The Old Guard
Suited from head to toe in woodlands camouflage, Lynna Kay Shuffield paces back and forth in front of the chalkboard, lecturing on the art of war as taught by Napoleon, Frederick the Great and Sun Tzu. As the first woman, and indeed, one of the few members of the Texas State Guard to complete the demanding "Command and General Staff Course," her goal is to help others do the same. She is businesslike. She is efficient. She is prepared. And in the State Guard, she is completely out of place.
Shuffield's pupils -- all two of them -- will probably never face a real-life situation requiring Napoleonic strategy. Officially, the State Guard, Texas's little-known but state-supported militia, is an all-volunteer, unarmed force that exists to protect the armories of the Texas National Guard, should the National Guard be called out for federal duty. That's never happened.
So, unofficially, the State Guard acts as a kind of scout troop for adults, an excuse for retired military men and others to play soldier. The Guard justifies its existence by doing good deeds: searching for missing children, helping out in natural disasters, even digging wells for poor communities on the Texas/Mexico border. Sometimes, though, the organization can't even give away its services: This year, Galveston chose not to allow the Guard to control crowds and direct traffic at its Mardi Gras celebration, as it has for the past several years; instead, the city decided it would rather pay for professional security. Every month, Guard members meet simply to drill -- though it's hard to see those meetings as exercises in preparedness. On this Saturday, the most pressing military assignment facing Shuffield's unit, the 8th Brigade, is to figure out where the heck its flag has gotten to.
Still, many members of the Guard -- and most especially Lynna Shuffield -- take the organization very seriously. Shuffield's family has a long history of military service, and she intended to carry on the tradition. In 1975, she was among the first women admitted to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps college program, and after she graduated from the University of Houston, she hoped to enlist in the Navy. But she says that doctors discovered a minor heart condition that kept her from joining any branch of the U.S. military or the National Guard. The State Guard, and only the State Guard, offered her a chance to serve in uniform -- and even if it's a uniform that she has to pay for herself, Shuffield prizes the opportunity. She dearly wants the Guard to be all that it can be.
She labors to make the Guard a first-rate military unit, but for all her efforts -- and to some degree because of those efforts -- she's not popular with her fellow officers. Even her allies say that she didn't luck out in the personality department, that her "people skills" are spotty at best. She is, by her own assessment, "ugly with a capital Ugh." She's fat. Her face is pocked. Her hair hangs in a long, greasy tail down her back. Her eyeglasses are smudgy. She talks in a slurry lisp, and to explain why, she leans forward, opens her mouth wide and lifts her tongue to reveal, underneath, a congenitally misshapen jaw with two little outcroppings of bone. "See, I'm a throwback!" she says with determined gaiety. "Prehistoric."
Shuffield thought those flaws wouldn't matter in the State Guard. The military, after all, is not a beauty pageant or a personality contest. And in a rigid environment with clear rules and regulations, she thought she could finally expect to be judged not on her quirks and flaws, but on her ability to get a job done right.
But faced with Shuffield and her professionalism, the organization she so wanted to serve simply closed ranks. Instead of the spit-and-polish structure she expected, she found a good old boys' social club in which rules are sometimes not worth the paper they're written on.
Shuffield is not alone in her discontent with the organization: Many current and former guardsmen complain of rampant discrimination, selective enforcement, illegal promotions, incompetence and retaliation. But of all the Guard's would-be reformers, Shuffield has been the loudest, most persistent and most consistently ignored. She has been discharged from duty, badmouthed, humiliated and, she says, threatened with bodily harm. Another person might have shrugged and stopped volunteering. But the more Shuffield suffered, the harder grew her resolve to make the Guard play by the rules.
On this cold, gray Saturday, she teaches her two-person class the philosophy of warrior Sun Tzu: that the supreme battle tactic is to subdue the enemy without a struggle. It's a piece of advice Shuffield hasn't been able to apply to her own all-out war with the Guard. Her enemy refuses to be subdued, and rather than deciding the Guard isn't worth a fight, she is struggling for all she's worth.
