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Reports Highlights Climate of Mistrust at Alaska National Guard

In recent years, there has been increased focus on dealing with sexual abuse in institutions.  One area of concern is the US Military, where in some cases, victims have been unable to report their experiences or have the perpetrators brought to justice.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more on a recent report investigating abuse at the Alaska National Guard.

On September 3rd, the National Guard’s Office of Complex Investigations released a report detailing how the Alaska National Guard handles rape and sexual abuse.  It found that since 2009, there were 29 reported sexual assault cases, and in 2012, over 200 incidents of discrimination and sexual harassment. 

The report also found that the Alaska National Guard fostered a hostile work environment that cultivated mistrust of command.  In surveys distributed to guard members, the report found that victims lacked confidence in command’s ability to effectively prosecute heir cases, either because they feared reprisal from their superiors, believed their concerns would not be taken seriously, or worried their testimony would not remain confidential. In a September 4th press conference, Governor Sean Parnell strongly condemned the Guard’s leadership.

“Our Alaska Guard members, they deserve a command structure that generates that trust and confidence, not only as to operational success in the field, but in the culture of the Guard itself. This culture of mistrust and failed leadership in the guard, it ends now.”

This is actually the third investigation into sexual abuse complaints at the Guard.  The first was initiated by Senator Mark Begich in 2012, while in 2013, Senator Lisa Murkowski asked the National Guard’s Inspector General to look into complaints.  Unlike the current investigation, the previous ones did not find anything significant.  The Governor issued a strong apology for not finding these systemic issues sooner.

“Our Alaska Guard members deserve better, the victims who have been hurt deserve better, and those who have brought complaints forward deserve better. In hindsight, it clearly should not have taken this long, and I offer my deepest apologies to individual Guard members who have been victimized and who have had to endure this for so many years without us getting at the root of these issues within the Guard.”

Parnell demanded the resignation of Major General Thomas Katkus, Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and he was replaced with Brigadier General Mike Bridges.   He also said he was assembling a team of experts to implement the report’s recommendations on removing this climate of mistrust and misconduct.    These include providing greater education on reporting and prosecuting sexual abuse, ensuring victims are protected from retaliation by superiors, and fostering greater cooperation with law enforcement.

The full report is available online.