U.S. Central Command suspended its top spokesman pending an inspector general investigation, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
Army Col. Joe Buccino has served as the head of CENTCOM public affairs and adviser to Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM’s top officer, since April 2022, when the general took command of the organization that oversees defense operations in the Middle East parts of Asia.
Buccino, who was officially suspended as of Tuesday, declined to comment on the investigation. CENTCOM had not responded to a Military Times request for confirmation as of Friday afternoon.
CENTCOM is the third command at which Buccino has worked as Kurilla’s spokesman over the past decade. Buccino previously served under Kurilla during the general’s stints at XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
That close relationship is called into question in the current investigation, according to three people who spoke with Military Times on background, requesting anonymity for fear of command reprisal. Allegations also include that Buccino fostered a hostile command climate and showed poor judgment in his conduct and communications with staff.
“No one who has worked with him over the past several years is surprised by this,” one of the sources said.
Multiple inspector general complaints, lodged with both CENTCOM and the Defense Department, led to a preliminary investigation earlier this year, two sources confirmed, and members of the public affairs staff submitted written statements about their boss in April.
Statements included that Buccino called staff at all hours to either have personal conversations or discuss non-emergent business.
“One of the other things that leaders at all levels should understand, you know, although the military is a 24/7 operation there, they’ve got to put themselves in other people’s shoes,” one source said. “They’ve got to understand that there’s got to be some sort of boundary, some sort of separation. I think that’s important.”
Findings from the statements resulted in Buccino’s suspension and subsequent DoD-level investigation. CENTCOM, however, is tasked with carrying out the investigation and reporting the findings to Kurilla.
Given the allegations, one source expressed concerns over whether Kurilla, as someone who has worked so closely with Buccino, would be an impartial decision-maker.
“It goes back to trusting the system. Obviously I have to have faith that the system will work, but that said, they might be too close,” one source said. “I don’t know how you remove emotion from it at that point.”
Another source also expressed faith in the system, adding that in high-profile investigations, there’s more optimism that findings won’t be buried or downplayed.
“I think that leaders, like in Kurilla’s position, especially, probably have an interest in keeping their noses clean,” the source said.
Buccino’s investigation is the second such high-profile inquiry into a highly ranked spokesperson in recent years, following the 2021 firing of then-Brig. Gen. Amy Johnston, who had been the chief of Army public affairs.
A command climate survey that year found 97% of Johnston’s staff reported a hostile command climate. Two-thirds of them reported low morale, with roughly another quarter reporting they’d witnessed sexual and/or racial harassment. Johnston received a written reprimand and retired in 2022.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.