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October 23, 2014

Sexual Assault in Nat’l Guard: Parnell Knew

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On Feb. 28, 2014, our governor, Sean Parnell, wrote a letter asking the Department of Defense to investigate “reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard.”

He explained that he was compelled to request the investigation by “information I recently learned.”

That was not true. In fact, it was very far from the truth.

Military officers had risked their careers to tell the governor personally that female soldiers had been sexually assaulted by other Guard members and that those assaults were not only not investigated, they were covered up by senior officers.

And when did the governor really learn about this misconduct?

In 2010, four years before he finally decided somebody needed to do something about the pirate ship that was his National Guard.

Here’s some of what happened, taken from the accounts of people directly involved:

In 2010, several of the victims of sexual assault and misconduct were distraught and frustrated by the Guard leadership’s unwillingness to investigate their complaints and protect them from retribution by victimizers. Eventually, in desperation, they took their stories to their military chaplains. Three chaplains, convinced that they could not trust senior officers of the Guard to respond appropriately, selflessly decided to take their concerns over the heads of those officers directly to the governor.

The chaplains were able to connect with the governor because, in addition to his military duties, one of them had also worked in administration for the Grace Christian Church school, which Parnell’s daughters had attended. Using that connection, he was able to arrange a phone appointment with Parnell.

On Nov. 18, 2010, the chaplains — a major and two lieutenant colonels — gathered in a church office for their telephone conference with the governor. The chaplains, all feeling personally uncomfortable and professionally at risk for going outside the chain of command, told Parnell, their commander in chief, what they thought he needed to know about the widespread lack of trust in senior Guard leadership, the mishandling of sexual assault complaints and the misuse of Guard funds and resources. The call lasted 20 minutes.

Parnell thanked them for their courage.

Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 30, 2010, several Air National Guardsmen sent a complaint to the governor asking him to “accept the resignation of Major Gen. Thomas Katkus because of ‘multiple acts of moral turpitude’ he had allowed to run rampant, including drug trafficking, sexual assaults/rape, illegal use of aircraft.”

Katkus, who has since been promoted by Parnell to adjutant general of the Alaska Guard, is a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

Col. Robert Doehl, a former vice commander of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th wing, now works for Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, as a special assistant for military and veterans’ affairs.

On Dec. 3, 2010, Doehl wrote a seven-page letter to the governor. He thanked Parnell for a meeting they’d had that same day.

Doehl went on to repeat and document allegations about the Guard that he had shared with Parnell in their meeting. The allegations included abuse of authority, safety shortcuts that had resulted in loss of life and aircraft, cover-ups, cronyism and retaliation against whistleblowers. He named names, specifically accusing Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell (he became lieutenant governor in August 2009) and then-Maj. Gen. Katkus of failing to stop the misconduct.

That meeting also included the chaplains, the major and the lieutenant colonels, along with several other officers. By that time, several female soldier rape victims had submitted written statements to the Governor’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Katie Tepas, according to one of the chaplains. Your office already has those statements, the officers told Parnell. Tepas had also met with some of the victims, who told her their stories in person, according to two officers who heard it from the victims directly.

Karl Hansen, a former special agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and a former member of security details for Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, is now the medical ombudsman at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. In that role, he has dealt extensively with the Guard sexual assault victims. Hansen said one of the victims told him that Tepas had asked why she, the victim, didn’t like Katkus and what she thought of the governor. The meeting led nowhere. There was no investigation.

During my conversation with him, I asked Hansen what he thought of Parnell’s “Choose Respect” campaign against sexual and domestic violence. He said, “The victims I’ve talked to feel it’s just lip service. I’m dealing with women who are suicidal because of what has happened to them — some attempting multiple times.”

On Dec. 29, 2011, the lieutenant colonels spoke by phone with Parnell’s chief of staff, Mike Nizich. Nizich had been present for other discussions and was the designated contact person for the chaplains. Nizich said he would convey their concerns to the governor. The chaplains stayed in touch with Nizich — through Nizich’s personal email, not his state email — over the following months.

By early fall of 2013, state Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, had been briefed on the allegations about the Guard. He knew one of the chaplains through their service together on a community board. Dyson said he went to the governor with information about the pervasive climate of “boys will be boys” and the “circling of the wagons” around alleged perpetrators in the Guard.

