Michael's Dispatches

Soldiers' Ducks


29 July 2012

A wise old Soldier offered some words of wisdom.  He said, "Michael, if they can fight you with facts, they will stick with the facts.  If the facts are not on their side, they will use the law.  If the law is not on their side, they will shoot the messenger."  He was referring to Soldiers' Angels.

The facts are not on their side, and there are no legal issues between us.  And so they are left with shooting a messenger who shoots back.

Earlier this month, Soldiers' Angels received a 1-star financial rating—the lowest—from Charity Navigator.  I have no connection to Charity Navigator.  Shortly after the 1-star rating was issued, the Executive Director of Soldiers' Angels resigned or was fired.  Toby Nunn had zero experience with non-profits before his appointment as Executive Director.  Whatever happened, he is gone now and is promoting cage-fighting events.

In 2007, Soldiers' Angels explained away this accusation from another organization:

Soldiers' Angels Lose Their Halos

"When potential donors receive direct mail solicitations from Soldiers' Angels (SA), a Pasadena, CA-based charity, they are likely to notice the name Patti Patton Bader and her status as founder of SA and great-niece of Gen. George S. Patton. On SA solicitation letterhead her name takes precedence, appearing larger and bolder than even the name of the charity. Some donors may assume that the claims made in the solicitation of a charity associated with a famous name, such as the relative of a well-known military general, may be more reliable. A closer look at one of SA's programs could dash such hopes about this AIP D-rated charity. (The major reason for this rating is that SA spent only 36% of its total 2006 cash expenses on program services.)"


Charity Watch deserves credit for being ahead of the curve.  Meanwhile, Soldiers' Angels had five years to correct the issues, but got worse instead.  This is especially saddening because I know many excellent Angels, and one of my own family members supported them.

It is embarrassing for me, as a previous backer of Soldiers' Angels, to deliver this news.  Three advisors counseled me in 2012 not to take on the Angels.  The advice leads to a dilemma.  Not a moral dilemma: the moral path is clear.  I had advised folks to support SA back when they were on a good path, but as information developed and it was confirmed that they had gone astray, I was obligated to inform people that my advice had become invalid.  Which of course hurts my reputation.  And so the advice to me was to quietly walk away and say nothing.  What would my grandfather say to that?  He would say that is wrong.  You gave faulty advice, and now you are on the hook to correct it.  Slithering is for snakes.  Stand up and do the right thing.

Recently, various insiders at Soldiers' Angels have filled my ears with tales of squandered resources.  A common theme is that leadership has used Soldiers' Angels as their private travel agency—jet-setting around, finding business pretexts to match their desired destinations, while using their affiliation to rub shoulders with big players.

The 2010 financial reports depict about $334,000 in airfare and travel.  By way of comparison, the Fisher House, which received the highest financial rating from Charity Navigator (4 stars), spent only $242,000 on travel.

I suspect that a detailed dive into the financial clouds of Soldiers' Angels will reveal that one top leader was flying his girlfriend around for trysts.  If he was not flying his personal angel around for sexual adventures, Soldiers' Angels has a rumor problem within its inner circle.  The accusations are real, they are from insiders, and they must be addressed.

Fisher House is four to five times larger than Soldiers' Angels, yet reports remarkably lower travel expenses.  Soldiers' Angels leadership wraps itself in hubris, denial, and plain quackery.  After all, why pick a fight with a writer who has flatly stated that he has some of your internal documents?  And why respond in a manner that begs for redress, and only increases the accumulation of red ink?  That is incompetent, and as people say, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."  The quacking is becoming deafening.


Shock-blogger Matthew Burden is an SA board member.  He is not a man to trust on decisions with the many tens of millions of dollars that have coursed through SA accounts.  Full disclosure: an author on Burden's blog has attacked me for more than two years, and even accused me of being disembedded from Canadian forces for security violations.  But there is a catch: I was never embedded with Canadians, and never disembedded from any unit for security violations.  I was, however, disembedded for writing things people did not like.

Burden's website engages in perpetual name-calling while publishing rambling stories with titles like "Douche of the Week."  The website even advertises t-shirts emblazoned with "Don't be a douche."  Meanwhile, Soldiers' Angels sells caps with their logo.  One can imagine SA leadership wearing those logo caps and t-shirts saying, "Don't be a duck." 