Shuffield joined the Guard as a second lieutenant in 1986, and almost immediately locked horns with her superiors. In 1989, her commander withdrew a recommendation to promote her because he heard she was saying bad things about him in public; he neglected to get her side of the story. A year later, during a crowd-control operation at Galveston's Mardi Gras, an officer instructed female Guard members to stay on the bus rather than participate. When Shuffield tried to lodge a complaint -- belligerently, her commander says -- she was relieved from duty.
Even so, Shuffield remained loyal to the Guard. She sewed flags for the generals and printed State Guard decals at her own expense. She persuaded grocery stores to donate refreshments for the troops at special events. At Christmas one year, she made a ceramic soldier for the Guard's commander, Major General John Bailey. On the Guard's 50th anniversary, she put together a special yearbook entitled "Equal to the Task," the Guard's motto. When the Guard's headquarters at Camp Mabry in Austin were in a shambles, Shuffield cleaned, scraped, painted and even regrouted windows. Her administrative abilities impressed her commanders: She was organized, dedicated and she attacked paperwork with gusto.
In 1995, Shuffield finally got her chance to prove her worth to the organization by doing the kind of work she does best. The Guard had lost its three civilian employees, and its headquarters were the picture of neglect and disarray, with files misplaced and boxes full of personnel orders awaiting processing. Shuffield, a legal assistant with a flexible schedule, volunteered to help restore order. And that's when her most recent spate of troubles began.
After Shuffield spent a couple of weeks in Austin, Major General John Bailey signed an order placing her on state active duty -- a rarity for a Guard member. State law specifies that when a Guard member is placed on active duty, she will be paid what someone her rank would earn in the federal armed forces. So Shuffield, who then served as the Guard's information management officer, happily agreed to keep straightening the headquarters, expecting that as a major she would receive about $3,600 a month. Yet one and a half months after she began work, she had yet to receive a paycheck.
As it turned out, Bailey never had the authority to put her on active duty with pay; such orders must be approved by the adjutant general, an appointed state official who oversees the National and State Guard. Bailey and State Guard chief of staff Chet Brooks, the former state senator from Pasadena, now maintain that Shuffield always understood that she was a contracted state employee, though neither of them recall ever discussing a rate of pay with her. They say they signed the official orders, which clearly state that the assignment "will utilize the payroll process," only because Shuffield wanted them to. To this day, Shuffield has not received payment for her first month of work, nor, she says, for six days in January. The payment she did receive, for the rest of the time she worked, was at a much lower rate than she expected -- less than $5 an hour.
Money, though, was only the beginning of Shuffield's problems at Camp Mabry. She'd hired a teenage intern from a local high school's special education program, and in January of '96, she noticed the Guard's new civilian employee, Rafael Garcia, behaving "inappropriately" with the boy -- touching him and making lewd gestures. Shuffield says she reported the incident to the Guard's new executive director, Rick Williams, but was told that she must be complaining because she had been passed over for Garcia's job. Garcia was not reprimanded. Williams and Bailey both claim she never reported the incident.
Two days after Shuffield says she made her report, Garcia allegedly forced the boy to perform oral sex. When the boy told his dad, the father went first to the Guard. "They said [my son] was not to go near there," he recalls, "which upset me and upset [my son] because he hadn't done anything wrong, and he was the one being punished.... I got the feeling that there was a big cover-up."
The father now says that going to the Guard with his complaint was a mistake. "I thought that since everyone spoke so highly of [my son], they'd protect him. After I told them what happened, everyone started saying they couldn't talk to me."
Bailey, he says, didn't return his faxes and phone calls, and finally the father went to the police. Months later, Garcia pled guilty to the attempted sexual assault of the intern.
In the meantime, an effort was under way to get rid of Shuffield. Rex Weaver, a deputy commander who had already written one memo recommending that she be transferred out of headquarters, complained to General Bailey that someone told him Shuffield had made disloyal and derogatory statements about Weaver and other officers. Bailey, Shuffield says, simply called her into his office and dismissed her. Allegedly, Shuffield had been overheard badmouthing the officers to two guardsmen outside the barracks one night. The two guardsmen were never questioned by Bailey, and Shuffield says she was never given a chance to defend herself against the claims.
