Edie Grunwald, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, likes to be called “colonel.” Grunwald has made her 30 years of military service a cornerstone of her campaign. She references her military service on her campaign website, radio ads, video ads, and often when she speaks at forums or events. She cites her career in the Alaska National Guard as an example of her leadership abilities. But unanswered questions remain about Col. Grunwald’s termination during the height of the 2014 National Guard sexual assault scandal. On the campaign trail, Grunwald and her campaign staff have repeatedly evaded questions and refused to provide answers about why Grunwald was dismissed.
Others have discussed some of these matters with me and their stories don’t always align with what Grunwald says on the campaign trail. Here’s what I’ve been able to find.
Grunwald has never run for office before but polling shows her in second place behind Senator Kevin Meyer (R – Alaska). There are six Republicans running for lieutenant governor in the primary. The polling also shows a plurality of respondents undecided, meaning it could still be anyone’s race.
I reached out to the Guard to ask about Grunwald’s service and role as HR Director during the National Guard scandal. According to Lt. Colonel Candis Olmstead, Director of Public Affairs for the Alaska National Guard:
Edie Grunwald joined the military in March, 1984 and retired April 1, 2015. She served as the Director of Human Resources from March 2011 until she retired. Prior to that, she served as deputy director of human resources, director of staff, deputy group commander, aircraft maintenance officer, and supply operations support officer, among other positions as well.
Edie Grunwald did not supervise or oversee the sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) program. (Negative findings in the OCI report about SARC were limited to prior to 2012. Prior to 2012, the SARC was a contract employee who worked for and was supervised by a contract company. The contract with that company was not managed by the human resources director. In 2012, a new SARC was hired as a federal civilian reporting directly to the adjutant general.)
Complaints of sexual harassment were reported to the State Equal Employment Manager.
Grunwald served as Director of Human Resources for the Alaska National Guard during the National Guard scandal. The scandal sent shock waves throughout Alaska and was a contributing factor to Sean Parnell’s loss to Bill Walker in 2014. An ADN article from June of 2015 titled “Report calls for apology, accountability for toxic culture at Alaska National Guard” highlighted a report on the scandal by retired Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins. This report came to be known as the Collins Report.
At the height of the scandal in October 2014, Brigadier General Mike Bridges, the acting head of the Guard at the time, fired Brigadier General Catherine Jorgensen and Colonel Grunwald for reasons that have never been revealed. Governor Parnell ordered that they be rehired the next day because all three of them were applying for the top Guard job, previously held by General Thomas Katkus. Bridges firing them looked bad because he was firing his competition. Katkus had resigned a month before because of the scandal.
A Reuters article from October 6, 2014 titled “Alaska National Guard commander fired rival job-seekers: governor” details all of this. The article states, “Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow declined to provide the original reason for the firings. But she said Parnell had not been consulted on the move and ordered the pair rehired after he learned of the dismissals.”
Two weeks after Grunwald and Jorgensen were hired back, Parnell fired them once it was confirmed neither was a finalist for the top Guard position. Grunwald has told people that she was fired and re-hired but appears to leave out the fact that she was ultimately fired by Parnell. An Army Times article from January 2, 2015 titled “Judge blocks termination of Alaska National Guard officer” confirms this. According to the article, “Jorgensen and Col. Edith Grunwald were fired in early October, unterminated a day later, then fired again Oct. 20 as the scandal grew. Also fired on Oct. 20 was Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke, who lost his job as commander of the 176th Wing.”
I asked Bridges, who is now retired from the Guard, why he fired Grunwald in early October 2014. He told me “Personnel matters are not open to discussion.” He added, “Grunwald is an absolute public servant and is doing the right thing for Alaska by pursuing service at the state level.”
I reached out to Grunwald multiple times by email, phone, and Facebook messenger to inform her I was writing an article and that I wanted to talk to with her. I also reached out to her campaign manager, Amanda Price. Grunwald did not immediately respond. Two days after my initial contact, she sent me a message on Facebook saying, “I hear you are asking about the Guard… why? It was not about me. I am a huge advocate for victims and absolutely did my job. It was a very difficult time for members of the Guard.” I told her I had some questions about her time in the Guard and that I wanted to talk.
I tried calling her but the connection was poor and I could not hear her. She later wrote, “Jeff, thanks. I am simply left to whatever you have researched. Several people have reached out and many know the facts many think they do, but do not. Good luck with your story. Don’t fall for the BS and idiots. There is a tragic part, a sad part, and wrong parts. I don’t even know much of the specifics because the commanders own it. I was not in the chain. I am a huge advocate for victims. Good luck. Thanks, Edie.”
We exchanged a few more messages. She did not want to talk on the phone. I called Amanda Price again and asked her if she could arrange a time for me to talk with Edie. She said she was busy at an event and would call me back. She never did.
Grunwald has told multiple people, including myself, that Parnell apologized to her for firing her. I asked Sean Parnell about this and he told me, “I recall saying I was sorry for the loss of her son when I saw her after she announced her candidacy for lieutenant governor.” Grunwald’s son was tragically murdered in late 2016. When I asked Parnell about the circumstances of Grunwald’s firing from the Guard, he echoed what Bridges had told me: he could provide no comment because it’s a personnel matter.
Grunwald’s unwillingness to explain her firing in the midst of a major sexual assault scandal should concern voters. She has made her service in the Guard a major part of her campaign, and voters deserve an explanation. According to the Guard, she retired in April of 2015. But she was fired in October of 2014. What did she do in the Guard during the six months between the time she was fired and the time she retired?
Edie Grunwald is seeking the second highest office in the state and, if elected, would be in a position to assume the role of governorship should the governor become incapacitated. The public has the right to know more about her public service to determine if she is fit for the job. She should release her personnel records that pertain to her firing as HR Director. Her evasiveness, coupled with her unwillingness to release her personnel records, raises suspicion and concern about what she may be trying to hide.