What others say: Findings of report on Alaska National Guard shock, disappoint

  • Monday, September 15, 2014 6:01pm
  • Opinion

“I am extremely frustrated and I am angry that it has taken this long to get to the bottom of these issues. In hindsight it clearly should not have taken this long and I offer my deepest apologies,” Gov. Sean Parnell said at a press conference Thursday after announcing the results of a federal investigation into misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. The report’s findings were damning: it found cases — often unreported due to mistrust of Guard leadership — of sexual assault, misuse of government property and fraud.

At Thursday’s conference, Gov. Parnell told reporters he had asked for and received the resignation of the Guard’s Adjutant General Thomas Katkus. But he was right — the widespread issues plaguing the Guard between 2007 and 2011 had gone too long without response. Most of the responsibility for that inaction lies with the Guard and its command structure — and some rests with Gov. Parnell, its commander in chief. Both would be well advised to take lessons away from a years-long scandal that eroded faith of Guard members in their branch of service. Undoubtedly, the public’s faith in the organization has been eroded as well.

Unquestionably, much of the blame for the conditions in the Guard falls on the shoulders of the Guard’s chain of command. The National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations found problems both inherent to the Guard’s structure as well as hostile environments that were ignored or in some cases encouraged by commanding officers. The report singled out the Guard’s recruiting and retention arm as a particular source of issues, including “misuse of government vehicles, fraud, adultery, inappropriate relationships and sexual assault.” Contributing to those issues was the reportedly close ties between the unit’s commander and Gen. Katkus, giving what some Guard members described as an air of invulnerability.

The nature and number of incidents found by the National Guard Bureau are disturbing, and what makes them more tragic is the time span between when reports first began to surface of problems in the Guard and the date on which meaningful action was finally taken. Despite reports of serious problems to Gov. Parnell’s administration as early as 2010, the administration’s response appears to have been to defer to Guard leadership on cleaning up their affairs. We don’t think Gov. Parnell was deliberately sweeping Guard problems under the rug as the report found had been done within the organization itself, but he deferred to Gen. Katkus’ leadership for too long.

In January, Gov. Parnell told interviewers that Gen. Katkus had been diligent in his efforts to root out problems in the Guard, despite a thorough and specific account of sexual assault allegations published months earlier in the Anchorage Daily News. It wasn’t until the end of February that Gov. Parnell finally sought outside assistance in dealing with the issues. It was that federal investigation — not any state action — that finally exposed the nature and extent of the issues in the Guard. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the fact that they continued to flow to legislators and administration officials after Guard officials said the organization had made appropriate changes to address the situation, the governor should have shown less deference to Gen. Katkus’ handling of the problems, and asked for a third party to investigate earlier. While it wouldn’t have helped those who had already suffered under the misconduct within the ranks, it would have shown that Gov. Parnell was taking the issue seriously, in line with his policy of rooting out domestic violence and sexual assault across the state.

The National Guard Bureau’s report won’t be the end of the reporting on misdeeds within the Alaska National Guard. Based on their report’s findings, the bureau also plans to investigate cases of fraud within the organization. We hope that Gov. Parnell’s efforts to reform the Guard to ensure such misconduct won’t be tolerated in the future don’t stop at the resignation of Gen. Katkus, but extend as far as necessary to restore the confidence of Guard members and the public that the organization can be trusted.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Sept. 7

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