After her dismissal, she was so upset that she sought out the two guardsmen. In a taped conversation she had with them, they express surprise at her dismissal and repeatedly state that she never made any disloyal or derogatory remarks. In fact, they say, the Guard was barely mentioned.
Shuffield -- who'd been paid less than she expected for full-time work, and whose serious complaints appear to have gone ignored by her superiors -- had apparently been ousted for daring to speak up.
Lynna Kay Shuffield views the complaint process as one way to make her cherished organization face up to its faults; that's why she never misses the opportunity to make a good allegation. But she fails to make distinctions: She pitches her charges that a commander uses an improper rank signifier with the same fervor that she charges harassment or discrimination.
Lt. Colonel Herbert Barnard, who claims to have been discharged from the Guard because he chaired Shuffield's legal defense fund (the Guard claims he lied and disobeyed an order), says the major is "one of those ladies where everything is either white or black. Sometimes, you've got to bend a little. Lynna Kay does not bend. 'Bend' is not a word in her vocabulary."
Not surprisingly, Shuffield takes her duty to protect her troops very seriously, whether they like it or not. On April 13, she was back at headquarters for a meeting and had another run-in with Brigadier General Rex Weaver. She saw him approach a female enlisted officer, Senior Master Sgt. Gerda McQueen, who had recently joined the Guard's new Air Liaison Division and was purchasing brass for her new blue uniform. Weaver, upset that a "green suit" had transferred to the new division, said, "Gosh, you sure do look ugly in that uniform." Later on the same day, according to McQueen's statement about the incident, Weaver again approached her, tapped the Air Branch name tag pinned to her left breast, and told her it was the wrong color.
McQueen was inclined to brush the matter off, but Shuffield was outraged and immediately told a senior officer what had occurred. "[McQueen] looked at me, straight in the eye, and she was totally humiliated" when Weaver accosted her, Shuffield says. "And I wasn't going to stand for it." Senior officers asked McQueen and Shuffield to make written statements about what had occurred.
When Weaver found out they'd complained about him, he wrote, in a memo to Bailey, "Major Shuffield again appears to be trying to cause whatever mischief that she can," and asked that she be restrained from attending staff drills at headquarters. Bailey found that while no sexual harassment had taken place, Weaver had used "poor judgment" and "violated the chain of command" with regard to McQueen. About Weaver's apparently retaliatory actions toward Shuffield, Bailey said nothing.
It was about this time, Shuffield says, that she began to experience retaliation on a larger scale. At a drill in May, she claims that a drunk State Guardsman she had never seen before approached her outside the barracks, tried to force her to kiss him, and fondled her breasts. She was warned by friends not to attend the Guard's annual training weekend because people would try to humiliate or embarrass her. She says that the Guard refused to give her orders to attend annual training and forbade her from attending other events -- this, though she could be discharged for "nonparticipation." And, perhaps most disconcerting, a sergeant wrote an affidavit saying that when one captain, on duty and in uniform, heard Shuffield's name, he replied, "She should be killed." To an outside observer, it seems highly likely that he was joking, and however inappropriate the joke, he probably didn't plan to commit murder. But perhaps because such jokes seemed to be condoned by the Guard, Shuffield felt threatened.
The more Lynna Kay Shuffield complained, the more difficult participation in the Guard became for her. And the more difficult things became, the more she complained. Quitting, however, was out of the question. Improving the State Guard may be a relatively small fight, but it's her fight. "I'm the first person to stand up to them," she says firmly. "I'm their whipping post."
In some ways, Shuffield makes a formidable opponent. She knows the rules; high-ranking officers sometimes don't. (A typical example: After State Guard Chief of Staff Ray Peters said a certain training course was not required for colonels, a reporter pointed out to him that the regulations, last published in 1994, require it. "I don't know why that was ever put in there," he replied.) A legal assistant by profession, Shuffield is a fiendish document hoarder: She has assembled over 750 pages of memos, orders, affidavits and case law to support her allegations. But almost the only thing more amazing than the lengths to which Shuffield will go to change the Guard are the lengths to which the Guard will go in order not to change.
