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Attorney general turns up heat in seeking promotion for Guard officer

By Thomas D. Williams
Special to the Journal Inquirer

Published: Friday, October 3, 2008 9:15 AM EDT

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal last week sent another letter to Gov. Jodi Rell asking her to posthumously promote former Air Force Nation al Guard officer Russell Dingle of East Hartford .

Blumenthal sent the letter Sept. 26, two days after a story in the Journal Inquirer cited evidence that Dingle was forced to resign from the Nation al Guard in 1999 after he disputed the military’s policy concerning mandatory anthrax vaccinations.

Christopher Cooper, Rell’s spokesman, said the governor is out of town until Monday, so there is no immediate comment on the letter.

Dingle’s resignation followed a Guard investigation he led into the military’s mandatory anthrax vaccinations. The investigation concluded that the anthrax vaccine the military was requiring was improperly licensed and potentially unsafe. Dingle and seven others refused to take the vaccine ordered by the Guard, citing the inquiry’s conclusions that it could cause serious adverse reactions.

Dingle had earned the rank of major before he left the Nation al Guard. Later, after joining to the Air Force Reserves, he earned the rank of lieutenant colonel there.

Blumenthal’s request is that Dingle, who died of cancer in September 2005, be made a full colonel in the Nation al Guard.

“Lieutenant Colonel Dingle performed this mission in an extraordinarily thorough and exemplary manner,” Blumenthal said. “The research he did in carrying out his orders concluded that the vaccine was investigatory and the mandatory order (to use it) illegal. His work contributed significantly to the ‘good order and discipline’” of the Nation al Guard.

Blumenthal had written a similar letter to Rell last May calling for Dingle’s after-death promotion to full colonel. But, a month later, Maj. Gen. Thaddeus J. Martin, the state’s adjutant general, rejected the request.

Martin said Dingle “voluntarily transferred” from the Guard to the Air Force Reserve, so he wasn’t qualified for Guard promotion. After his resignation became known, Dingle wrote a complaining letter to the Guard that Martin had berated him as a result of his anthrax inquiry. Martin would not comment on the letter.

The Sept. 24 Journal Inquirer story reported that contrary to Martin’s rationale, there was documentary evidence that Dingle, as he had insisted consistently afterward, had been forced to resign.

The story cited a transcript and a video of former Air Force Nation al Guard Cmdr. Col. Walter Burns suggesting to Guard troops in 1998 that they would be considered traitors if they didn’t take the vaccine. It additionally noted a Connecticut freedom-of-information ruling concluding that Dingle and Maj. Thomas Rempfer, whom Burns assigned to investigate the vaccine, were forced to resign after that inquiry when they said they intended not to be vaccinated.

Blumenthal’s most recent letter tells the governor that Martin’s position largely is based on the understanding that Dingle voluntarily transferred. “In fact, Lieutenant Colonel Dingle was told he could follow the illegal order and take the vaccine, refuse to take it and be court-martialed, or resign,” he wrote.

The attorney general said Martin also apparently misunderstood his first request as asking for Dingle’s promotion within the Reserves, when he actually had called for it within the Guard, an action totally within the jurisdiction of the Guard and the governor. Blumenthal cited precedence and other promotions within the Guard in arguing that it was likely, had Dingle not been forced out, that he would have become a full colonel.

That would not have changed his ranking as a lieutenant colonel within the Reserves, a federal, not a state entity, like the Guard, Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal long has supported efforts to stop use of the anthrax vaccine, because he considered it unsafe and improperly licensed.

Before his death at age 49, Dingle fought an unprecedented eight-year battle to compel government recognition of improper licensing of the controversial vaccine. Eventually, his protests to government agencies, the courts, and two presidential administrations helped result in a 2003 U.S. District Court ruling temporarily blocking required military inoculations.

After the Food and Drug Administration made adjustments to the vaccine’s license, as ordered under the ruling, the Pentagon continued mandatory vaccinations. The inoculations caused thousands of adverse reactions and hundreds of disciplinary actions, including service removals for those in the military who refused to be vaccinated.

Dingle flew more than 2,000 hours in the A-10 Thunderbolt II on active duty. He served as an instructor pilot and a flight commander for the Connecticut Air Nation al Guard. Culminating more than 21 years of military service, Dingle retired as a recruiter for the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2003. His double career included more than 16 years of service as a pilot and captain for American Airlines in the Boeing 767, 737, and the McDonnell-Douglas S-80.