“It appeared to me that the governor was not giving enough credibility to the information the chaplains were giving him,” Dyson told me.

In October 2013, reporter Sean Cockerham wrote a story about the sexual assault allegations for the Daily News. Cockerham reported that Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik, a member of the Guard and a former Anchorage police officer, had been appointed to investigate the charges of sexual misconduct. (I’m told she was appointed by Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgensen.)

The chaplains were asking why it had taken so long. It had been three years since they first told the governor what had happened to some women in the Guard.

After the Cockerham story appeared, Dyson went to the governor a second time, encouraging him to take an active role in addressing the chaplains’ concerns. “The question of the propriety of the chaplains in speaking to the media came up,” Dyson said. He meant the governor didn’t like the fact they had talked to a reporter.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Parnell’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, McHugh Pierre, summoned Lt. Col. Wawersik, the sexual assault investigator, to his office on JBER. He wanted to know if she had been giving information to Dyson. Wawersik told him she had not.

On Dec. 9, Pierre called two of the chaplains to his office. After asking which lawmakers they had talked to, Pierre asked them to sign a letter stating that they would not talk to legislators. Both declined, saying they would first have to consult an attorney. They were not allowed to take a copy of Pierre’s letter with them.

The next day, their attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross of Anchorage, wrote to Pierre asking for a copy of the document. He also asked Pierre to explain the “established guidelines” he had referenced in his discussion with the two chaplains.

As of Friday, almost five months after he wrote Pierre, Ross had not received a reply, he told me.

In February 2014, Dyson contacted the governor a third time and again strongly encouraged him to act. Two weeks later the governor requested a federal investigation.

When I asked Dyson why he thought it had taken so long for the governor to do something, he said, “He was too loyal to his people” and he “lacked a healthy skepticism.”

I think that’s a charitable analysis. I’ll just say it doesn’t suggest the governor had an excess of concern for sexual assault victims, or the need for a functional National Guard.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, has been asking some of the same questions I have about these events. This past Friday, when I emailed the governor’s office asking to talk to Parnell about the Guard, his spokeswoman sent me a copy of a letter the governor had just sent to French.

In the letter, Parnell suggested it wasn’t possible for him to have followed up on the chaplains’ sexual assault information. He posed this question to French:

“Did the chaplains also tell you they were unable to state case-specific detail with our office to substantiate their concerns because of their duty of confidentiality to the individuals they counseled?”

The governor conveniently overlooks the fact that the sexual assaults had been reported earlier within the chain of command. Presumably all Parnell would have had to do was ask the nearest general to get him the names and allegations of all the Guard soldiers who had reported being raped in the last few years. And if that didn’t work, his office already had the victims’ statements, and someone there had talked to victims.

Parnell’s letter continued: “Even without detail specific enough to pinpoint a victim willing to report, nor a perpetrator, we made sure through the Adjutant General that Guard members had a safe route to report sexual misconduct, and that their allegations would be taken seriously and investigated to conclusion, including any appropriate penalties. Where criminal conduct was alleged, we directed referral to the appropriate law enforcement agency.”

And who was the Adjutant General who would ensure the safety and proper treatment of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators?

Thomas Katkus, of course.

Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, responded relatively quickly to the public allegations. Sean Parnell, the commander in chief of the Alaska Guard, waited nearly four years.

In the meantime, the victims suffered and the pirate ship sailed on.

 

Cross-posted from the Anchorage Daily News

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27 Responses to “Sexual Assault in Nat’l Guard: Parnell Knew”
  1. Intel says:

    ADN has an article on Sean’s defense to this article wrote by Shannon…

    I sent an email to Sean asking him about:

    Child rape case – opened by Governor Frank Murkowski in 2006…

    Child Rapist conviction gets es-ponged for violation of a DV protective order…

    Child Rapist drives a school bus…

    Child Rapist ran to the lower 48…

    so Sean…

    We will be discussing this in the courts…

    Remember Sean…the more we dig…the more you bury…

    That is obvious by your excuse as to ‘not knowing’ lol…give us a break…

    Might want to resign to avoid federal prison…

    May be I should send you an email…

    You know…like the one that got Palin to resign….

