Two prominent Republicans from Cambria County refused to resign from the Board of Visitors to the U.S. Air Force Academy after given the ultimatum to step down or be terminated by the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Messages were sent to 18 board members for the Air Force Academy, Military Academy and Naval Academy who were appointed by Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, a Republican, giving them a deadline of Wednesday to make their decisions.

Robert Gleason and Douglas Lengenfelder, both Air Force veterans, did not voluntarily leave the Air Force board, which carries the mission to inquire about issues affecting the academy, including morale, discipline, social climate, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs and academic methods. They were presumably then terminated, but were still listed at the organization’s official website – usafa.edu – as of Friday.

Both received messages from Katie Petrelius, special assistant to the president in the Office of Presidential Personnel.

Lengenfelder, an Air Force Academy graduate and acting chair of the board, responded with an email:

“Dear Ms. Petrelius,

“I have done nothing wrong, I am fully qualified for this position and there is no reason for this termination except the ugliest of politics. You should be ashamed for even sending this type of abbreviated, senseless letter out.

“The answer to your question: I will not resign – if you want to proceed as a dictatorship, feel free to fire me.

“My wish for you is that in the future, you are treated as you have treated others.”

Some high-profile members of Trump’s administration were among those told to resign or be fired, including counselor Kellyanne Conway (Air Force Academy), press secretary Sean Spicer (Naval Academy) and national security advisor H.R. McMaster (Military Academy).

“I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards,” current White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you are aligned with the values of this administration.”

Gleason believes he and Lengenfelder are qualified.

“It’s disappointing because it’s really not a political thing,” Gleason, former chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania, said. “I served five years as a reservist at the Air Force Academy, so when their press secretary says, ‘Well, it’s not about politics. We want qualified people,’ well, who would be more qualified than I am to do that? … Doug’s a graduate of the Air Force Academy, so I think he might be qualified as well.”

There is only one specific cause for termination mentioned in the bylaws: “If a member of the Board fails to attend two successive Board meetings, except in a case in which an absence is approved in advance, for good cause, by the Board chairman, such failure shall be grounds for termination from membership on the Board. A person designated for membership on the Board shall be provided notice of the provisions of this paragraph at the time of such designation.”

“I don’t know whether the president has the right to terminate me,” Gleason said.

Gleason, who was appointed in 2018 and reappointed in 2020, served with members who were selected by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and who Trump did not replace.

“The politics is them, not us,” Gleason said. “That’s where the politics is. There’s no reason for this. They’ve made this nonpolitical thing political.”

Gleason’s term was set to expire in December 2023.

Lengenfelder, a former Cambria County commissioner, joined the board in June 2020. His term was scheduled to conclude at the end of this year. 

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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