Can the Archangel Michael and Rep. Mike Rogers influence the Defense Secretary to come clean about his unexplained hospital say? Inside the Pentagon, people are blowing off steam while wanting answers.
by Susan Katz Keating
Deep within the halls of a post-holiday Pentagon, a mischievous renegade created a paper doll that merges the Archangel Michael’s body with Rep. Mike Rogers’s head. The doll-maker tucked the creation inside a framed photograph of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, hoping the two Michaels would impart some sort of mojo.
“The Archangel Michael is the military’s patron saint, all about truth and justice,” the dollmaker told Soldier of Fortune. “Now we have St. Michael v.2,” chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, fighting to preserve integrity inside the Defense Department. “Their combined power is our last best hope,” the dollmaker said, noting that a few cognoscenti have left pebbles alongside the hidden paper moppet.
Soldier of Fortune has viewed a photo of the paper doll, on condition that it not be published. The creator was concerned that meta data or image searches could pinpoint who made the doll.
READ MORE: Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin Was MIA for 5 Days; How Come No One Noticed?
The dollmaker said that the semi-joking, semi-serious hocus-pocus springs from wanting to hasten Rogers’s efforts to wrest the truth about unanswered questions surrounding Austin’s recent two-week hospital stay.
In that incident, Austin, 70, quietly went via ambulance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Jan. 1, following a Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer. He kept the condition and his hospital stay – including four days in intensive care – secret, even from his boss, President Joe Biden.
When Rogers (R-AL), learned that the SecDef was in hospital, he called him on the phone.
During that conversation, Austin promised full transparency into questions regarding the secrecy, Rogers noted. Instead of being open, though, Austin has been opaque, the chairman charged.
Rogers on Jan. 18 sent Austin a letter, outlining serious concerns.
“Specifically, I’m alarmed you refuse to answer whether you instructed your staff to not inform the President of the United States or anyone else of your hospitalization,” Rogers wrote. “Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that information is being withheld from Congress.”
In the letter, Rogers listed 24 unanswered questions, along with demands. The first four alone set the tone for a serious inquiry. The demands are as follows.
1) All orders or instructions issued by you or a member of your staff to inform or not inform any other person of your hospitalization or medical condition.
2) A detailed account of your actions and intent in transferring your duties to Deputy Secretary Hicks and the context conveyed to her about the reason for the transfer of duties.
3) An accounting of all official actions taken or approved by you during your hospitalization.
4) A list of all military operations carried out in the United States Central Command area of responsibility during any period from December 22, 2023 to January 5, 2024, while you were not acting in the role of Secretary of Defense.
Austin before he was sick
In his letter, Rogers outlined the committee’s next steps.
“Your unwillingness to provide candid and complete answers necessitates calling a full committee hearing on February 14 2024, where the Committee expects to hear your direct testimony regarding decisions made to withhold information from the President, Congress and the American people,” Rogers wrote.
The move is both merited and overdue, defense insiders say.
“I think this response is extremely necessary, as an accountability must be established,” said John “Wolf” Wagner, a former senior government official and a retired Army officer.
READ MORE: ‘Hospitalgate’: Who Will Take the Fall Over Pentagon Chief’s Secret Absence?
The secrecy is particularly troubling, given Austin’s role as defense chief, Wagner said.
“Had any of Austin’s subordinate commanders, to include COCOM commanders, done the same thing they would be held to at least this level of responsibility and accountability,” said Wagner, who has extensive experience working within the military world.
The fairness theme resonates, others said.
“Many of us actually come to the building, and don’t try to run things from a hospital bed or from home where no one can see us,” said one official who works in the Pentagon, and who knows about the paper doll. “We have to account for our whereabouts. Why doesn’t he?”
Austin has said he takes full responsibility for his decisions about disclosure, or the lack thereof.
“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed,” Austin said in a Jan. 6 statement. “I commit to doing better.”
So far, Austin has not fulfilled that commitment, defense insiders said.
When Austin was released from hospital on Jan. 15, he tweeted thanks to the medical staff at Walter Reed, but offered no explanations for the circumstances surrounding his two-week absence.
“The message we’re getting is, rules for thee and not for me,” one official said.
That needs to change, others said.
“Secretary Austin needs to show that he is willing to follow the rules as he expects of others in his command, or in the command of his subordinates,” Wagner said.
The entire incident comes at a time of “immense global instability,” Rogers wrote, adding that the national security community must be able to count on the SecDef’s availability and transparency. “Regrettably, you have not exhibited these attributes throughout this most recent string of events.”
The committee chairman wants answers by 5 p.m. on February 7, in advance of the hearing.
“I expect your full honesty and cooperation in this matter,” Rogers wrote. “Anything short of that is completely unacceptable.”
That’s where the dollmaker hopes to help.
“Everyone in my office is livid about this whole situation,” the renegade said. “When Rogers wrote his letter, it just popped into my head, this is such a crazy situation, let’s do something crazy ourselves.”
With the help of a photo editing service, the dollmaker blended images of the “two Saint Michaels, just as a way to blow off steam.”
The creative renegade printed the image, and showed it to colleagues.
“It made everyone laugh,” the dollmaker said.
The renegade slipped the creation inside a photo frame, between a photo of Austin and the cardboard backing.
“We’ll have to keep it more hidden now,” the dollmaker laughed. “But that’s what we do here, apparently.
“The boss set the tone: Inside the Pentagon, we can keep secrets.”
Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.