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Reservist guilty of wearing unearned award

Sep. 11, 2012 - 05:34AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 11, 2012 - 05:34AM  |  
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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Grady Monroe Nations received the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during combat air rescue operations over Laos in 1967.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Grady Monroe Nations received the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during combat air rescue operations over Laos in 1967.

More than four decades later, his son, Grady Wayne Nations, would be found guilty of stealing that valor and claiming it as his own.

The younger Nations, now 43 and a first class aviation ordnanceman in the Navy Reserve, was convicted Aug. 28 by a court-martial of seven officers for unlawfully wearing his father's medal. He also was found guilty of making false official statements — he somehow managed to work his father's medal citation into his personnel record.

Nations will receive no jail time for his fakery, which included donning the medal during funerals and wearing the ribbon daily. He will be reduced in rank to E-1 and dishonorably discharged, at which point he will forfeit all pay and allowances.

"We have a responsibility to ensure our sailors uphold the highest standards, and to hold them accountable when they fail to do so," said Cmdr. Alvin "Flex" Plexico, spokesman for Navy Recruiting Command.

Nations declined comment for this article through his attorney, who said the sailor will appeal. Attempts to reach his father were unsuccessful.

Nations might not be the only casualty of his actions: The fallout from his conviction has left the future of Cmdr. Sheryl Tannahill, commanding officer of Navy Operational Support Center Nashville, Tenn., in doubt.

Her testimony under oath revealed her relationship with Nations may have been unduly familiar and violated the Navy's fraternization standards. Nations was working under Tannahill's command while serving as a recruiter assigned to Navy Recruiting District Nashville.

Tannahill is under investigation for her relationship with Nations, confirmed Cmdr. Tom Cotton, spokesman for Navy Reserve Forces Command. Capt. George Whitbred, head of Navy Region Midwest Reserve Component Command, initiated the investigation after the Nations trial.

An O-6 has been assigned to lead the investigation, Cotton said. Once complete, Rear Adm. Bryan Cutchen, head of the reserve command, will determine whether further action is necessary.

Tannahill, through the spokesman for Navy Reserve Forces Command, declined comment for this article.

A promising career

Nations joined the Navy in 1986 and performed admirably. He qualified as a naval aircrewman Sept. 13, 1989 — allowing him to wear the distinctive gold aircrew wings and use the NAC designator after his name. He left Patrol Squadron 11 in May 1990 and, after training, reported to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40.

He received the Navy Achievement Medal for "superior performance" as a schedules petty officer. The citation highlighted "exceptional organizational and administrative skills."

After eight years, Nations left active duty to pursue a career in country music. Shortly thereafter, a lie surfaced in a newspaper article featuring the aspiring singer.

A Mount Airy (N.C.) News article on Nations published Oct. 1, 1995, describes him as "a young man with a head full of dreams and the desire to make them come true." He was also quoted as saying he'd earned the DFC; the claim went unnoticed — or unquestioned.

In 1996, Nations joined the Navy Reserve and served four months with Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 56 in Norfolk, Va., before transferring into the Individual Ready Reserve in May.

His country music career never took off, although some of his songs remain available on iTunes.

Nations stayed in the IRR until shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when he returned to a drilling status at NOSC Nashville.

His performance as a drilling reservist and a member of the command's funeral honors team got him the active-duty gig as the Navy Operational Support Center Nashville funeral honors coordinator.

Nations would occasionally wear the Distinguished Flying Cross medal on his uniform when performing, according to court-martial testimony, but he didn't wear the ribbon during his day-to-day job.

By all accounts, Nations was a stellar performer, overseeing and performing thousands of active-duty veteran burials between October 2006 and September 2010.

In 2010, he gave up the funeral honors coordinator job to become a reserve recruiter, but he continued to work at NOSC and still participated in funeral detail.

His position earned him local notoriety: Nations and his command funeral honors team were recognized through resolutions by Tennessee's governor and state legislature.

