Army Major General Patrick Donahoe has finally been allowed to retire following a months-long investigation of his activities on social media. Donahoe has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

He chose to announce his retirement in the following manner.

Donahoe had a relatively large and popular Twitter following that garnered praise in some areas. In 2019, Military Times picked him as number one among the “top service members” to follow on the site. However, I’ve always felt that social media of any kind had a substantial potential downside for active military personnel because of the permanence of your comments and the way they can be misconstrued and used against you. Excuse the pun, but it’s a double-edged sword.

The controversy began to surround the two-star general after he took a stand against Fox News Tucker Carlson’s negative remarks about female soldiers. The problems started after he disagreed with comments made by the conservative Fox News commentator in March of 2021. At that time, Carlson had made controversial comments about women in the military, stating that the Biden administration was guilty of “feminizing” the DoD because of changes in uniforms.

At the time, Donahoe was commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning in Georgia, home of the Army’s infantry and armor schools. His retirement was held up after an inspector general (IG) investigation concluded that the general had “failed to display Army values and core leader competencies.” 

I remember how this started back in 2021. Carlson seemed particularly upset over Air Force plans to develop a maternity flight suit. I saw it as a practical matter, but Tucker called it a “mockery of the US military” and made the argument that as “China’s military becomes more masculine,” ours becomes “more feminine.” 

Air Force Captain  Beatrice Horne helped her service test the new maternity flight suit prototype. Image Credit: DoD

It is true that women have a different role in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) than they do in ours. For example, females make up 15.6%  of the US Army, whereas they only comprise 4.5% of the PLA. However, the Chinese Air Force has trained several female pilots since 1951. I have no idea, however, if the Chinese Air Force offers them a maternity flight suit if the need arises.

I might take a second on a personal note and mention that I am a relatively large consumer of Fox News. It’s usually what’s playing on the TV in the background as I write here on SOFREP. But that doesn’t mean I agree with 100% of what they say. I didn’t fully understand the point Tucker was trying to make with his flight suit comment. Now…if the Air Force ordered men to wear maternity flight suits out of empathy for their female comrades, that might be a bridge too far. But that’s not what happened.

Maybe money was part of the issue (although Carlson did not mention cost). The Air Force spent over half a million dollars to create 2000 one-piece flight suits. That works out to be roughly $270 each.

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This is the tweet that got general Donahoe in hot water. I fail to see how this could be considered controversial, but it was. It is a defense and reaffirmation of our female servicemembers. A few months later, the general took to Twitter again to encourage all soldiers, per DoD policy, to be vaccinated. This ticked off former Marine and graduate student at Hillsdale College Josiah Lippincott, who wrote in response to Donahoe’s tweet, “the lockdowns, liberty restrictions, quarantines and general disruption of servicemember’s lives is a way bigger killer than the virus.”

Donahoe should have known to leave well enough alone, but he engaged Lippencott on social media. After a brief back and forth, the general ended the exchange by saying, “Hey, @Hillsdale, come get your boy.” Was that the end of it? Of course not. Lippencott appeared on Fox News Ingraham Angle, where the host called Donahoe’s tweet an example of “high-level intimidation campaigns being used at the top of our military.” 

Did the Army come to the general’s aid? No, they did not. I’m almost sure that his superiors told him in private to stay the hell off of Twitter and keep his opinions to himself. As noted above, an Inspector General investigation was initiated, and this is what they concluded that the general “exhibited poor judgment” and that his exchanges on Twitter “drew national attention for [MajorGeneral] Donahoe and did not reflect an Army culture of dignity and respect.”

Directly referencing his exchange with Mr. Lippencott, the IG wrote that it “was unwise and had the potential to bring discredit on the Army. His use of sarcasm and ‘snarky’ tweets to private citizens was in poor taste, clearly displayed poor judgment, and ran counter to Army values.”

Major General Donahoe was supposed to retire in July of 2022, but the investigation dragged that date out until last week. After that, he was utterly vindicated and told the press, “I retired honorably and without any reprimand or admonishment.” 

That’s good for him. I see his only “sin” as the fact that he engaged in a debate over a social media platform. This is widely viewed as beneath the dignity of a general officer in the United States military. But, if I may play Devil’s advocate for a second, didn’t Donahoe have the same right to free speech as the rest of us?

I’m interested to hear what you think about this case. Did general Donahoe go too far? What would you have done in his shoes?