General quits bid for job after woman blames Iraq killings on negligence

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Date: Friday, January 29, 2010

COLONIE -- A delay in the approval of Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto as Army National Guard director -- after a complaint from the wife of a slain Army captain -- has led the Schenectady-bred man to withdraw as President Barack Obama's nominee.

Taluto also said Thursday he will retire next month as adjutant general of New York.

After a 44-year career in the New York National Guard in which he rose from private to two-star general and commanded 23,000 troops in Iraq, Taluto, of Fort Ann, was nominated by Obama in May to become a three-star lieutenant general and director of the Army National Guard.

But his confirmation got weighed down after Siobhan Esposito, widow of Capt. Phillip Esposito, wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. James Webb, D-Va., asking the Senate Armed Forces Committee to delay the nomination.

Her husband and 1st Lt. Louis Allen were killed on an Army base in Tikrit on June 7, 2005, when someone set off a Claymore mine in Esposito's room. Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Schaghticoke, who served under Taluto and with Phillip Esposito and Allen in the Troy-based 42nd Infantry Division, was charged with killing the soldiers. A military jury at Fort Bragg acquitted Martinez in December 2008.

Siobhan Esposito told senators that she blamed Taluto for negligence, not establishing military discipline and ignoring Martinez's alleged threats.

On Thursday, she called Taluto's withdrawal "the first day of accountability since my husband was murdered in 2005."

Speaking by phone from Virginia, Siobhan Esposito said, "Gen. Taluto's retirement is a vindication of my call for the Army to properly address the unforgivable lack of discipline that led to my husband's and 1st Lt. Allen's murders."

Taluto said in a prepared statement that the delay in approving a new director for the National Guard, which oversees more than 360,000 troops nationwide, had created too much uncertainty.

"While lengthy delays in confirmations are not unusual," he said, "I believe this prolonged confirmation process has become a distraction to the New York National Guard and the National Guard overall. I feel that withdrawing is the right thing to do because the Army National Guard needs a director as soon as possible."

A spokeswoman for Webb said the senator had conveyed the concerns of Siobhan Esposito to the Armed Forces committee, but Webb did not put a "hold" on Taluto's nomination. National Guard officials would not say if Siobhan Esposito's comments played a role in Taluto's retirement decision. Last year, New York National Guard officials said that Taluto was "responsible for 23,000 soldiers deployed across four Iraqi provinces."

Taluto, 61, will retire Feb. 14, the same date that he was told in 2004 that the 42nd Infantry was being mobilized to Iraq, and the date in 2005 that he took command of both National Guard and active duty soldiers in Iraq. He was appointed adjutant general, which heads the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Naval Militia and New York Guard, in 2006 after returning from Iraq.

The adjutant general job pays $120,800, and is appointed by the governor. Gov. David Paterson will start searching for Taluto's replacement immediately, a governor's spokesman said.

Under Taluto's tenure, the Air National Guard undertook new missions, the Army National Guard grew to full strength (more than 10,000 soldiers) and deployed more than 2,500 soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Taluto, who grew up in Schenectady, led the New York National Guard's response to the 9/11 attacks and went on active duty for 20 months while leading a combat division in Iraq.