Pentagon to investigate military leave of senator

Saturday, September 13, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The U.S. military will investigate whether any regulations were violated when a Missouri state senator was granted leave from duty in Cuba so he could return home to cast the deciding vote to override a veto of concealed guns legislation, a military official confirmed Friday.

Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the U.S. Southern Command will look into the military leave granted to state Sen. Jon Dolan, a suburban St. Louis Republican who is a major in the Army National Guard. The Southern Command oversees Guantanamo Bay, where Dolan is stationed as a public affairs officer.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., sent a letter Friday to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seeking an investigation into why Dolan was granted a six-day leave to return to Missouri to vote Thursday to override Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's veto.

"I am most concerned about whether Senator Dolan's case establishes a precedent that allows members of the National Guard who have certain political affiliations to be permitted privileges that other members of the National Guard are routinely denied," Clay wrote.

Military regulations say a newly deployed soldier must be on duty at least two months before getting a leave of absence. Dolan had been serving just two weeks.

Dolan was granted leave late Wednesday and returned to Missouri in time to vote to override Holden's veto of a bill giving most Missourians the right to carry concealed guns.

'A fuse has been lit'

Burfeind referred questions about Dolan to Southern Command, which said the issue was being handled by public affairs officials in Guantanamo Bay, who did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.

Dolan received approval for leave from his boss, Lt. Col. Pamela Hart.

On Friday, Dolan said he may be facing disciplinary action from his commanders when he returns to duty next week. He said Friday that military lawyers told him -- before he left Cuba -- that because he hasn't served 270 days of his tour, the rule didn't apply to him.

"A fuse has been lit that has turned into a bomb that could wreck my military career," Dolan said. "That could include anything from counseling to a court-martial."

Missouri Adjutant General Dennis Shull, who serves commander of the Missouri National Guard as Holden's appointee, had said Thursday that Dolan acted improperly by returning to Missouri and resuming his duties as a senator.

Burfeind, a Pentagon public affairs officer responsible for issues related to Guantanamo Bay, said Dolan's leave was granted on a special exception, which are not uncommon. Members of Missouri's congressional delegation have said that nothing was done by their offices to influence the military to allow Dolan to leave Cuba.

"I am not marshaling political support for a legal defense before I know what level the punitive sanctions may be when I arrive" in Cuba, Dolan said.

Dolan said the investigation sought by Clay was politically motivated by Democrats who supported Holden's veto of the gun legislation.

"I did my duty and I would do it again," Dolan said. "If my career ends, that's fine. This is simply political retribution."

The Missouri Democratic Party said Friday that Dolan received special treatment in order to make the difference on the concealed weapons bill.

"For an elected official to get special leave for purely political reasons is a slap in the face to those brave men and women who continue to serve without question," said Mike Kelley, a Democratic Party spokesman in Jefferson City.

The gun bill, which received the necessary two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers to override Holden, allows Missourians 23 and older to apply to their county sheriffs for a permit to carry concealed guns.

Applicants would have to meet several qualifications, and concealed guns would be banned from churches, day care centers and certain other locales.

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