    And it wasn’t even addresses to her…

    Let me know how that will work out for you…

    In a court that is not manipulated or bought and sold…

    • lkharter says:

      ” May be I should send you an email…

      You know…like the one that got Palin to resign….

      And it wasn’t even addresses to her…”

      Huh? Well, at least post the email, or some more info so we can find it…. a hint, at least?

    • No Name says:

      Inquiring minds want to know:

      1 – ask Governor Frank Murkowski…why he reversed the Statutes of Limitations…
      2 – ask Sarah Palin what ‘email’ made her resign…what was in that email?
      3 – ask Sean Parnell how’s that Ritcher Investment package going these days…

  2. Megadeth says:

    Megadeth – Symphony of Destruction

    He does not care about anyone or anything but himself…

    He was aware of this when Quitter “was in charge” and they did nothing…

    To them…Rape is God’s Will…you know that Republican belief system they all got…

    Wonder how he feels about his ‘Saint Sarah’ comment at NRA?

    Just like the Pied Piper – led the rats through the streets – then you dance like marionettes – swaying to the symphony of destruction…

  3. fishingmamma says:

    I saw a recent interview of President Carter by Katie Couric. It was about his latest work, he has written a new book called “A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” Mine is on order from Amazon. He discusses sexual violence in the military and why it is so pervasive. He discusses the number of unreported campus rapes. He connects sexual violence and domestic abuse to religion. The most important thing he said is that he included a list of things we all can do to help solve these problems.

    Regardless of how you feel about him as a President, I think he has done some amazing work since leaving the Presidency, and I expect that this book will be a helpful tool in this fight.

    As far as Parnell – He is once again living up to my expecations for him, I am sorry to say.

    • mike from iowa says:

      Carter was in it as a service to his beloved country. Raygun had an ideological driven agenda to punish the poor and middle class Both dumbass dubyas used entitlement to enrich themselves and their friends.

      • fishingmamma says:

        Thank you Mike. I am a Carter fan. I think he is an honorable man.

        • mike from iowa says:

          :) I liked Carter,the last real Christian Potus. He admitted he had lust in his heart. At least he had a heart. And,he has remained true to his core values. At least he has core values. To be clear,I’m not a fan of religion,but,Jimmy walked the walk and talked the talk,without forcing his beliefs on anyone.

    • Jimmy Carter is an incredible human being….and an honorable man. Anyone who would slander him or say one bad thing about him, is a lowlife of the worst kind, IMHO.

  4. Really? says:

    My sincere sympathy to those innocent victims that are having to experience this most horrifying, discriminating form of injustice by Alaska’s choose disrespect gov. Sean Parnell, who clearly thinks he is above the laws. The Department of Defense and The State of Alaska needs to investigate Sean Parnell and his roll in this injustice.

    • Megadeth says:

      now your getting warmer…want to see Sean squirm? Call your Senators and demand a DoD investigation…

      • ykak says:

        The Senators were told. Sen Lisa said last summer she would look into this. She still hasn’t responded back.

  5. Jag24 says:

    Sean Parnell is poison for the State of Alaska. He does not love our state, and he rode in on Sarah Palin’s coattails.

    If Sarah wants to redeem her image, she would jump all over Sean’s pathetic little butt and ream him.

  6. John says:

    The guard has been investigated for other misdeeds. The feds issue a report finding illegal activity, and the perpetrators get a promotion while the whistleblower gets punished. It has long been a good ‘ol boys club. Maybe this time the right people will be dismissed or jailed.

    • Really? says:

      JAILED.

    • Megadeth says:

      naw they will swat intel like they swat spit…they will end up outside the USA if they got HOT intel…or they will be excused for crimes they committed if they give them a bigger fish to catch…

      I say a Sea Cat needs to be dropped in there – they eat fish and rats and mice…and they are hungry…

  7. mpb says:

    Not only was the Governor’s office notified then but so was Sen Murkowski’s office and Sen. Begich’s and the National Guard IG.

    Why is it taking so long for Katkus to investigate his command?

    Katkus command was also reported to the Lt Gov Treadwell for failure to protect Alaska national Guard heritage (missing Diomede spotting scope; failure to protect other artifacts from destruction in building projects).

