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Top Army spokeswoman suspended after 97% of subordinates report workplace hostility

Chief of Public Affairs Brig. Gen. Amy E. Johnston. (U.S. Army photo)
September 23, 2021

Brig. Gen. Amy E. Johnston, the Army’s top spokesperson, has been relieved of command after receiving mass negative feedback from her subordinates.

According to Military Times on Wednesday, slides detailing a recent command climate survey for Johnston revealed widespread dissatisfaction among those under her command. About 97 percent of survey respondents, including both soldiers and civilian personnel, reported “workplace hostility” according to Military Times.

According to her Army service biography, Johnston led the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA) for the Army, where she was “responsible for all communications activities involving the United States Army.” Johnston also served as the primary public affairs advisor to the Army secretary and Army chief of staff.

Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told the Washington Examiner that Johnston was “suspended and placed on special duty pending the outcome of an Army investigation.”

“Given that the investigation is ongoing, we can provide no further comment at this time,” Smith said.

In addition to 97 percent of respondents reporting “workplace hostility,” two-thirds of respondents reported low morale in the command survey. 26 percent of respondents reported moderate morale while only eight percent of respondents could say they felt high morale under Johnston’s command.

According to slides obtained by Military Times, the survey reported personnel being overwork, having a poor work-life balance and unclear expectations about their work products contributed to the low morale ratings.

Another 21 percent of respondents reportedly experienced sexual harassment at OCPA. Another 26 reported harassment based on race.

Johnston, under her previous last name Hannah, was also listed in the Army’s Regulation 15-6 investigation of how the service handled the 2020 disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.

The investigation found the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office and Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Public Affairs Office were “ill-staffed, ill-trained and ill-prepared to effectively address the social media information environment.”

Fort Hood public affairs team ultimately fell under the purview of Johnston’s command.

As a result of Fort Hood and CID’s “ill-prepared” public affairs teams, the investigation found “the Army ceded the social media space, lost the opportunity to inform and educate the public in a timely fashion, and allowed the unhindered growth of damaging narratives about Fort Hood and the Army.”

The report said, By the time Fort Hood developed a media communications strategy on 29 June, Fort Hood had lost the trust of the Guillén Family, and critically damaged the trust, confidence, and reputation of Fort Hood and the Army with the surrounding community and the Nation.”

In a June report by Task & Purpose, unnamed Army public affairs officials said the Army’s handling of Guillén’s case also hurt its efforts at transparency.

“The public affairs motto is strength through truth,” one high-ranking public affairs officer told Task & Purpose. “I think we need to remember that and remember that we’re told that transparency is key to trust, whereas it seems like we prefer not to be transparent through fear.” 

In that Task & Purpose article, Johnston told the publication, “Most of the time we get it right. But sometimes we fall short; regardless, we will strive to do our best, and continue to do so, no matter what the challenge.”