"There's no doubt that AO1 Nations was good at funeral honors," said Lt. Cmdr. Johnny Kelly, a former enlisted who oversaw the funeral honors team while a drilling reservist at NOSC Nashville. "His practices were tough and he demanded perfection, and I'm sure his musical background helped, because … he knows how to put on a show."

Kelly is now with a Reserve unit in Jacksonville, Fla.

Tannahill, who took over NOSC Nashville in April 2010, testified at the court-martial that Nations was so passionate about funeral honors he became an expert at it.

"He had set the bar so high," Tannahill said. "By the time I took command, I was told to keep him on active duty at all costs."

Fake Flying Cross

It was in 2011 that Kelly first noticed Nations wearing a DFC ribbon.

"He said he got it on active duty while serving with the Air Force, but that it was classified, and he couldn't talk about it," Kelly told Navy Times. "Seems the classified excuse is used a lot by people faking awards. But at the time I let it go — but it never sat well with me."

Nations also discussed the award with Cmdr. Matthew Grahl, the former NOSC Nashville CO, according to the investigation.

"I asked [Nations] how he earned the award," Grahl reportedly said. "He replied with a cryptic answer of something he did during [Operation] Desert Storm as part of VRC-40 with some SEALs. Seemed odd to me, as I was in VRC-40 from 1996 to 1999, and any work we did with the SEALs was purely training para-drops and we weren't trained in any of the operational aspects of a SEAL insertion."

Despite his reservations, Grahl testified at the trial that he had no reason to doubt Nations because of his stellar performance record.

According to Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs, there are no records that show the Air Force ever awarded a DFC to an enlisted member of the Navy, said Michael Dickerson, the center's chief of public affairs.

"In addition, our research revealed that classified information is not authorized on AF decorations and therefore conclude that, to our knowledge, no Air Force DFCs have been classified," Dickerson said.

Even so, Nations managed to dupe the Navy — for a while, at least — and add a DFC to his DD 214, the official form that summarizes a sailor's service to date, training and awards.

In reality, the senior Nations earned the award for heroics over central Laos as a rescue crew flight engineer in an HC-130 Hercules rescue craft.

His citation reads: "On that date, Sergeant Nations contributed immeasurably to the successful execution of a rescue mission involving over 100 aircraft. Sergeant Nations effectively assisted the pilot and radio operator in maintaining communications with the multitude of aircraft involved. His outstanding performance during an emergency air-to-air refueling of two battle damaged rescue helicopters was a direct contribution to their safe recovery."

Nations submitted his father's citation to the Navy, changing the year of the action and award date to 1991, according to the Naval Inspector General investigation, provided to Navy Times.

According to the investigation, the NOSC Nashville's personnel support detachment claimed the DFC was verified against Nations' electronic records at Navy Personnel Command before the DD 214 was approved and entered into his service record. The DFC would remain in his file for more than a year before it was discovered and removed.

Based on testimony during the trial, there were no necessary checks and balances in place to flag Nations' claims sooner.

"In 2010, there was no requirement to cross-check the awards against" the Navy Department Awards Web Services, testified Jim Giger, records management policy branch head at Navy Personnel Command.

But as of July, officials had changed the policy. All incoming award submissions are now validated against NDAWS, said Cullin James, spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command.

Nations wore the ribbon daily and occasionally wore the medal while doing funeral honors, according to testimony from multiple witnesses during the trial.

It raised suspicion among sailors at NOSC Nashville.

Kelly and Lt. j.g. Chris Felts, a supply officer, took it upon themselves to seek answers.

"The story actually changed somewhat every time you heard it," Kelly said.

On Sept. 22, 2011, Felts called Navy Times to see whether the medal could be verified.

"Many of us doubt he rates this medal, based on his stories," Felts said at the time. "We just want to know if it's real."