Prove me wrong.  Soldiers' Angels leaders would do well to avoid ducking the issues.  These allegations are not going to roll off their backs.  They should fight these travel-gate allegations with facts.  SA should publish the complete, itemized travel expenses that managed to migrate $334,000 out of the accounts.  They should include the names of the hotels that they stayed in.

This list should be detailed, and it should include the names of everyone who traveled on Soldiers' Angels funds.  There is nothing secret: the names of leadership are on their website.  The itemization should include a Who, What, When, Where, Why, and how much did the travel cost?  SA is not obligated to provide this information, but then donors are not obligated to feed the ducks.

Soldiers' Angels leadership has earned a vicious reputation for attacking those who stray out of line.  Though I was never part of the leadership, when I stopped feeding them, beaks began snapping.  It has been like something from a Hitchcock movie.  Soldiers' Angels with their mass and emotion intimidates people into silence.  Imagine legions of zombie ducks, as far as the eye can see, always waddling in your direction.

Last week, just after Executive Director Toby Nunn was fired or resigned from his job, Nunn could not resist:


That is an interesting twist: I am writing a book about juveniles and explosives, not veterans issues.  My latest book can save a great many lives in the United States and abroad.  I collect no funding for veteran groups.  It was Mr. Nunn who helped collect millions while mugging beside veterans, and making the $85,625 paycheck (plus perks), and who insiders accuse of squandering veteran funding by flying around his sex kitten. It was Mr. Nunn who watched Soldiers' Angels crumble under his webbed feet and get the 1 star financial rating just weeks ago.  That 1 star financial rating did not come from me.

Soldiers' Angels has gone from the motto of "May No Soldier Go Unloved" to "Let Every Good Deed be a Photo Op."  It would be nice to remain embedded with combat forces and to tell their stories, yet the constant backstabbing by members of SA, and others, caused a shift in focus.

These ducks have been stalking me for more than two years.  If they had spent more time focused on their self-assigned mission, and less time following me, they might not be crumbling away today.

In 2011, when discussions began on the MEDEVAC issue, certain Soldiers' Angels volunteers and board members, without doing a smidgen of research, automatically opposed everything I wrote.  But now that the Dustoff (Army helicopter MEDEVAC) community is increasingly and openly supporting the issue, and that 17 members of Congress raised it during an important hearing with the SecDef and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it got national coverage from CBS, FOX, and many other places, Soldiers' Angels has again been bagged for attention grabbing after sticking their beaks into something they do not understand.   They should not confuse hospital visits, convention parties, and conversations with returning veterans, for having been there themselves.  But they do.

In opposing MEDEVAC improvements, Soldiers' Angels openly took a position that is detrimental to wounded veterans, all for sake of getting (apparently) publicity for opposing anything I write.  Why does the leadership of such a large and famous charity not have anything better to do than to stalk a lone writer?  Why does a leadership boasting a flock of 400,000 angels spend so much time waddling and quacking to me?  Why does a multi-million dollar charity, thousands of miles from the battlefields, think its opinions on MEDEVAC are worth a spit, when they cannot even run their own organization?

This 1 star organization has no understanding of MEDEVAC issues in Afghanistan and should keep their beaks out of it.  Instead of running their organization, they involve themselves in MEDEVAC complexities that are beyond their experience, and politics that are boiling off their feathers.

For his part, board member Matt Burden responded last week with name-calling and messenger-shooting:

“As many of you have pointed out, Mike ‘Surplus’ Yon has been attacking me and Mark Seavey (quite possibly the best guy I have ever known) because he hates Soldiers’ Angels and Mark and I are on the board.”

One does not have to look far to find photos of Burden, mugging it up with veterans, in hospitals, and conventions, playing war blogger, after never going to the actual battlefields, despite using over a decade of war to build his public status.  During much of that time, Burden has worked at an aquarium, which is fine, but let us not suffer through his visions and opinions on MEDEVAC, or on Iraq and Afghan battlefields that he never has seen.  Burden spent years cuddling up with veterans, then used this publicity to run for public office.  He lost.

SA founder Patti Patton Bader has installed leaders who are using and embarrassing the organization.  The name-calling is adding gravitas to accusations that SA leadership has used donations in a way that an outside auditor might call fraud.  It quacks like a duck.  It waddles like a duck. . . .

If the facts are on their side, Soldiers' Angels can only win by presenting them.  They should show us the money trail to clear these persistent travel-gate accusations.

Finally, they should stop quacking about MEDEVAC, and use that energy to climb out of the 1 star hole they fell into.

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