After several of Shuffield's memos to Bailey went unreturned, she filed a formal complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation. In October 1996, the adjutant general's equal employment manager, Keith Townsend, reviewed her case. Though there was no evidence of discrimination, Townsend says, he did find "some things that we could have done better." In December, he and Shuffield negotiated a settlement agreement wherein she'd receive compensation -- at the same low rate as before -- for her unpaid hours and be appointed to a position equal to the one from which she had been dismissed.
But the Guard didn't offer Shuffield such a position; instead, she was assigned to a position one rank below that of information management officer, rendering her ineligible for promotion. (Since Guard members aren't paid, promotions are especially common rewards for performance -- which perhaps explains the Guard's top-heavy ratio of one officer for every two enlisted members.) Furthermore, Shuffield would be reporting to Col. Kenneth Kubasik -- the same commander who had relieved her in 1990 after the girls-stay-on-the-bus incident.
Shuffield protested, but when that didn't work, she had her legislator, Representative Kevin Bailey, inquire about her case. Finally, the adjutant general assigned an Air Force major, David Blackburn, to investigate.
Judging by Blackburn's report, he was hardly an unbiased referee. The Orwellian document does not address key issues of Shuffield's complaint, such as whether she was owed back pay. In at least two cases, Blackburn found against her without interviewing her witnesses. And he favored conflicting testimony above Shuffield's own even when hers was corroborated by documents. It seems all State Guard officials had to do was say Shuffield was wrong, and Blackburn would concur. And though she repeatedly requested it, Shuffield never received a copy of Blackburn's report about her.
But she finally got a chance to air her complaints -- and to do so in such a way that the top brass had to pay attention. The adjutant general, Daniel James III, faced a Senate confirmation hearing in March 1997. Before the hearing, Shuffield learned that James had tapped her old enemy, Rex Weaver, to be the Guard's new commanding general. Fearful that the Guard would never change if Weaver were appointed, Shuffield and other Guard members got their senators to block Weaver's appointment by casting doubt on James's confirmation. At the Senate hearing, Shuffield's stories of retaliation, tainted investigation and lack of recourse echoed those of other State and National Guardsmen who testified. James, who had already spent over a year in office, promised to institute a clear procedure for complaints and even to consider using an outside review procedure. The Senate committee confirmed his appointment.
When Weaver's appointment was blocked, James appointed Bertus Sisco, a National Guardsman, to command the State Guard. Soon after, the Guard gave Shuffield new hope: It began yet another investigation of her complaints, this time asking a criminal defense attorney named Walter Prentice to join the Guard and conduct the investigation. Prentice began work in September. He has yet to finish.
By now, State Guard officials have an obvious interest in discrediting Shuffield. After all, if they admit she's been right all this time, then they'll have to admit they've been wrong. Though Shuffield was once a supporter of the now-retired General Bailey, he characterizes her as a liar and a "sick woman" who is on "very strong [psychoactive] medication" (an assertion Shuffield adamantly denies, saying she was on an antidepressant only for six months, after a cousin's suicide and her mother's cardiac arrest). He adds that she is easily manipulated, and that she was "put up" to testifying against James by a friend in the Guard, whom Bailey says is also mentally ill. To underscore that Shuffield can't be trusted, he also points out that her father "dresses like a hippie."
"Each time I got involved in a situation that involved Shuffield," Bailey says, "I ended up with egg on my face.... I don't know why she won't go on and get out of the State Guard."
Talking to Bailey, one begins to get an idea of why Shuffield is such a stickler for documentation. Asked about the orders placing her on paid active duty, he says, "You won't find my signature on any piece of paper ordering her to state active duty." Told that Shuffield has a copy of such orders signed by him, he says, "We should never have issued her those orders. They didn't have anything to do with anything." On the subject of Shuffield's missing paychecks, he says, "She's lying. I know she got paid for that time," adding that Chet Brooks had provided documentation of her payment. But when asked, Brooks says, "She's right as rain on that one," and that she is still owed two weeks' salary.