    Why were the Eskimo Scouts (coastal guard units) eliminated without an impact assessment? without notice to tribal governments under DoD requirements?

  8. Millie says:

    We need to talk w/family members and friends to help get the vote out. Why Sean Parnell would gain reelection is beyond me! Same goes for the carpetbagger who is running for office from Washington D.C.!

    Alaskans pay attention for whom you vote!

  9. Zyxomma says:

    I’d love to see Sean Parnell get his just deserts. I doubt I ever will. Alaskans, please remember: register and vote in every primary and every general election, every year. It’s not just Republican voters who elect these oil-soaked rightwing nutjobs (and I do acknowledge the toxic influence of gerrymandering, which is almost as bad as the toxic influence of money). Rather, it’s all the Democratic and Independent voters who stay home!

    If you’re in a state with active voter suppression, do what it takes to get your friends/colleagues/family members an official photo ID. That may mean a small gift or loan, a ride to the DMV, even organizing a carpool to get to the polls. Young people are very apathetic about voting (many first-time voters voted for President Obama, and have since been disappointed). Use social media to express the importance of voting in every election, every year.

    • AlaskaCodPiece says:

      So true, Zymomma — Sadly, I fear not enough Alaskans will bother to go to the polls in November. The state’s voting record is atrocious – less than 25% in the 2012 general election. Can you imagine another four years of Parnell’s “leadership” ??? If he is re-elected he will have a full 10 years in office!

      They can’t do it to us without us!

  10. juneaudream says:

    I have never been raped. In the face of..’overly energetic’ frat boys..at a dance or two..on our local campus..this Farm Girl..had the words and vocal tone..to..’diswade’..those drink-fueld sorts. This is no longer..the 1950s/60s. Therefore..these females who may have been..wearing the garb of Nat’l Guard..wereNOT properly ..dressed..for vebal combat!! There are any number of informative directions the women..need to follow..to the letter. “Spred-em”..isNOT one of them. No matter a womans culture/religion/lack of religion/ or ethnicity..we do control our responses to a rape. Following such attack..one goes to a near medical site..reports and gets swabs taken. If the threat of force..is so terrifying..for the immed. hours..one seals a clothing item or swabs..into a container..and hides them..for later ..reportage. If a woman..does not have..in these more modern years..the ability to..set her own lines/boundarys..and stand up for herself..she should leave the Guard, and apply to the local women of strength..in any community she is already aware of. It may be..only a clutch of elder women….but you better believe if someone showed up here..with a ..rape..situation..I and others..would be cutting a SWATH..to the nearest news centers..protecting our lil quailette..until justice..WAS DONE. Get off your duffs..and deal..good people. If you cannot stand up for yourself..you need better parenting, mentoring..and cultural protections..from those who DO..show their strength! Off your assorted ‘chain of command duffs’..and solve that problem!

    • mike from iowa says:

      Well and truly stated,my friend. As Juanita Jean reminds everyone,you are not supposed to hate people,but I rilly do hate wingnut pols. Who else can make me ashamed of being a man?

    • NorthernReflection says:

      At Juneaudream,

      Sometimes the military men gang rape the women. Many times women are raped by people they know and trust. One woman against five military men that she has trusted? Have you followed any of the assaults in the media? Sometimes women are drugged in their food and water that they receive in the cafeteria line … someone slips a pill in it. Sometimes they are stalked when they leave to go the bathroom, and beaten with a pipe and enabled. This is not about standing up for yourself. This is about predators pretending to have dignity and plotting and attacking and hiding in a uniform. Men who rape do not show strength, nor do men who tell women to leave if they can’t stand up for themselves to people who do show “strength”. Gang raping a woman is not strength, last time I checked buddy. This is about a culture of rape that permeates a woman’s life everywhere she goes. It also permeates men’s life. You are sadly part of the rape culture by saying women who can’t stand up for themselves should leave the Gaurd.

      • juneaudream says:

        I admit my commentary..has not been seen with clarity..by some. The idea behind the ‘leave the guard’..was so that WHEN the women..had properly built up..their sense of ”Self..they could then return,..wearing the uniform..and, have the personal mental strength required. My opinon is that no woman or male..who finds themselves..raped..needs to..wait around for months or years..to get the situation, and the people who were involved..delt with.

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