Military News

Suspended top doctor at JBLM won’t get his post back

A one-star general who was suspended last year from his post at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he led Army medical care covering 20 Western states, will not return to command, the Army confirmed Thursday.

Brig. Gen. John Cho, a thoracic surgeon, will not be reinstated as commander of the Western Regional Medical Command, based at JBLM, an Army spokeswoman said. Cho will be reassigned to the staff of the Office of the Army Surgeon General.

“After an Army investigation, it was determined that Brig. Gen. John M. Cho failed to treat select subordinates with dignity and respect,” said the spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Alayne Conway.

The findings did not go so far as to say Cho fostered a “toxic” command climate, Conway said, but the investigation did determine that Cho did not follow an Army requirement to survey his staff about any concerns they might have.

The investigation had nothing to do with quality of medical care, Conway said.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel Jr. will be promoted to permanent commander. He has led the medical headquarters as its interim commander for the past six months.

The command is a medical headquarters that employs about 200 people and oversees 11 Army hospitals, including Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM.

The turnover at the top comes at a time when senior military officials are considering moving the headquarters to Hawaii, where it would merge with the Army’s Pacific Regional Medical Command. The News Tribune first reported on that proposal in September.

JBLM’s senior Army officer, Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, in a recent interview characterized the move to Hawaii as “likely.”

In November, Army Pacific Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks also told The News Tribune that placing the headquarters in Hawaii could better support operations with Pacific allies.

If Army Secretary John McHugh approves the realignment, the Army would split the command in two places, according to a September message Tempel sent to Western Regional Medical Command staff.

The headquarters commander would be stationed in Hawaii, but some staff would remain at JBLM to oversee care for soldiers based in Washington and in Alaska, Tempel wrote.

“It is too early to tell what the specific impacts may be; however, every effort will be made to minimize adverse impacts on our valuable employees,” Tempel wrote.

Cho was suspended in September when a complaint about his leadership triggered an investigation by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General.

Little had been known about the nature of the complaint except that it generally questioned the tone he set as a commanding officer.

The investigation is complete and The News Tribune has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of it.

The results are frustrating to some of Cho’s friends and subordinates. That he’s retaining his rank and staying in the Army suggests to other officers that the inquiry did not find anything damning.

“It’s really painful. Either you’re guilty or you’re not,” said one former subordinate who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Cho is one of eight senior Army medical commanders who have been suspended or removed from leadership positions since 2012 during the tenure of Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho.

One of them was former Madigan Army Medical Center Commander Dallas Homas, who was returned to hospital command after a six-month suspension in 2012.

The outcome for Cho resembles what happened to two other Army hospital commanders who were suspended and not reinstated by Horoho. None was officially relieved of command for cause, but each was dealt a serious career setback.

Cho is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. In 2013, he became the first active-duty officer of Korean descent to earn a promotion to brigadier general. He came to JBLM in late October 2013 with a charge to expand preventive care and to streamline the administration of Defense Department hospitals in the Puget Sound, including ones run by the Navy.

He’s a past commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the Army hospital in Germany that cared for wounded troops as they left the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cho “is such a conscientious person. He’s an ethical person. A lot of us look up to him,” his former subordinate said.