Ralston on list for top U.S. officer despite affairJune 5, 1997
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EDT (1915 GMT)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four-star Gen. Joseph Ralston's admission that he had an affair a decade ago doesn't compare to recent cases in which officers left the armed services when faced with sexual misconduct charges, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Also Thursday, Gen. John Shalikashvili, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement that he still supports Ralston as a leading candidate to succeed him.
"What I have learned of this incident has not diminished my confidence in his ability to continue to serve this nation. I remain firm in my belief that he would make a fine chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," the statement said. Shalikashvili is due to retire on September 30.
Cohen expected to tap Ralston for post
Although the nomination has not been formally made, Defense Secretary William Cohen was expected to recommend the 32-year Air Force veteran to President Clinton for the post.
Ralston has a distinguished military career. He flew 147 combat missions during the Vietnam War, and has received numerous honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.
At the time of his admitted affair, the Air Force veteran was separated from his wife; he has since remarried, and has four children. Cohen says adultery in an earlier stage of Ralston's life would not disqualify him from getting the nomination.
In a statement, Ralston thanked Cohen for his support and said he had "worked diligently to learn from my mistakes." "Our armed forces are composed of human beings that strive to meet the highest standards every day but, I am acutely aware of human strengths and human frailties."
Other sex charges plague military
The news of the Ralston affair follows a series of embarrassing cases in which U.S. officers have been removed from command or retired over allegations of adultery or sexual harassment, which is strictly prohibited in the armed forces.
Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 pilot, last month agreed to accept a general discharge rather than face a court-martial on charges of adultery, lying and failing to obey orders.
And this week, two-star Gen. John Longhouser, the commander of the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, decided to retire after an Army hot line received a tip that he had an affair with a civilian woman five years ago, while separated from his wife. Aberdeen has been a scene of numerous charges of rape, sexual harassment and court-martials.
But Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon, in a Pentagon briefing Thursday, said Ralston did not violate military law in his actions. Bacon said the facts of the Ralston case don't compare to either Flinn's situation, nor Longhouser's. In the Flinn case, the lieutenant was charged with lying, disobeying a direct order, fraternizing and adultery.
And in Longhouser's case, he elected to retire, Bacon said, after he sensed that an investigation could be difficult in his position as a court martial convening authority at Aberdeen.
"The Army doesn't worry about adultery for the sake of adultery," Bacon said. "The Army worries about adultery that could affect the chain of discipline, and this case didn't break those bounds."
In an interview with CNN Thursday, Sen. John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee, praised Ralston's strong record of service and said he was not getting a break because of his high rank. (224 K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
"I believe it's time we looked at this whole process, including with congressional hearings, as we are going to do, and base judgment of people on their overall record," McCain said. "Very few of us in life have not made mistakes, and I hope we would want to judge each other ... in view of our overall record." (256 K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the chief military adviser to the president and the Secretary of Defense.
The other apparent front-runner for the job is Marine Corps Gen. Jack Sheehan, currently commander in chief of the United States Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Virginia. No Marine has ever held the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Correspondent Carl Rochelle contributed to this report.
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