Bailey also implies that Shuffield hired the student intern at headquarters in order to entrap Garcia, saying her actions were "devious" and unauthorized. Shuffield and the child's father both say that Bailey and Weaver were fully apprised of the internship, and were responsible for getting the necessary approval.
In her current assignment, Shuffield seems to be faring no better with her commander. Col. Kubasik says that he has welcomed Shuffield back into his unit and encouraged her to make a fresh start, but that Shuffield is paranoid and criticizes him at every turn. "She just blows everything out of proportion," he says. "She needs to just enjoy it; enjoy the military."
If Shuffield is paranoid, it might be a reasonable response to the way her complaints have been handled -- or, in some cases, not handled. Although it's difficult to determine exactly what did happen in the incidents that she and others complain about, there are plenty of stories that indicate that the Guard doesn't really want to know the truth.
Rabbi Dr. Marc Ben-Meir, a chaplain for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, says that when he complained of anti-Semitism in his Guard unit, the inspector general suggested he simply transfer. Ben-Meir quit, but a few years later he gave the Guard another try. At one meeting, Ben-Meir says, Rex Weaver approached him and asked if he had decided yet whether he was an American or an Israeli citizen.
After Ben-Meir reported the incident, he was approved for a promotion -- but then his paperwork disappeared. Ben-Meir says he heard from another general that Weaver "pulled his promotion." Soon, Ben-Meir heard rumors that he was not a real rabbi and that he had been arrested for public intoxication (he doesn't drink). "I sent these things through the inspector general and heard nothing," says Ben-Meir. "I have had more problems in the State Guard not because of anti-Semitism, but because nobody seemed to care enough to want to look into it."
Sometimes, an officer can get in trouble by looking out for his troops. Major David Campos of Austin says he grew concerned about morale when the friends of high-ranking officials were promoted above others waiting in line. In the past, the Guard has frequently waived the minimum requirements for officer commissions -- particularly if the person in question is a good old boy or a good old boy's wife. According to Shuffield, the only female full colonel ever to serve in the State Guard was married to a major general, and she never took any of the required training courses. Shuffield also names five other wives who were made officers without the basic requirement of 60 hours of college education.
When Campos began to complain about what he saw, his own career in the Guard stalled. His subsequent memos detailed internal conspiracies, misappropriation of property, tampering with unit records, illegal storage of live ammunition, favoritism and harassment. Receiving no response, he filed the memos with a succession of different officials. His personnel file disappeared from headquarters five times, Campos says. Finally, over a year after he originally filed, the adjutant general's office called to ask if he wanted to pursue his complaint. He said yes, and has heard nothing since.
Some people with grievances against the Guard sound like conspiracy theorists -- except that in the case of the Guard, their conspiracies seem to check out. Former guardsman Bemus Jackson is as likely to go off on a tangent about his political enemies in Missouri City, where he once served as mayor, or the evils of Bill and Hillary, or his long-standing feud with his employers at the police department of a local college, as he is to answer a question that's been put to him about the Guard. Eventually, though, Jackson will tell you that he was asked to falsify records (many Guard members told the Press that Guard officers maintain "ghosts" on the rolls, lest their too-small units be combined and their puny power bases undercut). Jackson says that when he refused, he was assigned to a lesser position. And after he questioned the fact that a sergeant was commended for an event that he did not participate in, his senior officers called Jackson in for a "board of inquiry," which is supposed to be a grand jury-style investigation of a complaint.
Jackson surreptitiously tape-recorded the proceedings, which began not with an inquiry, but with the reading of a letter reprimanding Jackson. The letter noted that Jackson had an "unidentifiable" problem. It was read by the officer involved in Jackson's alleged insubordination, who -- in an almost comical conflict of interest -- also chaired the board of inquiry.
When Jackson complained, another commander who was present at the board of inquiry appointed an investigator, Major Marc C. Pease -- a guardsman whom Jackson had earlier argued was guilty of wrongdoing in an unrelated incident. In his report, Pease did not even address the matter of the so-called "board of inquiry" or Jackson's right to due process, but recommended that Jackson be put in reserve. Again, Jackson says he never received a copy of Pease's report.
