original name, in the 18th century, was the “Order of the Drink.”

— After ADM and Mrs. Stavridis traveled to Burgundy on annual leave, the vineyard owner contacted  and expressed an interest in sponsoring ADM Stavridis for induction into the Brotherhood

— ADM Michael Mullen, U.S. Navy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was enthroned in 2009.

— The venue was filled with as good a collection of leaders as one could find at an event in Europe.  It included statesmen, ambassadors, military leaders, industrialists, politicians, and other well-known or well-regarded persons.

— It was a valuable opportunity for SACEUR to speak about NATO to a French and international audience.  They had a NATO cake to honor SACEUR as the “President” of the gathering.  He spoke for 5-7 minutes, in French, and spent most of his time promoting NATO.

— We also found no evidence that ADM Stavridis’ staff requested or obtained a legal opinion concerning the legal authority to travel to Dijon at Government expense.

— After the event ended the travel party intended to return to the hotel for the evening, but due to flight risks posed by eruptions of a volcano in Iceland, the flight crew recommended returning to Belgium that night. ADM Stavridis agreed, and the party departed Dijon in the early morning hours of May 9, 2010.

The IG report continues with reams of detail that can lead a sane person to come to only once conclusion: if this bookkeeping snafu can doom a well-regarded top U.S. military officer like Stavridis, the nation is doomed.