Navy Times investigated further, which later informed the investigation.

"[Navy Times'] review of the award certificate raised doubts about its authenticity," the IG report states.

‘The Admiral'

Multiple sources at NOSC Nashville told Navy Times too little scrutiny was given to Nations' tall tales.

Some attributed it to Nations' close relationship with Tannahill, his CO.

While there are no indications of a romantic relationship, it was clear during Tannahill's testimony that she believes strongly in Nations and did not doubt his heroism.

"You will not find another sailor with more honor," she testified, "He emulates Navy core values."

The prosecution countered by asking whether it was honorable to wear a medal he didn't rate while honoring a deceased veteran.

"He has never honored a veteran wearing that medal," she testified.

She was asked later if she'd ever seen Nations wear the award. She simply said "no."

"I've never seen an enlisted person have such pull over an O-5," Felts said. "We jokingly call him ‘The Admiral' because he can seemingly do anything he wants."

During the trial, Tannahill was asked by the prosecution whether she ever borrowed Nations' car for any reason.

She testified she had been having car problems and Nations, along with other petty officers, inspected her car and told her she needed new brake pads. She told the court that she used his car to get home. She was then asked whether it would have been better if she had rented a car or called a family member or taxi to take her home. She responded "no" and said her use of his car was OK "under the circumstances."

The prosecution then asked Tannahill whether she believed her actions violated the Navy's fraternization rules.

"It depends on the circumstances," she testified.

To those attending the trial, this was an indication she might have crossed the line with a subordinate.

"It was simply a known fact in the NOSC that he was special and got preferential treatment," Kelly said. "But if you tried to bring up those concerns or discuss anything negative about Petty Officer Nations, you were told to shut up."

While on the stand, Tannahill told the court that Kelly was "known not to tell the truth" and that "he had a reputation for not being truthful."

Kelly, when presented with her testimony, submitted to Navy Times a positive fitness report he received from Tannahill, rating him an early promote. She had also given him a Navy Achievement Medal.

"It was obvious she was trying to protect him and discredit me as one of only two witnesses to testify they saw Nations wearing the medal," Kelly said. "All I'll say is that fitness report and [Navy Achievement Medal] aren't the kind of things that a commander normally gives to a liar."

Guilty verdict

The jury heard three days of testimony and deliberated for two hours before returning the guilty verdict on two charges — violating Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for wearing the DFC between Jan. 1, 2010, and Sept. 23, 2011; and Article 107 for making a false official statement by presenting the allegedly forged DFC certificate to his command "on or about Sept. 20, 2010," for inclusion in his record.

Nations' attorney, Victor Kelly, based in Birmingham, Ala., said the sentence of dishonorable discharge was "unduly harsh" and that Nations plans to fight it.

One charge was dropped. Prosecutors tried to argue that Nations also failed to rate wearing a Coast Guard Special Operations Ribbon. But the judge, Marine Corps Maj. Brandon Bolling, ruled Nations had earned that ribbon for counterdrug operations in the Caribbean while serving with VP-11 in the late 1980s.

There is missing documentation and discrepancies among Nations' 22 claimed individual and unit awards. But the investigators limited themselves to the DFC.

For example, for Nations to have the combination of Southwest Asia Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait) and Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia) listed in his records, he must have served in theater during the actual Desert Storm operation. There is no evidence Nations served in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm and would have qualified for these awards, according to information provided by Navy Personnel Command.

Navy legal officials at the Naval Judge Advocate General's office in Washington did say that if more misconduct is found, Nations could face further disciplinary action.

The head of Navy Recruiting Command, Rear Adm. Earl Gay, must still sign off on the verdict and the sentence. Once that occurs, according to Navy legal sources, Nations will automatically be reduced to E-1.

But because of the severity of the discharge he was sentenced to, his complete record of trial will be forwarded to the Navy and Marine Corps Appellate Review Authority, and his case will be reviewed by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.

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