The Guard loses track of paperwork more often than a banana republic loses peasant rebels, so it's no surprise that when the Press asked the Guard to detail all complaints they've received in the last five years, the organization only came up with eight -- which did not include several the Press had already uncovered. Of those eight, none was resolved in favor of a Texas State Guard complainant.
Last week, Lynna Kay Shuffield published a book. The book isn't about the State Guard. It contains a list, by city and county, of all the Texas Merchant Marines who died in World War II, and Shuffield sent it out to genealogical libraries across Texas. She explains that the U.S. government recently recognized Merchant Marine members as veterans, and their families are now entitled to receive a small granite tombstone from the government. Shuffield wants the families to be able to receive their tombstones; her book includes a copy of the necessary forms. She's even filled out a couple of the forms for other people.
Shuffield and her mother spend a lot of time at the Clayton Genealogical Library in the museum district. Mother works on her family tree; daughter works on projects like her recent book. Like the State Guard, the projects are narrow in scope, yet important to a few people. Shuffield and her mother wear matching Hawaiian shirts. They talk about their family hobby, drag racing (Lynna Kay's brother drives while she acts as pit crew boss). Her mother, a diabetic amputee, gaily removes her prosthetic leg to show off how it works. Shuffield beams proudly.
The subject of General Bailey -- a subject that can frequently reduce Shuffield to tears -- comes up, and Shuffield's mother speaks. "That man was a friend of ours. He couldn't say enough good things about Lynna Kay. And for him to turn like this...." She shakes her head sadly. "It just doesn't make sense."
Perhaps it does make sense, though, when you consider that until Shuffield began putting up a fight, the State Guard's highest-ranking officers basically had free rein over a military fiefdom whose very unimportance has guaranteed it freedom from oversight. In the adjutant general's office, the State Guard plays stepchild to the National Guard. When the office came up for sunset legislation in 1997, a section was added regulating the handling of complaints -- but the section only applied to the National Guard, whose members are paid. Other state agencies, such as the Texas Human Rights Commission, don't have jurisdiction over the State Guard because it is an all-volunteer force. And the State Guard's commander-in-chief, Governor George W. Bush, apparently has better things to do with his time than act as a court of last resort.
"I've been particularly disappointed with the governor," says Representative Kevin Bailey. "To me, there's been a complete lack of leadership on his part." Because of Shuffield, Bailey is watching to see whether the Guard is going to give more than lip service to complaints. When the next legislative session starts, he says, "There'll be no excuses."
Since Shuffield's saga began, the State Guard has received a new executive director, Col. Ray Peters, and commanding general, Bertus Sisco. Many members say those officers are taking steps in the right direction -- they have already written a new procedure for complaints and are computerizing the Guard's membership data. Sisco has appointed a board to review all officers; it's believed that many have not met the Guard's requirements for their ranks.
But others question whether the housecleaning will go far enough. The adjutant general's office proudly touts its new complaint hotline, for example, but self-investigation is still the rule: Executive director Peters says that if a call deals with the State Guard, the hotline simply refers it to him.
Today at the Clayton Library, Shuffield has more documentation to give the Press -- a thick sheaf of sign-in sheets that prove how many hours she worked at headquarters. With the sign-in sheets, Shuffield includes an article from a small-town paper touting her next genealogy project -- war casualties from Milam County, from World War I through Vietnam.
The article is a wisp of newsprint, easily lost amid the towering stacks of Guard-related papers Shuffield has already provided. Still, she's particularly proud of it, noting that she received about 35 calls from families in Milam County. She wants people to know that something positive is going on in her life. That she has moved on. That she has "more things going for her than the State Guard."
But any tidbit of news about her war with the Guard still makes Shuffield's heart pound. She still plots and strategizes and constructs in her own defense detailed arguments that may never be heard. Shuffield may have moved on, but at least part of her is still waiting, two years after her initial complaint, to see if her beloved little military will ever deliver the blind justice she once believed it would.
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