Accountability and transparency within our institutions and leadership.
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http://www.theunionleader.com/articles_showfast.html?article=50229The Union Leader, NHSchool administrator's military record at issueBy SCOTT BROOKS Sunday News CorrespondentNASHUA — Robert G. McDowell’s job application notes his 30-year military career, ending with his July 2002 departure from the U.S. Navy Reserves as a lieutenant commander. But the first-year Nashua High School South administrator had requested an “other than honorable” discharge, admitting to misconduct including falsifying his military record, posing as a doctor and attempting to obtain prescription painkillers improperly. In an interview with the Sunday News, McDowell confirmed he signed a letter to the Secretary of the Navy in January 2002 announcing his resignation “for the good of the naval service and to escape trial before a general court-martial.” The Navy had charged McDowell with 23 offenses, including that he “wrongfully and dishonorably” stated: That he did two combat tours in Vietnam. That he earned Purple Hearts for disarming a SCUD missile in Desert Storm and for de-mining in Bosnia. That he is an expert in Soviet munitions and holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University in oceanography. That he dove for the remains of the space shuttle Challenger. The Navy also charged McDowell with wrongfully wearing three Purple Hearts, Naval Parachutist Wings and various unearned pins on his uniform while in Bahrain. A subsequent letter, signed by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Commander C.W. Moore Jr., says, “It is clear that he has dishonorably held himself out as a Vietnam War hero for the entire span of his Navy career.” McDowell’s resume and job application for ninth-grade headmaster have no references to tours of duty or war medals. But in an interview with Nashua’s local newspaper, The Telegraph, last month, McDowell said he had 14 tours of duty, including stints in Vietnam and Desert Storm. That story, later rewritten by the Associated Press and published in the Dec. 26, 2004, New Hampshire Sunday News, included McDowell’s claim that he earned a Purple Heart when he was wounded in Vietnam. McDowell’s 2002 letter to the Navy directly contradicts that assertion. Confronted with the discrepancies, McDowell said he signed it under “extreme duress” after discussions with his attorney, Lt. Christopher C. Burris. “He said, ‘If you want to get out of here and you want to go home, you better give them exactly what they want,’” McDowell said. “And at that point, I was tired. I’d been away from home a long time.” However, in the January 2002 letter, McDowell had said his resignation was “voluntarily submitted free from any duress or promises of any kind.” Stands by story McDowell continued to maintain last week that he had been shot in the leg while serving as a Marine in Vietnam between 1972 and the end of the war. He also said he took shrapnel to the neck during Desert Storm. Both incidents earned him the Purple Heart, and they are the reason that he receives disability pay from the Veterans Administration, he said. He also denied stealing morphine and Demerol while in the Middle East in November 2001, as charged by the Navy. McDowell said he was putting together a first-aid kit for “the teams” in Afghanistan. As McDowell explained it, the Navy went after him because he was trying to “get into Afghanistan with one of the teams” that was hunting Osama bin Laden and fighting the Taliban. “I went over to Bahrain. I (ticked) a few people off, and once the government gets (angry) at you, they’re merciless,” he said. The Telegraph story said he spent time at ground zero in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. McDowell was a volunteer with a federal disaster victim identification team and was dispatched to Shanksville, Penn., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. His former team leader, Paul Sledzik, confirmed that duty, but said he did not send McDowell to ground zero. McDowell admitted to the Sunday News that he did not work there. At Nashua South Nashua High School South Principal Tim Kelley, who hired McDowell last fall, said he is investigating McDowell’s record and will consider whether professional repercussions are appropriate. McDowell is the school’s first-ever ninth-grade headmaster, a position that makes him both a disciplinarian and an advocate for the freshman class. “I said to Rob, ‘I wish I had known,’” Kelley said yesterday. “He told me just now, ‘I didn’t misrepresent myself to gain employment in Nashua.’ And I would have to agree that he did not.” McDowell’s job application says he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1972 until 1979. In an interview, McDowell said he left active duty after Vietnam and left the Marine Forces Reserve around 1983. When considering McDowell for the job, Kelley said, he was most interested in McDowell’s educational background. That seemed to check out, he said. McDowell’s resume says he received a doctorate of education from George Washington University in 1986. It also cites a certificate in forensic analysis and forensic medicine and another in traumatic stress intervention. Prior jobs McDowell moved to Portsmouth last year, after working 24 years working in Maryland for the Montgomery County public school system as a science teacher. Before hiring McDowell, Kelley said he spoke with two administrators at Albert Einstein High School in Montgomery County, where McDowell worked for close to a decade. One, an assistant principal, gave a negative recommendation, Kelley said. But the other, former principal Richard Towers, “said things that I wanted to hear,” Kelley said. Towers said he does not know anything about McDowell’s military record. “He was a good teacher and a good leader of his department, and that was the basis of my recommendation, which is primarily, as I recall, what I was asked about,” Towers said. Jim Fernandez, who is now the principal of Albert Einstein, said he has serious questions about McDowell’s integrity and has spoken unfavorably about him when called by a prospective employer. McDowell told a lot of war stories, and he once brought in a stack of photographs, purportedly taken in the Middle East, Fernandez said. “All the pictures he brought back: None of them had him in them,” Fernandez said. McDowell also worked briefly for the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Md., last year. Sima Jacoby, the principal who helped hire McDowell to teach Advanced Placement biology at the yeshiva, said McDowell quit last April, saying he had been commissioned to return to Iraq. McDowell said he left that job and moved to New Hampshire because he received offers for adjunct professor positions at two local colleges, where he continues teaching. Kelley said McDowell has done a good job as ninth-grade headmaster. McDowell can be engaging when addressing a classroom but strict when disciplining students; his fellow administrators have taken to calling him “Mr. Sensitive,” with some irony, Kelley said. It was Kelley’s idea to have McDowell publicize his military service in the media, both men said. The story was prompted by McDowell’s assertion that he was going to Florida and then the Middle East during Christmas break. “He didn’t want to do the story,” Kelley said. McDowell said he was training U.S. personnel in hazard avoidance in Turkey and Kuwait during the 12-day break. His passport indicates he was in Turkey during that time, and Kelley said McDowell sent him a Turkish postcard. ‘I made a mistake’ McDowell said his military record should have no bearing on his job in Nashua, maintaining he withheld information but never lied to the administrators who hired him. “I have served this country long and well,” McDowell said. “Maybe I screwed up in Bahrain, but for 31 other years, I gave this country very honorable service.” McDowell said he moved to New Hampshire to get a fresh start on life. “I made a mistake,” he said. “I got burned for it. I’ve had to suffer the pain and anguish of that.” However, he said his military record should have no bearing on his job in Nashua, maintaining he withheld information but never lied to the administrators who hired him. “I did not fraudulently represent myself to get hired in Nashua,” McDowell said. “I have not lied to this school system; I have not lied to the school board.” “I didn’t tell them everything about the last months,” he said. “I didn’t think it was important, and I was hired as an educator, not a naval officer.”
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