Parnell replaces Alaska National Guard leaders

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014 11:23pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Three leaders of the Alaska National Guard were removed from their positions in the wake of investigations of sexual abuse and other allegations of misconduct within the agency.

Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgensen was removed as chief of staff, Gov. Sean Parnell’s office announced in a release late Monday.

Brig. Gen. Donald Wenke was replaced as commander of the 176th Wing, and Col. Edith Grunwald is no longer director of human resources.

Attempts by The Associated Press to get comment from Jorgensen, Wenke and Grunwald on Tuesday weren’t immediately successful.

Also on Monday, the Anchorage School District banned military recruiters from campuses after recent media reports alleged recruiters from the Alaska Army National Guard made inappropriate advances toward high school students.

Jorgensen and Grunwald had been fired from their jobs earlier this month then reinstated at the direction of Parnell, who said his office and the National Guard Bureau hadn’t been consulted.

Brigadier Gen. Mike Bridges, acting commander of the Guard, wouldn’t say why he previously fired Jorgensen and Grunwald.

On the Alaska Public Radio program “Talk of Alaska” Tuesday, Parnell said he followed up with then-Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Guard leadership on every allegation that came his way and said he was assured about the path they had taken in investigating.

Parnell said his chief of staff went to the FBI when he heard about specific conduct in 2010, and the federal agency found no basis for criminal charges.

The governor said his review had the same end result as an inquiry requested by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich that determined complaints appeared to have been followed properly.

Begich, a Democrat seeking re-election, has taken issue with that characterization, saying investigations that he and Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski requested were limited in their scope and effectiveness because only probes conducted at the request of the state can compel Guard members to be interviewed.

Parnell requested in February that the National Guard Bureau investigate after he said he received examples of how the command structure was failing Guard members. The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations compiled a scathing report released in September that led to Katkus’ resignation and a shake-up within the Guard.

Parnell, now in a tough re-election fight, said his motivation was in restoring confidence within the Guard. If it was about the election, he wouldn’t have necessarily released the report when he did, he said.

The situation certainly “has damaged re-election campaign efforts, there’s no question about that,” he said.

Parnell, who critics say didn’t act fast enough on the problems within the guard, has appointed a selection team to review the credentials of 27 applicants — including Bridges — to be the new adjutant general. The panel will send names of finalists to Parnell, who will conduct final interviews.

Parnell’s election opponent, independent candidate Bill Walker, told KTVA that the governor’s lack of leadership is evident in the Guard situation.

Walker said Parnell should have hired an independent investigator as soon as allegations were brought forward years ago.

Media organizations have been denied records from Parnell’s office showing how he handled the situation. Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News have sued Parnell to obtain the records.

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